Is Porn a Public Health Crisis?

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If headlines are to be trusted, porn is the single driving force behind all of society’s ills, from sexual assault to teen pregnancy rates to millennial men’s flaccid dongs. And yet, there’s little evidence that porn is actually responsible for, well, any of those things — nor is there much convincing evidence that it’s all that dangerous in the first place.

Lawmakers in Arizona, however, are super committed to fighting the major public health hazard that is videos of bored-looking blondes on RedTube pretending to go down on each other, now that the Arizona Senate has called for an effort to curb porn access among teenagers. “It is an epidemic in our society, and this makes a statement that we have a problem,” Arizona Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Republican, told the AP.

To an extent, the measure seems largely symbolic more than anything else: the initiative doesn’t ban pornography or even really limit its access. Such initiatives tend to be “non-binding resolutions that get used to score political points and rally the evangelical base,” says Mike Stabile, a spokesperson for the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), a nonprofit organization representing the adult industry. Yet nearly 15 other states (particularly red states) have been quietly passing similar measures for some time. In 2016, for instance, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill sponsored by devout Mormon Sen. Todd Weiler, calling for the state to “recogniz[e] the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level” regarding the risks of pornography, which he referred to as “addictive.” That same year, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump also signed a bill affirming his pledge to fight pornography should he be elected to office — a gesture that many perceived as highly ironic, given the fact that Trump appeared in three softcore porn videos produced by Playboy in the 90s and early aughts.)

Much like the Arizona bill, that Utah bill was sponsored by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), an anti-pornography organization that aims to expose “the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography,” with a special emphasis on the latter. Formerly known as Morality In Media, NCOSE has been waging war on pornography for years, successfully calling for hotels to remove porn offerings from its on-demand services. (It is also the same organization that successfully called for Wal-Mart to remove Cosmopolitan from checkout lanes. NCOSE did not return Rolling Stone‘s requests for comment.)

Despite these recent aggressive efforts to crack down on pornography, there isn’t a ton of convincing evidence that exposure to internet pornography actually yields deleterious effects on the brain, let alone that it’s addictive. Although one 2014 Cambridge study of self-identified sex addicts found that watching porn lights up the same areas of the brain that is activated when substance abusers see their drug of choice, the study had a very small sample size of about 19 subjects, and the authors conceded that the results were not enough to draw definitive conclusions about the dangers of internet pornography. (That’s not even to mention the fact that many addiction researchers question whether “sex addiction” is a legitimate disorder to begin with.)

Some neuroscientists have criticized the available research supporting porn addiction, drawing a firm distinction between addiction and compulsive behavior. Many have argued that such research tends to be highly partisan and infused with puritanical views of sex and masturbation, and that anti-porn legislation works to further reinforce these views. “Parents, already dealing with shame and misinformation about sex, see a state legislature pass something like this, and start to believe this is a real issue, supported by science, rather than a discredited concept with no medical basis,” says Stabile.

There’s also the question of whether states like Arizona (which is ranked among the top 20 states with the highest gun death rates in the country) have bigger fish to fry than declaring war on internet pornography. Nicole Prause, PhD, a neuroscientist who has researched the effects of porn on the brain, has conducted analyses on many states passing anti-porn legislation. She concluded that many of these states, such as Louisiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee, have “significantly bigger problems with gun deaths per capita and opioid prescriptions per capita” (though she notes that NIH data were missing for many states for 2017 opioid deaths). “The same states wasting their time with that fraudulent legislation are the states least able to address their actual health emergencies,” she said.

That’s not to say that porn is unequivocally awesome, or that watching a ton of it doesn’t yield any deleterious effects on your sex life — given the ubiquity of free internet porn and the widespread availability of hardcore content, it’s safe to assume that for some men, it probably does. And indeed, some research suggests that watching hardcore porn over an extended period of time has been correlated with a nearly sixfold increase in the likelihood of young men self-reporting sexually aggressive behavior, as well as men trying to coerce their partners into performing various sexual acts they’d seen in porn. On the flip side, however, there’s also research to suggest that for many couples, watching porn can be correlated with increased sexual communication and can help improve sexual satisfaction.

Given this mixed bag of research, it’s probably safe to assume that like most things in life, the answer to whether porn is “good” or “bad” is a lot more complicated than legislators and media watchdog groups would suggest. One thing that’s worth noting, however, is that these groups seem a hell of a lot more invested in cracking down on online porn than they do in promoting other sexual health initiatives, such as, say, the widespread availability of contraceptives and informative and inclusive sex education curricula — two things that could probably go a lot further toward helping young people have safer and better sex than wagging a finger at PornHub would.

[“source=rollingstone”]

Author: Eric