Pornography A Public Health Threat


WASHINGTON – “It is about time we took this culture back from the pornographers.”

Dr. Gail Dines, founder and president of the non-profit organization Culture Reframed, made this exhortation before a standing-room-only crowd of congressional staffers, reporters and concerned citizens in the U.S. Capitol at an event held by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

Dines was one of eight public health experts, social scientists and legal experts gathered in the heart of the nation’s capital on Tuesday for a symposium on the wide range of harms caused by pornography.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation is an organization that opposes sexual exploitation by highlighting the links between pornography, sex trafficking, violence against women, child abuse, addiction and more.

All of the speakers agreed pornography is a public health crisis that must be addressed now. Dines, a leading expert on the harmful effects of porn and hypersexualization of the culture, revealed that 36 percent of the Internet is pornography. She said there are 40 million regular consumers of porn in the U.S. alone, and porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.

Dines said the porn industry aims to capture customers while they are young and then get them addicted for life. Given that the average American child is exposed to hardcore pornography by age 11, according to a 2007 study, pornographers seem to be doing a good job of hooking children, she said.

“We have given up our children to the porn industry!” Dines lamented.

She said pornography is nothing more than hating women. She rattled off a list of violent actions all too common in porn videos today – gagging, choking, slapping, sexist name-calling and more. In other words, pornographers have decoupled sexual actions from love.

“What pornographers absolutely fear is intimacy,” Dines told the crowd. “You can’t have porn and intimacy.”

Dr. Mary Anne Layden, a psychotherapist and director of education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, sounded a similar message. She said the media feed kids the message that sex is casual – that it’s not intimate and has nothing to do with marriage. Layden also said her own research has revealed increased use of porn is related to higher psychopath scores.

She compared porn to junk food and spoke about “sexual obesity” – the widespread consumption of porn among many adults and young people that slowly erodes their health. One of the dangers of sexual obesity, she said, is that male porn users may eventually reach the point where they are unable to get aroused by real-life women.

“If you become sexually obese on junk food, you’ll miss the feast,” Layden warned.

Cordelia Anderson, founder of the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, shared a story that spoke to Layden’s point. She once counseled a devout Christian couple that was getting a divorce because the husband, who was addicted to porn, simply couldn’t get sexually aroused by his wife anymore.

Anderson, who has served as an advocate for child sexual abuse victims for many years, said pornographic materials should not be described as “sexually explicit,” but “sexually exploitative” because women and children are exploited in the worst possible ways.

Dr. Sharon Cooper, a developmental and forensic pediatrician, works with children who have been sexually exploited. She told the audience children often don’t tell anyone when they have been abused in a porn film because they feel great guilt and shame. Their abusers often convince them what happened was their fault.

Unlike the other speakers, Ed Smart had a personal brush with the evils of pornography. Smart is vice president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, named after his daughter who was abducted in June 2002, at age 14, and rescued nine months later.

Smart shared the story of how a man named Brian David Mitchell, a porn addict, had abducted Elizabeth with a knife to her throat. Throughout the nine-month captivity period, Mitchell forced Elizabeth to perform all kinds of gruesome sexual acts, some of which he filmed for a porn video. Elizabeth later told her father the only thing worse than being abused was for her abuse to be filmed for the whole world to see.

Smart warned the audience porn addiction is the beginning of a slippery slope to abuse and sexual exploitation.

Dr. Melissa Farley, a practicing clinical psychologist, explained the connections between pornography, prostitution and human trafficking.

“Porn is prostitution that’s legalized as long as you get to take [the] picture,” she quipped.

Farley co-authored a 2011 study that found men who paid for prostitutes masturbated to pornography more often than non-sex buyers, and they had more often learned about sex from pornography than non-sex buyers.

Farley said porn, prostitution and trafficking amount to the same thing for victims – gross violation and abuse of their bodies. However, pornographers have de-linked their craft from the shadier professions of prostitution and trafficking to ensure profits remain high. Farley lamented that those in the porn industry count on the public’s tolerance for social injustice.

Dr. Donald Hilton, a neurosurgeon at the University of Texas, voiced a different concern about the public. He said that for too long the public has looked at porn as a First Amendment freedom of speech issue rather than as a health issue. Hilton shared his own research demonstrating that pornography is biologically addictive. He also shared research that has found porn-watching most likely causes the brain to shrink.

Ernie Allen, former president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, pointed out children’s brains are not yet fully developed at a time when they’re being bombarded with pornographic images. The Internet, he claimed, has made “soft porn” obsolete, as hardcore pornography is now widely available for free. And that free porn has been a gateway to more hardcore porn for purchase.

Before the Internet, Allen noted, adults could simply hide pornography from children’s eyes by covering up displays in storefront windows or keeping their porn magazines at home well-hidden. But with the advent of computers, tablets, and smart phones, kids can more easily access porn. Efforts to educate parents on the dangers of pornography haven’t done much good, Allen said. And federal obscenity laws are not often enforced anymore.

Allen offered a solution: “default filtering.”

Under such a system, all websites considered inappropriate for children would be automatically blocked on every computer. Users would have to actively opt out if they didn’t want the filters.

Allen said Prime Minister David Cameron already introduced such a plan in the United Kingdom, and Cameron was able to convince all four major British Internet service providers to implement default filtering as of 2014. Incredibly, they all did it on a voluntary basis, and Allen said that offers hope that legislation may not be necessary to solve the pornography epidemic – although he assured the room full of congressional staffers that legislation would be very helpful.

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