On Tuesday morning, Utah Governor Gary Herbert is expected to sign two measures, passed by the state legislature last year, deeming consumption of pornography a “public health crisis.” The legislation purports to ameliorate the “sexually toxic environment” created by porn.
One of the measures is a concurrent resolution and one is an actual bill. The resolution, sponsored by Senator Todd Weiler, declares that pornography “normalizes violence and abuse of women and children” and that it “equates violence towards women and children with sex and pain with pleasure, which increases the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, child sexual abuse images, and child pornography.”
“Potential detrimental effects on pornography’s users can impact brain development and functioning, contribute to emotional and medical illnesses, shape deviant sexual arousal, and lead to difficulty in forming or maintaining intimate relationships, as well as problematic or harmful sexual behaviors and addiction,” it continues. “Recent research indicates that pornography is potentially biologically addictive, which means the user requires more novelty, often in the form of more shocking material, in order to be satisfied.”
After the state senate passed his resolution unanimously in February, Weiler told the Salt Lake Tribune that he doesn’t want pornography to be banned altogether but to be treated similarly to how tobacco is treated.
“My goal in passing this resolution is to start a national movement to do the same thing with pornography—not to ban it, but to protect our children from it,” he said. “Within a few clicks, they can see some of the most vile and disgusting images that the mind can imagine. For us to pretend that this has no impact on our values and on our society and culture and the brain development of our adolescents is very naïve.”
According to the Atlantic’s James Hamblin, the notion that porn constitutes a “public health crisis” originates with self-declared radical feminist, longtime anti-porn advocate, and sociologist Gail Dines. Earlier this month, Dines penned an op-Ed for the Washington Post under the headline, “Is porn immoral? That doesn’t matter: It’s a public health crisis.”
“No matter what you think of pornography (whether it’s harmful or harmless fantasy), the science is there,” Dines wrote. “After 40 years of peer-reviewed research, scholars can say with confidence that porn is an industrial product that shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence and gender equality—for the worse. By taking a health-focused view of porn and recognizing its radiating impact not only on consumers but also on society at large, Utah’s resolution simply reflects the latest research.”
Well, maybe. Utah’s resolution also, however, reflects Dines’s own lobbying efforts, which have taken her as far afield as Iceland and Poland, Hamblin reports. Last year, Dines addressed legislators (including Weiler) at an anti-pornography summit at the U.S. Capitol Building.
But declaring something a public health crisis is usually a decision made based on outcomes, not risk factors, Hamblin writes, and the existing body of research is actually quite small. “I think the conclusions we can draw from the science are very limited,” pediatrician David Hill, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communications and Media, said.
Which is to say, the fight against porn doesn’t seem to be motivated by scientific evidence at all. Weiler cites the “facts” offered by Utah-based anti-porn group Fight the New Drug, which declares authoritatively that pornography “hates families,” “leaves you lonely,” and “changes the brain.” FTND consistently frames regular pornography use as an “addiction.”
All of FTND’s founders are Mormon, The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen reports, though the group denies any official affiliation with the Church of Latter-Day Saints. “It’s not a religious or a moral approach, it’s just the facts,” co-founder Clay Olsen told the (Mormon-owned) Deseret News in 2010. “We think that once people in our generation know how manipulative and harmful pornography can be, they won’t want to have anything to do with it.” Early on, the group received the blessing of both Governor Herbert and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff: “It’s pretty bold, and it’s certainly visionary,” the governor said at a launch event. “What you’re doing is significant.”
Olsen is also a board member of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, which hosted its 14th annual conference (sponsored by the LDS Church) in March. The keynote speaker was Elder Jeffrey Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—one of the most powerful Mormons in the country. “I can’t tell you, really, much you don’t already know about the evils of pornography,” he said.
“I’ll tell you that pornography is steadily, inexorably, unendingly present, that there is more of it, that it’s easier for everyone, including children, to access, and that it continues to rend the very moral fabric of our society whether that be the family, or the community, or the very state or the nation. That is because in every case, it rends the moral fabric of the individual.”