A Utah Lawmaker Thinks Porn Is Bad for Young People — Here's Why He's Wrong

A Utah Lawmaker Thinks Porn Is Bad for Young People — Here's Why He's Wrong
Source: AP
Source: AP

The United States is facing a series of public health crises. In Flint, Michigan, the water is toxic. Zika virus is likely headed our way. And numerous reproductive rights experts say our laws are detrimental to women's health. 

Now, one Utah legislator has identified yet another new threat to Americans' well-being: pornography.

On Friday State Sen. Todd Weiler (R) introduced a resolution asking the state of Utah to recognize porn as a public health hazard, claiming adult entertainment can cause a range of "societal harms" like sex addiction, prostitution and the hypersexualization of teenagers. According to the measure, porn "perpetuates a sexually toxic environment," as well as low self-esteem and body image; "problematic" sexual activity among adolescents; objectification; and "lessening desire in young men to marry, dissatisfaction in marriage and infidelity."

"I have read books and I have experts tell me pornography is more difficult to overcome than cocaine," Weiler told the New York Daily News

Sen. Todd Weiler
Source: Rick Bowmer/AP

This isn't the first time the conservative lawmaker has introduced legislation that demonizes porn. Back in 2013, Weiler introduced a resolution that "recognizes the strong negative impact of gateway pornography on brain development in children, and urges parents and concerned citizens to consider ways to mitigate its effects," according to Desert News

But is pornography really harming the good people of Utah? Is it really causing sexual abuse, increased demand for child pornography and threats to family life, as Weiler's resolution claims? 

According to sex and psychology researchers, the answer is no. 

The real risks of fapping: Unfortunately for Weiler, many of his claims about the downsides of porn have already been disproven. While there's room for critique about the ways in which adult entertainment affects real people's sex lives, research has shown that pornography doesn't cause the negative effects it's so often accused of causing, like decreasing sexual satisfaction in a relationship. According to researcher Nicole Prause, who has led numerous studies about the effects of porn on the brain, the opposite is true. 

"Erotica viewing has been repeatedly linked to higher sexual drive and greater desire for one's current sexual partner in laboratory studies," Prause told Mic. "There were a few studies from the Meese Commission, an outdated political document, that found those who viewed erotica reported less desire for their partner. Those have not been replicated in over a decade." 

Indeed, one 2009 data review in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry concluded that despite numerous claims that watching pornography causes "actual, social or moral harm to women," "no such cause and effect has been demonstrated with any negative consequence." Another study, of Danish young adults, found that most reported watching porn had a positive effect on their sex lives. 

Additionally, Weiler's claim that adult entertainment causes sex addiction and risky sexual behavior among teens is also pretty thin, according to David J. Ley, a clinical psychologist and author of The Myth of Sexual Addiction

"Many things in our society are called 'addictive,' from smartphones to religion to tanning beds," Ley told Mic. "The only brain changes that occur with any of them, including with porn, are the same brain changes that occur normally in life, as we learn."

Contrary to arguments that adult entertainment is endowing the youth with poor self-image, "there's no evidence that porn lessens self-esteem," Ley added. "In fact, there's lots of evidence that people who use porn tend to be more egalitarian in their relationships and attitudes, and are less judgmental about sexual diversity. They're less judgmental of LGBTQ [people], for instance." Research has also shown that societies with more access to sexually explicit content tend to have more egalitarian, less misogynistic attitudes about sexuality, in addition to lower rates of sexual violence — especially, Ley said, among teen males. 

Additionally, according to Prause, people who watch porn don't just report experiencing "more joy, happiness and amusement in the moment"; they can also become more socially minded. 

"Those who watch more erotica are more educated, more egalitarian and more likely to volunteer in their community and donate blood," she said. Additionally, on an interpersonal level, porn "is often used in sex therapy to improve the couple's communication about sexual desire and increase marital satisfaction." 

"Those who watch more erotica are more educated ... and more likely to volunteer in their community."

So... what's the problem? Regardless of one's views on pornography or sexuality, there is one piece of Weiler's case against porn on which there seems to be consensus: Porn is serving as a stand-in for teaching young people about sex, and that's potentially a big problem. 

The resolution notes that "pornography often serves as children's and youths' sex education and shapes their sexual templates," and that might very well be true. As one recent survey found, an estimated 60% of high school- and college-aged students in the U.K. said they turned to porn to get information about sex. 

In the U.S., we know teens are exposed to a wide range of free online pornography, but not necessarily comprehensive sex education. As sexual health researchers have pointed out time and again, that's a surefire way to leave teenagers in the dark about their own health and safety. 

"We don't want teens learning about sex from porn, especially in a culture where they cannot ask questions about sex," Ley said. "That would be like learning to drive watching The Fast and the Furious, but being unable to ask any questions of grown-ups or leaders before you get behind the wheel. This is why comprehensive sex education is so critical." 

And yet, in Weiler's own state of Utah, where this "pornography epidemic" is allegedly raging, there's an ongoing battle to make real sex education all but totally inaccessible in public schools. Utah is one of 31 U.S. states that does not require schools to teach comprehensive sex education, and parents must "opt in" to schools' sex education programs by signing permission slips to allow their children to take the class. 

Ley said that lawmakers, like Weiler, blaming porn for the dearth of sexual knowledge among young people is really just a strategy to avoid talking about scary issues like desire, pleasure and consent

"Calling porn a public health crisis is a distraction — it's a moral panic," Ley said. "Because people fear sex, and don't understand it in themselves or others, attacking porn is a easy way to distract from dealing with the real issues. Sex in our society is changing, due to the internet, to technology, to changing social values. That's scary."

But, he added, "The way to deal with that is not by sticking our heads in the sand and trying to turn back the clock." 

h/t New York Daily News