Throughout the decades, “prudish” Christian conservatives have been known for warning against the dangers of pornography. But long gone are the days of Playboy’s nude women — the pornography of today is so violent and so pervasive that even the New York Times published an op-ed this month voicing deep concern.
They are not alone. This month, the Kansas Senate joined five other states in taking an important step and declaring pornography a public health crisis. Utah did the same in 2016, and other states are considering following suit, including Florida. It’s about time.
When it comes to the topic of sex, our nation is in utter conflict and chaos. One moment we’re leading a movement against sexual harassment and the objectification of women, and the next moment we conflate love and violence by paying to watch the movie Fifty Shades Freed on Valentine’s Day. Americans are basically desensitized to the issue of sexual spousal abuse, a concept feminists once fought hard to legitimize. What happened? Now those of us who are offended are labeled “prudes” by the same movement.
The reality is that if we really believe in the #MeToo movement, and if we actually want to decrease child-sex abuse and sex trafficking, then everyone should be offended by portrayals of sex that not only degrade women but are abusive towards women. Pornography thrives on the lie that women enjoy violence.
An analysis of the 50 most popular pornographic videos found that 88% of scenes contained physical violence and 49% contained verbal aggression. Recent studies have found that the majority of the most-watched porn scenes contain abusive behavior against women, including slapping and gagging. The worst part is that women are depicted as enjoying this treatment. The studies went on to find that, not surprisingly, men are more likely to act aggressively towards women after watching these videos.
It’s either naïve or dishonest to downplay the role of pornography in the sexual objectification of our women and children. Today, violent pornography permeates our culture. PornHub, a leading site for pornography, boasts 92 billion video views a year with over 75 million daily visits.
These are horrifying statistics.
Don’t think for a second that any of these statistics are escaping our children; the normalization of violent sex is being passed down to future generations. We live in a culture in which it is almost impossible to shield our children from hardcore pornography. Twenty-seven percent of millennials report being exposed to porn before they reached puberty. The Pediatrics journal found in a 2014 study that 20% of middle school kids have engaged in sexting.
Repeated exposure to porn rewires the human brain. It changes how young men view sex and how they view women. It teaches young men that abuse of women is not only normal but that women, in fact, enjoy it. Meanwhile, porn teaches young women that to object to anything sexual, even if it is painful or demeaning, is abnormal.
This false view of sexuality fuels behaviors in which young men behave as predators while young women are silently compliant. This is the state of sexual “normality” that is being fed to our children.
Repeated exposure to pornography hijacks the brain’s pleasure centers, leading to addiction. We’re watching a generation that has been so exposed to hardcore pornography that they are now nursing an addiction that they are unaware is even something of which to be wary.
And this shouldn’t have even been allowed in the first place! According to the Supreme Court, if something is prurient in nature, completely devoid of scientific, political, educational, or social value, and violates the local community standards, then it is obscenity.
Much of the porn on popular websites meets the Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity. Rape, gang rape, and other abusive images are not legal, because they don’t meet community standards. The Department of Justice has kowtowed to the porn industry which has dumped untold millions into lobbying and public relations efforts to silence them, and our kids are paying the price.
Utah, Kansas, and Florida are all on the right track. We are indeed facing a public health crisis. Recognizing this crisis for what it is gives health officials the ability to draw attention to the negative impacts of the pornography industry. The bully pulpit of public health has helped with smoking, HIV/AIDs prevention, and lead paint poisoning to mention a few examples. Why not educate the public on the health risks of violent porn? It may be a stepping-off point to urging the Department of Justice to enforce obscenity law, but even if it’s not, it’s helpful.
It’s time to be honest with ourselves. We can engage in hashtag activism all we want, but we most certainly cannot claim to stand for women and children while turning a blind eye to the dangers of violent pornography. It’s time to stop living in a constant state of cognitive dissonance.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was published by the Hill. Click here to read it.