Cover image from The New York Times piece by Maggie Jones. Photo illustration by Sara Cwynar.
Earlier this year, The New York Times featured a long-form piece (link warning: triggering images and language in this article) by Maggie Jones about porn and its effect on the rising generation.
Titled, “What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn,” it details an emerging method of teaching high schoolers critical thinking when it comes to the kind of porn they consume using a classroom and curriculum approach. It also details a whole lot of research that shows concerning connections between porn consumption and a rise in unhealthy attitudes about sex as well as riskier or more aggressive sex practices between teens and their partners.
Jones gives an overview of an elective course, called The Truth About Pornography: A Pornography-Literacy Curriculum for High School Students Designed to Reduce Sexual and Dating Violence (Porn Literacy, for short). It’s a recent addition to Start Strong, a peer-leadership program for teenagers headquartered in Boston’s South End and funded by the city’s public-health agency.
Jones included a couple of mentions of “Fifty Shades” and how its abusive themes influence young guys and girls to perceive rough sex as the ideal, as well as a few sections mentioning the kind of abusive and violent porn the average teen is watching. But what was missing from the whopping 7,500-word post were important pieces in the “porn is actually harmful to society” puzzle, and we wanted to take a minute to fill in the gaps of this otherwise eye-opening article.
A Missed Opportunity
While it’s vital that the information about the normalized violence and abuse in porn is getting out and gaining visibility, we can’t help but notice that this piece was a giant missed opportunity to further shine light on the real effects porn is having on our society, especially for those whose brains aren’t fully finished developing.
To give you some context about what important data was passed over, Porn Literacy began in 2016 and is the focus of a pilot study, and was created in part by Emily Rothman, an associate professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health who has conducted several studies on dating violence, as well as on porn use by adolescents.
From the article: “Rothman also attended most of the [Porn Literacy] classes, offering information about pornography studies and explaining to them, for example, that there is no scientific evidence that porn is addictive, but that people can become compulsive about it.”
“No scientific evidence” of addictive potential? That’s interesting, and must mean that she somehow missed how over sixty neuroscientists have concluded their own brain research supports pornography’s addictive potential.
The article was also careful to note that the studies mentioned only indicated correlation, not direct links. This is also interesting, seeing as over 40 peer-reviewed studies—a preponderance of the evidence to date—have linked pornography use to lower relationship or sexual satisfaction, and those were not included. Also disregarded were 17 studies linking porn consumption to sexual problems and lower arousal, 11 studies documenting pornography escalation or habituation and a full 10 scientific reviews that establish serious risks with pornography use.
We understand that this wasn’t an opinion piece, aimed at swaying the reader with brilliant Op-Ed arguments and a passionate plea from the expert writer to consider the costs of porn. Even so, considering the incredible mountain of research and data that proves the harmful effects of pornography, the time has come for this discussion to evolve from mere opinion to informed fact. The evidence is building, and it can no longer be denied there is serious reason to believe that porn has addictive potential, is tied to violence (especially against women), and it is connected to disappointing and unfulfilling sexual health—not to mention that it fuels sex trafficking.
Aren’t those massive issues worth a few words in a piece otherwise illuminating to porn’s effect on the rising generation? We think so. So when The New York Times and other publications miss the mark and neglect filling in the whole picture about the harmful effects of porn, we’ll be right here, sharing the facts.
Ultimately, teaching teens how to be “responsible” porn consumers is like teaching them how to be responsible cigarette smokers. We think that if someone chooses to take up a habit, they deserve to know the full picture of what they’re getting into—including any unavoidable negative effects. It is unnecessary to normalize something with such apparent harmful effects.
We hope to live in a culture that doesn’t seek to only teach the rising generation how to accept something harmful, but instead challenges them to critically think about all of the facts and make a truly informed decision.
If you’re interested in more information on the harmful effects of porn, check out our free three-part documentary series, Brain, Heart, World. Click here to watch now.