We’ve all seen the label. When a smoker purchases a pack of cigarettes, it comes with a Surgeon General’s warning on the pack to warn the smoker of the serious health consequences of tobacco use.

For most of our generation’s coming-of-age, smoking’s always been thought of as pretty uncool. You know it can cause cancer. You know it can make your teeth yellow. You know it affects not only those who smoke, but those around them too, through second hand smoke.

But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, smoking used to be one of the coolest things you could do, and the first lawsuits against the tobacco industry popped up in the 1950’s. It wasn’t until almost 50 years later — after decades of fighting a giant, influential industry that didn’t want to own any part of the harm it was directly causing with its product — before the truth about the harmful effects of smoking were widely accepted and became common knowledge.

Sound Familiar?

The tactics the porn industry uses to protect their bottom line are very similar to those used by Big Tobacco. Unsurprisingly, pornography in society is playing out with a striking resemblance to the storyline of the tobacco industry.

Tobacco, once more or less universally accepted as okay and even healthy, is now known to cause cancer and COPD, as well as increasing the risk of heart disease. In today’s society, smoking is widely considered harmful, and people who partake in smoking know the risks they’re taking by doing so.

In simplest terms, while pornography may not cause cancer, it sure can ruin lives. And very much like the tobacco industry, the pornography industry won’t admit their product can cause deep harm in a consumer’s life. They don’t want to own up to it, because pornography industry isn’t in the business to curb demand or lessen profits, no matter the amount of harm they’re causing.

These days, buying a pack of cigarettes is much more difficult than accessing porn on the internet. All it takes is the click of a button to access the most explicit material imaginable. And because it’s so easy to watch porn, and because porn can become addictive, the demand for sexual exploitation has increased exponentially. And to keep producing more shocking, new content, the market for more extreme hardcore porn is booming and becoming more mainstream.

The truth is, where’s there’s a demand, there’s trafficking, because as the global demand for the “mainstream” adult industry skyrockets, there will always be traffickers who want to capitalize off that lucrative opportunity and use vulnerable people to do so. And yes, while there are many porn participants who choose to work in porn, there are  plenty who don’t.

The Many Forms of Sex Trafficking

The obvious form of sex trafficking is prostitution. The link between porn and prostitution is inseparable. Research shows that men who go to prostitutes are twice as likely to have watched a porn film in the last year compared to the general population. It’s also not surprising that when these customers show up, many come ready with porn images in hand to show the women they’re exploiting what they want to do.

The less obvious trafficking can be immigrants with no one to turn to to young women hoping for a career in entertainment to children coerced off the streets and from shelters. Clearly, sex trafficking takes many forms, and in each case, the person is left with no choice but to perform. They often have no network of friends or family to support them and are often financially broke. Sex traffickers exploit these weakness and use intimidation to force girls, boys, men and women into commercial sex acts.

As Jennifer Johnson, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Sociology of the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University puts it, “The processes of [the] production and consumption [of pornography] involve a global supply chain, which includes connections to human trafficking, child pornography, prostitution, drugs and other forms of global violence.”

Just because there are many causes of cancer doesn’t mean smoking’s not one of those causes. Sure, not all pornography leads to sex trafficking, but the link is there, and it is undeniable.

Does Decriminalization Miss The Point?

All the while, the leading advocacy group for the adult film industry, just like those in favor of the tobacco industry in the 1970’s and 1980’s, look outward for someone to blame rather than take any responsibility for the effect of their product on society.

The advocacy group, Free Speech Coalition, says that pornography isn’t the issue, the issue is that sex work is criminalized and stigmatized, and that’s why there’s trafficking. Their answer is to decriminalize sex work to combat sex trafficking. They cite Amnesty International’s stance on decriminalizing sex work to help improve the conditions for sex workers. What they leave out is protecting those who fall between the cracks, who don’t willingly participate in pornography.

In the words of Amnesty International, who is on the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s Dirty Dozen list:

“[Decriminalization] does not mean the removal of laws that criminalize exploitation, human trafficking or violence against sex workers. These laws must remain and can and should be strengthened.

It does mean the removal of laws and policies criminalizing or penalizing sex work.

This includes laws and regulations related to selling and buying or organizing sex work, such as solicitation, renting premises, “brothel keeping” and living off the proceeds of “prostitution.”

We use the term ‘sex work’ only for consensual exchanges between adults.”

Criminalized or decriminalized, it doesn’t begin to help those who fall victim to sex trafficking as a result of the increased demand and increased supply of pornography. That’s just a convenient term to draw attention away from the industry’s undeniable connection to sex trafficking.

Like the tobacco industry, the porn industry works hard to counter the facts, the science and the personal stories. They like to point fingers at what they put forth as the “real” problems, while ignoring the tangible, real destruction pornography leaves in its wake.

The Language of Lies

Whether lobbying against legislation that protects sex workers or creating doubt around scientific articles, the porn industry does what it can to protect its profits. Like the tobacco industry, they sow doubt by using language such as “may be nothing more than learned behavior” and “no one has definitively proven that their products can cause ‘harm.'”

This is such a complete lie. Clearly, they haven’t seen six studies confirming mental and physical health problems of female performers or a full 50 peer-reviewed studies directly linking porn use to sexual violence.  They also must have missed the 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. Not to mention that over sixty neuroscientists have concluded their own brain data supports pornography’s addictive potential. But, right, porn isn’t an actual problem…at least not to someone who hasn’t read the data.

RelatedOp-Ed: Who Exactly Is Misrepresenting The Science On Pornography?

The pornography industry and its advocates often claim the anti-porn movement as just being a morality play, as they feel porn should be a decision made individually by private citizens. And we agree it’s a private decision, assuming they have all the facts before making that decision. And here’s the thing: pornography doesn’t only harm those on the receiving side of the screen. Just watching porn has ripple effects the viewer rarely sees.

Also, just like the tobacco industry, the porn industry also uses philanthropy and points to it as an example of how they do good in the world. But we all know why they’re investing anything into charity—they’re using it to lighten public opinion about them and keep people’s attention away from the facts. It’s as if they’re saying, “See? We’re not so bad,” as if charity work can make-up for all the rock-solid studies that prove its detrimental effects to viewers and society.

History Repeats Itself

Just like the Big Tobacco industry, the porn industry would love for you to forget anything negative you’ve heard about them, even if your sources are iron-clad peer-reviewed studies and credible sources and stories from ex-performers. And also like Big Tobacco, the porn industry refuses to take responsibility for the harm and damage they’re directly causing as a result of their product.

But it’s only a matter of time before that all changes.

Naomi Wolf, a writer for New York Magazine, suggests that, “you might want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking. The evidence is in.”

We think Naomi is onto something, along with the rest of the scientific community that is telling us something very important about porn: it isn’t harmless.

 

What YOU Can Do

Although the porn industry is using tobacco industry tactics to deny the harmful effects of their product, history suggests an educated society can’t be lied to. SHARE this article to spread the word.

Spread the word that porn is anything but harmless, similar to tobacco. Grab this tee and make a statement:

 

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