Portions of the following article were originally posted on The Huffington Post blog by Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. It has been edited for clarity and content and shared with permission.
Disclaimer: Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative awareness and education organization. Some of the issues discussed in the following article are legislatively-affiliated. Including links and discussions about these legislative matters does not constitute an endorsement by Fight the New Drug. Though our organization is non-legislative, we fully support the regulation of already illegal forms of pornography and sexual exploitation, including the fight against sex trafficking.
What does it take for something to be considered a public health issue?
This question hit the national stage when the Republican National Committee declared pornography a public health crisis in its draft platform in 2015.
Opponents of the drafted platform were quick to challenge the amendment, some labeling it as a “moral panic,” but these claims disregard the collection of peer-reviewed research documenting the harms of pornography—harms which negatively impact individuals and families, no matter their political persuasions.
Let’s look at the data.
Since 2011, there have been 29 major studies that have revealed porn has negative and detrimental impacts on the brain. A 2014 study found that increased pornography use is linked to decreased brain matter in the areas of the brain associated with motivation and decision-making, and contributed to impaired impulse control and desensitization to sexual reward. A Cambridge study found that compulsive pornography use is characterized by novelty-seeking, conditioning, and habituation to sexual stimuli in males; such effects propel users to seek more extreme content over time in order to achieve the same level of arousal.
Pornography use is also connected to an increased acceptance of rape myths, risky sexual behaviors among adolescents, behaviors associated with higher incidence of STIs, and increased sexual dysfunction.
It’s worth noting that none of the aforementioned research mentions morality.
All of this research shows that pornography objectively has many physical, psychological, and social harms.
When it comes to pornography, it’s true that there is a different kind of devastation than we see with other violent issues in society. While pornography doesn’t leave corpses in its wake in the same way that gun violence does, it can leave a path of destruction for individuals, relationships, and society that should be addressed. With deeply rooted ties to sexual violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and destructive compulsive use patterns, pornography is undoubtedly harming people of all ages and genders, no matter their personal backgrounds.
Pornography is very pervasive in our modern-day society, and in a lot of ways, it has surpassed the ability of individuals and families to completely protect themselves from its harmful influences—this is why many are calling for a public health approach to raise awareness about the harms of pornography, provide resources to those struggling with it, and to offer effective prevention strategies.
Ultimately, it’s possible to not agree with every part of a political platform and still recognize that it’s important for our society to have an open dialogue about pornography’s harms.
The public health crisis of pornography is an issue everyone can care about.
The 2016 draft of the Democratic National Committee’s party platform included language denouncing violence against women and sexual assault. When considering that research shows that pornography perpetuates violence against women and can encourage acts of sexual violence, it seems like the two drafted platforms by two different parties really do have the same goal.
A study analyzing scenes from popular pornography films revealed that 88% of the scenes depict acts of physical aggression against women. Eighty-seven percent of aggressive acts were perpetrated against women, and 95% of their responses were either neutral or expressions of pleasure. As Americans, no matter what political affiliation individuals have, we can take a stand for equality and for humanity. As it will be very hard to truly achieve equality when violence is considered sexy.
Another important piece of information: 2015 meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries found that internationally the consumption of pornography was significantly associated with increases in verbal and physical aggression, among males and females alike.
Drafts by both parties are essentially calling for a greater emphasis on sexual violence prevention efforts, which is a vital issue in our society. Given what we know from research, prevention programs on sexual violence may be more holistic and effective if they included discussion on the harmful effects of pornography.
It’s clear that all sides are striving for the same objective: a healthy, violence-free society with healthy relationships as the foundation.
While the varying sides of the political spectrum may use different language on matters of sexual exploitation (e.g. “protecting children,” “ending sexual violence against women,” “rescuing victims of trafficking,” and “helping equip families with education”) that we are all striving for a society that defends the sexual safety and health of its citizens.
Ultimately, this fight is about people.
Some have asked why, as an organization, Fight the New Drug does not target specific demographics—and we think that’s a fair question!
Thanks to science, facts, and hundreds of thousands of personal stories from people around the world, we know that the harmful effects of pornography do not discriminate. They don’t discriminate based or race, gender, belief system, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or any other diversifying factor. The issue of sexual exploitation and impacts of today’s porn can apply to anyone and everyone, and this is both bad news and good news: it’s bad news because it means that anyone can be roped into being negatively impacted by porn, but it’s good news because it means that we can unite in this fight together regardless of our personal backgrounds or beliefs.
Related: Why We’re Not Out To Ban Porn
Ultimately, this fight is about people, healthy relationships, and love. Beyond politics or morality, this is about youth and adults being exploited. This is about 6-year-old girls and boys who are stumbling across porn and learning that love and intimacy should be violent and objectifying. This is about 11-year old girls and boys learning that they should accept violent and degrading behavior as acts of “love.” This is about an industry that is fueling human trafficking. This is about us—our families, our friends, our loved ones, our world.
We think it’s a huge relief that someone doesn’t have to have a specific set of beliefs or political persuasion to be against exploitation. And in a tense time where many are bracing for the next big social media debate with a friend or family member regarding issues on which they disagree, we think it’s pretty cool that we have Fighters from all nations and different backgrounds who agree on one thing: porn is anything but harmless, and love is worth fighting for.