Pornography has become a pervasive and mainstream feature of our society. Once a taboo subject of discussion, pornography is now casually promoted on every media platform available. It is treated as if it’s simply okay, a fact of life that everyone enjoys engaging in. However, a growing amount of evidence has shown the damaging effects of pornography. Considering this, I believe the time has come to confront the growing problem of pornography through policy.
There are certainly those who will jump to pornography’s defense. They will argue that it is our right to watch porn and it is a woman’s right (or man’s right) to act in pornographic videos. We are free to do what we want in our own bedrooms, a woman is free to do what she wants with her own body (we’ve heard this argument before), and then there’s the whole “free speech” thing. However, I’m not convinced any of this really applies to pornography. Each of these rights has its limits. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single right that was unlimited. Generally, that limit comes when the act you engage in infringes upon another individual’s rights or harms the public good in any way. Those who imagine porn as nothing more than watching videos in your bedroom will take issue with the charge that porn affects others or harms the public good. However, I will argue that it does.
Watching pornography is not harmless. According to a 2014 study done at the University of Cambridge, the “porn-addicted brain reacts to porn cues the same way the drug-addicted brain reacts to drug cues.” This isn’t the only study with such a conclusion. Dozens of studies since 2011 show that porn “negatively impacts” and even physically alters the brain. Essentially, porn is addictive in the same way drugs are. The more people watch, the more they need to watch in order to get pleasure out of it. They will also need to watch more and more hardcore material to get the same levels of pleasure. Those who consistently indulge become more impulsive, making it “more likely that they’ll give into their cravings.” They even begin turning to pornography during times of stress, another clear sign of someone suffering from addiction.
Pornography’s impact goes beyond the individual, affecting any relationships that person might have as well. Those who frequently watch pornography have a “decreased interest in seeking out human partners.” Once they do have partners, they “often cannot achieve sexual arousal during partnered sex, have a decreased sensitivity to pleasure or cannot experience an orgasm without porn or porn fantasy.” Frequent porn use is also associated with having “less trust in romantic partners” and with “feeling like marriage is confining.” One study found that people were “more critical” of their partner after viewing pornographic images. All of this ends up leaving single porn users lonely, while the partners of those in relationships “end up depressed, anxious, and feeling like they can never measure up.” Some people argue that couples can watch porn together. However, couples that don’t watch pornography together have higher levels of commitment and lower rates of infidelity.
Arguably the biggest problem with pornography is the way it alters a man’s view of women, with its portrayals of them as objects of men’s sexual desires. Research shows that the more porn a man views, the more he prefers that women be “submissive and subordinate to men.” Much of hardcore porn portrays violence toward women. This is because those addicted to it need more and more shocking material in order to get aroused. Several studies have shown that this leads to aggressive behavior. Those men who consistently watch porn are also more likely to both pressure women into having sex and “support statements that promote abuse and sexual aggression of both women and girls.” They are also more likely to engage in sexual harassment. In fact, one study has suggested that those with high past exposure to violent porn were “six times more likely to report having raped someone than those that had low past exposure.”
It always struck me as odd that prostitution is illegal, but pornography is not. Prostitution is essentially paying a woman to have sex with you, while pornography is paying someone to have sex, either with you or someone else, while filming it. Acording to Jen Cecil, director of After Hours Ministry, which helps those involved with prostitution, there are striking similarities. Not only do they both involve paying someone for sex, but, according to Cecil, there’s little difference in what porn stars and prostitutes experience. “They're still getting paid for sex. They're still being demoralized. The abuse runs across both.”
Similar to prostitutes, porn actresses frequently enter the industry at a young age because they are financially helpless. It’s an opportunity for them to get quick money and they are naive enough to believe it won’t be too painful of an experience. Many are given rosy promises that go unfulfilled. However, they do not make as much as expected. It is generally the male producer or manager who makes most of the money. He does the recruiting, drives them to shoots, and is strikingly similar to a pimp.
Once involved, the girls are frequently pressured into sexual situations they feel uncomfortable with. The scene that a girl agrees to can change suddenly during a shoot, as well, going from something she can handle to something where she is “physically beaten or forced to do a sexual act” without her prior consent. Many porn actresses have left the industry with stories of sexual coercion, physical abuse, drug addiction, and many other problems. Some of the things these women have experienced could easily be considered sex trafficking.
We simply can’t ignore the problem of pornography. Not only is it spreading like wildfire, but it has also become incredibly accessible, allowing children to start seeing it at younger ages (boys first see porn at an average age of 11, according to one survey). Our society has become more sexualized overall, as the amount of sexual content on TV has increased significantly within the last couple of decades, including on shows that teens regularly watch. The more teens get desensitized to sex, the worse porn will get in order to appeal to them. This is something that has to be addressed. It is time we enact updated policies that address the pervasive flood of pornography throughout our communities.
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