Pornographic material graphic

Last month, the Virginia state legislature voted to recognize pornography as a public health crisis. Delegate Robert G. Marshall introduced a resolution that includes strong language condemning the “violence and abuse of women and children," “dissatisfaction with marriage” and a variety of other colorful phrases.

Pornography is easily one of the most controversial topics in society. The 10 billion dollar industry is the subject of much criticism, from its lack of regulation to its treatment of women. Now, countries are beginning to fear the scope of pornography and declare its usage a health hazard.

One infamous example of a nationwide ban on over 800 porn-specific websites was introduced by India’s telecoms ministry. This ban lasted a week before mounting criticism, widespread anger and a possible increase in porn consumption after the law was instated caused the government to greatly scale back the scope of the ban to make it focused solely on banning sites that include child pornography.

Clearly, this ban did little to stem any sort of perceived porn-related health crisis in India, but other nations are taking steps to institute similar bans. The Philippines recently instituted a ban on a group of pornographic websites. Russia declared porn to be illegal in 2015. Iran banned a list of 256 adult websites earlier this year.

Here in the United States, Utah became the first state to declare pornography a public health crisis. It was soon followed by South Dakota and Virginia, and now, even the federal government may be following suit, with the House Oversight Committee voting unanimously on a bill that would ban federal employees from watching porn while at work.

The Republican Party’s platform has a section in which pornography is declared a “public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions.” It is a safe bet to say that congressional Republicans will likely introduce legislation somehow restricting the public’s access to porn.

However, before members of the Republican Party begin, they should understand that there is no official definition for “public health crisis” by the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization or the National Institutes of Health.

Supporters of the legality of pornography state that it is hardly as dangerous as it is made to seem, and they do have some evidence on their side. A Dutch study found that porn was merely “one factor among many” that have an influence on the sexual behaviors of children and adolescents.

People who oppose the use of porn frequently refer to a common wish to protect the dignity of women. Susan Fiske studied the MRIs of men watching porn and found that while they were watching, they saw women “more as objects than human beings.” With rape culture still incredibly prevalent in society, this presents its own host of problems. However, while rape culture could be considered to be a public health crisis, this does not imply that viewing pornography is one as well.

The porn industry has very little legal oversight, and in California, where the state legislature passed a laws requiring performers to wear condoms, as well as conform to a few other safety regulations, sex workers were concerned with losing work to workers in states with no such laws.

Another study also found a negative correlation between hours of porn watched and the amount of gray matter in one’s brain. This requires further research to determine direct causation, but the fact that there is a correlation is a bit concerning.

Studies by Brigham Young University and the University of Missouri found that in heterosexual couples, men who watch porn tended to have lower “sexual quality” with their respective partners. On the other hand, women watching porn was “positively associated with female sexual quality."

Pornography addiction is also a serious, but not quite such a black-and-white issue. Research about the subject is still coming in, and scientists’ views vary greatly. A study at UCLA found that a brain addicted to porn reacted in the opposite way as it would with any other sort of addiction, suggesting that different therapies will have to be developed to treat it.

With all of this evidence available, it is still unclear if widespread popularity of porn is anything to fear as a “health crisis." There certainly are a plethora of issues within the porn industry itself, but there simply doesn’t appear to be a general medical consensus as to a societal threat by pornography. Addiction to porn is certainly a serious condition that should be studied and treated effectively, but there is no evidence for any form of epidemic.

Additionally, it seems a bit counterintuitive for the Republican Party to be advocating for restrictions on what one could argue is a matter of freedom of speech. This is the party that constantly fights any sort of ban on one’s right to use hate speech.

Clearly, much more research is needed in order to determine what legal restrictions should be placed on porn. For the moment, lawmakers can occupy themselves with defining a “public health crisis.”

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