What does it take for something to be considered a public health crisis?
This question hit the national stage when the Republican National Committee declared pornography a public health crisis in its draft platform, which will be formally voted on next week at the Republican National Convention.
Opponents of the RNC platform have been quick to smear the amendment as a “moral panic” and have argued that guns should be labeled a public health crisis rather than pornography.
Both of these claims ignore the reams of peer-reviewed research documenting the harms of pornography— harms which devastate individuals and families irrespective of their party affiliations.
Since 2011, there have been 24 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 achieve the same level of arousal.
In fact, pornography use is connected to an increased acceptance of rape myths, risky sexual behaviors among adolescents, behaviors associated with higher incidence of STIs, and increased sexual dysfunction.
All of this research shows that pornography objectively has many physical, psychological, and social harms.
None of it mentions morality.
When it comes to pornography, we see a different kind of carnage than we see with guns.
While pornography doesn’t leave bullet riddled corpses, it nonetheless leaves a path of destruction in its wake that must be addressed. With deeply rooted ties to sexual violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and destructive compulsive use patterns, pornography is laying waste to countless lives.
Because pornography is so pervasive today, it has surpassed the ability of individuals and families to protect themselves from its harmful influences. This situation requires 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.
Even more importantly, you do not have to agree with the entire RNC platform to recognize that it’s vital for our nation to have an open dialogue about pornography’s destructive nature.
The public health crisis of pornography is a bipartisan issue.
The 2016 draft of the Democratic National Committee’s party platform already includes language denouncing violence against women and sexual assault. What is pornography but a recording of these very actions?
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. It is time for Americans, no matter their political affiliation, to take a stand for women’s equality and for human dignity. There can be no true equality in America when violence against women is considered sexy.
Further, the DNC is calling for a greater emphasis on sexual violence prevention efforts.
A 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.
Therefore, prevention programs on sexual violence must involve a discussion of the harms of pornography in order to be holistic and effective.
While the RNC and DNC use different language on matters of sexual exploitation (e.g. “protecting children” versus “ending sexual violence against women”) I think it is clear that we are all striving for an America that defends the sexual safety and health of its citizens.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has launched a petition asking the DNC to address the public health crisis of pornography at the Democratic National Convention.
Now is the time for the RNC, the DNC, and all Americans, to take a stand for human dignity and equality.