Taking the ‘porn problem’ public

The Catholic faith has long drawn attention to the serious and sinister consequences of pornography on the human soul. In 2016, for instance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” a pastoral letter describing pornography’s ability to distort one’s understanding of human sexuality and stunt his or her capacity for self-giving love. The bishops condemned pornography as part of the “throwaway culture” Pope Francis has described and warned that its harms “include physiological, financial, emotional, mental and spiritual effects.”

But for too long, the Church’s warnings about the dangers of pornography were written off as unnecessary and even prudish moralizing from an institution that had long-ago grown out of touch with the realities of human life.

In the last decade, though, science has begun to recognize what faith and morals have held true for years — that pornography has significant harmful effects to both the individual and the broader community, not just on the soul but on the human psyche. To address this reality, a bipartisan group of state legislators is proposing a resolution to declare pornography a public health crisis in Minnesota.

Harm to self

The “porn problem” has reached epidemic proportions. More than 77 percent of households contain pornographic material or have accessed it online in the last month. Nearly half of families report that pornography is a problem in their home.

The average age of first exposure to pornography is only 11 to 12 years old, and 93 percent of male teens have viewed pornography at least once. This is not surprising when a simple Google search on an iPad brings any child to an unending, unrestricted, free supply of vile sexual images and videos.

Early exposure is leading to lifelong consequences. Multiple medical studies using imaging testing have found that viewing pornography causes neuro-biological changes in children’s and teens’ brains. These brain images show the same pattern researchers observe in those suffering from serious drug addiction.

As a result, physicians and psychologists are seeing an increase in patients seeking treatment for pornography addiction and its effects. These harms are not isolated to the individual viewing pornography, but become a problem for families. In her testimony before the U.S. Senate, Dr. Jill Manning, a licensed family therapist and board member of the internet safety organization Enough is Enough, shared her research findings that 56 percent of divorce cases involve one party having an obsessive interest in pornography.

Harm to others

In addition to harming individuals and families, this crisis has led to a normalization and tolerance of violent sexual activities in society. An analysis of the most-viewed pornographic videos found that 88 percent of scenes include physical violence toward women, 95 percent of which portrayed the women accepting or enjoying the abuse.

The violent tendencies associated with pornography don’t end when the browser window is closed; they spill over into the lives of those who absorb these images.

After examining 40 different studies on the connection between porn and violence against women, a team of researchers concluded that there is a “clear and consistent” connection between viewing pornography and higher probabilities of committing a sexual offense. This was seen more clearly in a recent study of collegiate males that found overwhelmingly that viewing pornography increased the likelihood of having attitudes that support violence against women.

This normalization of violent sexual acts toward women is both the kindling and the fuel for a growing culture of rape and exploitation that has infected our college campuses and society at large.

Stemming the epidemic

Several states have passed resolutions declaring pornography a public health crisis, calling for renewed efforts to weed it out of our homes and schools, and for further study into porn’s debilitating effects. And now, Minnesota might be the next state to join this growing national consensus.

The impact of such a resolution should not be overlooked. When scientists discovered the negative impact of cigarettes, policy makers declared a public health crisis and took action. They substantially reduced the number of people harmed by smoking through initiatives such as public education campaigns and increased restrictions on children’s access to cigarettes.

Cigarettes were once thought to be benign and in some cases were marketed by physicians as beneficial. Science told us otherwise. Although by faith and reason we have always known of pornography’s harms, our legislators should follow the research and do the responsible thing by declaring porn a public health crisis.

Ryan Wilson is a law clerk at the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Action Alert

Urge your lawmakers to declare pornography a public health crisis

Science now confirms what the Church has long maintained: Pornography is bad for the human person and society at large. Efforts to raise awareness about the ill effects of pornography can no longer be considered privately-held religious beliefs, but instead must be recognized as a compelling public interest.

Urge your lawmakers to join the push to declare pornography a public health crisis in Minnesota. Ask your state representative to support HF 1788, and your state senator to support SF 1605. Let’s protect our youth and families from the corrosive effects of pornography.

For contact information of your state senator and state representative, call 651-296-8338 or visit http://www.gis.leg.mn/imaps/districts.

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