Karen Fratti
March 20, 2018 9:27 am

Last month, the Florida state legislature joined five other states by voting on a bill that says porn is a public health risk. Although porn addiction isn’t listed as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is what psychiatrists use to diagnose people with mental illnesses, there are a lot of people who lobby state legislatures to declare porn dangerous, create task forces to do research into the effects of porn, and promote anti-porn education in sexual health classrooms. But is porn really a health risk?

It’s really hard to pinpoint exactly how many people watch porn on the regular — since the topic has so much stigma around it, so many people are scared to report their “bad habits.” With that in mind,  a 2017 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that over 75 percent of people watch porn on the regular, and a 2015 study done by Marie Claire and The Porn Project found that over 31 percent of women watch porn at least once a month, if not weekly, and 60 percent of them do so without a partner. So a lot of us are queuing up masturbation material on the regular, and those are just the ones who will admit it. Overall, recent studies suggest that porn viewership is on the rise. With so many people watching and theoretically enjoying it, what could really make porn so dangerous?

Florida’s just the most recent state to pass a law that insists that there is a connection between “porn use and mental and physical illnesses, forming and maintaining intimate relationships and deviant sexual behavior,” according to the AP, but the anti-porn movement has been happening for some time.

Since there’s no dependable science-based evidence that porn is a public health risk, most of the bills like the one in Florida are only brought to state capitols by conservative lobbies that believe sex is a sin. (Similar bills have been passed in South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Arkansas.)

One of those activists, Jay Dennis who is the founder of the One Million Men anti-pornography organization, explained the “harms” of porn to the Baptist Press in the wake of Florida’s resolution last month. Dennis maintains, “The fact that states are beginning to recognize pornography as a public health hazard, underscores what the Bible has been clear upon — sexual sin is destructive not only spiritually, but also emotionally and physically.”

Dennis added that, “identifying pornography as a public health hazard presents factual information to those outside of Christianity that this is not just a spiritual battle, it is a health issue facing every person.”

The thing is…it’s not. Research shows that “porn addiction” isn’t exactly what it sounds like, and watching porn and masturbating are totally healthy, normal things that everyone can and should do, whenever they want.

Nicole Cushman, Executive Director of Answer and Advisor to AMAZE, an organization that provides science based sex ed resources to educators, tells HelloGiggles, “It’s impossible to conduct definitive research on the effects of watching porn for ethical reasons, there are no conclusive data to indicate that porn itself poses a risk to public health. It has been well documented that masturbation does not cause any ill effects to one’s health.” Cushman adds:

Instead of stigmatizing porn through these silly bills, we’d be better off investing in more comprehensive and science-based sex ed so that we send people out into the world of the internet knowing what they’re getting into when they watch porn. Again, porn addiction is not in the DSM, which means that the experts don’t think there’s enough evidence to declare porn an actual risk to one’s health. There have been studies, like one from the University of Cambridge, that found that when just 19 men watched porn, their reward centers in their brain were activated as if they were doing drugs.

But that’s a little misleading. To start, that’s not a huge sample size. There’s also a lot neuroscience that goes into addictive behaviors and some of the other hallmarks of addiction don’t show up when people watch porn, which is why it can’t be considered the same thing as actual public health issues like drug and alcohol addiction.

Some men really feel that porn is addicting, though, and that it makes it difficult for them to have sex in real life, with a real woman. It might be true that some people have trouble not watching porn every time they log onto the internet and that there’s a lot of misogynist porn out there that sends the wrong message about sex to viewers. We already regulate dangerous kinds of porn, such as child pornography, so what these bills are really trying to do is stop people from making a choice about what they want to watch to get turned on and masturbate to. Aside from not being backed by science, it’s also impossible to do.

Instead of telling people that porn is inherently bad and addictive, we’d be better off asking men to reexamine their sexist beliefs about women that makes it hard for them to get an erection for their partner after watching porn. While it’s true you can find some pretty intense porn on the internet, always needing something new and different isn’t necessarily wrong. If men are having trouble connecting the dots between what they’re watching on a porn site and their intimate partners, it’s misogyny, not porn that’s the public health issue.

The actual public health crisis is that way too many states allow abstinence-only sex ed or skip talking about actual sexual health, so that there are generations of people that don’t know about consent, condoms, the clitoris, or that what we see in porn isn’t what (usually) happens when two people have sex. Luckily, organizations like AMAZE are out there working to change that.

Cushman tells HG, “Most young people will stumble upon porn online at some point, whether intentionally or not. This type of explicit content can be confusing or disturbing, so it’s important for educators and caring adults to address it with them so they know there are credible resources to turn to with their questions.” Her organization makes sure to tell teens that porn stars are actors.

Just like action movies don’t depict real life, porn doesn’t usually reflect real sex. She adds that porn “often leaves out important conversations about consent and protection from STDs and unintended pregnancy. Also, a lot of porn depicts unhealthy gender dynamics in which women are perceived as sexual objects who are always available for men’s pleasure, and that is not an appropriate way to treat anyone (regardless of gender).” Clutching our pearls and teaching kids that they need to stay away from porn isn’t the way to protect them. Explaining what they’re looking at and how to engage with porn is the way to go.

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