The Dishonesty of Labeling Porn a ‘Public Health Crisis’

Laptop computer on glass tableIs pornography a “public health crisis”? Claims to that effect, recently led by Todd Weiler, a Republican state Senator in Utah, have created a lot of chatter. As a certified sex addiction therapist and certified sex therapist, I find such broad claims frustrating. With every bold, unsubstantiated claim about sex and porn, sex therapists’ jobs get more difficult. The line where pornography is problematic becomes increasingly blurry, parents become more confused about what to do to help their children understand sex, and more people access therapy due to shame surrounding behavior that in many cases isn’t problematic.

Many people do contend with a legitimate pornography issue. Some use it compulsively, while others have relationship problems because of it. Others avoid their partners in favor of porn. These breakdowns in romantic relationships and out-of-control behaviors require special skill, empathy, and education to address, not rhetoric.

Even though there are many people who want or need help for pornography use, the reason for calling pornography a “crisis” is unclear. Weiler’s declaration is attention grabbing, but it also makes a common mistake. He mixes up issues relating to childhood curiosity about sex, pornography addiction, and adult pornography use. This mistake is dangerous because these claims are based on speculation, whereas real knowledge about sexual education can only come from researched evidence. Combining concerns of education, sexual fantasy, and the breakdown of family connections leads to arguments based in ignorance.

Although there are many critics of Weiler’s claims, there are supporters as well. Critics and supporters alike may take extreme perspectives without doing the research needed to figure out how to best educate children about sex, help those who are addicted to porn, and understand how people connect with sex.

Pornography as Sex Education

Pornography may be more accessible to children and adolescents with the Internet, but we really don’t know the long-term consequences of this. This doesn’t mean children should watch porn, of course, but using words like “exposed” when talking about their interactions with it make it sound like irreversible, lasting effects are inevitable, which is simply unproven. It is also unclear what leads children and teens to watch porn; educated assumptions among some sexual health professionals indicate it’s curiosity and the pursuit of sexual education. Many sex education programs are lacking when it comes to concrete information about sexual pleasure and sex outside of reproduction.

We all are concerned about children being safe online and their exposure to pornography. Yet, it is critical to resist taking sides based on oversimplified political messages.To gain a better understanding of child and adolescent pornography use, it might be best to go to the source. It’s time to ask young people what they are looking for, rather than pontificating about right and wrong. Let’s put our trust in them to help us understand what it’s like to be a young, developing, sexual person in the Internet age, because we clearly don’t get it. Children and teens are sexual beings, developing and growing, while also trying to understand what even many adults struggle to understand about sex.

In our sexual education programs, there is a need to teach children about the difference between what is portrayed in pornography and real sex. Rather than treating porn use as an epidemic, we need to leave doors open for non-shaming discussion, dialogue, and information exchange.

Porn as an Addiction

Mind-numbing, distancing, and dissociating are the clinical features I notice most in those I work with who compulsively use porn. However, there are also people who come in with what they think is a pornography addiction, even though they use porn infrequently.

This underscores why it is a problem when high-profile people make bold, anti-porn claims based on assumption and speculation. There is a need for ongoing research to help us understand the negative and potentially positive roles of porn. Labeling it a “health crisis” makes it difficult to know who needs help and who doesn’t. This cloudiness increases the chances of shaming people who don’t have a problem, which can create further issues with a sexually positive identity. It also cuts into the credibility of the existence of pornography addiction, which makes it more difficult to help those who struggle with compulsive use.

Lawmakers Are Not Sex Experts

We all are concerned about children being safe online and their exposure to pornography. Yet, it is critical to resist taking sides based on oversimplified political messages. This is why lawmakers and politicians, whose motives aren’t always pure and whose interests are often complicated, shouldn’t be attempting to educate or regulate the general population about sex and porn. As with other complicated social and mental health issues, lawmakers need to consult with actual experts. Discussing issues with sex therapists and addiction experts would help promote research. These efforts can help create education plans, bring professionals together, and help build relationships that serve us all.

References:

  1. Siemaszko, C. (2016, Feb. 9). Utah state Sen. Todd Weiler: Porn is a public health crisis. NBC News. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/utah-state-sen-todd-weiler-porn-public-health-crisis-n514626
  2. Sifferlin, A. (2015). Why schools can’t teach sex ed. Retrieved from http://time.com/why-schools-cant-teach-sex-ed/

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Michael J. Salas, MA, LPC-S, LCDC, CSAT, CST, therapist in Dallas, Texas

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 9 comments
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  • Jayden

    Jayden

    March 7th, 2016 at 6:43 AM

    But there is no denying that this is some,thing that can irreparably harm a marriage and that it gives some people unrealistic expectations of what sex with a partner should look like.

  • Debra

    Debra

    March 7th, 2016 at 3:32 PM

    To hear most couples talk you would think that this is something that they are all dealing with. I am sure my husband looks at porn on his own time but thankfully it has not interfered with our relationship at all. maybe it has given him some ideas of stuff to try in the bedroom, but I’m cool with that. Could it be that this is a big deal being made out of nothing?

  • terrence

    terrence

    March 8th, 2016 at 7:50 AM

    But it is a big problem for some people and to say that this is being overblown is in fact negating the fact that this can be come a serious problem for many people. I know that especially as a male it is easy to become sucked into that world and it can begin to feel like reality sort of doesn’t measure up to the fantasy that we engage with online. I know this because i have been there and believe me it can be a hard thing to let go of once you have started down that rabbit hole.

  • Casey

    Casey

    March 9th, 2016 at 11:29 AM

    I don’t know whether or not it is fair to label it a crisis or what but I do know that there many females who feel very diminished by their husband’s use of porn. It is like they see this and think that this is what we are supposed to look like and act like and I have a news flash for them- this is not real life and letting their fantasies get the bets of them is ruining many otherwise good marriages. I don’t know what it is that men are searching for in porn but they better start looking for it at home otherwise most of them are going to find themselves alone with only their online fantasies to hang out with.

  • brent

    brent

    March 9th, 2016 at 3:40 PM

    My wife and I tried watching together but I think that in the end it just made both of us pretty uncomfortable. I don’t think that it is a problem if both people get something out of it and it makes the relationship stronger but if you start to see that it is pulling at you bit by bit then it might be worth looking at something else for spicing things up a little.

  • Jason

    Jason

    March 10th, 2016 at 8:21 AM

    I started watching porn (I should say viewing as dial-up was impractical for video) when I was 16. For me it was a way to connect with my same sex attractions. I literally had no other way to experience what being gay meant except for what I could find online. I grew up in a religious family in a rural town in south Arkansas. Porn got me through the closet.

  • Lara

    Lara

    March 10th, 2016 at 10:53 AM

    But who is actually being dishonest here: those saying that this is a public health crisis or those who say that it is not? Couldn’t there be some sort of balance here?

  • Moe

    Moe

    March 12th, 2016 at 9:09 AM

    It could go both ways.

    It could be a real relationship strengthener or it could be brutal o n the relationship. I think that it is all about how much you allow it to influence you.

  • layla

    layla

    March 14th, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    One of the problems that I could see with attaching this label to it is that those who use it will then start to feel like there is something wrong with them for wanting to look at porn. If they are doing it in a responsible way and to not take the place of something or someone then I don’t think that there is automatically something that is wrong with that.

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