Help needed to fight porn's harmful impact

by Hillary May & Michael Foust, posted Tuesday, April 06, 2010 (9 years ago)

Editor's note: This is part of a special four-part series of Baptist Press stories about Internet porn addiction. For others in the series visit www.bpnews.net and search for "Internet porn addiction" (with the phrase in quotes).

WASHINGTON (BP)--A new report calls for celebrities, educators, lawmakers and journalists to help reduce the social harms of Internet pornography.

The 53-page document, "The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations," says Internet pornography is not "a harmless and victimless pursuit" but instead is a "social and personal health hazard." It offers a series of proposals on reducing its harmful effects.

It calls upon celebrities and other influential people to use their social status to discourage pornography usage and the "so what" mentality. There is a particular need for awareness in the music industry, and the report encourages music artists to speak out against the degradation of women.

"If Eminem were to write a song saying 'pornography is stupid,' that would advance this cause more than any other single thing I can think of," said Mary Eberstadt, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. "... We have to change this current social consensus, and it takes individuals and informal ways like that more than by having the media and centralized organizations take the lead."

Research included in the report says the use of Internet pornography has damaging effects on men and women of all ages. Pornography negatively impacts families, relationships, overall happiness and the ability to function in society, the report says.

The document was published by the Witherspoon Institute, a Princeton, N.J.-based think tank, and was signed by more than 50 experts from some of America's leading institutions of higher learning. It was released at a March 16 press conference. A second document from the project will be released later in the spring.

"The statement is a powerful document, and I submit to you that it will change those who read it. And in that way the statement provides the underpinnings for the defense of our children," said Emmett McGroarty, director of Preserve Innocence, an initiative of the American Principles Project.

According to the report, the government can also play a large role in eliminating the consumption of pornography. The report asks the government to make pornography illegal on standard services, such as Internet service to sites advertising obscenity. Political leaders should also use the "bully pulpit" for public campaigns in order to advertise the harmful effects of pornography.

The report says the government should legislate to make pornography "no more legal on standard [Internet] servers used by ordinary people than it is in the mail." It says enforcement could begin by targeting sites "deemed obscene even under current First Amendment law," as defined by the 1973 Supreme Court case Miller v. California, which dealt with pornography in the mail. The court found that "obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment."

"It is our contention," the report says, "that the reflexive protection of pornography on First Amendment grounds will become increasingly unsustainable as the harms caused by today's consumption become an increasing part of the public store of knowledge -- an effort to which the signatories hope this statement contributes."

The report further asserts that "all 'adult' material (print and digital) should carry a warning about the addictive potential of pornography and consequent possible psychological harm to the consumer." The Department of Justice's unit dedicated to the prosecution of obscenity should be "redeveloped and redeployed" to address the "specific and multifaceted phenomenon of internet pornography," the report says.

The report asks educators and teachers to be aware of ongoing pornography research and to incorporate new findings into school curricula.

"Sexual education programs, for example, should include a component about pornography and the sex industry so that young people understand the underpinnings and implications of the commercialization of sex, and the impact of pornography on those who use it and those involved in its production," the report says.

Investigative journalists, bloggers and others influential in forming public opinion are asked to lead in research on the effects of pornography, including the link between pornography and human trafficking. The report urges journalists to communicate essential information to the public about the personal effects of individuals addicted to and dependent on pornography.

According to the report, many therapists across the country consider pornography to be a type of entertainment and are ignorant about the scale of pornography use and of the statistics testifying to its harm. Some therapists even promote the use of pornography during counseling, and the report urges therapists to discontinue this practice.

"The problem is daunting, but we must pursue the solution," McGroarty said at the news conference. "We must pursue it for the protection of our children. We must pursue it so that they can enjoy and thrive in their childhood, so that they can grow up to pursue romance rather than the deprivation of dignity. And we must pursue it so that our children realize that we love them. We love them enough to fight the good fight."

The report also says corporations should not tolerate pornography in the workplace but that they need to "take an enlightened view of the employee who has developed a pornography problem that jeopardizes his or her job" and to "help that person break the habit rather than simply firing him or her" -- similar to how the corporation might assist an alcoholic.

Psychotherapist Mary Anne Layden noted that American society is "battling other problems, such as the consequences to junk fast food and its devastating outcomes to both adults and children."

"Similarly, pornography is sexual junk food, and we have fallen under the spell of the myth that there is no such thing as too much sex and there's no sex that's bad sex," said Layden, director of education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania.


Hillary May is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press. Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. The Social Costs of Pornography is available at Amazon.com ($5, not including shipping.)

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