In an overwhelming (82-8) bipartisan vote, the Virginia House of Delegates approved a measure earlier this month recognizing that pornography leads to societal and individual harms, joining Utah and South Dakota as states that are recognizing pornography's adverse effects. While religious groups have long recognized the destructive impact pornography has on relationships as well as the individual soul, and the sciences have begun documenting this phenomena increasingly over the past several years, it is significant that another legislature is seeing the need to codify this truth. Just how the balance will be struck between "free speech" and the protection of citizens will be an interesting dance (stay tuned for a follow-up brief), but here I will focus only on the recent trends in the data that are capturing the attention and concern of politicians.
In the Virginia resolution, several issues regarding the needs of, and harms caused to, individuals were noted, including how pornography contributes to the hypersexualization of teenagers and prepubescent children. The average age by which children are first exposed to pornography continues to drop, now vexing children as young as 11 or 12 years old. An increase in the distribution of sexually-explicit content produced by younger children using laptop webcams is also being observed . The consequences for these children are not minimal, and do not discriminate between boys and girls. Early exposure has been found to lead to:
Sadly, as children begin viewing pornography at younger and younger ages, the risk of becoming stuck in a compulsive problem using pornography likely increases. While the debate regarding whether a person can become addicted to pornography in the traditional biological sense continues, no one outside of the industry suggests that habitual use is not destructive in some way.
The Virginia resolution also notes the broader societal impact of pornography, concluding that the "need for education, prevention, research and policy change at the community and societal level" must be recognized. The bill notes how pornography "perpetuates a toxic environment," fostering increases in sex trafficking and prostitution, as well as increased difficulty in intimate relationships (e.g. impotence, infidelity) all of which decrease the desire to marry, and negatively affect existing marriages.
Fifty-six percent of divorces cite internet pornography use as a major factor in the breakup of the marriage. Given the centrality of marriage and family to the healthy functioning of society, the trend towards earlier and increased pornography use, and the accompanying disruption of healthy neurological, psychological and interpersonal development, is of grave concern. This trend goes hand in hand with the ease of access on the internet and serves to highlight a dilemma faced in many homes: even among reasonably-healthy families who are striving to instill virtuous values in their children, there is a risk of technology taking priority over human relationships , to devastating effect on children's development.
While the Virginia legislature boldly proposes:
efforts to prevent pornography exposure and addiction, to educate individuals and families concerning its harms, and to develop recovery programs [which] should be addressed systemically in ways that hold broader influences accountable,
the reality is that these efforts will take years to develop and implement, given the power and wealth of the pornography industry, as well as the current level of demand , which continues unabated. And in that time, new and more disturbing ways of "enhancing experiences" continue to be developed.
Despite these challenges, each family can take healthy steps towards healing their "little corner" of society, unplugged from the technology which distracts. Fathers and mothers can spend "real" time with their children, making sure they know them, their desires, interests and needs, well. Husbands and wives can take time to gaze into each others' eyes, reconnecting and learning anew why they chose each other. All can seek out friends (not the Facebook kind) to rekindle the relationships which sustain us.
True emotional intimacy is the prevention and the remedy which touches the human soul, and provides the genuine experience which pornography so poorly mimics.