Should Porn Be Declared a Public Health Crisis? Some Think So
The move maybe sensationalist and exaggerated, but there’s a debate here which cannot be ignored.
The move maybe sensationalist and exaggerated, but there’s a debate here which cannot be ignored.(Photo: iStock)

Should Porn Be Declared a Public Health Crisis? Some Think So

Porn brings out the most ironic side of India. On one side, it’s socially condemned by the conservative India, which doesn’t like to talk about sex. On the other hand, India is the third largest consumer of the biggest porn site globally. The “modern” India, however, does try to normalise consuming pornographic material.

But a sexually liberated country like the United States would, surely, have no qualms about it, right? Well, they may regulate it under “free artistic expression” but some want to declare porn a public health crisis in the country. The state of Arizona is considering it, after a Republican representative introduced a resolution for the same.

It’s not a first though. Utah was the first US state to declare pornography a public health crisis in 2016, and measures have been passed in 11 other states since.

The move maybe sensationalist and exaggerated, but there’s a debate here which cannot be ignored.

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How Can Porn Be Harmful?

(Photo: iStock)

Unleashing effects on one’s brain like an addictive drug, increased objectification of women, portrayal of violent behaviour, leading to sexual violence, open access for minors – porn has many issues going on with it other than the unreal portrayal of sex, which can lead a vulnerable mind to think that it’s normal.

The Arizona resolution says pornography “perpetuates a sexually toxic environment that damages all areas of our society.” It adds that it’s a crisis leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts.

Yes, studies have found that pornography triggers brain activity in sex addicts in the same way drugs trigger drug addicts. Yes, in some cases, pornographic material of violent nature has been recovered from rapists and murderers, or they’ve admitted to consuming it before the horrifying criminal act. This links porn to sexual violence. Yes, for some, fantasy becomes the only sexual reality.

Having said all of that, this applies to a small percentage of people. There are a lot of people who view pornographic material, which isn’t degrading and problematic, and don’t commit crimes or don’t get addicted. This signifies that porn is not entirely something that’s causative but for some people with a disturbed mind, it is a contributing factor, says Dr Rajat Mitra, a clinical psychologist who has extensively worked with sexual offenders on porn-associated crimes.

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Does That Mean It’s a Public Health Crisis?

A crisis is a point of immediate danger on a large scale. While opponents of this resolution believe that porn does have serious concerns and ‘public health implications’, they say calling it a crisis is exaggerated and misses the underlying problem and the way to solve it.

“When you term something as a crisis, it creates panic. Before you declare a crisis, see which direction it is turning in, develop a mechanism to control it or stop that. You can’t skip these steps. This terminology develops anxiety in people,” says Dr Mitra.

The problem with grand, sweeping statements about pornography’s effects on its consumers is that one form of pornography is not the same as another. Whether it is a danger depends on what the content is, who is watching it, why they’re watching it, and how they react to it.
(Photo: iStock)

Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Science at Fortis Hospital, argues that even if that’s the case, why debate?

I do believe that pornography should be a concern. It doesn’t matter what term you give it, whether you call it public health crisis or not. The question one has to ask is – is porn doing any good that we need to think about whether it is as harmful or not? It’s a menace even if it is a danger to a few people.
Dr Samir Parikh

He continues, “alcoholism doesn’t affect everyone, but you also mention on every bottle that alcohol is harmful for health, you educate people and they make a choice. Creating awareness about the harms of pornography is something the world should consider.”

What do public health organisations have to say? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told CNN, it “does not have an established position on pornography as a public health issue. Pornography can be connected to other public health issues like sexual violence and occupational HIV transmission.” But as a crisis in itself? Not really.

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Is There an Upside to Porn?

“Porn reflects shifting mores and cultures in the society, where you cannot take a moral ground and say that this is wrong, because it’s very relative,” explains Dr Mitra.

Therefore, the opinion on pornography is extremely divided. Not all pornographic material is problematic. Apart from the unhealthy consumption and addiction of pornography, many use it as a healthy sexual outlet that both men and women enjoy.

For example, a lot of couples who have issues with sexuality, both men and women, watch it to enhance their relationship. In therapy, when I see couples, it is a very common thing to hear, that they watch porn to increase intimacy, which would not have come otherwise. This also represent a large number of people.
Dr Rajat Mitra

On the other hand, the disturbing pattern of people consuming violent, abusive or child pornography also exists. This should, of course, not spread – if that happens then obviously the society is in a crisis, believes Dr Mitra.

Sexual Violence and Porn

No clear empirical correlation has been found between porn and sexual violence, says Dr Mitra. What has been found is consumption of pornographic material of a violent nature by some rapists or killers. So, it is very often given that because of porn these people committed those crimes.

Porn wouldn’t create that disturbance, it already exists within them which then porn could excite. If porn wasn’t there in the picture, would these people still have committed those crimes? They would, but maybe not at the same level of intensity, or the same level of frequency. Watching porn helps them break that barrier, it makes them bolder.
Dr Rajat Mitra

Generally, a number of factors that go together, create a person who is deviant or abusive, it’s never a single factor.

Banning Is No Solution – What Is Then?

(Photo: The Quint)

There are several concerns about pornography which is leading an extremely violent society like US to contemplate a resolution like this. Fantasies of a violent nature are increasingly seen acted out in sexual assault crimes. So yes, they may be looking for ways to curb it.

But is a declaration solution enough? Experts think not. Utah’s resolution, for example, has no punishing powers, it doesn’t lay out guidelines; it doesn't specifically ban pornography in the state.

Meanwhile, banning has never solved anything either. Both Dr Parikh and Dr Mitra agree that, first of all, you can’t implement it. It’ll find its way back, it existed way before the internet. Plus, a large amount of people who watch it don’t react in a negative manner.

Like in India, we rush to ban what we don’t like, but that doesn’t stop the harmful effects of pornography on the population.

Creating awareness, on the other hand, is extremely important and can go a long way.

It’s essentially about how you empower young minds to learn to filter the various messages that reach them through various sources, including porn. If you have a friend that tells you ‘hey there’s this site you should check out’, then there also should be the knowledge where you or another friend says that ‘ya but it’s not the greatest thing in the world.’ Both needs to happen.
Dr Samir Parikh

So if the argument is that for most pre-teens or teens, their first tryst with sex or any education about it would be pornography and it’s disturbing negative portrayal, then the counter for it is sex education and providing them with the correct information first.

“The more you talk about it openly, the more you’ll take away its negative effects,” believes Dr Mitra.

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