Is pervasive pornography the newest public-health crisis?

Gail Dines, a professor of sociology at Wheelock College in Boston and author of Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality, argues in an essay for The Washington Post that “porn is a public health crisis rather than a private matter.”

The internet has made pornography generally accessible, to the point that porn sites get more visitors than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined” (a Huffington Post headline from 2013), some researchers estimate the average age of first viewing porn at 11, and “free and widely available pornography is often violent, degrading and extreme.”

Gail Dines

Dines notes studies that have found correlations between porn viewing and sexual harassment and toleration of sexual assault, and that college-age women whose partners use porn “suffered diminished self-esteem, relationship quality and sexual satisfaction.”

“As the evidence piles up, a coalition of academics, health professionals, educators, feminist activists and caregivers has decided that they can no longer allow the porn industry to hijack the physical and emotional well-being of our culture,” Dines writes. “Culture Reframed, an organization I founded and currently chair, is pioneering a strategy to address porn as the public health crisis of the digital age. We are developing educational programs for parents, youth and a range of professionals that aim to help shift the culture from one that normalizes a pornographic, oppression-based sexuality to one that values and promotes a sexuality rooted in healthy intimacy, mutual care and respect.”

Dines concludes, “Parents and educators at every level need to know that if porn is not discussed in a research-based, age-appropriate sexual health curriculum, its effects will surely show up as sexual harassment, dating violence and inadvertent “child pornography” on students’ phones. Pornography can cause lifelong problems if young people are not taught to distinguish between exploitative porn sex and healthy, safe sex. As the research shows, porn is not merely a moral nuisance and subject for culture-war debates. It’s a threat to our public health.”

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