Pornography is a public health crisis
This piece was originally published during my time working for the Orthodox Conservatives in April 2020. The tone of the article is a little softer than I would usually take when writing purely in a personal capacity, and I don’t identify as a “conservative” any more, but that’s a topic for another time. I do still think though that this piece is a decent introduction to those who haven’t considered the dangers of pornography, and unlike many others I’ve seen on the topic, actually suggests some achieveable policy goals that we can strive towards.
I hope to get back into writing longer form content soon, but for now, enjoy.
If I told you that the United Kingdom is suffering from a public health crisis, I’m sure you would agree with me. But it’s not coronavirus or the rise in obesity. It’s the drug that most men, and increasingly more women, have consumed at some point in their life. Pornography.
It seems ridiculous to lump porn in the same category as substances like cannabis, cocaine, or heroin. But pornography can do just as much damage to the brain and to the soul as any of them. The brain can be rewired by pornography to create strong neural pathways that lead towards repeated behaviour. Just like a pathway in the woods, the more it’s used, the more defined and clearer it becomes. These pathways are useful for learning skills and good habits, but if used in the wrong areas, can create devastating addictions. Numerous studies have shown that pornography creates such intense pathways, and can even overcome those created by regular sex.
With this, it’s no surprise that problematic pornography use affects 5-8% of the adult population, and that’s just what we know about. As tobacco and alcohol usage drops among the younger generations, their vice becomes pornography instead, which perhaps may be even worse.
Just like traditional drugs, pornography also creates escalating behaviours through desensitisation. The second high is never as good as the first, so addicts end up chasing a more intense kick to satisfy themselves. The dopamine hits that fire in your brain when you watch porn tell you to watch more, while at the same time reducing the amount of pleasure you receive, forcing you to chase a bigger and bigger high.
It’s why free porn sites can make money - they’re like the dealer who will give you a bag of coke for free because he knows you’ll be back to spend more later, and probably start trying the harder stuff as well. “Seeing [free porn] just whets their appetite for more,” says Wendy Seltzer, an attorney and fellow at Yale. “Once they get through what’s available for free, they’ll move into the paid services.”
One example of this is that incest porn seem to have came out of nowhere within the last decade, exploding from a relatively niche fetish to some of the top searches on PornHub, arguably the world’s foremost porn site. “You can ask any young female performer what bookings she has this month, and she’ll tell you she’s playing 17 step-daughters,” one porn actress was quoted as saying. Violent content is also popular - teenagers who watch porn are far more likely to believe that dangerous sex acts are normal than their peers.
And with this taste for more hardcore materials, come darker consequences. PornHub has recently come under fire for not only hosting child pornography on their site, but monetising it, and ignoring the victims when they try and get the videos taken down. Rose Kalemba was viciously raped at 14 - when videos of her abuse appeared on PornHub, they racked up hundreds of thousands of views after their upload in 2009. Rose repeatedly emailed them, begging them to take the videos down, but was met with no response. Only after posing as a lawyer and threatening to take legal action were they removed. Rose recently tweeted the case of a friend who had videos of her as a toddler put onto the site, yet it took hours for the video to be removed, and the accounts that uploaded the video weren’t even deleted.
A 15-year-old girl from Florida was recently returned to her family after being tracked down via 58 videos that were posted to the site by her captor. What is even more shocking about this case is that the girl was a verified “performer,” something that the official PornHub account wrote on Twitter, then quickly deleted after they realised the implications of what they just admitted to.
There are hundreds of stories just like this. It is therefore not illegitimate to say that the porn industry is complicit in, and profits off of, trafficking and rape victims across the globe. By allowing these companies, such as MindGeek, who owns PornHub and controls a virtual monopoly of other free porn sites, to go unchecked, we are actively participating in their exploitation.
Yet the media and pornographers argue that anti-porn advocates are part of a far-right, misogynist conspiracy to put an end to fun and women’s rights. An article in Rolling Stone about the “coomer,” an internet meme that depicts a porn addict, made strenuous links to white supremacists and anti-semitism. One site, XHamster, even claimed they were receiving death threats, then attempted to tar the entire movement with this brush. NoFap, an organisation dedicated to help people recover from pornography addictions replied that none of their users had threatened them, but “on the other hand, we've seen plenty of instances of your industry exploiting young women, coercing and manipulating them in low desperate times of their lives, to make you money.”
So what should we as conservatives actually do about this problem? Libertarians and “small government conservatives” will tell you there is nothing that can be done. The former would argue that there is no problem to solve in the first place, and the latter would tell you that such things like a pornography ban would be impossible and impractical to implement.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. If, hypothetically, all pornographic sites were banned in the United Kingdom, it’s true that someone with a VPN could find their way around some restrictions. But how many people have VPNs, and how many children can operate them? The average age at which children are first exposed to pornography ranges from 8 to 11 years old, with anecdotal evidence of children as young as 5 or even 3 being exposed. If, at the very least, a porn site ban would dramatically increase the age of first exposure, that’s half the battle won already.
We can also encourage the removal of pornographic images from non-pornographic sites. Twitter currently permits pornography of all shades on their platform, albeit under a NSFW filter. It wouldn’t take much convincing from the UK and other like-minded governments for them to roll it back voluntarily, lest they lose a huge market. Forcing pornography further away from the mainstream of the internet, making it harder to stumble upon, is an obvious step that we should immediately take.
Furthermore, we need to put a complete stop to the “sex-positive,” “porn consumption is healthy” attitude that seems to plague mainstream sex-education in this country. This needn’t be a religious issue, and making it so would only do more harm than good. Sensible education is required; about the dangers that arise from watching porn. Sexual urges are something that humans have experienced since time immemorial, and there’s nothing wrong with them, but pornography on this mass scale has only really come into being since the rise of the internet. The former is natural and literally required for humanity to continue to exist, while the latter is unnatural and harmful, and should not be given the same treatment in education.
Finally, we have to address the widespread sexualisation of society that pushes young women and girls towards those who want to exploit them for quick cash. A society that celebrates “sex-workers” and praises sleeping around is not going to be one that sees pornography for what it is. We cannot ignore the cultural roots behind the problem, but they are far harder to fix. Only by returning to a society that values far more than simple hedonistic pleasures will we ever be truly able to end the pornography epidemic once and for all.