Feminists and public health scholars at odds over pornography
by Nicole M. King | June 07, 2016
The News Story: Porn isn't a public health hazard. It's a scapegoat
Mireille Miller-Young, associate professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California and author of A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography,editorialized recently on Utah’s decision to declare pornography a public health crisis.
Miller-Young first tackles some of the arguments of the anti-porn movement. She claims, for example, that one study that found that 88% of 304 hardcore porn scenes contained “physical aggression,” mostly against women, makes “researchers like myself cringe” because it contains “problematic assumptions about what constitutes violence, agency and consensual pleasure in pornography.” Porn has immense value, according to Miller-Young, because it “[creates] a space to examine sexual taboo and to take pleasure in sometimes radical sexual ideas.” In a rather incoherent turn, she recommends that instead of picking on porn, we “might actually turn our attention to the deeper and more complicated problems of gendered sexual exploitation and violence, and our abysmal record on youth sex education in this country.”
What about the research demonstrating that the affect of porn on the brain is actually pretty similar to the effect of illegal drugs? Irrelevant, apparently, to public health.
(Mireille Miller-Young, “Porn Isn’t a Public Health Hazard. It’s a Scapegoat.”Washington Post, May 23, 2016.)
The New Research: Like taking drugs
It is time to start thinking about addiction to pornography—a destroyer of marriages—the same way we think about addiction to illegal drugs. So argue two neurosurgeons from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
In surveying “the medical implications of pornography” in light of “current evidence supporting an addictive model,” the two Texas scholars report that, like other addicts, those addicted to pornography suffer from “various manifestations of cerebral dysfunction collectively labeled hypofrontal syndromes. In these syndromes, the underlying defect, reduced to its simplest description, is damage to the ‘braking system’ of the brain.” Thus, like other addicts, pornography addicts suffer “a dysfunction of the mesolimbic reward centers of the brain.” More particularly, these addicts experience “reduced cellular activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain area . . . [relied upon] . . . to make strategic, rather than impulsive, decisions.” The pornography addict may, in fact, manifest “decreased interest in pursuing goal-directed activities central to survival.”
Nor is it just a matter of medical science when pornography disrupts normal brain functions. The two scholars adduce evidence indicating that pornography use affects “sexual behavior in adolescents” and “does indeed cause harm in humans with regard to pair-bonding.” What is more, researchers have uncovered evidence that pornography may prime users for “actual sexual relations with children” and may foster “violent attitudes toward women.”
Unfortunately, pornography use is now very widespread. Surveys indicate that “87% of college age men view pornography, 50% weekly and 20% daily or every other day, with 31% of women viewing as well.” No wonder total revenue for the pornography industry was $97 billion in 2006, exceeding the combined revenue for Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple, and Netflix for that year.
The Texas scholars consider it deeply unfortunate that “the sex industry has successfully characterized any objection to pornography as being from the religious/moral perspective” and has consequently been able to “dismiss these objections as First Amendment infringements.” In truth, the researchers argue, an objective review of available neurological science should compel us “to begin serious discussions of sexual addiction and its components such as pornography.”
(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson, New Research, The Family in America 26.1 [Spring 2011]. Study: Donald L. Hilton Jr. and Clark Watts, “Pornography Addiction: A Neuroscience Perspective,” Surgical Neurology International 2.1 [February 21, 2011]: 19.)