In a world where ten-year-old girls can be addicted to violent porn and children’s onesies bearing the phrase “I am a product of Fifty Shades of Grey” are found online for $15.99, it’s easy to become discouraged by the normality of sexual exploitation that pornography encourages.
“Our children go from Dr. Seuss to porn,” says activist Cordelia Anderson in the below NCOSE Symposium presentation entitled ‘Why Pornography is a Public Health Issue’.
However, in the same presentation, Anderson also illustrates a path to hope: In order to effectively combat the destructive repercussions of the pornography epidemic, we must first recognize pornography as a public health issue.
Anderson’s argument holds significant weight through an observation of previous public health efforts. In the United States, the year 1963 saw annual consumption averages of over 4,000 cigarettes per person. A combination of pro-smoking propaganda (featuring celebrity endorsements and promises of health benefits) and a general lack of scientific information contributed to a tobacco culture that was viewed as commonplace and even acceptable. Numerous studies producing convincing evidence of harm yielded the historic Surgeon General Report of 1964, warning of the destructive health consequences of tobacco.
Because of this came the media push, the legislative support, the health warnings on cigarette packages, the limited advertising power for the tobacco industry. These efforts resulted in smashing success! Cigarette consumption per capita is less than half today of what it was in 1963. The public health campaign waged against cigarettes drastically reduced the tobacco culture that permeated more than half of the twentieth century.
Today, we have on our hands another public health issue, that of pornography culture. Just like tobacco culture and all other public health issues, it creates and contributes to toxicity of humanity. It teaches American youth that violent and degrading sexual encounters are normal behavior; creates legitimate, life-shattering addictions; and contributes to a variety of other damaging public health issues (including but not limited to increased STI rates and sexual dysfunction). As Anderson says, when an issue such as this enters the social sphere, “we have to accept that it affects individuals or groups beyond their capacity to correct…when this happens, responsibility shifts from just what individuals need to do to looking at external causes and holding the industry and broader social forces accountable.” In order to take further steps to combat this epidemic and address this industry and broader social forces, America must follow the patterns of the anti-smoking campaign, namely legal recognition of the problem followed by carefully organized programs targeting the normality of porn culture and its effects.
We applaud states such as Utah, South Dakota, Arkansas and Tennessee in leading the fight to legally recognize the urgency of the pornography epidemic in declaring pornography a public health and encourage other states, legislators, and activists to join the fight.
As Mrs. Anderson reminds us in her presentation, social norms can and do change! This change begins with recognizing that pornography is a public health issue and facing it as such.