The Social Costs of Pornography

Anthony Bradley has posted a summary of a little book titled, The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations. The book is a summary of a 2008 symposium sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute, and here are some of the findings highlighted by Bradley.

1. More people than ever before–children, adolescents, adults–are consuming pornography with powerful effects on them and on the entire society (p. 15).

2. Internet pornography elicits addictive behavior in some users, and this addiction can become compulsive despite its negative consequences on users’ work and relationships. Such compulsive behavior regarding consumption of pornography was rare until the internet made instantaneous acquisition of pornographic images possible (p. 18). It has in fact affected the brain’s neurology so that, as one scientist, N. Dodge, puts it, “men at their computers [addicted to] looking at porn are uncannily like the rats in the cages of NIH, pressing the bar to get a drop of dopamine or its equivalent” (p.19). Moreover, 80% of internet porn users are men, and these men, as Pamela Paul observes, “have trouble being turned on by ‘real’ women, and their sex lives… collapse…many admit they have trouble cutting down their use [of internet porn]…and find themselves seeking out harder and harder pornography” (p. 20). Most alarmingly is the evidence that many users admit moving from porn featuring adults to that featuring children (p. 21).

3. Researchers, among them A. J. Bridges, R. M. Bergner, and M. Hessin-McInniss, report that “women typically feel betrayal, mistrust, loss, devastation, and anger as a result of the discovery of a partner’s pornography use and/or online sexual activity” (p.23).

4. There is no doubt that children and adolescents are now far more exposed to internet pornography than ever before, with boys significantly more likely than girls to have friends who view online porn–one study showed that 65% of boys aged 16-17 had friends who regularly viewed and downloaded internet pornography (p. 27).

5. Not only are the consumers of porn harmed by such consumption but so too are those on the “supply side,” that is, the persons whose bodies are used to portray the pornography. Among these “suppliers,” “women of all ages comprise 80% of those trafficked, children comprise 50%, and of these women and children 70% are used for sexual exploitation.” The lives of these “performers” in the sex industry are often “beset with exploitation, drug use, disease, and other afflictions” (p. 33).

6. Since men are by far the predominant users of internet porn empirical evidence of the harmful effects of such use on males is more abundant and available than evidence of such effects on women. The harmful effects on the wives and girlfriends of these male consumers, as noted already, can be catastrophic but it easily extends to the male users.

7. Although pornography consumption is philosophically and morally problematic, the signatories of this report emphasize that “throughout history this phenomenon has more often than not been stigmatized and circumscribed by law and custom” (p. 43).

8. Despite recent efforts to make it more and more difficult to prosecute purveyors of obscenity and pornography (a recent trend contrary to prior efforts to do so), the signatories of this report note: “It remains sound First Amendment doctrine that truly obscene material is not protected by the Constitution, and that even legally protected materials can be regulated as to the time, place, and manner of their distribution and use” and that “courts could reverse their precedents if faced with cases that force them to confront the emerging evidence about pornography consumption and its effects” (pp. 45-46).

Read the rest of Bradley’s summary here. Order the book here.

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