Of the 474 bills and resolutions passed by the 2016 Utah Legislature, one harmless resolution on pornography seems to have gotten the most attention outside the state.
I say “harmless,” because the resolution doesn’t have the force of law. It merely proclaims pornography to be a public health hazard that leads to a host of problems, and it calls for research, public education, prevention and policy changes.
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But that notion is like dropping a Mentos into a Coke bottle for a nation awash in sex and increasingly unable to accept limits.
Some have called the state hypocritical, citing statistics showing people here have a high rate of pornography consumption. The logical disconnect there is stunning. If the state had a high rate of illegal substance abuse, would it be hypocritical of politicians to declare it a public health problem?
But not all the attention has been negative. The latest edition of Time Magazine has a cover story exploring a new aspect of internet pornography addiction — a growing number of men who, scared to death by the long-term effects they are encountering, are sounding an alarm and forming support groups to help each other kick the habit.
The magazine treats Utah’s resolution respectfully, mentioning it in the same breath as Britain’s efforts to get internet providers to block pornography sites unless users specifically opt-in. It also quotes Utah State Sen. Todd Weiler, who sponsored the resolution.
When I contacted him by phone this week, Weiler made it clear he has not given up the cause. He said at least 15 other states are considering similar resolutions. That’s important, because Utah can do little alone. In fact, solutions similar to what Britain is trying to do with internet providers would require action from Congress.
“We can’t do that in Utah alone,” he said, adding, “It is something I absolutely want.”
As I wrote two months ago, Weiler must be disarming to pornography apologists who like to view their opponents as easily dismissible stereotypes. He’s an attorney who handles divorce cases. He’s articulate, he knows Supreme Court cases make it impossible to ban pornography outright, and he compares those who deny its harmful effects to climate change deniers.
“Even with global warming, you don’t have 100 percent of scientists agree,” he said. “But you don’t need to have 100 percent agreement to take action.”
About that: The Time report makes it clear that little hard-science research is being done to study the effects of this “massive social shift” on developing young minds.
Weiler cites a few reasons for this. First, it’s virtually impossible for scientists to assemble a control group consisting of people who never have been exposed to it. Second, if you were to find enough people for such a group, the study would have to expose them to pornography and measure its effects. “No ethical scientist would ever conduct a test study like that.”
He also suggests the pornography industry is funding its own studies that confuse the matter.
To the many people looking to escape their addiction, there isn’t much confusion, however. The magazine features several, and they’re clear about the harm it has done. Weiler is quick to add his own observations as a divorce attorney and a former Mormon bishop.
“I have counseled numerous people whose marriages have been undermined or destroyed by pornography, even if there was no sexual involvement with a third party,” he said.
Time said 107 million Americans now visit adult websites each month, compared to 58 million 10 years ago. One porn site claims people worldwide spent 4,392,486,580 hours watching the stuff last year, which is more than twice as long as humans are believed to have roamed the earth.
Utah lawmakers, it seems, are ahead of the curve when it comes to responding to this social behavior wave. But, like everyone else, they also are way behind when it comes to stemming a tide that now reaches all corners of society.
Given the evidence we do have about how watching porn changes behavior, desensitizes and dehumanizes, it’s high time everyone started demanding answers.