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Arizona About to Declare Porn a 'Public Health Crisis?'

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Feb 11, 2019

Is Arizona about to join a number of other states in declaring pornography to be a "public health crisis?"

Republican State Rep. Michelle Udall has put forth a resolution to that effect CNN reports.

Arizona would follow the lead of about a dozen other states if the resolution passes. Utah led the way in 2016.

"Like the tobacco industry, the pornography industry has created a public health crisis," Udall claimed, according to a report at the Arizona Republic.

"Pornography is used pervasively, even by minors," she added.

The resolution itself offers a laundry list of allegations about the effects pornography supposedly has on those who view it, including "toxic sexual behaviors, emotional, mental and medical illnesses and difficulty forming or maintaining intimate relationships," reported UK newspaper The Independent.

Among minors, the resolution asserts, the negative consequences include "low self-esteem, eating disorders and an increase in problematic sexual activity at ever-younger ages," the Independent article said.

Supporters of the resolution made a number of other claims about pornography, the Arizona Republic said, among them assertions that pornography can be "biologically addictive" and turn people into pedophiles.

Democratic state lawmakers questioned the scientific basis for calling consumption of pornography a "crisis."

But there may be a kernel of fact in the midst of the rhetoric around the issue, and if Udall is sincere in her concern around minors accessing and viewing pornography there may be a relatively simple means of addressing the problem, at least one of Udall's Democratic colleagues noted.

"If we really want to look at this, we should start with education," suggested Pamela Powers Hannley, who has a bill of her own to provide fact-based sex ed. "It's embarrassing that we are one of the states that does not have medically accurate sex education. In testimony, they were trying to blame everything on pornography. That is a stretch."

It's not a new argument, though Republican lawmakers worried about porn as a "health crisis" seem unwilling to propose fact-based sex ed as a means of combatting what they say is a problem.

But GOP lawmakers, despite overlooking an obvious remedy, may be correct in identifying porn as problematic. In an article last summer, the New York Times Magazine noted that minors are looking to porn — which they can easily access online — to learn about human sexuality. What they are seeing modeled in pornographic fantasies, however, may have little to do with the realities of healthy, consensual sex. Moreover, depictions of sex in pornography can give young people the idea that relationships are superfluous; that extreme erotic play such as choking is commonplace, even expected, and need not require prior discussion or permission; and, as the article noted early on, that women prefer sexually "aggressive" men to those who approach physical interplay in a more generous spirit.

Among gay men, too, pornography can have its downsides, as sex therapist (and sometimes EDGE contributor) Don Shewey noted in his 2018 book "The Paradox of Porn." In the book, Shewey documents how gay men viewing porn can — like adolescents seeking information — take on porn's fantasy-based messaging and come away with unrealistic expectations about what sex could and should be like, what they may be expected to do in terms of performance, and what the male body ought to look like in order to be deemed sexually attractive.

In an interview here at EDGE last summer, Shewey addressed the question itself of porn's power to addict or corrupt, cautioning against giving pornography "too much agency," and noting, "It's really up to you and how you use it. Watching porn online or on your phone can definitely be addictive - when hours go by and you're neglecting other aspects of your life, that can become a problem. Is that caused by porn or by your inability to walk away from the device?"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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