It’s Time to Ban Porn

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What if Catholics invested the kind of political and spiritual energy in combatting pornography as they have in abortion? What if there was an annual march on Washington demanding that politicians take action to limit, if not eradicate, pornography from our public landscape? What if our dioceses distributed car magnets featuring hotlines for pornography addiction? What if our parishes organized events to pray outside businesses involved in the pornography industry? What if our Masses featured prayers petitioning God to end our pornography epidemic?

It’s true that pornography is not the same thing as taking an innocent life, as abortion is. Yet there are few public health crises afflicting our nation on the same scale and at the same level of damage as that of pornography addiction. Between five to eight percent of the adult population in the United States is either addicted to pornography or engages in problematic porn use. Almost a third of men between ages 18 and 30 use it daily. Scientific studies are discovering that its effects on the brain are similar to that of compulsive drug use. More than fifty percent of divorce proceedings cite an “obsessive interest” in pornography. Porn encourages physically aggressive forms of sexual behavior—one study noted that almost 90 percent of porn videos depict physical aggression.

If pornography is like a drug, it’s the most easily accessible one in history. About twelve percent of all websites are pornographic. One leading site for pornography boasts 92 billion video views per year with over 75 million daily visits. The average age of first exposure to it is 11 years old—one website recently ran an advertisement appealing to kids to use their site whenever their parents leave the house. Given the ubiquitous access to the Internet via smartphones and other technology—a “red-light district in everyone’s pocket,” as Catholic professor Chad Pecknold has noted—it’s likely that without political or societal intervention, the age of first exposure will keep dropping. Even people who have no desire to see pornography often see it nevertheless when they go through their email inbox or channel surf on their televisions.

The ubiquity of porn is propelled forward by the sheer magnitude of the industry. Estimates on annual revenues from the porn industry range anywhere from six to 97 billion dollars a year. Even if we go with the lower estimate, it means that some Americans are enjoying significant profits from its perpetuation. Just as with other markets based on addiction, there are numerous human casualties besides those already mentioned. Much of the pornography industry relies on human trafficking, prostitution, and the manipulation and abuse of its participants.

The Washington Post earlier in 2019 reported on one such woman, who was born into a Catholic family in the Washington, D.C., area. Under the auspices of “modeling,” she was persuaded to do about a dozen porn shoots in 2014 for $12,000. Five years later, those twelve shoots have made her the second most popular “actress” in the industry. Yet, she says, “no amount of money would make it worth it…. I don’t think it’s an industry that should be respected.” She adds: “The only thing I want is for people to stop seeing me naked.”

Perhaps Americans can make her wish come true. There certainly seems to be enough evil in pornography to form a broad coalition spanning the right and the left, men and women, and the religious and the “nones.” In its tendencies towards violence, victimization, and objectification, pornography should rile feminists. In its emasculation and ruination of true masculinity, it should rile men. And in its physiological and social effects on our youth, it should rile parents.

Indeed, awareness of pornography’s ills appears to be growing. Among the celebrities who have suffered from sex and/or porn addiction are actor Terry Crews, athletes Tiger Woods and Lamar Odom, musicians Kanye West and John Mayer, and comedians Chris Rock and Russell Brand. Conservative thinkers, in turn, have called for political action against pornography. Ross Douthat in The New York Times, Matthew Schmitz in The Washington Post, Madeleine Kearns in the National Review, Sohrab Ahmari in the New York Post, C.C. Pecknold in the Catholic Herald, Matthew Walther in The Week, Marlo Safi in The Spectator USA, and Crisis’s own Michael Warren Davis (writing in The American Conservative) have all added their voices to calls for political action.

Lawmakers are listening. Earlier this month, four Republican representatives (Jim Banks of Indiana, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, and Brian Babin of Texas) sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr calling on the Department of Justice to enforce existing obscenity laws to help suppress the smut industry. Meanwhile, sixteen states—including my own Commonwealth of Virginia—have labeled pornography a public health crisis.

In light of this swelling consensus regarding pornography’s ills, its defenders’ recourse to the right to free speech seems increasingly ridiculous and irrelevant. We all know that, if one’s speech endangers lives—think of “shouting fire in a movie theatre,” etc.—it is not protected by the First Amendment. This should be even easier to understand in regards to porn, which U.S. law still considers obscene material from which minors must be protected. As Mr. Douthat has noted, all things that are made, distributed, and sold are subject to regulation and restriction if the American people and, by extension, the U.S. government so desire.

There are many political tools at our disposal to combat pornography. Terry Schilling at First Things suggests making Internet pornography much harder to access, such as by making the default version of the Web porn-free, or by forcing all porn into an adult “zone” that requires strict age verifications to enter. This is a good first step. Building upon Mr. Walther’s article, I would argue that pornographic material should be presumed to be non-consensual unless some high legal bar is satisfied. This is not only because of the deep connection between porn and human trafficking, but because there are frequent public scandals of so-called “porn stars” indicting their fellow colleagues for violating their consent.

Whatever measures are taken, the crusade against pornography is ripe to become the defining cause of the next generation of social conservatism. So why not Catholicism as well? Like the reconsideration of free market liberalism in the wake of American economic crises, pornography is undermining the conservative fusion of traditionalism and libertarianism. As we are increasingly learning in other social, economic, and political realms, and as Catholic doctrine teaches, radical individualism causes new catastrophes that hurt ourselves, our communities, and our nation. There’s no disputing this is the case with pornography, and it’s high time Catholics be the ones to rally the growing groundswell of the anti-pornography movement.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Casey Chalk

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Casey Chalk is a senior contributor at Crisis. He holds a Masters in Theology from Christendom College.

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