Pornography is a danger to our society, and it should be highly regulated, if not banned entirely. Not only is it bad for the consumer, but it also preys on vulnerable members of society. The porn industry and consumers of porn are not simply engaging in a bad habit that doesn’t harm anyone. The production and consumption of porn actively does evil both to those taken advantage of by the industry and to the consumer and his or her interpersonal relationships. Because of the negative effects of porn, it is within the power of the state to regulate it to protect its citizens from further harm and exploitation.
The porn industry is linked to human trafficking. Although porn does not cause human trafficking and human trafficking existed before pornography, the two are related crimes. First, though, we have to establish what constitutes human trafficking. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on sex trafficking, but there are two other subcategories of human trafficking–organ trafficking and forced labor. Sex trafficking can take many forms and is defined as any commercial sex act which an individual engages in as a result of force, coercion, or fraud by Human Trafficking Search. Any minor working in the sex industry, according to the US Department of Justice, is a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence–or lack thereof–of force, coercion, or fraud. Force is a kind of human trafficking that many people first think of when they think of sex trafficking. Usually, that is when someone is taken and physically forced to engage in commercial sexual activities. Fraud is when someone is misled or deceived into engaging in such activities, such as being told that partaking in commercial sexual acts will help them advance a career in acting or dancing, or that in exchange for doing this one act, the trafficker will get them a job or a promotion, depending on the circumstance. According to the US Department of Justice, “the coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological.” In an article by Beautiful Dream Society, the kinds of coercion tactics that sex traffickers employ can include “threats, lies, blackmail, intimidation, humiliation, and debt bondage.” While a person may agree to participate in commercial sex activities, they are doing so only out of fear of the trafficker or because they have been coerced into doing so. To recap, sex trafficking is when an individual engages in a commercial sex act as a direct result of force, coercion, or fraud.
According to a study from the Journal of Counselor Practice, the porn industry creates increased demand for trafficked individuals. In addition, according to the study, much of pornography that is legally available online is produced illegally through force, coercion, or fraud, which takes advantage of trafficked individuals. In an interview with NBC-2, Julie Franklin, the chief operating officer of the Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples, FL, said that “Those taking part in watching porn, which they believe is something passive and private in their own home, do not know the background of the performers and are not educated on the very fact that many are being coerced or forced to act out these sexual scenes.”
Franklin also said that many individuals who are trafficked into the porn industry had been sexually assaulted since they were children, and this makes them especially vulnerable to predators in the porn and human trafficking industries. The porn industry and sex traffickers both prey on already vulnerable individuals, as they are easier to traffick.
There are many instances of anecdotal evidence of the porn industry taking advantage of women by publishing and profiting from videos of young girls and women being raped or otherwise exploited. Traffickinghub is one of the largest and most well-known entities fighting against the porn industry for “enabling, hosting, and profiting from videos of child rape, sex trafficking, and other forms of non-consensual content exploiting women and minors,” according to their petition. On Traffickinghub’s website, countless stories have been shared of children being taken advantage of by the porn industry and the link between human trafficking and pornography.
On stoptraffickingdemand.com, they report that even porn actresses who initially consented to being filmed in porn movies had their contracts violated and were sexually and physically abused on set. These are not the marks of an industry that does its best not to take advantage of those who work in it. Although women are the most vocal about their experiences in the porn industry, I’m sure that there are cases of men also being abused. Vulnerable members of our society are being taken advantage of and abused, and the porn industry profits off that abuse by selling porn to consumers.
Porn isn’t bad only because of its ties to sex trafficking. Its influence on the way porn-viewers interact with others and view others also make porn and its widespread consumption a danger to society. Porn commodifies sex and the people participating in sex. It encourages viewers to see actors and actresses on-screen as sex objects existing only for the viewer’s own sexual pleasure. By routinely consuming content in which people are turned into mere objects of sexual gratification, it stands to reason that viewers of porn may eventually view people around them as objects of sexual pleasure as well, rather than independent human beings. This is problematic because we should view human beings outside of how useful they are to us, and especially outside of what sexual gratification they can give to us.
Viewing individuals only as sexual objects leads to problems in which people do not care about one another as human beings. In a 2010 study conducted by G.M. Hald et al., they found a positive correlation between “pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in nonexperimental studies” (Hald et al.). The study also found that there are statistically significant correlations between attitudes supporting violence against women and the use of both sexually violent porn and non-violent porn. The study found that there is a stronger correlation between attitudes supporting violence against women and the consumption of sexually violent porn than between such attitudes and the consumption of non-violent porn. The consumption of porn is correlated to attitudes supporting violence and aggression towards women. While porn may not be the sole cause of these attitudes, it does offer a commodity and a space in which such attitudes are allowed, if not encouraged.
Porn can also negatively influence romantic relationships. There have been many studies linking porn consumption to reduced satisfaction and function in romantic relationships, both in married and unmarried couples. In a 2009 study conducted by Maddox, Rhoades, and Markman, they found that couples who have never viewed porn had lower rates of infidelity than couples who only watch pornography together. In addition, the study found that individuals who did not view pornography had better communication and higher dedication to their partner than individuals who did view porn either by themselves or with their partner.
Beyond the harmful effects porn has on society and interpersonal relationships, it also affects the individual viewer negatively. In Sam Black’s The Porn Circuit, he explains the chemicals which are released while having sex or watching porn. Black explains how when couples have sex, they can “experience a high, an alertness of sexual pleasure, and the deep calm afterwards (norepinephrine, endorphins, and serotonin). With each sexual embrace [they] are emotionally bonding to [their partner] (oxytocin and vasopressin). Over time a craving for sex is transformed into a desire for one another (dopamine).” When viewing porn, a person has no other individual to connect with, so they connect with the pornographic content they’ve just viewed. This chemical process encourages porn viewers to connect with porn and to continue to view more and more porn rather than to connect with a new non-porn individual.
But worse than the problems porn can cause to individuals and interpersonal relationships is the problem of how easily accessible porn is on the internet. On average, a child’s first exposure to porn is at the age of eleven. Oftentimes children accidentally find porn sites by accidentally typing a URL incorrectly or clicking on the wrong link. That happened multiple times in one of my classes my freshman year of high school when students were trying to find Kahoot.it to play a Kahoot as a review session. Porn is widespread and easy to find on the internet for free. It’s too easy to find, so easy to find that children are being exposed to porn. CHILDREN. Even if you argue that porn is okay for adults to watch as we must allow people to use free will and make their own decisions, I think we can all agree that it is unacceptable that children can so easily watch porn, especially if it’s an accident.
But just because porn is bad doesn’t mean that the government has any business banning it, or so one might be inclined to think. Some might argue that the publication and viewing of pornography is an expression of free speech, which is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. However, there are several kinds of speech which the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has ruled exempt from free speech protections. One of these is obscenity.
In Miller v. California, the SCOTUS ruled that obscene speech if 1) the average person, with contemporary values, considers the content to be appealing to “prurient interests,” meaning that the content has or encourages an excessive interest in sexual matters 2) the material depicts or describes “in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law” and 3) the material as a whole “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
Pornography is “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.” By its own definition, pornography fails the first part of the obscenity test established in Miller v. California.
Since we are in the state of Texas, I will refer to the Texas Penal Code for the second part of the test. According to the state of Texas, something is considered obscene if there are “patently offensive representations or descriptions of ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including sexual intercourse, sodomy, and sexual bestiality;” or if there are “patently offensive representations or descriptions of masturbation, excretory functions, sadism, masochism, lewd exhibition of the genitals, the male or female genitals in a state of sexual stimulation or arousal, covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state or a device designed and marketed as useful primarily for stimulation of the human genital organs.” Pornography is, again, a material containing “the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimlate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.” Pornography is obscene material because that is the point of porn, and thus porn fails the second part of the test.
The third part of the test is another one in which porn fails. Porn is meant to be viewed and enjoyed for erotic feelings and sexual gratification. It is not meant to be an expression of art or aesthetically pleasing. Let’s be honest; no one watches porn for the plot or the greater value it adds to their life, other than its potential necessity for sexual gratification. Porn doesn’t belong in an art museum because of its inherent value, and it isn’t being used in biology or anatomy classrooms to aid in education or scientific research. Porn doesn’t add serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value to anyone’s life, and thus it fails the third part of the test SCOTUS established in Miller v. California.
And yet, the Supreme Court has refrained from considering porn obscenity. So perhaps an argument on the First Amendment is not the one to make for stricter regulations on porn. Instead, let’s think about the porn issue in terms of state police powers. Utah recently passed a bill requiring cellphones to have a built-in block on pornography in an effort to protect children from accidentally exposing themselves to porn. At the federal level, a similar bill was ruled unconstitutional. However, it might be within Utah’s state police powers to enact such a bill within the state. States are supposed to have more power than the federal government to enact laws and protect their citizens because states are better equipped to attend to state needs than the federal government.
I would argue that it is within a state’s police powers to severely restrict access to pornography. The highest burden on the state in cases involving infringement on individual liberties is Strict Scrutiny, in which 1) there is a sufficiently important governmental interest and 2) there is no more infringement upon liberty than strictly necessary.
The majority of this article has been spent discussing how bad porn and the porn industry is. The porn industry takes advantage of women and children and profits off exploiting them. Porn itself is damaging to relationships and to the people that watch it. Porn is easily accessible by children, oftentimes by accident. Because of these major problems porn causes, the state has a sufficiently important governmental interest in regulating porn and limiting access to it.
Now, the best way to completely get rid of porn and the negative impact it has on our society is to completely ban it. But that won’t happen anytime soon, and something even worse would probably take its place if the federal government decided to ban porn completely. Besides, it would be impossible to simply ban porn, as the government has no business snooping into people’s private lives to make sure no one is watching any porn in the privacy of their own homes. But what the state can do is regulate the sale of porn and the websites which profit off it through sales or advertisements. The state can and should impose regulations making it far more difficult to produce porn, and it should impose regulations making it more difficult to access porn. Users should have to prove that they are over 18 before being able to access porn sites. Depending on the state and the citizens living there, it would be within the state’s power to create a law like Utah’s, which compels phones and other technology to have a built-in restriction to keep users from accessing porn sites.
Some might say that a crackdown on the porn industry and viewers of porn is harsh and an infringement on individual liberties. But a crucial part of government is protecting its citizens. That’s why we have laws regulating the sale of alcohol and tobacco products, as well as something as commonplace as driving. It is within the powers of a state government to protect its citizens from the dangers porn and the porn industry present. States should protect citizens, and right now, citizens need protection from porn.