Other states adopt Utah’s ‘porn as public health crisis’ conversation

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – More than a dozen states have now adopted measures to combat pornography use among teens, calling it a public health crisis – a conversation started in Utah in 2016. 

The latest state to begin the conversation linking pornography to sex offenses, violence against women and unplanned pregnancies is Arizona. Utah Senator Todd Weiler (R- Woods Cross) started the conversation in Utah three years ago, calling porn use a public health crisis and aiming to educate Utahns about the potentially harmful effects of use. 

Today, Weiler is proud the conversation is catching fire around the country. 

“It’s exactly what was expected to happen,” Weiler told ABC4 News Tuesday. Weiler’s 2016 resolution calling porn use among minors a public health crisis led to a law in 2017 holding pornographic sites liable for damage and requiring sites to issue disclaimers of potentially harmful effects to minors. 

“When we ran this bill in Utah, the idea was that we would be the first state [to do so,]” said Weiler, “And we thought if Utah would pass this resolution then we thought we would get another 10 to 15 states to follow suit.”

Now, 15 states are talking about pornography as a public health crisis. 

But does academic research support that notion? 

Perhaps – but perhaps not, says researcher Dr. Brian Willoughby with BYU’s School of Family Life. Willoughby has studied the effects of pornography on the human brain and has found that a small minority (about 10 percent) of users actually become addicted to pornography. 

He says more serious crimes are correlated, but not necessarily caused by pornography use among minors. 

“Looking at porn doesn’t make me a sex offender,” said Willoughby. “What [porn use] is really undermining is – it’s really changing [young people’s] expectations about sex. It’s changing their attitudes about sex so that it makes it more difficult to have healthy relationships later on in life,” he added. 

Sex offenses, human trafficking, and other serious crimes are not supported in his research to be caused by pornography use. 

Still, the health crisis line continues in state legislatures in an increasing number of states. Willoughby says research shows all youth will be exposed to pornography at some point before age 20, so the health crisis fears may eventually be well-founded. 

But there is a way to stop the problem, he said, through providing resources to adults and children who feel pornography use is becoming compulsive or affecting relationships and jobs. 

He said parents can take action to prevent and control exposure by having healthy conversations about pornography use with children. 

“Pornography is a taboo topic for a lot of families,” said Willoughby. “And what we know from the research is that if parents are willing to have conversations with their kids about pornography, that can alleviate a lot of the issues that we see that are oftentimes due to secrecy and hiding and [youth] not feeling like [they] can talk to anyone.”

Weiler, who said he never has tried to ban pornography, said he will continue the conversation about regulating it when it comes to protecting children. 

“If ten percent of adults are compulsive users or addicted to pornography, I think that’s borderline epidemic,” said Weiler. 

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