SHAME

Utah’s Hypocritical War on Porn

One of the top porn-hungry states is trying to cure itself of its porn ‘epidemic.’

04.02.16 8:16 AM ET

In a unanimous vote, the Utah House of Representatives passed a resolution this week branding pornography a public health hazard; a crisis its citizens need to be protected from.

The resolution calls for “education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of our state and nation,” but does not offer any solutions. This from a state that ranked number one in online porn subscriptions, according to a 2009 Harvard study.

Renowned New York City sex therapist Dr. Stephen Snyder says the availability of internet porn is not any more of a problem than other socioeconomic issues Americans today face, including stagnant middle class wages and the continued decline of the two-parent household. “Any time you put limits on what can be communicated about sex, you increase the potential for sexual shame—which let’s face it, is already pretty high for most Americans even under the best of circumstances,” says Dr. Snyder. “And whenever you increase sexual shame, you’re going to see an increase in compulsive sexual activity, whether it's compulsive porn use or any other kind. Shame is rocket fuel for compulsions.”

The heavily-Mormon state seems to have a love-hate relationship with pornography, and a sense of shame over it as well. Here, the desire for porn has also birthed a plethora of anti-porn groups to combat the evils of consumption. On March 12th, the Utah Coalition Against Pornography held its 14th annual conference in Salt Lake City. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS church, was one of its keynote speakers—and likened porn to the plague.

“Pornography ought to be seen like a public health crisis; like a war; like an infectious, fatal epidemic; like a moral plague on the body politic that is maiming the lives of our citizens,” said Holland .

Concerned for future generations, anti-pornography groups like the Utah-based non-profit, Fight the New Drug lecture at high schools on pornography’s so-called deleterious effects. Unfortunately, no one seems to be lecturing about STDs at these same high schools. Are the perceived dangers of pornography worse than the threat of STDs?

In lieu of sex-ed, most of Utah’s schools continue to offer abstinence-only programs and prohibit public school teachers from encouraging contraceptives, which could be why chlamydia was the most frequently reported communicable disease in Utah in 2011. Two-thirds of those cases were among 15 to 24 year olds.

However, Utah Senator Todd Weiler isn’t advocating for the expansion of sex-ed. He instead wants policies that further protect underage consumers from pornography, admitting in the resolution he’s spearheaded that “exposure to pornography often serves as childrens’ and youths’ sex education and shapes their sexual templates.” Porn should not fill those educational voids abstinence-only programs create, but in the absence of information, unfortunately, it does. When kids have questions no one will answer they don’t head for a stack of well-worn encyclopedias—they search for it online.

“People like to preach their religious ideologies about family values, saving the kids, and making sure they still have good moral fiber which they say porn destroys, but I could make the same argument for social media,” says adult actor Derrick Pierce. “Those same kids that are told sex is bad, don’t do it, it’s only for reproduction, when those kids get older and figure out they can make their own choices, they do and they make them tenfold because they want to know what all the fuss is about.”

You can’t blame porn for everything—even in Utah. There are plenty of mainstream influences to consider as well. HBO’s Game of Thrones is notorious for its nearly softcore sex scenes and not yet banned in Utah. In fact, porn actress Jessy Dubai says it wasn’t porn that compelled her to enter the adult industry, but a popular mainstream movie. “The movie that made me want to do porn was [Kevin Smith’s] Zach and Miri Make a Porno,” says Dubai. “I wanted to become a porn star not for sexual gratification but to pay bills.”

Once legislation is enacted to blame people’s various problems on explicit material created for and accessed by legal consenting adults, it may be a slippery slope. Porn is the scapegoat for now, but in some years’ time, it could just as easily be a Kevin Smith movie.

Utah’s resolution on porn’s public health crisis implies early exposure to pornography can create a “biological addiction” which, according to the resolution, may later lead to “risky sexual behaviors, extreme degradation, and violence,” as well as reduced interest in marriage and deviant sexual arousal. Sounds like lawmakers simply want to protect adults from themselves and shield the children from any accidental early exposure to sex and explicit content.

Weiler’s resolution is “a half-measure and a diva-esque attempt to grab headlines” says award winning adult performer and director, Tanya Tate. “If Weiler were truly committed, he would look at Harvard’s 2009 study that found Utah’s religious residents were the nation’s top consumers of online porn and work on religion and the reason it drives so many in his home state to explore porn,” says Tate.

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“Being deprived of [porn] makes you want it—especially when you are told you shouldn’t watch it,” adds porn star Sadie Santana. “I have friends in Salt Lake City, so I know what goes on there and there’s plenty of escorting. Doesn’t surprise me at all. Isn’t Utah a very religious state?”

Weiler isn’t suggesting a ban on porn and even likens it to cigarettes, saying, “we have taken steps to protect people from tobacco, but we haven't done that for pornography.”

Just as cigarettes come with a warning label from the surgeon general, so do a number of porn sites. Huge, red warnings are the first barrier to entry, followed by a request that the user be at least 18 years of age (or in some states 21). The potential consumer then chooses between two buttons—enter or exit, the choice is theirs. After that, users are presented with a tour of sexually explicit images that loop back to a “join now” prompt. To see more of the explicit acts, a credit card is required, and even if kids had access to one, their parents would see the bill. 

Blaming pornographers for teenagers accessing their content may be short-sighted. Few adult companies offer their products for free and, warnings aside, payment prompts also act as barriers. For immediate and free access to porn, people go to tube sites—no credit card required. If anyone bothers to read the “terms of service,” users are supposed to be 18 or older. But who’s really reading the fine print on a porn site?

Easy access to free porn has had negative effects on adult companies—a problem many blame on tube sites. It’s this same ease of access to pornography that Utah lawmakers and anti-porn groups abhor. Perhaps pornographers and anti-porn groups should put aside their differences and fight not to end porn, but to end free access to it. Like the old adage, “An enemy of my enemy, is a friend.” At least temporarily.