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Utah Declares Porn A Public Health Hazard

Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler, appearing on the Utah Senate floor in Salt Lake City in February, introduced a resolution to declare pornography a public health crisis, echoing an argument being made around the U.S. by conservative religious groups as porn becomes more accessible on smartphones and tablets. Rick Bowmer/AP hide caption

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Rick Bowmer/AP

Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler, appearing on the Utah Senate floor in Salt Lake City in February, introduced a resolution to declare pornography a public health crisis, echoing an argument being made around the U.S. by conservative religious groups as porn becomes more accessible on smartphones and tablets.

Rick Bowmer/AP

On Tuesday, the state of Utah officially declared a new public health crisis: pornography.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution stating that pornography is a "public health hazard" that harms both individuals and society.

The nonbinding resolution calls for research, education and policy changes "to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the citizens of Utah and the nation."

"We realize this is a bold assertion not everyone will agree on, but it's the full-fledged truth," Herbert, a Republican, tweeted Tuesday.

The resolution has been working its way through the Utah Legislature since late January. It passed the state House and Senate with unanimous votes of approval.

Declaring porn a public health hazard has no practical impact, as the Salt Lake Tribune notes — the resolution doesn't ban porn or earmark any money to combat it.

But supporters are declaring the bill a symbolic victory.

As Utah Public Radio reports:

"The resolution makes way for a multifaceted approach to solving this crisis, said Pamela Atkinson, the chair of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography board.

"She said the state is worried about 82 percent of sex offenders who started off by viewing pornography.

" 'They acknowledged they got involved with simple — or soft core porn — years ago,' she said. 'It's not so satisfying anymore and that's when they move on to the hard core porn. When that is not satisfying any more, they act out on real human beings. They objectify children and young women.' "

The resolution identifies a number of "individual and public health impacts and societal harms" it attributes to pornography, including:

  • Low self-esteem and body image in adolescents, who, according to the resolution, are exposed to porn at an average age of 11-12
  • The hypersexualization of teens "and even prepubescent children"
  • The normalization of violence, abuse and rape
  • An increase in the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution and child pornography
  • The objectification of women, which "teaches girls they are to be used and teaches boys to be users"
  • Impacts on brain development and functioning, including "deviant sexual arousal" and difficulty forming relationships

The resolution also suggests porn may be "biologically addictive, which means the user requires more novelty, often in the form of more shocking material, in order to be satisfied."

The final three points in the resolution pivot toward the idea that porn is bad for family structures:

"WHEREAS, pornography use is linked to lessening desire in young men to marry, dissatisfaction in marriage, and infidelity;

"WHEREAS, this link demonstrates that pornography has a detrimental effect on the family unit; and

"WHEREAS, overcoming pornography's harms is beyond the capability of the afflicted individual to address alone ... "

This is not the first time Utah has attempted a statewide response to pornography. Fifteen years ago, the state appointed an "obscenity and pornography complaints ombudsman" — more widely known as a "porn czar." The New York Times reported then that Utah was "the only state to create an office dedicated to sexually explicit issues." The czar served for two years.

And as Utah Public Radio notes, "some have dubbed Utah the pornography-viewing capital of the country."

In 2009, a study concluded that Utah had a higher rate of porn subscriptions than any other state. But the state might have lost that title, depending on how you measure such things.

Pornhub analyses from the past two years show Utah has a below-average number of page views per capita and has the second-shortest sessions of any state.

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