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COLUMN: Florida’s House is right to declare porn a public health risk

The Florida House of Representatives garnered national attention last Tuesday for passing the "porn bill," a Health and Human Services Committee resolution declaring pornography a public health risk. 

The reason this move was so widely reported is likely not because the contents of the bill are particularly new. Arkansas, Utah, Virginia, Tennessee and South Dakota have all passed similar resolutions since 2016 that received less national attention. 

The reason Florida's vote on the porn bill received attention was at least partially because of a second bill regarding assault weapon bans Florida’s House of Representatives that didn’t pass on Tuesday. Many viewed the pornography bill as a frivolous legislative distraction from the far greater issue of gun control. 

But both bills are issues of public health well within the realm of political debate and governmental legislation. Inaction regarding one bill should not diminish the action taken on the other.

The Florida House declined to debate on banning assault weapons, voting down a motion to have that debate by 71-36.

Refusing to debate this measure was disrespectful to the roughly 100 survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida who traveled about 450 miles that day to the state capital of Tallahassee to urge an assault weapons ban.

However, not voting on an assault weapons ban doesn’t mean the porn bill passed the same day was a bad thing. Many liberal-leaning news outlets, as well as “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, have characterized Tuesday’s events as a case of Florida lawmakers wasting time on something useless — the health effects of porn.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Florida, tweeted, “the FL House just passed @RossSpano's HR 157 declaring PORN as a public heath risk. No, GUN VIOLENCE is a public health crisis.”

The contents of the bill were mostly quite reasonable and solidly based in fact. It observes that porn “contributes to the hypersexualization of children and teens.” Indeed, teen was the seventh most frequently searched term on PornHub in 2017.

Mainstream porn is filled with unrealistic depictions of sex and bodies that meet unhealthy beauty standards. The fact that children can now access untold amounts of porn as soon as they learn to use the internet has absolutely created a public health issue.

The text of the resolution notes 27 percent of young adults between 25 and 30 report that they viewed porn before the onset of puberty.

Online porn is often used as a form of sexual education for children these days, and it is having devastating effects on the development of their sexuality. 

The resolution correctly observes that porn objectifies women and normalizes abuse. A 2010 study of popular porn videos found 88 percent of scenes contained physical aggression and almost half contained verbal aggression, with women overwhelmingly on the receiving end.

Other research has documented that porn consumption intensifies attitudes supportive of sexual coercion and the likelihood of committing sexual assault in young male viewers. 

The resolution further notes the risk of consuming extraordinary amounts of porn. Porn can develop into a compulsion, which may have detrimental effects on the brain and alter sexual tastes. A 2002 Kinsey Institute survey conducted for PBS found 9 percent of porn viewers said they had tried unsuccessfully to stop watching pornography.

The bill’s Republican sponsors’ motives may relate more to religious views, traditional values and general prudishness than genuine concern for sexual health and women’s welfare. The resolution does lament that porn causes “reluctance to enter into marriage.” But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong to acknowledge the health risks of porn.

The next step is to translate the bill’s call for “education, prevention, research and policy change” into action.

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