At a point in history when pornography websites make up
approximately 36 percent of the Internet and earn $3,000 per
second, activists, medical professionals and nonprofit
leaders gathered to discuss methods to combat
hyper-sexualized forms of media at a symposium entitled
"Pornography: A Public Health Crisis. How Porn Fuels Sex
Trafficking, Child Exploitation, and Sexual Violence" at the
U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 14.
The symposium was hosted by the National Center on Sexual
Exploitation, an organization led by Patrick Trueman, former
chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity section of the
U.S. Department of Justice, and board members including
Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde.
During the conference, speakers discussed the scientific
correlations repeatedly found between pornography use,
domestic violence against women, increased demand for sexual
exploitation of children and sexual dysfunction in young men.
Gail Dines, a professor at Wheelock College in Boston and
research expert on the damaging effects of pornography,
emphasized the absence of love within the sexual acts
portrayed in pornography.
"Porn is about making hate to women," said Dines. "Love,
connection, intimacy, all these things are gone in porn and
replaced with disrespect, dehumanization, debasement and
violence. If you think we are here today because we are upset
about Playboy and pictures of naked women smiling in
cornfields, forget it. What we are talking about is
mainstream pornography that is violent, abusive and based on
the torture of women."
Although some believe that pornography caters to the
fantasies of young men, Dines said the porn industry actually
traumatizes early users in order to reap profits from a new
"These sites take an innocent 12-year-old boy and say to him,
'You want to be a man? You want an initiation to masculinity?
This is your initiation. This is your hazing,'" said Dines.
"After being bombarded by these violent images, the boy is
traumatized, and this is part of the brilliant business plan
of the pornographers. The more traumatized he is by porn, the
more he's going to turn back to it because victims of
unresolved trauma always return to the site at which the
trauma happened. Porn isn't fantasy because it doesn't happen
in the head. Porn is sexual exploitation that happens in the
banks of international capital."
While many of the speakers discussed the psychological
effects of porn, Mary Anne Layden, a psychotherapist and the
director of education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at
the University of Pennsylvania, highlighted a surprising link
between porn use, psychological trauma and sexual
According to her research, increasing use of pornography
among young males resulted in higher psychopathic scores, and
in one study, 58 percent of the male subjects suffered from
erectile dysfunction with women, but not with porn.
"These young men can perform with pixels, but not with
people," said Layden. "The companies within the porn industry
are making psychopaths out of our boys and victims out of our
girls, and they will not stop unless we stop them."
Although Internet companies and government organizations have
spent millions of dollars developing free computer filtering
tools for parents, Layden argued that individuals cannot
protect their families from exposure to indecent material in
this day and age.
"In a world where the American Library Association had a
website that taught teens how to disable the blocking
software that their parents put on home computers, you cannot
protect your children," said Layden. "You can't protect your
family from others who consume Internet porn because they
become carriers of these attitudes and behaviors back to
their homes, back to their jobs, into the street, into the
schoolyard. We are unable to fix the problem on an individual
level, and that is why leaders in every public sector must
band together to combat this public health crisis."
One parent who understands Layden's argument better than
anyone is Ed Smart. As the father of Elizabeth Smart, who was
abducted at the age of 14 in 2002 and rescued nine months
later, Smart learned firsthand how impossible it can be to
protect a child from sexual predators.
Unlike the typical predator that separates his victim from
friends and family to minimize the risk of failure,
Elizabeth's captor, Brian David Mitchell, was guided by an
"insatiable sexual appetite" fueled by porn addiction that
led him to abduct Elizabeth from her bed while the rest of
her family was home.
"The night Elizabeth was abducted Mitchell told her, 'I have
a knife at your throat, don't say a word or I will kill you
and your family,'" said Smart. "Is this the end result of a
little innocent exposure to pornography? Did this desire lead
him to break into our house in the middle of the night when
everyone was at home? Who would take such a risk and why? It
seemed inconceivable to me, but this is how the brain
transforms under long-term exposure to pornography."
Dr. Donald Hilton, a neurosurgeon and professor at the
University of Texas Health Science Center, has studied the
effects of pornography addiction on the brain for many years,
but he argued that it doesn't take a medical degree to see
that porn dehumanizes both its victims and its users.
"Our brains are marvelous, and we are designed for a much
richer human experience than pornography offers," said Dr.
Hilton. "Of course we are designed to experience pleasure,
but also to realize so much more. We're not just primitive
brain stems -we have an intricate cortex capable of thinking,
feeling, bonding and comprehending. We can experience
compassion, empathy, and yes, even love. I believe we can do
better. Let's reclaim our humanity for ourselves and future
Willis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.