When the GOP’s party platform called pornography a “public-health crisis that is destroying the life of millions,” the statement prompted eye-rolling from some liberal media sites.
So imagine the shock provoked this weekend by a wake-up call on this subject by New York Times columnist Judith Shulevitz: It’s O.K., Liberal Parents, You Can Freak Out About Porn.
Shulevitz only skimmed the surface of the public health challenge posed by toxic, readily accessible internet pornography. But at least she didn’t dismiss exposure to violent and weird sexual images as a natural part of growing up. She writes:
Parents don’t have to believe that such material is a direct cause of sexual violence to be driven a little crazy by it. It’s bad enough that it’s giving our sons and daughters some very creepy ideas about how they’re supposed to look and act.
Anticipating a hostile response from liberal readers, who generally oppose restrictions on sexual content as a form of neo-Puritanism, Shulevitz holds up her own progressive credentials:
I’m not against the proliferation of internet sexualities …. I just don’t want my preteens watching actors having sex with corpses, even fake corpses, before they’ve begun to date.
Well, you gotta start some place. And it is good to know that Shulevitz is committed to a clear set of standards, such as they are.
At the same time, the columnist speaks for all modern parents when she complains of the need to obsessively monitor her children’s computer use to minimize access to pornography.
It’s easy to spot parents suffering from pornography-based anxiety. They obsess over whether the seventh-grader supposedly writing an essay is actually watching a free gangbang video on PornHub.
Still, it’s unfortunate that her column doesn’t provide hard data to prove its point.
Researchers have used brain scans to show how exposure to porn can alter the viewer’s perception of reality, so that a man no longer perceives a woman as a fellow human being, but as an object, like a table. Other studies show that porn addiction encourages the same risk-taking behavior and tolerance of ever more extreme stimulation that characterizes drug addiction. Further, with growing concerns about sexual violence on college campuses, shouldn't we be alarmed that violent pornographic images can desensitize viewers to the brutal reality of sexual assualt?
Meanwhile, porn use has played a role in marriage breakups, while making it tough for some viewers to even establish healthy relationships.
Parents and others who want to learn more can begin with three sources:
Fight the New Drug, a well-designed online resource that is youth-centered, with the latest information on the toxic impact of pornography.
The Social Costs of Pornography, a booklet summarizing the latest academic research published by the Witherspoon Institute.
Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography, published by the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 2015.
But even if this New York Times column excluded compelling data on this issue, it should be applauded. Liberal elites—the sort of readers who subscribe to the Times—rarely engage in this kind of public straight talk about a social issue that has captured the attention of the conservative movement.
The best-selling author and sociologist, Charles Murray, has observed that elites often dismiss traditional practices and values in public forums, but uphold them in their private, family life (e.g., they take no policy position on promoting a marriage culture and discouraging cohabitation, yet they strongly encourage their own children to marry).
Shulevitz’s candid statements offer a striking exception to this general rule, and I am guessing that many other self-identified progressive parents privately share her worries. Her willingness to take a fresh look at a “conservative” social issue, offers hope that members of both parties can find common ground, and U.S. lawmakers can enact bipartisan legislation that will help parents and schools restrict children's access to porn, and so mitigate its corrosive impact.
Here is the Republican Party Platform’s language on pornography, successfully proposed by North Carolina delegate Mary Frances Forrester in a subcommittee of the platform committee.
The internet must not become a safe haven for predators. Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well-being. We applaud the social networking sites that bar sex offenders from participation. We urge energetic prosecution of child pornography which closely linked to human trafficking.