By Emily Bleazard

Originally published in the Deseret News.

A wife is shocked when she walks in on her husband watching pornography. The husband, filled with regret, apologizes for the addiction he’s had since he was 10. And the videotaped porn performer can’t see any way out of the industry in which she’s been trafficked since she was 12.

This scenario is reality for many Utahns. Their lives manifest the necessity for real social and legislative action against this destructive industry. And make no mistake, the pornography industry is destructive.

Pornography dismantles the psychological and physical health of women who’ve encountered their partner’s addiction. They often can’t eat or sleep, and they experience extreme levels of stress. This is called “betrayal trauma,” and a raft of health organizations have launched to help them heal from it – Bloom, Addo Recovery, SA Lifeline, COSA and private-practice therapists like Adam Moore, to name a few.

The industry is destructive for those addicted — men or women. Research has shown pornography exposure has a lasting imprint on human development, leading to anxiety, depression and emotional disconnect. This disconnect starts during exposure at a young age, with pornography users ages 9-17 reporting a poorer emotional bond with their caregiver than their non-user counterparts.

The pornography industry destroys healthy neurological development. At least 26 studies since 2011 show negative effects on the brain are associated with pornography. One study found the more a subject watched pornography per week, the less brain matter they had in their brain’s reward center and the less activity they had in their prefrontal cortex, which oversees decision-making, motivation and personality.

The pornography industry destroys addicts not only during their most vulnerable years, but affects them for decades to come. As current and former addicts grow up and become sexually active, they can face a host of barriers to healthy sexual relationships. According to research, users are more self-conscious about their own body image and their ability to satisfy their partner; feel more pressure to perform; are less satisfied with their partners; and are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction, commonly known as an older man’s problem, was 5 percent among males ages 18-59 in 1999. As of 2016, it’s now 45.3 percent in young males (ages 16-21).

Finally, the pornography industry is destructive for the performers. Quoted by Fight the New Drug, one woman in the industry said, “It was torture for seven years. I was miserable, I was lonely, I eventually turned to drugs and alcohol and attempted suicide. I knew I wanted out, but I didn’t know how to get out.”

Women never ask to be betrayed, men never ask to be addicted, and pornography performers never ask to be exploited. Yet that is exactly what the pornography industry does to them, because it is designed to exploit the vulnerable.

For the porn industry, these shattered lives are just the cost of doing business — big business.

Pornography is a multibillion-dollar industry on its own, and beyond that it feeds the demand for other exploitative industries: sex trafficking, illicit drugs and drug cartels, prostitution and other sexually oriented businesses.

So what can Utahns do to counteract the destructive pornography industry? They can educate themselves on pornography harms, lift their suffering family and friends and support actions taken by their state government leaders.

Last year the Utah Legislature passed, and the governor signed, a resolution declaring pornography a public health crisis. It was criticized, of course — most noble pursuits are.

The resolution led other leaders to follow Utah’s example. South Dakota and Virginia recently passed similar public health resolutions with sweeping majorities. Internationally, the Canadian Parliament decided last December to study the harms of pornography, in a motion called M-47. Their report will be published no later than July 2017.

Our state’s impact is far from finished. This year, legislators are pursuing bills to mandate Wi-Fi filters in public libraries (SB82) and to give children the ability to sue pornography producers for damages (SB185). These bills are worthy of Utahns’ and Utah policymakers’ support.

Victims of pornography exploitation need these important policy protections, just like victims of tobacco exploitation needed the legal protections they received years ago. And those who are victimized go beyond the pornography addict, the traumatized spouse, and the pornography performer. They are our neighbors, our friends and our families. They are us. Fighting the pornography industry is the least we can do to ensure our plight does not continue for generations to come.

Krisana Finlay is a family policy and legislative intern at Sutherland Institute and former deputy director of development at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

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