Protecting Families, Children and Society from a Pornographic Culture
Should underage children have access to unlimited, hardcore, high definition, streaming pornography?
You’d think that this is a question on which everybody agrees. But you would be wrong.
I have warned in recent years that the euphemism that refers to the porn industry as the “adult entertainment industry” is dangerously wrong. Study after study has revealed that children are not only being exposed to pornography at younger and younger ages, but that a shocking percentage of underage teens use pornography on a regular basis.
In one recent study in the UK, for instance, researchers spoke with 4,000 teens between the ages of 14 and 18. In theory, these children should have zero access to pornography, since it is illegal for porn providers to make pornography available to those under the age of 18. The reality, however, is very different.
Twenty-two percent of these underage teens told the researchers that they had viewed pornography on multiple occasions. One in five said that they had a porn “habit.” Worst of all, one in ten said that they were “addicted” to pornography. While this study found that the average age of first exposure to pornography was 12 years old, they also reported that almost a third of respondents had seen it before the age of 11, with the youngest being three years old.
While many reports treat exposure to pornography in children as an unfortunate accident, the evidence is overwhelming that the porn industry is extremely aware of the fact that children are using their “product.” Even worse, it is clear they are specifically targeting children.
Case in point: the sickening image put out on social media by Pornhub (the world’s most popular porn site) a few years ago. The image showed the face of “baby Yoda,” a character from the recent Disney-produced Star Wars TV show, The Mandalorian. Reflected in both of the eyes of this infant creature was Pornhub’s logo. The caption on the image read: “10 seconds after my parents leave the house.”
In other words: Pornhub not only knows children are so hooked on porn that they sneak to watch it the moment their parents leave the house, but they think it’s funny. And no wonder: the more and the earlier children are hooked on porn, the more money the porn companies stand to make. That’s really how evil these companies are.
Age Verification Laws Achieve the Remarkable
If the porn industry were actually serious about preventing innocent children from consuming their pernicious product, then they would take meaningful steps to actually prevent them from watching it. As it is, the standard method these companies take to follow the law is to have a popup that you have to click to “confirm” that you are 18 years old before visiting their sites.
This is a joke, and everybody knows it. Any child interested enough can easily click the button. Which is why there is a major movement right now by lawmakers to pass age verification laws. These laws require porn companies to implement meaningful age verification, that children cannot easily get around.
This past week, Politico published one of the most encouraging articles I have read in recent years about this trend. As the article notes, one of the most interesting things about this movement is that it isn’t necessarily politically polarized. While you would think that in the U.S. it would be entirely Republicans who are supporting such laws, the reality is that many social liberals and Democrats are also waking up to the enormity of the porn problem.
Take the new porn verification law in Louisiana. The bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Laurie Schlegel. However, as Politico reports, “the bill sailed through the Louisiana House 96-1 and the State Senate 34-0.” In other words, only a single legislator in the entire Louisiana legislature opposed the bill. It ultimately went to the desk of Democrat Governor John Bel Edwards, who quickly signed it into law.
This is a law that includes the following damning statement about the harms of pornography: “Pornography may also impact brain development and functioning, contribute to emotional and medical illnesses, shape deviant sexual arousal, and lead to difficulty in forming or maintaining positive, intimate relationships, as well as promoting problematic or harmful sexual behaviors and addiction.” And yet, only one Democrat in the entire legislature disagreed.
Here is one of the most encouraging paragraphs I have read in any recent news report, from the Politico story:
Though the first of its kind, Louisiana’s age-verification bill was not the last. Nearly identical bills have passed in six other states — Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia and Texas — by similarly lopsided margins. In Utah and Arkansas, the bills passed unanimously. The laws were passed by overwhelming margins in legislatures controlled by both parties and signed into law by Democratic and Republican governors alike. In just over a year, age-verification laws have become perhaps the most bipartisan policy in the country, and they are creating havoc in a porn industry that many had considered all but impossible to actually regulate.
This is music to my ears!
Porn Companies Retreat, Fight Back
The important thing to note is that these age-verification laws have real teeth. In states where age-verification laws have gone into effect, one of two things has happened: traffic to porn websites has dropped off a cliff, or the porn companies have simply blocked all access to their sites, rather than implement age verification.
Both cases are fantastic wins.
Perhaps the most telling thing about the enormity of the evil that is the porn industry, however, is how hard the porn companies have been fighting back against these laws.
The industry has a lobbying organization named the Free Speech Coalition. The name is only the first of the slimy deceptions employed by the organization. Clearly, banning minors from accessing the bottomless pit of moral sludge that the porn industry pumps onto the web every day is not a violation of “free speech.” Every society has always recognized that there are reasonable limits on the ability of people to broadcast obscene material. And could there be anything more obscene than hardcore, high definition, streaming, and often-violent pornography?
However, as the website for the organization (which does not include any explicit images) makes clear, the porn industry is busy suing every single state that passes age verification laws, to try to get them repealed on “free speech” grounds.
The organization argues that age verification laws are “ineffective, unconstitutional, and dangerous.” That is the second great deception they are peddling. In reality, the plummeting number of users to their websites in the states that have passed such laws proves that these laws are one of the greatest successes in protecting the safety of minors, using entirely constitutional means, devised in recent years.
The Silent Victims of Porn
One of the most interesting sections of the Politico article is about the origin of the support for these laws, i.e., a 2021 interview with a pop star on the infamously raunchy Howard Stern Show.
During the interview, musician Billie Eilish opened up about the suffering that her porn addiction, which began at an extremely early age, had caused her. “I used to watch a lot of porn, to be honest. I started watching porn when I was like 11,” said Eilish. “I think it really destroyed my brain and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn.”
It was this interview that convinced Rep. Schlegel, who is also a certified sex addiction therapist, to act and introduce the Louisiana law. That is the law that opened the flood gates. The Free Speech Coalition website includes a “legislative tracker” showing the numerous “copycat” laws introduced in other states.
As the author of the Politico article notes, when anti-porn feminist Gail Dines spoke at her school when she was a young teen, she thought that Dines was completely out of touch. Now, however, she looks at the devastation that porn has wrought on her generation—” the endless tapestry of loneliness, broken marriages” and the growing horde of men who are finding themselves incapable of becoming sexually aroused with their real-life partners—and she (a social liberal) finds herself agreeing with the anti-porn messages long championed by conservatives.
Advocate for More Age Verification Laws
These age verification laws are already costing the porn companies millions of dollars. However, even more encouraging is that the success of these laws, and in particular the bipartisan support often given to them, signals a major sea change in the conversation about porn.
As is so often the case, secular society is coming around to the wisdom that has long been contained in the teaching of the Catholic Church. On the issue of pornography, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “[Pornography] does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials” (no. 2354).
For decades, social liberals defended pornography as an important act of self-expression, and pornography consumption as a “harmless” behavior that liberated porn users from old-fashioned moral prejudices. Now, however, they are recognizing the many ways that porn is inherently abusive, not only in how it dehumanizes and commodifies its performers, but also in how it debases its users by treating them as simply products to be monetized, no matter the consequences to their physical, mental and spiritual health. Even more importantly, they are recognizing that the state has a legitimate role to play in stopping the spread of pornography.
In other words, the Church has been right all along.
God bless the many legislators leading the charge on this critical issue. If you live in a state where such a law has not yet been put into effect, I urge you to contact your state legislators and ask them why they have not done anything. The porn pandemic is the public health crisis of our generation. It is destroying the hearts and minds of countless millions of children (and adults!) and must be fought with all the strength of resolve we can muster.
May the day soon come when the giant porn companies shut their doors once and for all.
As president of Human Life International, Fr. Boquet is a leading expert on the international pro-life and family movement, having journeyed to nearly 90 countries on pro-life missions over the last decade. Father Boquet works with pro-life and family leaders in 116 counties that partner with HLI to proclaim and advance the Gospel of Life. Read his full bio here.