They Are Full of Crap in Utah

Utah has declared war on pornography at just the right time for Ted Cruz to speak up and say something that will make everyone sick to their stomach. Just how much of a "public health crisis" is pornography? Not so damned much.

Biological examinations of so-called “porn addiction” have generally been fruitless. A2015 neuroscience study published in Biological Psychology found that electrical activity in the brains of people who felt their porn usage was problematic looked nothing like the patterns found in the brains of actual addicts. That didn’t stop the Utah state legislature from declaring that “recent research indicates that pornography is potentially biologically addictive.”

Why might someone believe in “porn addiction” without supporting evidence? Recentresearch in the Archives of Sexual Behavior has shown that “religiosity is robustly predictive of perceived [pornography] addiction.” This perception of addiction is unrelated to actual use. In other words, a religious person who watches pornography once a week is probably more likely to consider himself “addicted” than an atheist who indulges every night.

Relevant here is the fact that most Utah state legislators are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that one of the most frequently cited figures in anti-porn pseudoscience is Donald Hilton, a Mormon neurosurgeon. The Mormon Church itself has endorsed the concepts of “sexual addiction” and “porn addiction,” treating them under a 12-step model in its Addiction Recovery Program.

It does take a great deal of faith to believe many of the other unscientific claims in SCR9.

For instance, the resolution contends that pornography “can impact brain development.” This claim might appear credible based on a 2014 study that found an association between porn use and gray matter volume in one region of the brain but even the authors of the study note that the relationship may not be causal. The decreased gray matter volume, the authors acknowledge, could simply be “a precondition that makes pornography consumption more rewarding,” rather than a result of frequent viewing over time.

This is about codifying values and not so much about actually taking care of people. This is about modifying behavior through the imposition of values that not everyone shares. 

We have a mental health crisis in this country, that's a given. But there are two contributing factors to how this crisis threatens us as a nation. One, we don't spend enough money to take care of the mentally ill--that's a value judgement made by inept politicians who don't want to see their budgets go haywire and force them to tax the wealthy. Second, we allow too many mentally ill people access to guns because we don't have the courage to change those laws.

And porn is supposed to be an issue here? The puns write themselves--come on.