If the topic is cleaning up dirty air, dirty water, or a smoker’s dirty lungs, the Republican Party takes a hands-off approach. But when it’s dirty movies, magazines, and websites, the platform encourages legislation, if not censorship. At the 2016 convention, the GOP added a plank that declared, “Pornography, with his harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions.”
If this alarmist language were correct, society would have started hemorrhaging in the mid-1990s, when Internet access became more common. And with most persons today having about four ways to access porn at any time, our country would be in a total freefall and a zombie-infested dystopia.
This is not the case and no evidence was offered for the plank’s claims, nor does there seem to be any. According to The Hill, a 2009 review of studies concluded that porn was not addictive, was unrelated to unsafe sex practices, and did not make purveyors more like to commit rape or assault. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson is fond of pointing out that a majority of rapists have regularly viewed violent pornography, but he was committing a causation/correlation error. Persons inclined to commit these crimes want to view images that fuel their twisted fantasies. By contrast, someone disinclined to rape would be no more likely to do so after watching “I Spit on Your Grave” than they would be to hit the links after reading Golf Digest.
There is also a linguistic issue. While a few persons may struggle with watching obsessively or have other problems with pornography, that would be an individual concern, not a public health issue. “Public health” suggests something that impacts everyone: Clean water, improved sanitation, quarantines, immunization, and water rationing during droughts.
Legitimate public health initiatives would be eradicating malaria-carrying mosquitoes, giving free polio vaccinations to underprivileged children, and testing food for e. coli. These are all attempts to protect individuals who are not engaging in risky behavior. That could not be said of restricting pornography.
Similarly, bans on Big Gulps, trans fat, clove cigarettes, and even heroin and methamphetamines are unrelated to public health. True, some of those issues can indirectly impact others, but none will have widespread impact. For that, you need unregulated emissions, an invasive venomous species slipping through customs, or a previously eradicated disease becoming endemic.
A smoker who eschews seatbelt use can cut his risk of disease and improve his chance of making it home alive by snuffing the cigarettes and buckling up. No collective action is needed, nor is there public benefit to the lone smoker doing so.
Porn is certainly not my thing. It is the only movie style that keeps action from being my least favorite genre. I’m more of a Bela Lugosi man. But if you’re into it, watch away. It’s almost certainly harmless to you and definitely harmless to me. It will no more unravel society than my watching Dracula will cause mass exsanguination.