Cleaning Up The Internet

Concern Over Harmful Effects of Pornography

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By Father John Flynn, LC



ROME, JAN. 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Governments in a number of countries are raising concerns over the way in which the Internet is allowing unlimited access to all sorts of pornography.

China recently warned a number of online portals and search engines that are making it easy for Internet users to come into contact with porn, CNN reported Jan. 6.

CNN revealed that the move comes as several Chinese government agencies, including the Ministry of Public Security, launched a month-long campaign to clean up the Web.

Last year Indonesia announced it would block access to pornographic Web sites after the government passed legislation that criminalized producing and accessing immoral content on the Internet, reported the Financial Times, March 26.

In Australia, the federal government is studying the possibility of introducing a nationwide Internet filter, but the proposal is being strongly criticized by free speech advocates, the Associated Press reported Dec. 26. There are also doubts over the technical possibilities of putting into place such a filter.

Federal communications minister Stephen Conroy proposed the filter last year, in fulfillment of a campaign promise made by the Labor Party government to make the Internet cleaner and safer.

In Canada a local magazine, Macleans, put the problem of pornography and the Internet on its front cover in the June 18 issue last year. The accompanying editorial noted the incongruence of having ratings systems to protect children and teens from violent or pornographic content in cinemas and for the sale of DVDs, and also for television broadcasters, but no controls over Internet content.

An idea of the pervasive presence of pornography on the Internet was given during the annual "White Ribbon Against Pornography Week," which ran from Oct. 26 to Nov. 2.

In an Oct. 26 article on the Christian Post Web site, Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, director of Concerned Women for American, noted that over 15,000 new adult movie titles are released every year.

She also said that recent figures reveal 35 million visits to porn sites from American computers every month. Crouse cited a 2007 study by the University of New Hampshire, showing that 42% of Internet users, aged 10 to 17, said they had seen online pornography within a one-year period.

A big deal?

Many, however, deny that viewing pornography has any harmful effects. A convincing reply to such views came in the form of a book published last year by Jill C. Manning, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in the area of pornography and sexual behavior.

In her book, “What’s the Big Deal about Pornography?: A Guide for the Internet Generation,” (Shadow Mountain) Manning sets out a detailed explanation of how using porn damages adolescents, along with advice on how to overcome the addictive nature of such habits.

Pornography is certainly nothing new, Manning readily admitted, but there are some new elements that make its presence particularly harmful in recent times. Not only is porn being increasingly glamorized and accepted as a part of popular culture, but in addition the Internet has made it readily available as never before.

Before the Internet came along normally pornography was not available at home or in the workplace unless someone chose to bring it along. Nowadays, it can enter wherever there is an Internet connection. As well, it is available at little cost and can be accessed with anonymity.

Moreover, she added, a great deal of the pornography being distributed today is disturbingly sinister, violent, and degrading.

Damage

Manning described a number of ways in which pornography damages people:

-- It is something that is potentially addictive. As such it can hinder a person’s ability to make clear choices;

-- It can powerfully distort a person’s outlook on bodies, relationships, and sexuality;

-- It leads people to objectify others, viewing them as sex toys that exist only for our own gratification;

-- Due to its distorting influence it undermines opportunities for young people to be self-confident, happy, and to create enduring relationships in the future.

“It thereby affects their ability to see life in truthful, helpful, and wholesome ways,” she concluded.

Manning lamented that many young people are not taught enough about what makes relationships or marriages work as it makes them less attentive to how using porn will damage their ability to interact with others.

Citing the results of various studies into the effects of regular pornography consumption Manning pointed out a number of the harmful side-effects:

-- Decreased sensitivity to women, showing more aggression, rudeness and less respect;

-- Decreased desire to have children and raise a family;

-- Increased risk of experiencing difficulties in intimate relationships;

-- Increased risk of becoming sexually abusive toward others;

-- Increased risk of being exposed to incorrect information about human sexuality;

-- Increased risk of becoming sexually dissatisfied with your future spouse;
-- Increased risk for divorce once you are married.

Manning also slammed as one of the “biggest lies that pornography sells,” the argument that viewing it will help young people understand sexuality and become more confident.

In fact, she continued, porn users tend to have more insecurities around members of the opposite sex and more difficulty in developing close relationships.

“Every person I have worked with who has been involved with pornography has had less understanding about relationships and sexuality than those who were not looking at pornography,” Manning stated.

Sinister connections

Another book, published in 2007 by the California-based anti-trafficking nongovernmental organization Captive Daughters, widens the debate over pornography and highlights the social damage created. In the collected essays of “Pornography: Driving the Demand in International Sex Trafficking,” a number of the authors related how the spread of pornography is linked to trafficking in women and children and prostitution.

Catharine MacKinnon, the Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, argued that pornography is just another way in which women and children are trafficked for sex.

Consuming pornography is an experience of bought sex, of sexually using another person as an object that has been purchases, and in this sense is very similar to prostitution, according to MacKinnon.

Moreover, in common with prostitution, many of those who are portrayed in porn films are not there by choice, but because of a lack of choices, she argued. As with many prostitutes they consent to these acts due to a variety of factors, including sexual abuse, drug problems, or economic need.

Another of the contributors to the volume, Melissa Farley, described pornography as cultural propaganda that drives home the notion that all women are prostitutes. Farley, a clinical psychologist, is director of the San Francisco-based nongovernmental organization Prostitution Research and Education.

The Internet, she said, has created and expanded opportunities for men to sexually exploit women.

Farley also pointed out that interviews with women who were prostitutes revealed that many of them said that pornography was made of them while they were engaged in acts of prostitution.

Pornography, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not only offends against chastity, but also: “It 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” (No. 2354).

As well, the Catechism observes that: “It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world.” A fantasy world that has, nevertheless, very real damaging effects, both for individuals and society.