Utah Governor Declares Pornography 'Public Health Crisis'

By McCarton Ackerman 04/21/16

The governor signed a resolution calling for research and policy changes to combat the "pornography epidemic that is harming the citizens of Utah and the nation."

Utah Governor Declares Pornography 'Public Health Crisis'
Photo via 32ATPs/Wiki Commons

Utah has declared a public health crisis, but it’s not over drugs or alcohol. Gov. Gary R. Herbert signed two pieces of legislation on Tuesday to address the “harmful effects of pornography.”

Declaring that porn has created a "sexually toxic environment," the governor signed both a resolution and a bill on the subject. The resolution, S.C.R. 9, states that porn is "a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms," making Utah the first state to have such a declaration on the matter. The resolution also states that pornography "equates violence toward women and children with sex and pain with pleasure" and "increases the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, child sexual abuse images, and child pornography."

However, the resolution does not impose a ban on pornography or punishment for possessing it. A spokesman for Herbert said the goal of the bill is to have Utah kids “understand the addictive habits” of porn that are “harmful to our society.”

The bill, H.B. 155, targets the possession and distribution of child pornography. Computer technicians who find child porn during work hours are now legally required to report it. Failure to do so will result in a Class B misdemeanor charge.

The resolution and bill received support from several organizations including the Utah Coalition Against Pornography and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. State Sen. Todd Weiler, who sponsored both pieces of legislation, told the Salt Lake Tribune that “pornography today is like tobacco was 70 years ago.”

But just like Prohibition increased alcohol use (not to mention organized crime and related violence), an attempt to criminalize pornography probably won't do much to discourage viewing. In 2009, a Harvard Business School professor confirmed in a study that Utah residents were the highest per capita purchasers of online porn in the United States.

Self-identifying as a porn addict is more common among religious people, which could be correlated to the deeply rooted-Mormonism in the state. However, a January 2015 study, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that people who were opposed to porn for religious reasons were more likely to perceive themselves as porn addicts, regardless of how much they actually watched. A 2014 survey by the Barna Group noted that 21% of Christian men said they were either “addicted” to porn or thought they might be, while only 10% of non-Christian men did the same. Despite this, more non-Christian men (71%) viewed porn at least monthly than did the Christian men (64%).

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.