Millions of people view porn every day and this week Arizona declared pornography to be an “epidemic” and a “public health risk.”
Citing its role in the rise of underage sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and unplanned pregnancies, the bill states pornography, “perpetuates a sexually toxic environment that damages all areas of our society,” including the ability to build intimate relationships.”
Last year the Florida House approved a resolution to protect their constituents from its inherent health risks, joining other states with similar declarations including: Utah, Tennessee, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Louisiana, Kansas and Idaho.
According to the Florida resolution’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Ross Spano, “Research has found a correlation between pornography use and mental and physical illnesses, difficulty forming and maintaining intimate relationships, unhealthy brain development and cognitive function, and deviant, problematic or dangerous sexual behavior.”
Criminal penalties will not be levied, but this bill serves as a “gesture” to bring awareness to a growing “health risk” and denounce pornography as a “growing health crisis.”
So is pornography a public health risk?
What constitutes a “Public Health Risk?”
A public health risk is something that could pose a health threat, injury to humans or could contribute to health risks of other humans. This could include drunk driving, mosquitos or rats transmitting disease, or even smoking.
So watching pornography would pose a public health risk if not only the “pornee” gets hurt but affects others surrounding him. Now the effect of others could be in the form of missing work, viewing porn at work (considered sexual harassment and/or assault by others not wanting to view it), and unwanted sexual acts with one’s partner.
How does watching pornography affect health?
Although we do not have any definitive studies telling us porn is good or bad for our health, there are many opinions on the matter.
One concern is inactivity and time spent in front of a screen. Sitting in front of a computer, tablet, or hand-held device watching hours of porn could increase risk of a blood clot, heart disease and (prolonged sitting) has been linked to colon cancer. However, according to PornHub, the average time spent viewing porn only ranges from 9-13 minutes.
What about lack of sleep? Are people secretly watching porn at night, and not getting their 7-9 hours of uninterrupted rest?
According to PornHub the most common time during the day to watch porn was between 10 pm and 1 am. If one is only online for 10 minutes and falls asleep afterwards, they may still receive a good amount of sleep.
What about the risks of frequent masturbation?
In 2009 a study found frequent masturbation in young males could increase their risk of prostate cancer, but in older men (>50 years), reduced their risk. Other studies have suggested reduced risk of prostate cancer that occurs in older men but not aggressive cancer in younger men.
Excessive masturbation could affect one’s refractory period, or time it takes to form an erection again after sex. For some this could last 15 minutes, for others a week. So if a date night is planned for later that evening, one with a long refractory period could have issues.
Chafing and inflammation can also occur but are usually rectified with a change in modality.
What about the impact on children?
The American College of Pediatricians released this statement:
The consumption of pornography is associated with many negative outcomes: increased rates of depression, anxiety, violent behavior, early sexual debut and sexual promiscuity, higher rates of teen pregnancy and a distorted view of relationships. For married adults, pornography also results in an increased likelihood of divorce which, in turn, is harmful to children.
Author, L. David Perry, MD, states, “Pornography glorifies decontextualized sex. Its use by adolescents and young adults often leads to a distorted view of sexuality and its proper role in fostering healthy personal relationships.”
If state governments choose to debate porn being a health risk, I agree with strict restrictions on child and adolescent access. I also agree with education of condom use to protect against unsafe sex practices. Moreover, counseling resources for those addicted to porn should be increased as internet and porn addiction is a growing public health threat. However, does the occasional video view pose serious health risks….no.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician