Pornography: A public health crisis


Pornography has been openly sold in this country since the advent of Playboy magazine in the 1950s, spawning an ever-widening expansion of magazines, videos and now Internet sites that exploit the female body and sex for profit.

While almost no one discusses it, it is so prevalent it is causing a public health crisis. A growing body of research links pornography with a loss of thinking brain function and a growth in sex trafficking and slavery and as a major factor in divorce. But it is also one of the worst ways patriarchy is expressed in our society. It is a total disrespect for women.


Courtesy graphic

Graphic advertising a Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation summit.

To mobilize and energize the fight against pornography, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation organized the second annual Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation Summit in Orlando, Florida, which we attended. We have supported the work of NCOSE for two years with financial contributions. We wanted to meet the people behind the movement and the latest science.

Leading researchers and activists reported the state of the knowledge on sex trafficking and the effects of pornography on adults and children. They explored the cultural and economic forces that fuel demand for pornography and, in turn, prostitution.

Sex addiction parallels heroin addiction

The first surprising bits of new knowledge were the parallels between sex addiction and heroin addiction. In both, the reward areas of the brain light up in the same places. In both, the hormone dopamine is over-produced, leading to deterioration of the brain.

Just as heroin has its gateway drug, prescription painkillers, sex addiction has its gateway drug — pornography.

Heroin addiction has moved from poorer communities into mainstream America. No one is immune to addiction — it could be anyone’s face. So it is with pornography and sex addiction. Most age groups and all income levels are affected. The reason we notice the heroin epidemic is because so many die from overdosing — 8,200 in 2013 alone. With sex or pornography addiction, death sometimes comes from suicide, but no agency is collecting data on that.

What we do know is that there are an estimated nine to 13 million sex addicts in the U.S. today — men, women and children — compared with 467,000 heroin addicts. Unlike heroin addicts, most sex addicts do not recognize they are addicts, similar to gambling addicts. They find out one day when their world comes crashing in by losing a job, being arrested or getting caught by their spouses.

Many claim they noticed they were becoming more unhappy and cynical, their relationships with loved ones were deteriorating and they were beginning to recognize their unhealthy compulsive behaviors. But a hallmark of all addicts is denial and justification right up to the end.

Pornography, sex addiction have consequences

Sex addiction is lethal to relationships. A recent study of causes of divorce found that 58 percent of all marriages ending in divorce in the U.S. had pornography use as a major cause. Couples and individuals spend thousands of dollars in therapy, but the total economic cost is unknown.

If that isn’t bad enough, pornography addiction is a major driver of the demand for prostitution and leads to abduction of children and women for sexual slavery. This is a worldwide problem, but statistics from the U.S. alone are enough to give one pause. Eighty percent of prostitutes are trafficked by pimps and brothels. Many are deceived and captured within the U.S., and many are brought in from other countries. There are an estimated one million prostitutes in the U.S.A., and tens of thousands of them are children. The FBI and CIA track the trade and publish numbers almost no one ever sees.

Physical and mental abuse well-documented

The physical and mental abuse of trafficked women and children is well-documented. Melissa Farley, of Prostitution Research & Education in San Francisco, presented on “Pornography as Filmed Prostitution.” She began her talk with a photo of an orca whale at Sea World — across the street from the venue of the Summit — biting the concrete wall of its small holding tank.


Courtesy graphic

Graphic advertising the potential harms associated with pornography.

“As these whales are forced to perform for us, we decide that they are happy,” she said, “but in reality, they are enslaved, separated from their pods/families and in their misery and frustration, they chew at the concrete walls, wrecking their teeth.

Women and children trafficked for pornography are in a similar situation — they are forced to look happy and “consenting,” but they are, in fact, enslaved for profit and suffer greatly.

Anna Malika, porn actress survivor and now anti-porn activist, described how some of the porn industry operates. Adopted from India into a middle-class home, she became a confused teenager when her parents divorced. As a 17-year-old, she was befriended by a 40-year-old man who turned out to be a trafficker. Upon his death three years later, his sister presented Anna with a large box of pornographic photos of herself.

“I looked at them in disbelief,” she said. “I had no memory of these events. I must have been drugged.”

She learned he had other “girlfriends” who were also unknowingly photographed. Other porn actors and actresses report being threatened with death or deaths of their parents or children if they do not comply.

Mainstream pornography increasingly depicts violence against women, which research has shown fuels domestic violence and rape. Viewers eventually try to act out their fantasies. A national Department of Defense survey in 2010 reported nearly 20 percent of all women in the U.S. are raped at some time in their lives.

Some surveys suggest that 80-percent of men and 40-percent of women are struggling with use of Internet pornography and 60-percent of the clergy, as well. Children are affected too. The average age of first exposure to porn is 11, but children as young as 6 are asking their parents about pornography they saw on the smartphones of older children.

Internet pornography a growing problem

Internet porn is considered the crack cocaine of sex addiction. Dr. Donald Hilton, a neuroscientist at University of Texas, described how pornography hijacks the brain, causing frontal lobe dementia called hypofrontality.

Continued use of pornography literally erodes the prefrontal region of the brain, responsible for willpower. People with hypofrontality begin making poor life decisions around adultery, their jobs and careers, on how to spend their money and in many other areas.

Some even become extremely mentally ill, as in the case of the Elizabeth Smart abduction. Ed Smart, whose daughter, Elizabeth, was kidnapped 13 years ago and fortunately rescued after nine months of torture, described the kidnapper as a pornography addict who needed to act out his porn-induced fantasies. Ed Smart now directs prevention and rehabilitation of trafficked children rescued by the non-profit organization, Operation Underground Railroad.

Victoria Hearst, granddaughter of media legend William Randolph Hearst, is spearheading a campaign called “COSMO Harms Minors.” Cosmopolitan magazine, published by her family’s company, is porn marketed to teenage girls. She wants the magazine labeled “Adult Material” and put inside a plastic sleeve like other hardcore pornography.

Groups organizing for change

The names of the organizations at the conference reveal their passion for change, such as Exodus City, Fight the New Drug and Shared Hope International. Author Kristen Jenson gave away copies of her new book “Good Pictures Bad Pictures,” for children, an Amazon #1 best-selling book. The fact that we have a public health crisis on our hands was also revealed by the dozens of organizations with Websites for recovery services and home computer protection.

Shocking to all in attendance was Amnesty International’s recent call for decriminalization of prostitution, sex buyers, pimps and brothel keepers worldwide.

“The prostitutes are the victims,” says Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. “They should not be prosecuted. But every other player in this global sexual slavery should be treated like the criminals that they are.”

Detective work by various organizations has linked porn producers, sex traffickers, gun runners, drug traffickers and money launderers as being in the same illegal cartels. When the Netherlands legalized prostitution, they witnessed an explosion of all these illegal activities, now being run out of legal brothels housed in multi-storied buildings.

Summit leaders emphasized Internet pornography has reached every home in America and has touched everyone in one way or another. Our own government acknowledges prostitution has reached every town in America — modern slavery right under our noses.

Pornography in all forms of media is illegal in the United States, and prostitution is legal in only three counties of Nevada. However, laws are not enforced. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation is making a difference in voluntary compliance through its “Dirty Dozen” list, which names those organizations that are the biggest distributors of pornography.

One by one, they are changing. Due to being named, the Department of Defense finally recognized the connection between pornography and high rates of rape in the military and recently removed all pornography from the shelves of PX stores.

Our media environment of porn and violence has to stop. It is time we stop rolling our eyes and start opening them to this tragic reality. If you want to learn more, visit

Mayling Simpson and Paul Hebert had careers in public health and humanitarian work in developing countries and have been residents of Steamboat Springs since 1985.


Scott Wedel 1 year, 4 months ago

"Cosmopolitan magazine, published by her family’s company, is porn marketed to teenage girls."

As are the Carl's Jr ads showing a sexy model eating a hamburger, women wearing bikinis selling cars, attractive women kissing male winners of bicycle races and so on.

Personally, I was disappointed that on the stage celebrating the winner of the US Pro Challenge in Steamboat were two female models that served no purpose other than eye candy. So our SB City tax dollars as part of subsidizing the bike race go to what this article describes as "porn".


George Fargo 1 year, 4 months ago

Aw, c'mon Scott, lighten up. Heidi and Jordan are two of the nicest young women you could ever want to meet, very intelligent and personable. Did you even try to talk to them to get their side of the story? They were just trying to carry on the time honored tradition in cycle racing of planting a kiss on the cheek of the winner. What better reward could a guy ask for after a long day in the saddle.

And served no other purpose? I beg to differ. Some of the teams tried to exit the stage the same way they came up as the next team climbed the stairs. Heidi took control of the situation and led the teams off stage left, avoiding a major collision before the race even started. And when the teams didn't show up on time, the girls graciously permitted Phil and Paul to interview them, entertainingly filling in what could have been an embarrassing void in the ceremonies.

I just hope they don't read the Pilot. Your words would likely devastate them....


Scott Wedel 1 year, 4 months ago


Were they hired to be security guards or to be photographed kissing the winning bike racer on the cheeks?

If you are going to take the perspective that a magazine like Cosmo which is marketed to women and has a minimal male readership is "porn" then you are taking the perspective that objectification of women for commercial purposes is wrong.

I think the practice of having pretty women kiss the winner of a bike race is an archaic tradition that sets a bad example for girls. We don't hire two handsome men to be photographed kissing the cheeks of female winners of city council elections.

It would make far more sense to have a couple of local famous athletes greet the winners on the stage.

I doubt the two women on the winner stage would be "devastated" by my comments. I think they are intelligent enough to have thought about the issue and probably came to the conclusion of they were asked and no real harm to exercising their free will to say yes.


rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

I'm personally happy that someone finally recognizes the true threat to this country. It's not ISIS, or the Muslims, or the war-mongers on Capitol Hill, or booze, or the devil weed, or the psychos with guns -- it's those crazed sex monkeys we see all over. Ever since women revealed their ankles -- that sexy joint -- we have been doomed. As hemlines got higher, our morals got lower, until now, when we possess no more fiber than rabbits or mink. Reefer Madness was NOTHING compared to the decay we have witnessed since. I think most wars can be traced back to too much sex. Now Man is not the opposition, but God Himself. Every sicko who thinks one dirty thought about anyone they're not married to faces an eternity of fire and damnation at the hands of the Devil Himself, who derives great glee from punishing you promiscuous perverts. He loves his job. I swore off sex once I figured this out, and I get down on my knees five times a day begging forgiveness. Don't say I didn't warn you. Have a nice day!!


rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

Following that train of thought -- which has already derailed -- what is love?

Is it a God-given state of bliss shared between two [or more] people [eeeww] or is it a chemical reaction necessary for the propagation of the species? Whatever it is, if we had a lot less of it, we wouldn't need so many wars to cull the herd. So we go making all these extra people, who end up just getting on each other's nerves...

I can't figure it out.


rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

Yeah, I figured that'd draw out at least one zealot, yet hoping some might enjoy it anyway, and illustrating the point I made elsewhere: You can't make a comment on these forums without drawing fire from some self-righteous or self-important corner -- somebody's going to take you wrong, or fail to see the humor you attempt, imparting always the worst connotations and interpretations -- why bother? I have a difficult time remembering any positive or humorous comment you ever made, Peter, putting you on my list of downers, and reasons to avoid wasting my time on such petty personalities. Have at it, big guy, you are part of the posse which chases the regular folk away. You also never fail to disappoint. Can your God forgive me? Mine can.


rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

If you are implying that my comments above were made under the influence of cereal malt beverages -- or any alcoholic beverage -- you would be sadly mistaken, a victim of your own preconceptions. Sativa -- well... You holier-than-thou folks amuse me to no end. Why do I waste my time on petty souls like you? You'd piss on anybody's parade. It's people like you, why I waste less and less of my time in here. Your bad karma will not disrupt me. I think you know what you can do with your stupid opinion, you self-righteous blowhard killjoy.


rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

Is that a peace pipe? I'll take a hit. I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I like to steer clear of here. I get even stupider then. Last night was restricted to cannabinoids of the finest variety, which I thought contributed to my written creations, with tongue-in-cheek -- I thought even the Bible-thumpers would appreciate the humor. I have reviewed some of your other recent contributions, and concluded that my proclamations might have been a bit harsh: While parading your straight-and-narrow life, you do profess a tolerance for alternative lifestyles, less evident in others. We can debate the various merits of mj on another occasion. I see potential; just don't be so quick to judge, and have a great night yourself!!


John Fielding 1 year, 4 months ago

some of the concerns raised by this article warrant more detail. I am particularly concerned to learn that sex addiction can cause deterioration of the brain. As my new wife wishes to become pregnant, I have predictably participated to a degree that was quite different from the level I had to become accustom to with my late wife.

Am I putting my brain at risk by coupling so frequently?

At what point does participation in sexual activity constitute sex addiction? Obviously the compulsion to engage in sexual activity is as fundamental as that to survive, they are inextricably connected with living.

Unless someone can offer a better definition, I will assume that it is like the drinkers definition of an alcoholic. No matter how much or how often drink you're not an alcoholic unless it is destructive to your life or those of your loved ones.


rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

John -- You could lose half your mind, and still be smarter than the best of us. In fact, you could drop a few IQ points, just to relate to the masses. I'd say do what you want, it can't hurt -- you're a stud, and we need more of you!!

Brain damage... huh. Maybe I was smarter, back in the '80's, before AIDS ruined everything -- but how would I know? And if that was true, most people would get stupider throughout their major productive years -- I think we can discard that poppycock. I would think a healthy sex life promoted a good heart, circulation, respiration in general, physical condition, and cerebral attitude. In other words: Double-poppycock.


John Fielding 1 year, 4 months ago

in fact, the mandate to procreate is primary, ascendant even over that to survive.

in the case of humans of course it also requires two decades of child rearing to have done so successfully

as with every other aspect of the extremely complex species Homo sapiens, our sexual engagement has taken myriad diverse expressions. if you don't believe that read the list of fetishes available to the porn aficianado.

Rhys, to address your mention of love, what's love got to do with it, it is compassion affection and the willingness to give of one's self that are among the strongest drivers of societal advancement.

The bonding for life of the male and female can be the most fulfilling of relationships in existence.

I'm taking a trip back east next week to see mom and dad. She turned 92 three weeks ago, he is 96. married over 70 years now, I am sure that it is their devotion to each other and to the raising of their children (grandchildren great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren) that has given them such good health and happiness in their 10th decade.

I called dad helps a couple of months ago to have him remind me which poem of his it was that described the experiencing of pleasures by the earth worm and why flies will only trust other flies. He immediately replied, oh that is "Consciousness" and quoted all 24 lines from memory.

now I know that he and mom have as much sexual pleasure as their physical condition will allow, always have. Seems there's not much deterioration of mental function as a result.


rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

John -- I hope to visit Mom soon. She just turned 88, still rides patrol for Garfield County, volunteers at the Visitor Center (The Cabin) and smokes a pack of unfiltered Pall Malls a day, has her whole adult life. X-rays recently confirmed clear lungs. Dad was the only man in her life; they've been divorced for 45 years, him remarried for 25 and dead for 13. But still she keeps plugging away, in spite of all odds and expectations -- and casting doubt on some of your theories of longevity.

Personaly, I think your own body is your worst enemy, and the more of it you have, the sooner you will die. The ticker is what it's all about, and every extra pound you subject it to will kill you that much faster. You don't see any big people in old folks' homes. Just maintain a certain activity level, and only eat what you need to survive. Of course other factors enter in, such as genetic predisposition, but this is good advice for anybody.

That irrelevant digression was occasioned by the mention of longevity. I won't further digress it, since the devil weed came up, by mentioning the medical studies I've read of recently which linked it with improved athletic performance and lung capacity -- people would cry for links, and that'd be work, back-and-forth between here and Facebook -- while I have expressed my disdain for links before -- and I don't really care what anybody else thinks -- let them stumble on in their own ignorance, the information is out there, I'm not a teacher, they don't make enough. This forum wasn't about that anyway.

I'm stuck here for a long time, with or without love. All I'm saying.


John Fielding 1 year, 4 months ago

regarding love as a chemical reaction, what other chemical reaction has purpose?

oxygen will always combine with carbon, hydrogen, or other elements when the environmental conditions are right.

but complex hydrocarbons do not reproduce themselves unless infused with life. it is that vital force, spiritual energy, that gives purpose, consciousness, and intelligence to previously inanimate matter.


Scott Wedel 1 year, 4 months ago


I think this article generally fails to distinguish between cause and effect.

Studies have long established that people that enjoy violence like watching violence. So if you do a study on violent men then you find that they enjoy violent video games or violent shows. But it doesn't mean that watching violence turns someone into a violent person. A study has to be careful if it is observing the symptom or the cause.

I think that studies have generally found that the brain is not easily changed when it comes to sexuality or such. People find it extremely hard to become not gay even if that is very much what they want to do, for instance. The criminal justice system registers sexual offenders because studies have shown that they tend to commit more crimes of a similar nature.

I also would expect that if porn did so much harm to the brain then the growth of the internet would have resulted in horrific increases in rapes and so on. I know porn was widely considered to be 50% of all internet traffic in the 80s. Instead, FBI statistics show a decline in the number of sexual crimes. The number is much higher than should be acceptable, but it isn't getting much worse as porn has become easier to access.

There are a lot of issues of porn exploiting vulnerable women, but I think that changing the brains of men to become rapists does not happen.


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