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The True Effects of Watching Porn

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The True Effects of Watching Porn

On 10.09.19 11:02 PM posted by Rachel del Guidice

Haley Halverson of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation discusses pornography crisis in this country, how it’s changing us, and what can be done about it. Read the lightly edited interview, posted below, or listen on the podcast:

We also cover these stories:
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  • Two people are killed near a synagogue in Germany on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.
  • Thanks to the D.C. City Council, the nation’s capital won’t be celebrating Columbus Day on Monday.
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Rachel del Guidice: We’re joined today on The Daily Signal Podcast by Haley Halverson. Haley is the vice president of advocacy and outreach at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, where she develops and executes national campaigns to change policies and raise awareness. Haley, thank you so much for being with us today.

Haley Halverson: Thank you so much for having me.

Del Guidice: So, can you start off by explaining what the National Center on Sexual Exploitation does and your role in advocacy there?

Halverson: Yes, so, we are a nonpartisan nonprofit … Really, our central thesis is to expose the links between all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, from pornography to child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, prostitution, sexual violence.

All of these things are really interconnected. So, we realized that if we want to solve one of these issues, we can’t just try to solve that issue in a vacuum. We have to see this kind of larger web.

So, that’s our central thesis, and then we work in really three umbrellas. We do policy advocacy. That’s both legal/governmental and also with corporations.

We also do public education, and we lead a coalition of around 300-plus other organizations, just helping everyone to cross-pollinate, and hopefully, create a stronger movement to end sexual exploitation.

Del Guidice: In part [because of] what you all do, there’s been such an increased conversation lately about pornography and how it is a public health crisis. Would you qualify this as a public health crisis, as an epidemic, and why?

Halverson: Yes, absolutely. In fact, actually, at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, we drafted model legislation for a state resolution declaring pornography a public health crisis. That resolution has now been passed in 15 different states, and it’s fantastic.

The version that we drafted has footnotes for every single sentence in the entire resolution. So, we believe it’s very founded in research to call this a public health crisis.

One reason … it’s a public health crisis [is] because it’s something that impacts individuals and families beyond their capacity alone to correct. So, you can be the most in-touch parents, reading all of the blogs, putting on all of the parental controls, talking to your kids about the harms of pornography, and you cannot stop your child from being exposed to pornography and from potentially becoming a regular user of pornography.

So, it’s this very massive problem, and it also has very real, patent effects. Since 2011, there have been 40 peer-reviewed studies that showed pornography has negative and detrimental impacts on the brain, even like it shrinks regions of the brain associated with motivation and decision-making.

It’s highly linked with sexual violence. There is a meta-analysis of 46 different studies, and it found that, clearly and consistently, pornography is linked to increased risk for committing sexual offenses and accepting rape myths.

It’s linked also to even problems with sexual function. Back in, like, the 1940s, men who struggled with erectile dysfunction below the age of 40 was around 1%. Since the boom of the internet, the boom of internet pornography, it’s around 25% of men under the age of 40 struggling with it.

That’s typically because people’s sexualities are getting wired to screens instead of people, and suddenly pornography is becoming more arousing than a real life partner.

I mean, I could go on and on about the research. And actually, on our website, at endsexualexploitation.org/publichealth, we have an entire research summary that has around 100 peer-reviewed studies in it.

So, people can go and look up the research themselves. But the research is really clear that this has public health harms. And so, we think it’s important for us, as a society and for our states, to recognize that.

Del Guidice: You mentioned the statistic about 25% of men under the age of 40 having sexual function issues. How aware do you think American society is on this issue? I mean, that’s a huge number. How aware are we, and how can we change that? Because I have a feeling we’re probably not as aware as we should.

Halverson: Yeah, definitely not as aware as we should be. What’s interesting is that there are several new [erectile dysfunction] medical companies that are starting to come out, that are really targeting their ads toward young men, which is kind of fascinating.

It’s not the guy with the gray hair sitting in the bathtub. Now they’re saying, “Hey, you can be a 20-year-old and need our medication.” So, it’s kind of interesting.

I think that in the pharmaceutical industry, they’re recognizing that it’s a problem more than we are recognizing it culturally.

I think if you asked the average 20-, 25-year-old guy, if he knows that this is a risk of his pornography use, he would not have any idea.

Del Guidice: That’s really, really scary. How would you say children are being unwillingly exposed to pornography, and what are the effects on children?

Halverson: Yeah. I mean, they absolutely are. There was a study [of] kids right now who are in university, 93% of the boys and 62% of the girls have been exposed during adolescence, often before puberty.

I think, often, we think about this as a male issue, and while it certainly still [is a] … mostly male issue, it’s definitely impacting young girls. Like, 25% of girls under the age of 25 have struggled with it in some form as well. So, it’s a human issue because of the internet, and kids are definitely being unintentionally exposed.

I know kids who are exposed playing age-appropriate video games online. I know kids who are exposed in school. The school gave them an iPad or a laptop and didn’t put any filters on it, and so the kid got exposed to pornography in school, on a school-sanctioned device.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we had a mom write into our office because her young boy had been doing a fifth-grade school project on slavery. So, he did the simple Google search of just the word “bondage,” thinking that he would learn about the chains and the ropes used in slavery, and in 0.2 seconds flat, was exposed to really violent pornography. Like, in the thumbnail image, showing extremely graphic things that I don’t want your viewers to have to listen to.

So, this is the kind of world that kids live in now, where they’re going to find it unintentionally. And so, I think that it’s really important for us to be aware of that, and to know that it does have really serious impacts on adolescent development.

This is how they’re learning about sex, and that’s a big problem because most pornography shows violence against women. And a recent study showed that 90% of the time, the women are responding to that violence with pleasure.

So, if this is the new sexual education, that’s teaching that “no” means “yes” and that violence is sexy.

I think that, especially after the Me Too movement, we can see the damage of those ideas. Let alone, as I already said, there’s so much research on the impact on the brain.

Just think how more impactful that is on a developing brain. Impacts on sexual function. Think [how] much more impactful that is on a young person, who’s often being exposed to pornography before they’ve had their first kiss, before they actually even know how to interact, read body language, with a real person.

Del Guidice: Yeah, so it’s kind of grim out there. It’s sobering. How aware do you think parents are that their children are being groomed for sexual exploitation, and what can parents do?

You mentioned the mom that wrote in or called in and said that her fifth-grade student had come across those images when he was looking for information on slavery and bondage.

How can parents become more aware that this is a problem, and their children, like you said, are being groomed for sexual exploitation?

Halverson: Yeah, yeah. I would definitely say pornography, in and of itself, is grooming them for sexual abuse because it’s normalizing typically violent themes. So, that in itself makes them more vulnerable … if an adult, a stranger, or another child advances on them.

There’s actually a strong link between pornography and a really disturbing issue called child-on-child sexual abuse. One-third of children being sexually abused these days are typically being abused by another minor or another child.

Those children or minors are 3.3 times more likely to act out and sexually harm another child if they’ve been exposed to pornography because they’re acting out what they see. So, that’s absolutely an issue.

I think another thing that parents need to be aware of is the fact that in the age of social media, children are far more vulnerable to grooming for sexual abuse or sex trafficking than ever before.

If you were a sex trafficker 10, 20 years ago, you’d try to find someone in the mall, or you tried to catch them and start a relationship with them when they’re walking home from the [school] bus or something. But now, they can anonymously reach out to almost limitless [numbers of] kids with a few clicks of a button.

This isn’t like a hypothetical. … A couple months ago, I met with three young girls, 14, 15 years old, in Washington, D.C., who were sex-trafficking survivors. I mean, pause and think about that. To be a sex-trafficking survivor at the age of 14 and 15 is really traumatic.

They started showing me their Instagram accounts. Their Instagram accounts were set to private. So, everyone thinks that’s private, right? But no, they were still getting about a dozen or so messages from adult strangers, men, messaging them and able to message them—even though their accounts were set to private—asking for nudes, sending nude photos of themselves, asking to meet up, just telling them that they were beautiful. Sometimes trying to start a relationship with them, make them feel comfortable, like you’re their online boyfriend.

These girls just started sharing with us about how men are just able to reach out to kids on Instagram, even if their privacy settings are set to private. It’s absolutely a way that they groom them.

Sometimes, they take the Romeo pimp approach, where they make them feel like they’re in a relationship, and then escalate abuse and manipulation into trafficking later.

Sometimes they—particularly with young girls, sometimes with young boys—will really coerce and push them to send a nude image to them. Once they have that, they use that to blackmail or to sexually extort them into sex trafficking.

So, this is a really big issue that parents really need to be aware of. You need to talk to your kids about their online experiences. Not about the danger of talking to strangers online, but also the importance of being able to say “no” to friend requests, or the importance of being able to say “no” if strangers or people start making you feel uncomfortable.

Because very often, there are these surveys of kids who said, “Well, this guy kept talking to me online, and I didn’t want to stop talking to him because that would be mean.”

Kids just want to be nice. They don’t realize the risks that are involved.

So, I think talking to your kids about being really intentional with their digital media literacy is something that parents need to be aware of because it can absolutely escalate … whether that’s child pornography, sexual abuse, all the way up to sex trafficking.

Del Guidice: You’ve mentioned some of the effects of how children are being groomed for this, as kids, over social media on the internet.

Aside from the whole sexual function issue we discussed earlier, how is pornography having an impact on marriages across this country as well? I feel like that’s a huge discussion, too, that we aren’t having. What is the situation there?

Halverson: It’s having a huge impact. There have been a few different studies that say close to 50% of marriages that are ending in divorce cite pornography among the reasons, among the issues. There’s a lot of research showing that, if there’s pornography use in a relationship, whether that’s dating or whether that’s married, that it absolutely increases dissatisfaction with your partner.

It typically increases pressure on the female to act out or measure up to the pornography, and the male being dissatisfied in his partner.

Some people think, “Oh, well, if someone is married and using pornography, that’s because they’re already unsatisfied.”

But often, that’s not the case. Often, people have been using it from a young age, and they bring it into marriage, and the pornography actually makes them more dissatisfied than they would have been without it.

So, this is something that’s definitely really important.

I was actually talking to a therapist who works with a lot of couples, that kind of are in a conservative Christian college, and they graduate, and they’ve saved sex for marriage, both partners.

They get married, and they aren’t even able to actually consummate their marriage because the male didn’t even know he had sexual function problems. He didn’t even know because he wasn’t sexually acting out, but he had just wired his sexuality to the pixels on the screen so much.

The good news is that there’s therapy out there for this. There are programs out there. I have many that I would recommend. We actually, on our website, at endsexualexploitation.org/resources, have a very long list of everything from anonymous help online to therapists.

It’s absolutely something that can be reversed, but you need to actually take proactive efforts toward that.

We also, on that page, endsexualexploitation.org/resources, have a list of resources for women, or romantic partners of those who are struggling with pornography, because that absolutely has an impact.

Typically, it’s the wife or girlfriend. Sometimes, it could be the boyfriend or husband.

That absolutely has a big impact on that romantic partner, psychologically, self-esteem, ability to trust. It begins to create kind of a tidal wave of effects.

The good news is that there are resources out there for those individuals as well.

Del Guidice: You mentioned the resources and the importance of having those conversations. How would you suggest even broaching that subject, having that conversation?

We were talking actually, earlier, before we got started. We were talking about how, I think for some people, like a lot of society I’d venture to say, that pornography addiction is harder to talk about than, for example, drug or alcohol abuse or other sorts of addictions.

So, how do you go about starting that conversation so it’s not a problem down the road?

Halverson: Yeah, it is hard for people to talk about it. I think it’s that extra layer of shame because it involves sexuality, and it’s something that’s very much hidden in the dark, and just because our culture doesn’t talk about it yet.

So, at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, that’s one of the things we’re trying to create—kind of like a broader tidal wave to bring this out into the open.

As far as starting the conversation, I think one thing that’s really helpful is internally just recognizing that this is a problem that impacts everyone. So, it is going to come up. You are going to have to talk about it with romantic partners, or with your kids, or with your friends. It’s going to come up, and so, just be prepared for that.

Some good ways are, you can say, “Hey, I just listened to The Daily Signal Podcast, and they talked about this subject. What do you think about that?” Or “Have you ever struggled with that?” Or, “How should we talk to our kids about this issue?”

You can use things that are happening in the media to kind of segue into it, maybe a little bit more naturally. And then, again, I would encourage you to go to our website and just be a little bit comfortable talking about some of the facts, some of the research that there is out there.

I feel like that always helps people feel more confident talking about it.

Del Guidice: Speaking of how prevalent this is in society, I feel like there are a lot of spaces where people might not be aware of how pornography has a foothold.

When it comes to video games, for example, I was reading about “Grand Theft Auto” a few weeks ago, I would say that it has some arguably pornographic content, that people who play the game, they might not realize it, or they might be so conditioned to seeing it, maybe they’re a user themselves.

Would you say that’s the case? And then where are other spaces where you’re seeing that happen, where pornography’s just being introduced and people aren’t aware?

Halverson: Yeah. I’m so glad that you brought that up, and I’m glad that you brought up the video games, too.

So, at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, we have a project called “The Dirty Dozen List.” It’s dirtydozenlist.com, and we name 12 mainstream facilitators of sexual exploitation. Every year, we name a new 12, because it’s true. There are mainstream ways and groups that are very much normalizing and promoting this, [the] video game industry being one.

Steam is on our Dirty Dozen List. Steam is basically like the Walmart for PC gamers. You go on there, you buy the games.

They used to have about 700 games with sexual content, nudity. And then they came out with this video game called “House Party,” where the entire theme is to walk into the house and you have sex with all the different girls. You get them to have sex with you by getting them drunk or, like, blackmailing them. Horrible, horrible game.

So, we raised awareness about it, and Steam started to take the game off. But then, all of the gamers were saying, “Oh, you’re censoring. You’re censoring.” And so then, Steam, because of the gamer backlash, said, “OK, we’re going to have no rules.”

So, they went from 700-some games, now they have, like, over 2,000 games with sexual content and nudity.

And really, this collision between pornography and video games is absolutely happening in real time right now because graphics are getting better. That’s something that’s really concerning. And so they’re on our Dirty Dozen List.

Something else is Amazon.com. They have sex dolls on Amazon.com, even ones with very childlike features. Obviously, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter—pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation are absolutely happening on those.

So, there are really so many different ways that this is seeping into our culture, and that’s why we made the Dirty Dozen List. And that’s the primary work that I do, our corporate advocacy, because we realize that these companies are having an impact on our culture.

Like, when Google doesn’t fix the search results, so that a child searching just the term “bondage” immediately turns up hardcore pornography. With a simple switch, they could have prevented that from happening to that kid.

It’s probably happening to more kids now as we speak. So, these corporate policies have a massive impact on society.

At dirtydozenlist.com, you can actually take action. You can sign petitions. You can send emails to executives. You can be part of social media campaigns. And the cool thing about it is that this actually works.

As a result of the Dirty Dozen List, we’ve gotten Hilton Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, Starwood and InterContinental Hotels Group to stop selling on-demand pornography in their hotels.

That impacts 2 million hotel rooms around the world, and is a big chunk of money out of the pornography industry’s budget, which I like.

But it also is meaningful because I recently met with a sex-trafficking survivor, who said when she was trafficked, she’d be frequently trafficked in one of those hotel chains, and the men would frequently order pornography and make her act it out.

She said the first time when she went in and realized that they were no longer selling pornography, she felt like maybe there was hope, and maybe there were people out there who cared about women like her.

So, this has a massive cultural impact, but also a really personal one.

Similarly, we got the Army, Air Force, and Navy to stop selling pornography on their bases. They [shouldn’t have] been doing that. Think of the sexual violence problem we have in the military, and yet, they were feeding it by selling it on their bases.

We got Google to stop linking ads to pornography or pornographic content. And there’s so many more victories that I could just talk about. I could fill up a lot of time just talking about that. But I think it’s important to let people know that there’s actually a lot of hope.

We actually do have some power to push back against how pervasive pornography has become in our culture today.

Del Guidice: Going from how pervasive it is to day-to-day interactions, conversations couples have, what is the first step in this kind of a conversation?

Maybe there’s someone with an addiction, a spouse, a boyfriend, girlfriend. What is the first step in addressing that and getting recovery? What does that look like?

Halverson: Yeah, I would say, first of all, address [it] with empathy and compassion and not an intent to shame. It could be something that’s very hurtful to you, if you’re in the relationship with the person, and that’s valid.

At the same time, a lot of the times, people have been exposed as children, and it’s something that they’ve grown up struggling with. So, it’s important to try to have some level of compassion, or if you yourself are just very hurt, try to bring in a third party who can maybe help with that.

So, start with compassion, and know that resources are available. And again, endsexualexploitation.org/resources. You can get someone to counseling. … There are really great anonymous online tools, if they don’t want to have to talk to someone face-to-face.

Just let them know that resources are available. Because this is something that’s so little talked about and has such a big impact, and people feel ashamed. People feel like there’s no hope, or people feel like, “This is something I’ve struggled with. It just will be something I’ve struggled with.”

So, letting them know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So many people have saved marriages, have recovered sexual function, have rewired the way that they view women, and that’s something that’s very available.

Del Guidice: OK. Well, Haley, thank you so much for being with us today to discuss this topic that’s incredibly important to discuss, but sometimes hard to talk about. So, thank you for being with us.

Halverson: Thanks for having me.




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