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Utah legislators back plan to declare porn a health crisis

AP

A state senator in the predominantly Mormon state of Utah wants to declare pornography a public health crisis, echoing an argument made by many conservative religious groups as porn becomes more accessible on smartphones and tablets.

Republican Sen. Todd Weiler, a Mormon, contends children are being exposed at young ages to pornography, leading them to engage in riskier sexual behavior. He has said recent research from the United Kingdom found that people who compulsively view porn showed brain activity similar to that in drug addicts.

Weiler’s proposal wouldn’t regulate or ban anything, but it has attracted attention, including being debated on the talk show “The View.” He said he has been “mocked internationally” but feels it has triggered an important conversation.

“It’s not just a kooky thing that some, you know, politician from Mormon Utah came up with,” Weiler said. “When I was a kid, people might sneak a Playboy magazine and look at it. Now you’ve got all kinds of horrible, graphic images that are available to anyone with an Internet connection one or two clicks away.”

Four Republicans and one Democrat on a Utah Senate health committee agreed with Weiler and endorsed the resolution Friday afternoon in Salt Lake City after an hourlong meeting where they heard from anti-pornography activists, a marriage therapist and residents who said they or loved ones had struggled with pornography addictions.

More than half of Utah’s 3 million residents belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is among the religions that in recent years have worked to shed light on what they consider the harms of pornography. In Utah, the cultural aversion to scantily dressed women is evident. Magazines or TV commercials featuring women wearing low-cut shirts or bikinis are considered by some to be soft pornography, and lingerie catalogs have been called “gateway porn.”

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert supports Weiler’s resolution. This past week he suggested it may be worth developing a 12-step program for porn addicts.

Dr. Carl Shubs, a psychologist in Beverly Hills, California, who specializes in issues of sexuality, said calling pornography a public health crisis is “way off on so many levels.” Shubs said that anything can be addictive and that many people use pornography in a healthy way. Some couples watch it to enhance their relationships, and some people without partners view it to fill a void, he said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last year expressed distress over what it considers the widespread problem of pornography in American culture. It reiterated that making or watching pornographic videos is a sin.

The Mormon church launched a website in 2013 devoted to helping its members overcome pornography addiction. Last year, the religion made a video to give children tips to avoid pornography.

In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics offered guidance that parents should keep phones out of children’s bedrooms, in part to stop them from looking at pornography.