• Bob McCoskrie is national director of Family First NZ which is presenting a 20,000-signature petition against pornography to Parliament today.
We need to look into pornography.
That's correct, you read it right. We need to look in to pornography not as consumers but as watchdogs for our children and our families. It's time we examined the health effects and societal harms to both children and adults.
Yesterday's pornography is today's mainstream media. Today's pornography is much more graphic and often disturbing.
In a symposium two years ago, Dr Gail Dines, professor of sociology from Wheelock College, Boston, said, "The porn you see within 15 seconds of typing "porn" into Google is cruel, abusive, violent and free. No credit card is needed to enter this world of sexual abuse ....
"In porn, sex is not about making love. The feelings and emotions we normally associate with such an act - connection, empathy, tenderness, caring, affection - are missing. Now commonplace and pervasive throughout the Internet, these images are shaping the way a whole generation of boys thinks about and relates to sex, relationships, and intimacy."
Today's pornography teaches boys to be users and it tries to persuade girls that they are to be used. It is contributing to what is termed as the hyper-sexualisation of teens. But we've been here before.
It wasn't that long ago smoking was considered harmless. When society finally started catching up with science the initial approach was to educate the individual and encourage them to stop smoking.
As the evidence poured in that smoking was addictive and that significant harm was being done to both the smoker and non-smokers who sat nearby or lived in the same home or in the womb, we realised there was a public cost and looked to societal and governmental responses - taxes, health warnings, public awareness campaigns. non-smoking areas, education.
As with those who promoted cigarette smoking, it's always wise to "follow the money". Most supporters of unfettered access to pornography have a vested interest. It's a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Dr Mary Anne Layden, director of the sexual trauma and psychopathology program at the University of Pennsylvania says, "The sexual exploitation industry is making money from pornographic websites on the Internet that hurt men, women and children. They make money by teaching our boys to think and act like psychopaths. They make money by turning our girls into victims. They are serving sexual junk food. They will not easily be convinced to stop. This Internet contamination cannot be neutralised on the individual level. This is a problem that must be confronted on the societal level."
Why is pornography use a public health issue? It's so that the responsibility shifts from that of individuals alone to the public as a whole, to address social causes or influences, and to hold those who benefit from supplying pornography accountable for their impact on individuals and society.
Youth with greater pornography exposure have been found more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour at a young age
We've done the same with the obesity epidemic, treating it as a health issue. Just as many people consider food addiction and over consumption needing a societal response, it is time we looked at the research around the harms of pornography with the same objective eye.
The most convincing argument against pornography is science. Society is catching up to the science that shows how harmful pornography consumption can be.
Neuroscientist William Struthers wrote in 2009, "With repeated sexual acting out in the absence of a partner, a man will be bound and attached to the image and not a person." In other words, men start preferring pixels to people.
Parents on their own cannot protect their children. Even with the greatest intention and willpower, no longer can we hide pornographic magazines and images behind plastic wrap and out of sight of young minds. Thanks to the availability, affordability and anonymity of the internet and smartphones, young children are exposed to what used to be referred to as hard-core - but now mainstream - pornography at an alarming rate.
Parents are crying out for help.
Youth with greater pornography exposure have been found more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour at a young age, view women as sex objects and develop attitudes that support violence against women, believe "rape myths" - beliefs that justify or defend rape, have increasingly aggressive behavioural tendencies including increased interest in coercing partners into unwanted sex acts, and experience increased difficulty in developing intimate relationships with partners and decreased erectile function.
Not exactly a picture of health, is it.
Sex should never be allowed to be defined by people with commercial interests whose primary focus is to exploit such a significant human interaction for their own financial gain.