POLITICS
01/04/2017 03:07 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2017

Utah Lawmakers Are Targeting Porn, Again, Using Poor Science

It's easy to win over the public when you make up facts.

Utah is waging an all-out war on pornography ― and it’s winning dishonestly.

Last year, Gov. Gary Herbert declared porn a “public health crisis” using a resolution full of deceitful claims and poor science. It meant little more than acknowledging a problem ― one the resolution’s own research doesn’t back up ― but this year, its sponsor is trying to take the fight one step further.

Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Salt Lake) is proposing a bill that would make it easier to sue porn companies for damages over the alleged harm they’re unleashing on our children.

“Right now porn is available without any warnings and labeling, without any protections online,” Weiler told the Salt Lake Tribune. “This would just open the valve for a cause of action. Let these attorneys go after these cases.”

The problem is, Herbert and Weiler have failed to prove any causal relationship between pornography and psychological harm. The “public health crisis” resolution they passed used research that was unfinished, inconclusive and carried out by a known anti-pornography group.

Meanwhile, Utah ranks among the worst states in child sex abuse, per-student education spending, and clean air ― real public crises that the state has suffered for years.

Yet lawmakers are going after porn, hard. Weiler’s newest round of evidence against internet pornography is either another gross misjudgment of science or a flat-out lie. In an interview with KSL, he cited a “U.S. Navy study” that found a link between pornography and problems with new recruits over the past decade.

“Men are having a harder time forming and keeping relationships and there’s been a dramatic increase in domestic violence and domestic abuse,” he said.

It’s just not true ― the study he appears to be referencing found nothing of the sort, and wasn’t funded by the Navy. It looked, in part, at three active-duty Navy members who claimed to have erectile dysfunction after watching too much porn. It never once mentions domestic violence or its apparent relationship to porn, and a military article clearly states that “more study is needed to prove causation between internet pornography use and sexual difficulties.” Its own authors note that the study does “not reflect the views of the Navy,” and declined to discuss the findings.

That lawmakers are chipping away at the porn industry in one state might not seem like a big deal. But sexual health experts have said that it sets a dangerous precedent, proving that lawmakers can use bad science to convince the public of anything.

Dr. Nicole Prause, a sexual psychophysiologist who has more than a decade of research in addiction, sexual desire, erectile dysfunction and sexual problems, lashed out at Weiler for Utah’s “public health crisis” resolution. Its evidence against porn ― like the fact that it triggers reward centers in the brain ― can be used to draw poor conclusions, she said.

“It’s true — pornography does that,” she told me for an investigation last year in Penthouse. “It’s also true with images of chocolate and images of puppies. You don’t see puppies being declared a public health hazard. These sex addiction studies are relying on ignorance, claiming that pornography is the same thing as cocaine and hoping you don’t know any different.”

If last year’s resolution is any indication, the bill may have an easy ride up to Herbert’s desk. But the bill is on watch. A spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah told HuffPost that they won’t comment on the bill until they see the proposal, but they’ll keep an eye on it for any First Amendment infringements.

In any case, Weiler doesn’t believe that his bill will have much of an effect on lawsuits ― yet. He has told multiple news outlets that he doesn’t believe it’ll gain traction for the first “30 or so” lawsuits, and told HuffPost that the plaintiff will have the burden of proof, and the business will have to operate in a minimum capacity within Utah’s borders to be held liable.

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