We Spoke With That Utah Mormon Republican Who Wants to Institute Porn Filters

weiler
May 26 2016

We Spoke With That Utah Mormon Republican Who Wants to Institute Porn Filters

May 26th, 2016

Todd Weiler, a Republican Utah Senator, has embarked on a crusade to save the state’s young people from the perils of pornography. “I’m only trying to protect children from porn,” he insists to The Influence.

In April, Weiler spearheaded an effort to declare porn use a “public health emergency” in his state. Most recently, he has begun collecting ideas on how to curb teens’ access to porn. Among them is a UK-style filter that automatically blocks porn from the internet unless users opt in. He also thinks smartphones sold to anyone under 18 should be outfitted with a chip that blocks pornography.

Weiler, whose stance has unsurprisingly sparked a lot of barely-veiled mockery—”Mormon Republican Wants to Ban Porn” is a tempting, if inaccurate, headline—stresses that he doesn’t care what adults do.

“I’m not a prude or a whacko; I’m not a religious zealot,” he says. But “it just doesn’t make sense anymore,” he says of porn’s ubiquity and accessibility, especially among young people. He points out that we have rules to prevent kids from seeing R-rated movies and going to strip clubs, yet his teenaged son can look at “hardcore sexual intercourse and pornography” on his smart phone.

He likens porn’s ready availability to that of cigarettes in more freewheeling times: “When I was a kid in Chicago, I could buy cigarettes in any vending machine in the city. When we finally embraced the concept that tobacco is harmful and addictive, the vending machines went away. They didn’t ban it, they made it harder for children. I want to do that with porn.”

When I point out that today’s tech-savvy teenagers would make short work of a technological impediment to an enticingly forbidden world, Weiler parries that just because teenagers manage to procure liquor or cigarettes doesn’t mean we do away with age limits on alcohol and tobacco.

When I note that a wasted teenager could cause a lot of damage to themselves and the world, so porn is not exactly analogous, he admits that porn-viewing isn’t going to kill a whole family on the road as a drunk driver might. But he says it can still cause lifelong harms—that young men are getting the wrong ideas about sexuality, relationships and women. And in very extreme cases porn can wreck a life.

“I know an individual fired from two jobs because he can’t stop looking at porn at work,” Weiler says. “This guy, fired twice, marriage on the rocks … still can’t seem to stop doing it. If that’s not addiction, then I don’t know what is.”

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Given that people can get addicted to eating drywall, it stands to reason that the more pleasant activity of masturbating to sexually arousing imagery has the potential to lead to an unhealthy, repetitive fixation.

Interestingly, given Utah’s heavily Mormon populace, this manifests in a unique way among religious people.  A 2014 Case Western Reserve University psychology study revealed that highly religious men were significantly more likely to worry their porn use constituted an addiction, regardless of how much porn they watched. ”We were surprised that the amount of viewing did not impact the perception of addiction, but strong moral beliefs did,” Joshua Grubbs, lead author of the study, told Science Daily.

The internet is awash with testimonials and manuals from Christian men who overcame their porn addiction through Jesus—often crediting porn with near-sentient powers to lead believers astray. “Here are the three lies porn told me and will tell you as well,” writes Christian Pastor Justin Davis. They are: 1) That was the last time, 2) You can stop anytime you want, and 3) Confessing your struggle will cost you too much.

“Here is what I believe with all of my heart: If you struggle with pornography, God isn’t disappointed in you; He is fighting for you,” Davis continues. “He died and conquered sin and death so you can have victory in this area of your life.” That Jesus died to end jerking off is a pretty unorthodox theological interpretation—nevertheless, it does seem that some deeply religious men are truly suffering, unable to square any porn-watching with their beliefs and identifies.

The question of porn’s potential harms isn’t just for prudes: Everything to how porn performers are treated by the industry to the racism, sexism and homophobia visible in a lot of mainstream porn are matters of valid concern. But it’s also a recurrent bug in human history that everyone’s always freaking out that some new-fangled sexual phenomenon or other will tear society apart, and please won’t somebody think of the children?

Like all substances or activities that are totally fine for some people, but cause havoc in others’ lives, some sort of intelligent, balanced regulation—informed by science, not panic—would seem the best course.