Last year, Utah became the first state in the country to declare pornography a public health crisis. This year, a new four-credit class at Westminster College called Sex on Film, which regularly displays films that are pornographic in nature, provides a different perspective.
On April 19, 2016, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a piece of legislation (S.C.R. 9) that calls pornography a “public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.”
The course syllabus for Sex on Film states that the purpose of the films is to teach students about social conventions in relationship to law, science, politics and religion.
Pornography is commonplace in society. An article from the Huffington Post recently said porn sites are frequented more times each month than Twitter, Netflix and Amazon combined.
Though Utah is one of the more conservative states in the country, an economics professor at Harvard who tracked online porn subscriptions found that Utah ranks No. 1 in the nation for online subscriptions at a rate of 2.49 users per 1,000 people.
Levi Barrett, a senior sociology major, is currently enrolled in Sex on Film and said there is educational value in pornography.
“I often look at social institutions [and] discrimination,” Barrett said. “I find it really interesting how you can look at those societal structures in porn and how society structures porn and also how porn structures society.”
During class, students engage in back-and-forth dialogue about pornography and the messages within it.
Eileen Chanza Torres, an English professor at Westminster and the instructor of ‘Sex on Film,’ said there are valuable conversations about pornography taking place inside the classroom.
“That’s one of the things I draw on for this class is to consider the health of sex workers,” Chanza Torres said. “My concern for folks in any labor is real. We should all care about each other.”
Chanza Torres said it is wrong for bills like SCR 9 to place a moralistic judgement on those who perform or consume pornography.
Barrett also said he doesn’t agree with S.C.R. 9.
“Porn is not necessarily a health crisis,” Barrett said. “Yes, some of porn that we engage in might be detrimental to sex education if that’s the only sex education that people are getting.”
The health effects of pornography have remained enigmatic, with little to no scientific evidence proving that it’s addictive or destructive to human behavior.
Han Kim, a public health professor at Westminster, said there isn’t sufficient evidence to declare pornography a health crisis.
“There is no hard science on the harmfulness of pornography,” Kim said. “The science that they use has been debunked multiple times as pseudoscience. If they actually have evidence, present it and we’ll take a look at it, but with the absence of that it’s not an issue.”
Despite what Kim calls the lack of scientific evidence, the state of Utah continues to make anti-pornography legislation a priority in 2017.
Sen. Todd Weiler and other Utah senators have introduced a bill that would block pornography on public library Wi-Fi.
Chanza Torres said she doesn’t agree with the Wi-Fi block and said state resources could be used toward something more realistic.
“If you have a booth and you’re not forcing someone else to watch porn with you, then [watching porn is] perfectly fine,” Chanza Torres said. “These things are silly to me. They aren’t really realistic and they aren’t engaging with the real sexual predators and actual sexual assaults.”