Alison Mau: Porn dependency should be treated as a health issue

Porn presentationStuff 16 April 2017
Family First Comment: She loathes Family First, but on this issue she’s struggling to disagree 🙂

OPINION: Here’s an understatement: I don’t often agree with Bob McCoskrie of Family First. I know, shocker!

I’m dead against his organisation’s support for parental corporal punishment and the recriminalisation of prostitution, its opposition to same sex marriage and LGBT adoption reform and the decriminalisation of abortion and voluntary euthanasia.

Heck, Family First thinks my family doesn’t even qualify for the term.

But my job doesn’t allow me to live in a self-confirming bubble – I talk to anyone and everyone. So this week I talked to Bob about Family First’s call for an investigation into the destructive health effects of pornography.A Family First petition has attracted more than 22,000 written signatures in the space of two months. That’s remarkable in this age of click-to- support online petition sites.

Things were looking even brighter for Bob when he went to Wellington with his cardboard boxes mid-week and was greeted in support by MPs from all the major parties. As one news report pointed out, even “outspoken left-wing feminist parliamentarians” like the idea.

Bob’s petition calls for an expert panel of health, science and psychology experts and counsellors to look at “the public health effects and societal harms of pornography to both children and adults, and to make policy recommendations to Parliament.

It calls on the Government to see porn as a health issue, and that in itself is way overdue. For years, Kiwi doctors and therapists have seen a surge in young men seeking help for erectile dysfunction which appears to have no physical cause.

A therapist told me her clientele had gone from a mix of issues, to almost exclusively young men unable to form normal intimate relationships because of their porn dependencies.

On a sunny, breezy day in Auckland, she introduced me to *James, a 26 year old with a professional job, well-spoken, handsome, polite.

We sat on a beachside bench looking at the sea while James told me his decade-long dependence to porn had meant he’d never had a girlfriend, but he really hoped one day he would. As a teenager he would watch it up to four times a day.

Over the years he needed harder and harder-core images to get an erection. He got help when, by his mid 20s, he couldn’t get it up at all. The constant need for more intense stimulation had essentially destroyed the nerve pathways from his brain to his penis.

The therapy that helped James was pretty simple; a two-month ban on both pornography and masturbation. James told me that thanks to “living like a monk” for months, he was just beginning to form normal friendships with women, rather than seeing them exclusively as “bodies” in the sexual frame the videos he watched had set for him.

Yes it’s a health issue, and countries all over the world are now scrambling to deal with it.

Israel jumped in boots first late last year, proposing to block all sites and require anyone wanting to watch the stuff to call, write to, or email their internet service provider.

The UK’s Digital Economy Bill bans a list of violent and degrading acts from all pornography and will also force consumers to ask for access by signing up to an age verification programme. The move’s been slammed by free speech advocates. Others are furious the Bill does not cover non-adult websites like Twitter.

Canada has the balance nearest to dead right. It’s Health Committee is looking at “the public health effects of… online violent and degrading sexually explicit material on children, women and men”.

The idea’s sponsor (a Conservative MP called Arnold Viersen) is said to have deliberately chosen not to even use the word “pornography” in his motion as he wanted it focussed on the degrading and violent.

This is a very good idea and we should pinch it immediately. Not every visual expression of adult sexuality is harmful. I know heaps of people who use porn singly and in couples to enhance their entirely respectful sex lives.

Just this week ex-Auckland resident Zoe Marshall wrote a column for the urging women to use it more often.

Unlike Bob’s petition here in New Zealand, the Canadian motion also avoided asking for policy “remedies.”

And as much as I like Bob’s idea, here’s where I start to feel uneasy. We should find out what’s what, define it as a health crisis then get to work educating. But Family First is strongly opposed to even the patchy sex education teaching we have in our schools right now. It warns parents against the Government’s new sexuality guidelines, it’s sponsorship of the diversity programme “Inside Out”, and any programmes run by Family Planning and Rainbow Youth.

This is where his organisation’s policies threaten to shoot Bob’s great idea in the foot. How can you teach children about the dangers of porn without also teaching them about the kind of sexuality they relate to?