Utah became the first state to deem pornography a public health crisis on Tuesday when Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution declaring that explicit material can lead to "a broad spectrum of individual public health impacts and societal harms."
"The volume of pornography in our society is staggering, and it does have a negative impact," Herbert said at a news conference Tuesday morning, standing with health professionals, researchers and lawmakers who linked pornography to domestic violence, self-esteem issues and human trafficking.
In the resolution, lawmakers call pornography a harmful "epidemic" which particularly affects young people and "perpetuates a sexually toxic environment" by encouraging risky and demeaning sexual behavior.
"Pornography treats women as objects and commodities for the viewer's use," the resolution said. "It teaches girls they are to be used and teaches boys to be users."
Jennifer Brown, a member of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography advisory council, said she knows firsthand about the detrimental effect of pornography on young people as a mother of five boys.
She called explicit material "more dangerous than secondhand smoke" and said it has weakened the foundations of American society.
"Some people want to make (the resolution) about sex education," said state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who sponsored the resolution. "No 11-year-old boys or girls need to see that to learn about how families are made."
Brian Willoughby, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University, said recent studies have linked pornography to an increase in sexual aggression and the acceptance of violence against women. He did not specifically name the studies.
However, a 2009 study from researchers at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas, San Antonio, found no link between pornography consumption and sexual aggression.
Researchers reviewed previous studies and real-world crime data to reach their conclusions.
"Evidence for a causal relationship between exposure to pornography and sexual aggression is slim and may, at certain times, have been exaggerated by politicians, pressure groups and some social scientists," researchers said in a summary of the study. "Some of the debate has focused on violent pornography, but evidence of any negative effects is inconsistent."
Herbert also signed a bill into law Tuesday mandating that computer technicians report child pornography if they find it while working. State Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, who sponsored the bill, said 12 other states have passed similar legislation.