On 6 March 2017 the Senate of the State of Tennessee passed joint resolution SJR0035 condemning pornography as a “public health crisis”. Sponsored by Republican senator Mae Beavers (yes, I checked, it’s spelled with an ‘s’), the resolution unanimously passed without discussion.

The purpose of the resolution is to “recognize pornography as a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms”. SJR0035 goes on to declare that porn:

  • Hyper-sexualises teens
  • Serves as children’s sex education
  • Promotes risky sexual behaviour
  • Normalises sexual violence
  • Causes developmental issues and addictions
  • Can require continuing escalation
  • Lessens the desire of young men to marry

Sexual bogeymen

Senator Beavers’ and the Senate’s desire to put porn at the forefront of the health debate is commendable. There is no question that porn is a factor in these issues. But it pretty much feels like the State of Tennessee has got its collective head stuck in the sand. Take sex education, for example.

As of March 2016, less than half of the States legally require sex education. Tennessee, like much of the South, does not. It does require family life education for counties with high teen pregnancy rates. A course taught in some schools, Decisions, Choices and Options, focuses on parenting, adoption and abstinence. It’s all about the negative repercussions of teen pregnancy. So exactly where are teenagers roiling with sexual hormones going to get their sex ed from? Porn, obviously.

Teens want—and have every right to—the nitty gritty of sex. How does this bit on her (or him) intersect with this bit on him (or her)?

Teens want—and have every right to—the nitty gritty of sex. How does this bit on her (or him) intersect with this bit on him (or her)? The rise of gay rights adds another necessary strand to sex education. America’s stubbornly high age of consent (181) is another problem in a world where adolescents are experiencing puberty earlier2. The biology has moved on but the legislation hasn’t. The more one delves into sex education, the more it seems to be driven by the sexual shame and fear of parents and legislators. Is our ability to deliver effective education hampered by the sexual bogeymen of our own generations?

After a couple of pages of WHEREASing and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVEDing, SJR0035 peters out somewhat anaemically. “The State of Tennessee is acknowledging the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level in order to address [this] epidemic”.

Sleeping with the enemy

Where the State of Tennessee will go with SJR0035 remains to be seen. The fact that porn now qualifies as an “epidemic” indicates a complete failure of current approaches. SJR0035 makes it clear that porn is the enemy. Yet neither the technology that disseminates porn nor the sexual inquisitiveness of teenagers is likely to vanish anytime soon. If we want our adolescents to mature into sexually healthy adults, we will have to find a way of sleeping with the enemy. Whatever that way is, it undoubtedly involves removing the stigma of sexual shame so we can openly discuss the issue—including using visual aids—with our adolescents.

Notes

  1. Tennessee’s age of consent is 18, though a close-in-age exemption exists.
  2. Research by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows the onset of puberty in girls now occurs five years earlier than in 1920.