Recent studies have shown that young adults aged 18-24 are the most frequent porn users—almost six in 10 young adults seek out porn either daily, weekly, or monthly. It’s no wonder why students at the University of Notre Dome are calling for pornography filters on their campus Wi-Fi as part of a “White Ribbon Against Pornography Week” campaign created by NCOSE. The original request came from the male students in a letter emphasizing that “pornography is an affront to human rights and catastrophic to individuals and relationships. We are calling for this action in order to stand up for the dignity of all people, especially women.”

We applaud these men for showing concern for the well-being of their female peers and their own sexual health.

Women and Pornography

What is unique about this story is that after the males issued their letter, the female students stood in solidarity by issuing their own response letter acknowledging that pornography consumption correlates to sexual assault and that women themselves struggle with pornography addiction:

We want a filter because we want to eliminate sexual assault and sexual abuse on our campus. We want a filter because we care deeply about Notre Dame students — including women — who struggle with pornography addictions.

To some, it may be shocking to see that pornography can no longer be labeled as just a man’s issue. With 76 percent of 18 to 30-year-old women reporting that they watch porn at least once a month, and with the term “porn for women” seeing a 359 percent growth among female users in just one year, pornography can no longer be siloed to one sex.

By and large, men prefer images and graphic sex sites; women prefer erotic stories and romance sites. The connection between erotic materials and women seeking online porn makes sense when the erotica genre generated $1.37 billion in sales, making it the “the single largest share of the fiction market,” with over 90 percent of the consumers being women. Female-targeted erotica novel series like Fifty Shades of Grey are being turned into movies (the film grossed over $1.3 billion). In a recent Marie Claire survey of 3,000 women who sought out internet porn, 40 percent said they sought erotic stories. Erotica has proven to be a gateway to more “hardcore” content, which has led to a rise in women consuming this type of pornography.

And when it comes to curbing sexual assault and harassment, these ladies are right for wanting to curtail the consumption of pornography.

A recent review found 50 peer-reviewed studies directly linking porn use to sexual violence. Pornography also has been shown to play a role in shaping how women think they should be treated, leading to an increased likelihood that they will become victims of sexual assault by physical coercion or other abusive behavior. When you have nearly 80 percent of adult males consuming pornography, of which 88 percent of pornographic scenes are sexually violent against women, how do you think this will affect sexual behavior? In the era of #MeToo, we must look seriously at how pornography is shaping our cultural beliefs about what is acceptable behavior. 

Moral Ambiguity is Dissolving

The latest Barna research shows that just one in 20 young adults report talking with their friends about porn in a disapproving way.

But the evidence of its harmful effects are being brought to light. Much of the Notre Dame students’ letter cites the studies that acknowledge that pornography consumption is “associated with a host of issues: addiction, child sexual abuse, divorce, male fertility problems, sexual assault and the acceptance, normalization and sexualization of cruelty towards women. It contributes to prostitution, human trafficking and the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases.” I encourage you to read the full letter.

Yet many do not want to debate the morality of pornography. They would rather ignore the fact that this generation has been the primary subject of what has been dubbed “The Largest Unregulated Social Experiment In History.” Recognizing among their own personal relationships that pornography harms both the individual and society, buyer’s remorse on porn is slowly growing. Its devastating effects are being studied and recognized.

A Public Health Crisis

Pornography has been officially declared a public health crisis in five states, and the U.K. Parliament has been called upon to address pornography usage like other public health hazards in order to tackle sexual harassment of girls and women.

Society now warns potential users of the addictive harms of nicotine. Hopefully one day we will see  pornography in the same way.