Pornography as a Public Health Threat
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Pornography consumption is a major public health issue in Canada. Scientific studies have associated watching pornography with:
- increased loneliness,
- poor overall mental health,
- increased sexual aggression, and
- dissatisfaction with romantic relationships.
Health policy analysts sometimes talk about the “social cost” of unhealthy behaviours, especially drinking and smoking. The idea of “social cost” is that a person’s poor health choice costs society as much, if not more, than it costs that person, in terms of increased health care costs and risks to others, such as from impaired driving. Consuming pornography has social costs as well in terms of loneliness, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and even sexually abusive and degrading behaviours.
The impact of porn on the Canadian population is apparent even without the scientific studies. Consider the number of people trying to quit porn and the number of relationships damaged by it. Churches and private groups all over Canada run 12-step programs and support groups for those genuinely addicted to pornography.
Canada’s “Home-Grown” Abuse Industry
Canadians on average are not occasional porn watchers. Canada ranks seventh in the world for visits to Pornhub and the average Canadian spends ten minutes a day on that one site, not to mention all the other pornographic websites.
Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek, is a Canadian company located in Montréal. MindGeek is a pornography powerhouse. It owns eleven other profitable pornography websites. Just for some perspective, several of MindGeek’s websites have more visits than Netflix.
MindGeek, like most commercial pornographic websites, profits heavily from exploitation, particularly the exploitation of women and children. In 2020 the New York Times published an investigative journalism piece that detailed the astonishing amount of rape, assault, and underage material on Pornhub, as well as the lengths it had gone to deny any problem existed. ARPA Canada has been advocating for better public policy on this issue for years. You can read about our work here, here, and here. That New York Times article led to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics producing a report in 2021 that recommended that the government of Canada:
- explore ways to hold online platforms liable for failing to prevent the upload of childhood sexual abuse, non-consensual activity, or anything uploaded without the consent of the people involved;
- require any website hosting content to verify the age of the people and consent of the people involved;
- consult trafficking survivors, law enforcement, and the website owners themselves before passing any legislation;
- amend the Mandatory Reporting Act to designate the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre as the law enforcement agency to which people report child pornography (under that act, Canadians must report child pornography to the police if they suspect it is on a website).
At the time, the Prime Minister promised to pass legislation that requires “online platforms to remove all illegal content.” His government introduced a bill to implement the Standing Committee’s fourth recommendation – but that bill, and another bill addressing this issue in the Senate, died with the 2021 election. Since then, it seems the topic is no longer such a political cause célèbre and the government dropped it.
It’s Not Over Yet
Thankfully, some MPs and Senators are unwilling to leave Canada’s porn problem unaddressed. Bill S-210, the Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act will, if passed, require any organization hosting sexually explicit material online to implement meaningful age verification. The Senate has passed the bill. It is now up to elected MPs to pass it into law. Doing so would represent a huge step forward in curbing Canada’s porn habit. Please ask your MP to support this bill.