Pornography as a Public Health Threat



February 8, 2023

(At the bottom of this article is a call to action: Please write an EasyMail to your senators asking them to act to protect young people from exposure to pornography)

Our Government’s Lopsided Public Health Priorities

Did you know that our federal government has a system that monitors how many people in Canada may or may not have Mad Cow Disease? Well, they do. It’s called the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Surveillance System, or CJDSS for short.

When someone gets a disease even somewhat like Mad Cow, their doctor reports the patient to provincial and federal health authorities. That patient then enters the CJDSS. The CJDSS doctors and scientists complete a full medical review of the patient and interview their family. They might even use DNA sequencing. It all seems pretty high-tech.

This monitoring system started in 1998 after a Mad Cow outbreak in the United Kingdom, where 178 people died after eating infected beef. Canada had its own “Mad Cow Crisis” from 2003 to 2005 when a black angus cow from northern Alberta tested positive for the bacteria that causes Mad Cow. Forty countries worldwide banned Canadian cattle from arriving on their shores.

During that time, the value of Canada’s beef market went from 4.1 billion dollars to “nearly zero” according to Statistics Canada. The good news is that Mad Cow Disease and other similar diseases are extremely rare. The Alzheimer Society of Canada reports that doctors make only “about one or two diagnoses per million people each year” of the most common Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The takeaway here? Even rare health conditions matter to the authorities.

Our federal government is dedicated to public health.

Except when it isn’t.

Pornography as a Public Health Issue

One public health issue our governments are seemingly unwilling to recognize and deal with is Canada’s porn habit. Pornography consumption in Canada can easily be described as a public health issue. After all, scientific studies have associated watching pornography with:

  • increased loneliness,
  • anxiety,
  • poor overall mental health,
  • increased sexual aggression, and
  • dissatisfaction with romantic relationships.

Health policy analysts sometimes talk about the “social cost” of people who take voluntary health risks. Typically, they are talking about personal decisions to drink or smoke. The basic idea of “social cost” is that your poor health choice costs society as much, if not more, than it costs you, in terms of increased demands on health care, potentially dangerous driving, etc. It’s easy to see that watching pornography has social costs as well – a lonely, anxious, dissatisfied, sexually abusive population is going to be costly.

The thing is, you don’t have to read an academic report to see porn’s effect on the Canadian population. All you need to do is look around at the number of people trying to quit. 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

It’s not like Canadians are occasional porn watchers. No, Canada ranks seventh in the world for visits to Pornhub alone. The average Canadian spends ten minutes a day on Pornhub, not to mention all the other websites where you can access sexually explicit material. It’s also worth noting that Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek, is a Canadian company located in Montréal. MindGeek is a pornography powerhouse. It owns eleven other commercially successful pornography websites. Just for some perspective, several of MindGeek’s websites have more global 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 was heavily involved in covering and advocating for change on this issue. You can read about our work here, here, and here. The news article led to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics producing a report 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 did introduce legislation that implemented 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, the ruling Liberals have not tried to reintroduce the amendments to the Mandatory Reporting Act. It seems that now that the topic is no longer the political cause célèbre, our officials have dropped it.

It’s Not Over Yet

Thankfully, there are those unwilling to let Canada’s porn problem slip silently back to the former status quo. Right now, in the Senate, there is a bill called Bill S-210, the Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act. The bill would require any organization hosting sexually explicit material online to implement age verification. The idea is that anyone wanting to get on a porn website would have to go through an online process verifying their age. This would be a real process, not just checking a box that says you are 18 or over. Instead, a third-party system would verify your age using a person’s government data and then delete the data after verifying. Doing so would represent a huge step forward in curbing Canada’s porn habit.

What Can You Do?

Now that the Senate is sitting again, Bill S-210 is likely due for its “third reading.” We would love to see this Bill pass the Senate and move to the House of Commons. One thing you can do to help is to write an EasyMail asking your senators to back the bill and protect young people from exposure to pornography.

Bill S-210: Young Persons Exposure to Pornography, Pornography Email Us 

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