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Utah's porn 'health crisis': 4 years later, youth are still vulnerable

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Youth are still vulnerable four years after Utah declares pornography a 'health crisis' (Photo: KUTV)

More people are watching porn — and they're watching it more often.

That's according to experts who say the trend is growing even though Utah declared pornography a "health crisis" four years ago.

"TRENDING UP"

Brian Willoughby, a researcher at Brigham Young University who studies pornography trends, says the so-called health crisis has not gotten better since then.

“The black hole right now is a lack of resources," the researcher said.

Willoughby says pornography consumption is trending up with everyone, including kids.

“Most youth, their very first sexual experience will now be with pornography, and most teenagers now are already falling into a weekly pornography use pattern,” Willoughby said.

The data is not entirely clear on what kinds of porn people are watching, but what is clear is that more violent forms of pornography are more accessible than they were five years ago. Technology and smart phones are paving the way for easier access, while at the same time allowing for more browsing privacy. That has removed the stigma of watching porn, and adding to its increase, Willoughby said.

“There's very few barriers and policy put in place that would restrict pornography for minors,” he told 2News.

"PORN IN YOUR POCKET"

Garrett Jonsson was exposed to pornography at 5 years old. He says it was an impulsive behavior at first, but after a while, “I didn't think I’d ever be able to stop. I would seek it out as often as possible.”

Jonsson says his porn consumption ramped up toward addiction when smart phones became ubiquitous — he calls it "porn in your pocket."

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“If I wasn't in a setting where I was consuming pornography, I found myself thinking about it or anticipating consuming it later on,” Jonsson said.

Jonsson is now in recovery and works with Fight the New Drug (see below) to bring awareness to the effects of consuming porn. It’s an issue Utah's lawmakers have been working on for years.

"PROTECTING CHILDREN"

“My work in this space has always been geared toward protecting children,” said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-District 32, who sponsored the state's "porn health crisis" resolution in 2016.

Weiler has been involved in at least 10 bills about porn since then. He admits the "crisis" hasn't been solved, but says he thinks progress has been made.

“I don't know that people are watching less porn, but I think people are more aware that it can be dangerous.”

Since 2016, Weiler says more public spots like libraries, coffee shops, and restaurants better filter WiFi to prevent patrons from streaming pornography, which he said helps protect kids.

“Let's let them grow up and be innocent," Weiler said. "If they're adults and they want to watch porn all day, that's fine — that's a choice they can make.”

2016 TO 2020

Three bills or resolutions with pornography as a focus are in the works during the 2020 Legislative Session:

  1. One requires new phones to have pornography filters already turned on.
  2. A second would require warning labels.
  3. The third would force social networking apps like Twitter, which allow porn, to be rated based on content.

“I do believe in 2020 it's safer to discuss pornography than it was in 2015 or 2016, before I ran the resolution, and I do believe we've kind of popped that bubble,” Weiler said.

But it’s not an issue the senator thinks can be solved only at the legislative level. He called on porn companies to take more accountability over age checks on their sites.

“The porn industry throws up its hands and says, 'We can't tell who's looking at our content.' Absolutely they can tell.”

RESOURCES

Here a few resources available to those in search of help with pornography consumption:

  • www.fightthenewdrug.org is a non-religious, non-profit international organization with an office in Salt Lake City that raises awareness and education on the harmful effects pornography can have.
  • utahcoalition.org is The Utah Coalition Against Pornography, whose conferences are growing in numbers each year.