Authored by Jackson Elliott via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
Graphic, violent, deviant, and harmful online pornography that can permanently affect brain development can be easily accessed by children.
And the federal government is doing little to stop it, experts and lawmakers told The Epoch Times.
Although showing pornography to children is illegal under federal law, federal rules don't require porn websites to verify the age of users.
But recently, bipartisan efforts in state legislatures have intervened to protect children in a handful of states.
It's important—and urgent—because watching violent porn damages children, therapist Jon Uhler and psychologist Amy Sousa told The Epoch Times.
"Being shown violence alongside a reward system is incredibly problematic because it is sending the body a signal that this violence is pleasurable," Ms. Sousa said.
By teaching children to associate sexual pleasure with pain, she said, pornography can rewire a viewer's brain to want pain or want to inflict pain.
This rewiring undoes the body's natural response of feeling distressed when seeing someone get hurt, she explained.
And porn-watching is more common than many might realize.
Porn gets more yearly "watch hours" than all Hollywood, Netflix, and Viacom programming combined, Ms. Sousa said.
Normalizing Violence, Creating Psychopaths
"Eighty-eight percent of porn videos contain violence against women, which basically translates to 5.1 billion of those visits per month," Ms. Sousa said.
"Porn represents a massive propaganda arm that is normalizing and desensitizing violence against women."
Viewing pornography teaches men to see women as objects, said Mr. Uhler, who has 15 years of counseling experience and thousands of hours of experience in treating sex offenders.
Children who admit to watching porn also admit to feeling guilty about it, he said.
Over time, repeatedly engaging in behavior that violates one's conscience can turn a person into a psychopath, he said.
"As you impact conscience, you will negatively impact remorse and empathy," he said. "Those three things are the basis of psychopathy."
And this, he said, can open the gateway to becoming a sexual predator.
In counseling thousands of sexual predators, Mr. Uhler has seen a pattern. For all of his patients, the road to sexual deviancy involved viewing porn, he said.
"A lot of good researchers have looked at the effects that pornography has on the brain," Mr. Uhler said.
"It's identical to drugs, literally in terms of the impact on the structure itself and the way it processes."
With an unprecedented number of boys watching violent porn, Mr. Uhler said, the future will likely yield a massive crop of men who have learned from childhood to defy their conscience.
"We are in uncharted territory."
Conflicting Views on Restrictions
Despite these dangers, the federal government has done little to prevent children from accessing online porn, Sousa, Uhler, and lawmakers said.
"The federal law [banning pornography access for children] is not enforced," Utah state Sen. Todd Weiler, a Republican, told The Epoch Times.
Ian Andrews, a spokesman for Pornhub, told The Epoch Times that the company supports measures to restrict children from viewing porn by verifying the age of users. But he doubts new laws requiring age verification of users will help protect minors. Pornhub is the world's 12th-most-visited website, with more than 2.5 billion visitors yearly, according to the consumer research firm Similarweb.
Mr. Andrews argued that the laws may have the opposite effect.
"We hypothesized for years that, if only certain platforms were forced to verify user age, or if a law is not regulated properly, the results would see users flocking to the platforms that do not verify age," he said.
"This is no longer hypothetical. Since we became one of the few platforms in Louisiana to comply with the law and institute mandatory age verification, we have seen an approximately 80 percent drop in our traffic in the state."
Amping Up Laws
Lawmakers in some states are determined to amend state laws to block children from viewing porn.
In May, Utah passed a law requiring pornographic websites to verify that users from that state are at least 18. Louisiana, which enacted a similar law in 2022, was the first state to demand age-verification measures to access pornographic websites, Mr. Weiler said.
"We made a few minor tweaks, but we basically copied Louisiana's" law in Utah, he said.
The Louisiana law demands that porn websites perform "reasonable age-verification methods" for Louisiana users.
For Mr. Weiler, the fight to protect children from porn websites began in 2016.
"I ran the first resolution in the country to declare pornography to be a public health crisis," he said.
While the resolution declared that child viewing of pornography was a public health crisis, resolutions don't have the force of law or any law enforcement effects.
"And since that time, about 15 other states have basically copied" the resolution, Mr. Weiler said.
Five states have joined Utah and Louisiana in going farther.
Virginia, Mississippi, Texas, Montana, and Arkansas have added age-verification laws for pornography websites.
Arizona, California, South Carolina, Minnesota, and New Jersey all have bills for age verification under consideration, according to data gathered by the Free Speech Coalition (FSC).
Support for the bills is largely bipartisan, Mr. Weiler said.
"This is not just a Republican issue," he said. "I think many Democrats agree that children shouldn't be viewing this content."
Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, South Dakota, West Virginia, Missouri, Alabama, and Tennessee have considered bills requiring age verification for porn users, but they failed to pass, according to FSC.
Relying on Honest Answers
According to federal law, the crime of "knowingly" using computer services to display obscenity to minors is punishable with imprisonment, fines, and sex offender registration.
But the word "knowingly" provides a loophole, Mr. Uhler said.
Under federal law, if a teen lies about his or her age to access porn, porn distributors can't be blamed for believing the age verification information provided by the child, he said.
"Like a kid who wants to access porn is going to be honest," Mr. Uhler said wryly.
This system puts the responsibility on minors to be truthful, rather than on porn website operators to ascertain the truth, Mr. Weiler said.
Companies have "taken steps to make sure that 14-year-old girls in Topeka, Kansas, aren't accessing online gambling sites," he said. "They've taken steps to make sure that 14-year-old girls in Topeka, Kansas, aren't buying vaping and nicotine products online. And those companies are not directly shipping wine to 14-year-old girls."
But the porn industry hasn't received the same regulatory pressure to protect children from its products, he said.
Any company actually interested in blocking minors from accessing the porn it offers could use a third-party company to screen users before they're allowed to access the site.
"The technology's there," Mr. Weiler said. "It would take about 30 seconds" to verify a would-be user's identity and age.
Utah's laws demand that verification on porn websites require more proof than simply a user's assertion that he or she is 18 or older.
Still, there are ways tech-savvy children can get around it, Mr. Weiler said.
But even if new measures don't stop all minors from accessing porn, he said, it will at least protect the youngest and most vulnerable children from seeing graphic images that can do them permanent harm.
A Generation of Porn-Watchers
Pornhub works like YouTube, the online video-sharing platform. Anyone can upload videos, and anyone can watch them. In 2021, the company says it removed more than 53,000 videos because they contained child sex abuse, 6,000 videos that included incest, more than 1,000 videos for animal abuse, and more than 5,000 videos for other obscene content too graphic to describe.
To her horror, sexual-abuse victim Victoria Galy discovered that footage of her rape had been posted to Pornhub and viewed 8 million times.
Ms. Galy told the Canadian House of Commons ethics committee in February that Pornhub made it difficult for abuse victims to take down videos of crimes against them.
To delete some of the videos, she testified, Pornhub requested a copyright infringement notification from her.
According to Pornhub's policy, anyone asking for a video's removal must give the site his or her name, postal address, telephone number, and email address.
Teens often are the consumers viewing pornographic videos, according to a survey by Common Sense Media. Researchers found about 70 percent of teens ages 13-17 admitted to watching porn online.
The survey asked more than 1,300 participants in that age group about their experience with porn. The average teen admitted to encountering porn by the age of 12, the survey found. Some started watching as young as 10.
A majority of porn-viewing teens have watched violent porn showing rape, choking, or pain, survey results showed.
While 45 percent of teens said that porn gives "helpful information about sex," about 50 percent reported feeling ashamed about the porn they watch, the survey found.