First of two parts
Ah, pornography. There's always so much more than meets the eye with this important family issue.
University of Maryland students recently attempted to show the X-rated film, "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge," complete with 11 sex scenes, on campus.
When Maryland state Sen. Andrew Harris learned of this, he didn't care that "Pirates II" is the most expensive ($8 million) adult film ever made. He didn't care that its producer, Digital Playground, had sent hundreds of complimentary copies of the film to students on college campuses, purportedly to inspire discussions about "modern sexuality, gender roles and adult entertainment."
No, Mr. Harris was outraged that a state-funded university was promoting pornography and threatened to yank its $424 million in state funds. Alarmed university leaders quickly gave a heave-ho to the sex show.
Defiant students, with the help of some staff, regrouped and scheduled an alternative educational event that included 30 minutes of the film.
The 200 students who attended the April 6 event heard a lot about free speech, censorship and adults' rights to see porn, all industry-approved topics.
But was there also discussion about the mounting evidence that viewing pornography can become compulsive, or that porn habits can devastate personal relationships, marriages, families and careers?
Pornography can be compared to Big Tobacco, says recovering sex addict Michael Leahy, who regularly speaks on college campuses about pornography.
In Big Tobacco's heyday, cigarettes were seen as a cheap, harmless form of entertainment that was sophisticated and even "chic," Mr. Leahy wrote in his new book, "Porn University: What College Students Are Really Saying about Sex on Campus."
For decades, people puffed away in theaters, restaurants, workplaces, cars, homes and bedrooms, "thanks in part to the billions of dollars" in glamorizing advertising and marketing.
Then people started dying of cancer, emphysema and lung disease; getting sick from second-hand smoke; and getting burned in fires lit by sleeping smokers.
• Part 2: 'Poor outcomes' of pornography
The tobacco industry fought back, saying its products were not addictive or harmful, Mr. Leahy wrote. But as the mountain of broken lives, health care costs and incriminating research grew, the public clamored to curtail people's right to smoke in many places.
"Today, smoking is about as cool as clubbing seals and clearing rain forests," Mr. Leahy wrote.
Pornography is on the same path, he said. It may still be seen as a cheap, harmless form of entertainment, but its mountains of broken lives, health problems and incriminating research are accumulating too, and a "social backlash" is building.
Mr. Leahy's new book stems from an online survey taken by more than 26,000 college students from 2006 to 2008. The 33-question survey included 25 questions from the Sexual Addiction Screening Test developed by Patrick Carnes, a nationally known expert on sex addiction.
The results? Only 1 percent of students appeared to have a serious sexual addiction, said Mr. Leahy.
But more than half of students "worried about people finding out" about their sexual activities, and half were actively hiding their sexual behaviors.
In addition, significant portions of students said they:
• Had trouble "stopping" a sexual behavior, even though they knew it was inappropriate.
• Had tried in vain to "quit" a certain sexual activity.
• Felt "degraded by your sexual behavior."
In other words, many students already feel troubled about their sexual behaviors, said Mr. Leahy, who saw his own 30-year porn problem escalate while attending college.
Young adults are crying out for real information about sex, he said. But there's too often a deafening silence — except for events like the one at University of Maryland that just plays into the porn industry's desire to get their products in front of a new generation of customers.
• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.