Steve Chapman
We all know that pornography is offensive and destructive, so we can guess that wherever X-rated fare gains popularity, social decay will follow. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn which state has the highest rate of online subscriptions to adult websites. Not New York or California, but Utah. Yes, Utah.

Some members of Congress are up in arms at the news that the Justice Department has dismantled a Bush-era Obscenity Prosecution Task Force to go after hard-core material on the Internet. No fewer than 42 senators, most of them Republicans, have written Attorney General Eric Holder to urge tougher enforcement of obscenity laws.

Their argument is that pornography causes sexual violence, molestation of children, sex trafficking and other maladies. "This material harms individuals, families and communities and the problems are only getting worse," wrote the group, led by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of -- you guessed it -- Utah. You will wait in vain to hear of other senators joining together to say this is all nonsense, though that happens to be the case.

The past two decades have been to electronic erotica what Thanksgiving is to gluttony. Never in history have more people had easier access to sexually explicit material in such vast abundance and such low cost. More than one out of every three Americans with Internet access regularly visits porn sites.

By the logic of the puritans, we should be coping with an avalanche of collateral damage. But we're not.

Sexual violence? Rape has dropped by 86 percent in the United States since 1991. Harm to families? Divorce rates are down 25 percent during the same period.

As for sex trafficking, no one really knows how much goes on, or whether it's rising or falling. But when the Bush administration mounted a crackdown on the problem, The Washington Post reported in 2007, it found only "1,362 victims of human trafficking brought into the United States since 2000, nowhere near the 50,000 a year the government had estimated."

Numerous studies have failed to prove that viewing prurient pictures has any deleterious consequences to individuals. Just because the occasional rapist or child molester blames his crimes on skin flicks doesn't make it true.

Critics claim that pornography can take over some people's lives, but so can fantasy baseball. Porn addiction is not a recognized psychiatric disorder. And what if it were? Alcoholism is a form of addiction, but we don't ban wine.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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