Fighting An Online Epidemic

Joseph Backholm is senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on February 20, 2023.

The urgency of protecting children from pornography far outweighs any risks of a new Louisiana law

A Louisiana law requiring identification before accessing pornography websites is such an obviously good idea that it is surprising no one has done it before now.

Act 440, which passed almost unanimously in both houses of the Louisiana legislature, requires pornography websites to “perform reasonable age verification methods to verify the age of individuals attempting to access the material.” Users can accomplish this age verification with a driver’s license or a digital ID card.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Laurie Schlegel, said the bill is “a must to protect children from the dangers of online pornography” adding that internet filers are inadequate. Indeed, the average age of first exposure to pornography is reported to be between 11 and 12 years of age, so something isn’t working the way it should.

Early exposure to pornography makes children more vulnerable to being sexually abused, normalizes sexual aggression, and has been connected to a dramatic increase in children using other children. Sexual abuse then puts children at greater risk of low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, substance abuse, eating disorders, a lack of trust in adults, and much more.

The bill faces opposition, not necessarily because people want children to access pornography, but because of the problems associated with enforcing the law.

Rep. Mandy Landry, the lone legislator to oppose the bill, said the bill “lends itself to absurd implications.” She said, “The question is what is pornography or obscenity, who gets to decide, and how is that enforced? So much of that is in the eye of the beholder.” This is a point worth considering. With words alone, it is not easy to distinguish between pornography and Renaissance nudes in the text of a law. But the challenges associated with defining pornography should not discourage us from acknowledging the public menace it represents and doing whatever we can to limit its influence. Protecting the innocence of children is important enough that we should commit to the goal and figure out the details along the way.

At any age, pornography leads to loneliness, which brings a range of negative health outcomes, both mentally and physically. Pornography harms the relationships of people who consume it, creates unrealistic expectations, and ultimately—if consumed often enough—rewires the brain.

Sexual stimulation releases a chemical called dopamine, which makes us feel good. Dopamine programs the brain to remember where that feeling came from, which encourages people to repeat the behavior that led to the feeling. The reason porn use is so destructive to relationships, however, is that it creates unnaturally high levels of dopamine that can’t be replicated by a real person, rendering real relationships a sexual disappointment. When we protect children from pornography, we protect their future as well as their present.

Critics of the bill are also concerned identification requirements risk exposing personal information in the event of a data breach. Given the range of websites on the internet that distribute pornography, it’s reasonable to believe that some websites will be more careful with data than others or that some porn websites could be set up for the purpose of collecting personal information. Of course, the societal costs of identity theft are less significant than the societal costs of pornography consumption. Besides those risks can be eliminated by choosing not to view pornography, which is an excellent example of killing two birds with one stone. Still, even if the cost of protecting children’s innocence was a small risk of identity theft for adults, those terms should be acceptable to all of us.

Yes, it is hard to define pornography, and requiring people to put personal information on the internet always carries a risk, but Louisiana has appropriately recognized that protecting children matters more. The value of our children and the scourge that pornography represents justify the “whatever it takes” attitude this bill represents. Other states should follow Louisiana’s example. If there is a better way to fight pornography, show it.