Is Porn Use A Public Health Issue? One Doctor-Turned-Lawmaker Says No

Jan 18, 2018

One state lawmaker thinks pornography is a public health concern that’s damaging young Floridians. But one of his colleagues, who’s a doctor, says the state has bigger issues to deal with. 

Credit Tom Woodward via flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/bionicteaching/4128415887/

Riverview Republican Representative Ross Spano initially wanted to declare pornography a public health crisis in the state of Florida. Thursday he softened that assertion a bit, and won overwhelming support for the bill.

“Basically what the resolution says is that the state of Florida recognizes this issue as a public health risk, not a crisis, a public health risk, and acknowledges the need for education, prevention, research, and policy changes to protect the citizens of this state,” Spano said.

Spano says porn use is connected to a litany of negative outcomes.

“Research has found a correlation with pornography use, mental and physical illnesses, difficulty forming and maintaining intimate relationships, unhealthy brain development and cognitive function and deviant, problematic or dangerous sexual behavior," Spano said. "Recent research has also found that one can develop compulsive disorder.”

He’s especially concerned that rapidly evolving technology is putting porn right in the hands of kids.

“And I don’t think anyone can deny the fact that tech has changed at such a rapid pace and our response to that issue has really not been commensurate,” Spano said.

And he's concerned about his own children's experiences with pornography.

“I asked my child, 'Well when did you first?' He said, 'I was probably ten'. And I said, 'Well how did you..?' And he said, 'An older kid showed me. An older kid in the neighborhood.'” Spano recounted.

Stuart Republican Representative Gayle Harrell is backing the bill, which she says is bolstered by scientific evidence.

“We have been very careful to research every aspect of this. Our staff has worked remarkably well in really looking at all facts and figures and making sure that this is actually…that there is evidence behind every statement in this resolution,” Harrell said.

But Sebring Republican Representative Cary Pigman says porn use does not warrant this kind of attention. He was the only one to vote no Thursday.

“I am a practicing physician. We have problems with hypertension, with obesity, with diabetes, with Zika. We have a whole list of things that are important medially," Pigman said after the vote. "I’m not sure that we need to spend legislative time enunciating a particular complaint when we have others that are far more pressing.”

And Pigman says the research around porn and negative behaviors is unclear. What is clear?

“STDs are increasing," he said. "We have HIV transmission which stepped up a bit. We have Zika.”

When asked if kids could benefit from more sex education, Spano said that’s a separate issue and largely a family’s responsibility.

Pigman wants his colleagues to stay away from ranking diseases and conditions. Leave the declarations to the professionals at the Department of Health, he says.

“I keep thinking about the other things that are public health hazards which involve a far larger number of people," Pigman said. "And obviously there is a political connection when we start ranking a hierarchy from the Legislature.”

Spano’s resolution is largely ceremonial, but there are political advantages. Spano is running for attorney general and says he wants to support Florida’s families as the state’s next top cop. His bill has one more committee stop before it heads to the House floor.