Professor’s New Book Explores Effects of Pornography on Health
In Pornography and Public Health, Emily Rothman, professor of community health sciences, provides an evidence-based exploration of the positive and negative effects of pornography on public health.
Since 2016, 17 states have declared pornography a public health crisis, citing a range of concerns from compulsive use and sex trafficking to normalizing violence.
However, claims that pornography is to blame for a crisis in sexual behavior are overblown and not always science-based, says Emily Rothman, professor of community health sciences at the School of Public Health and professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at the Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Services at Boston University.
“There is reason to be critical, but there is also room to protect sexual freedom, sexual expression, and the availability of sexually explicit materials for public health reasons,” she says.
In her new book, Pornography and Public Health, Rothman provides an evidence-based exploration of the positive and negative effects of pornography, or sexually explicit media, on public health.
“People tend to feel very strongly about pornography, which makes it a lightning rod issue. We can use the topic of pornography to engage in conversations about strong opposition to violence, while at the same time being sex positive,” says Rothman. “Visual media is a good place to start these conversations and really bring these issues into the foreground.”
Rothman spoke more about the book, its key takeaways, and why a book like this is needed right now.
With Emily Rothman
What are the key takeaways of this book?
The book takes a rigorous, deep dive into pornography and how it came to be considered a public health crisis. Each chapter dives into a different topic related to important subtopics in pornography, including body image, the problematic use of pornography, and possible benefits of sexually explicit media, as well as the benefits of encouraging young people to engage in critical thinking when and if they see sexually explicit media.
What I really want people to take away from this book is that this issue is complicated. There are ways in which, undeniably, sexually explicit media has harmed people who are in it or who view it, but there are also over-the-top claims made about pornography’s negative effects that are not science-based and are made in order to try to impose restrictions on what people should be permitted to see, do, or feel.
A public health perspective will consider the science about harms, the history of regulating access to sex-related information and materials, and suggest a way forward that is balanced.
How do the topics covered in this book fit in with other recognized public health topics?
I have been conducting research on pornography and public health for nearly a decade, and there seems to be a lot more willingness now, whether among people who are in public health or any other field, to acknowledge that the media that we consume, or that the people around us are consuming, is something that we have to contend with and think about.
I don’t think anyone could argue that the content we are watching and taking in on our screens has no import. More of our pop culture media is sexually explicit, so it would be a lot harder, at this point, to deny that this type of media isn’t a feature of many people’s lives, young or old.
Because of this increased accessibility, it makes sense that we ask these questions about the influence of sexually explicit media on sex and sexuality, on relationships, on mood, on stress and depression. These outcomes can tell us a lot from a public health perspective and can help us to better understand the influence of media on health.
Why is a book like this needed right now?
For a long time, there have been opposing camps who have dug in really hard to their ideological viewpoint about pornography: they’re either pro or they’re against. And both sides, at times, have either cherry-picked the literature or have manipulated statistics and supposed research findings to promote a particular agenda.
We need a book like this because there really isn’t anything else out there that is for readers who haven’t already formulated a pro or con position about pornography, and value research results. The book can be helpful for those who want to better understand what types of data have been collected, what research has been done, what we know about this complicated issue, and what we don’t know yet.
Pornography and Public Health is available for purchase here.