In 2010, Arkansas psychologist Ana Bridges and colleagues scrutinized 304 scenes that they would deem in a scientific journal to be “popular pornographic videos.” The researchers were looking for aggression. It was not rare; 88 percent of the scenes contained what the experts deemed physical aggression, defined in the academic journal as “principally spanking, gagging, and slapping.” Nearly half contained verbal aggression, usually from men toward women, who “most often showed pleasure or responded neutrally to the aggression.”
To sociologist Gail Dines, a self-identifying radical feminist and “anti-porn advocate,” these findings added to a body of evidence that she deemed conclusive. Dines believes that non-coercive pornography cannot exist in a capitalist society, where sex-based media will always lead to an industry that becomes a violent manifestation of structural inequalities. In The Washington Post this weekend, Dines wrote a column that spread widely: “Is Porn Immoral? That Doesn’t Matter: It’s a Public-Health Crisis.”
The divisive proclamation was occasioned by a bill passed last month in Utah declaring pornography to be “a public-health crisis.” The bill, like the phrase, traces back to Dines, who has spoken and lectured on the evils of pornography around the world. In 2013, Dines traveled to Reykjavik, where she met with Iceland’s Ministers of health and welfare amid country’s campaign to ban pornography. The move would have put the liberal state–with an openly lesbian prime minister and a gender-pay gap that is the lowest in the world—in the company of Saudi Arabia and the countries where gender disparities are greatest. But it made sense to many as a matter of public health.