Mary Eberstadt warns that America is growing fat on pornography.
As the impressively depressing cover story "America the Obese" in the May issue of The Atlantic serves to remind us all, the weight-gain epidemic in the United States and the rest of the West is indeed widespread, deleterious, and unhealthy – which is why it is so frequently remarked on, and an object of such universal public concern. But while we're on the subject of bad habits that can turn unwitting kids into unhappy adults, how about that other epidemic out there that is far more likely to make their future lives miserable than carrying those extra pounds ever will?
That would be the emerging social phenomenon of what can appropriately be called "sexual obesity": the widespread gorging on pornographic imagery that is also deleterious and unhealthy, though far less remarked on than that other epidemic – and nowhere near an object of universal public concern. That complacency may now be changing. The term sexual obesity comes from Mary Ann Layden, a psychiatrist who runs the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She sees the victims of Internet- not: Quietly, patiently, and irrefutably, an empirical record of the harms of sexual obesity is being assembled piecemeal via the combined efforts of psychologists, sociologists, addiction specialists, psychiatrists, and other authorities. Young people who have been exposed to pornography are more likely to have multiple lifetime sexual partners, more likely to have had more than one sexual partner in the last three months, more likely to have used alcohol or other substances at their last sexual encounter, and – no surprise here – more likely to have scored higher on a "sexual permissiveness" test. They are also more likely to have tried risky forms of sex. They are also more likely to engage in forced sex and more likely to be sexual offenders…
Mary Tedeschi Eberstadt is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and consulting editor to Policy Review.