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Children and Marriage at Risk in a Connected World

NEW YORK, FEB. 5, 2006 (Zenit) - Long-standing concerns over pornography's corrupting influence are being confirmed by recent studies. In past years restrictions on sexual content in the media were rejected by many secular observers. But the flood of Internet pornography is leading to second thoughts.

On Tuesday the New York Times reported about growing concern over the effects on children. The article reported on the findings published in last July's issue of the journal Pediatrics, in a study titled "Impact of the Media on Adolescent Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors."

The journal admitted little is known about the effects of the media on adolescent sexual behavior, mainly because of a lack of research on the subject. There is no doubt, however, that young people are immersed, often without parental supervision, in a media culture abundant in increasingly graphic sexual content.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, therefore, that each year nearly 900,000 teen-age girls in the United States become pregnant and that the rate of sexually transmitted diseases are higher among teen-agers than among adults.

The risks don't end there. "Data suggest that sexually active adolescents are at high risk for depression and suicide," the Pediatrics report states. "Early sexual experience among adolescents has also been associated with other potentially health-endangering behaviors, such as alcohol, marijuana and other drug use."

Regarding the Internet, the report noted that one national survey of 10- to 17-year-olds found that one in five had "inadvertently encountered explicit sexual content, and one in five had been exposed to an unwanted sexual solicitation while online."

Canadian concerns

The Pediatrics report confirmed worries raised in a study published in November 2004, in a study published by the Canadian Institute for Education on the Family. Author Peter Stock, in a document titled "The Harmful Effects on Children of Exposure to Pornography," cited evidence published by a hospital in the Australian city of Canberra.

The hospital's child-at-risk assessment unit documented a dramatic increase in the number of children engaged in "sexually abusive behavior." In the mid-1990s the unit saw two or three cases a year. By 2000, that had risen to 28, and by late 2003 the unit had more than 70 cases. The hospital's unit manager Annabel Wyndham commented, "We think this is a new thing of the modern world, because of access to the Net and -- to be truthful -- combined with some pretty terrible parenting."

Stock also noted that in March 2004 police uncovered cases of sexual assault perpetrated by children on other children in the Hamilton, Ontario, area. All of the victims were under the age of 12 and the oldest perpetrator was 13. In all the cases, the aggressors stated they were imitating behavior they had seen portrayed on pornographic cable television channels and on the Internet.

The report also cited a number of diverse studies and commentaries by experts in which it is shown that exposure to pornography, especially of an extreme or violent nature, tends to reinforce aggressive behavior and leads spectators to imitate what they have watched.

The research demonstrates that "there is a modest to strong correlation between exposure to pornography and deviant activity by individuals," Stock noted.

There is also concern that viewing pornography will distort the sexual development of children and adolescents. Pornography not only does not give an adequate vision of human sexuality, but it also dehumanizes women.

The report also noted that under Canadian law the production, distribution and possession of most pornography is no longer a criminal offense. Most of the law dealing with "obscenity" was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1992.

Since then the Canadian courts have continued to eliminate restrictions, with the most recent decision just before Christmas. In what the newspaper Globe and Mail on Dec. 22 called a "landmark ruling," the Supreme Court of Canada said two Montreal swingers clubs didn't break obscenity laws because the group sex that went on there caused no harm to the participants or to society as a whole.

The decision, according to the newspaper, "essentially legalizes group-sex clubs as long as participants are consenting adults." An editorial by the paper strongly criticized the decision: "The commercializing of sex in public places may offend community standards, and the courts should not be afraid to say so."

Swingers clubs

Janet Epp Buckingham, director of law and public policy at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, in Ottawa, commented on the decision in an article published Dec. 27 by the Globe and Mail. She noted that in its Dec. 21 decision the court said the clubs are not criminal because they are not harmful to the "proper functioning of Canadian society." In effect it set the barrier for "harm" at an incredibly high level.

But liberalizing sexual activity, Buckingham argued, will in fact cause harm, hurting family relationships, shattering marriages, and causing psychological problems arising from unfaithfulness.

These concerns were raised in a submission made by a representative of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation to the U.S. Senate. On Nov. 9, Jill Manning testified before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights Committee.

"Research reveals many systemic effects of Internet pornography that are undermining an already vulnerable culture of marriage and family," stated Manning. "Furthermore, the numerous negative effects research point to are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for individual citizens or families to combat on their own."

Studies published in research journals indicates pornography consumption is associated with these six trends, among others:

-- Increased marital distress, and risk of separation and divorce;

-- Decreased marital intimacy and sexual satisfaction;

-- Infidelity;

-- Increased appetite for more graphic types of pornography and sexual activity associated with abusive, illegal or unsafe practices;

-- Devaluation of monogamy, marriage and child rearing;

-- An increasing number of people struggling with compulsive and addictive sexual behavior.

Although Internet pornography is commonly consumed by one household member in a solitary fashion, Manning argued, the impact of sexually explicit material is felt by the entire family, and the community in general.

Survey data collected at the November 2002 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in Chicago looked at the impact of Internet usage on marriages. At this meeting, 62% of the 350 attendees said the Internet had been a significant factor in divorces they had handled during the previous year.

They also observed that 68% of the divorce cases involved one party meeting a new love interest over the Internet. And 56% of the divorce cases involved one party having an obsessive interest in pornographic Web sites.

New technology is giving the porn industry more possibilities. The Washington Post on Nov. 15 reported that it took Apple Computer 20 days to reach 1 million downloads of video files from its online store. In comparison, one Web site offering free videos of unclothed models hit the 1 million mark in about a week.

The sale of adult entertainment for downloading to cell phones is a multimillion-dollar business in Europe already, according to the Post. Though just starting, the U.S. market could grow to nearly $200 million a year by 2009, according to the Boston-based research firm Yankee Group.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns against pornography. No. 2354 noted that it not only offends chastity, but also does grave injury by making people the object of base pleasure. Moreover, "It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world." Fantasy or not, its impact is increasingly causing grave damage.

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Pornography, Sex, Children, Marriage

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