Warnings on Adult Sites Due to Texas Law Are Unproven

Popular adult entertainment sites now display disclaimers about the health risks of watching pornography, as required by Texas age verification law. However, these warnings are not scientifically proven.

All sites in the Vixen Media Group network, including Deeper and Blacked, now display the warnings that pornography "is proven to harm human brain development" and "weakens brain function," 404media reports.

The disclaimer is outlined in a Texas age verification law, HB 1181, signed by Governor Greg Abbott in June. The law would require adult pornography sites to verify users' ages with official proof of age, such as a digital ID. Pornography sites would also have to display a warning from Texas Health and Human Services in 14-point or larger font.

However, District Judge David Alan Ezra blocked the law from being enacted after a group of adult industry sites and advocates sued the state.

The judge said the law would violate the Constitution of the United States and the federal Communications Decency Act. Moreover, storing users' identities by third parties or the government would have a "particular chilling effect," Ezra wrote.

The full disclaimer says:
"TEXAS HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES WARNING: Pornography is potentially biologically addictive, is proven to harm human brain development, desensitizes brain reward circuits, increases conditioned responses, and weakens brain function. TEXAS HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES WARNING: Exposure to this content is associated with low self-esteem and body image, eating disorders, impaired brain development, and other emotional and mental illnesses. TEXAS HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES WARNING: Pornography increases the demand for prostitution, child exploitation, and child pornography."

'Misrepresentation of science'

Nicole Prause, Ph.D., a neuroscientist researching human sexual behavior, says that the "science" claimed in the Texas statement is entirely at odds with the scientific consensus.

"It appears to intentionally misrepresent scientific studies or includes decades-old studies that have since failed to replicate. It is difficult to read the statement issued by Texas as anything other than an intentional misrepresentation of science," she told Healthnews.

Prause says that there are no known risks with extensive exposure to pornography because this would require an experiment in which people were randomly assigned to view "extensive" pornography or not over time.

She explains that pornography activates the same brain areas as other intense, pleasant emotional imagery, so it likely has similar effects to those stimuli, including absorbing attention and difficulty disengaging attention.

Prause adds, "These are not pathologies, but signs of a functioning emotion system that may be problematic in situations where a person needs their attention for other tasks, such as completing work or being present during conversations at home."

Moreover, the effects of pornography on children are speculative because youth can never be legally subjected to an experiment in which they are shown pornography. For example, youth who have earlier puberty also report choosing to view pornography intentionally at an earlier age.

This likely reflects the youth's own sexual motivation, an uncomfortable subject for many people to discuss. There are several research-supported 'porn literacy' programs designed for youth to reduce the potential risks of pornography on youth who may not understand what it is.

- Nicole Prause, Ph.D.

Meanwhile, many feared risks of pornography viewing, such as erectile dysfunction, desensitization to real sexual partners, or escalation to viewing illegal sexual material, have not held up to scientific investigation.

Prause emphasizes the strong gender effect of pornography. While men who view more pornography tend to report lower relationship and sexual satisfaction, the more extensive use of adult content is linked to higher relationship and sexual satisfaction in women. This may be due to the different ways men and women experience masturbation.

Men tend to use masturbation to compensate for missing partnered sexuality, such as a partner's refusal to have sex. In contrast, women tend to use masturbation to excite their arousal, including to initiate more sex with a partner.

"As a result, I consider most associations of pornography viewing with negative effects to actually be due to masturbation and limited to men," Prause says.

The Texas law requiring adult sites to warn their users about health risks related to the use of pornography is not based on robust scientific evidence.


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