A conservative Christian lobbyist group’s latest crusade is the elimination of pornography on college campuses.
The Family Research Council isn’t afraid to pick a tough fight. It has pushed for the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, endorsed the requirement of a one-year waiting period for couples with children who want to get a divorce, and publicly discouraged the extension of civil rights to homosexuals. Supporters of the FRC, a conservative Christian lobbyist group, gathered Wednesday to discuss the organization’s latest crusade: the elimination of pornography on college campuses.
Fighting “Porn in the Dorm”—as the FRC called their Family Policy Lecture on the subject—is an uphill battle. A 2001 study conducted by scholars at Texas A&M revealed that while 56% of men admit to using the Internet to access sexual explicit materials, 72% of college-aged men readily say the same. Recent figures show higher percentages of porn site subscriptions in zip codes with a great density of young people and those with undergraduate degrees.
The prevalence of porn on campuses hasn’t defeated Dr. Patrick Fagan, Director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute and Wednesday’s speaker. An Irish former grade school teacher and trained clinical psychologist, Fagan has worked on family issues in Washington with organizations such as the Free Congress Foundation, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Heritage Foundation. His controlled tone, combined with the hum of the FRC’s air conditioning and free Potbelly’s sandwiches, lulled the audience of about 40 young professionals into a comfortable midday trance reminiscent of Sunday school.
“Our teenagers today cannot know what is natural sexuality,” he said, citing a UK study frankly titled, “Basically…porn is everywhere.” Fagan compared modern American society to “pagan Rome,” claiming that the proliferation of sexual deviancy in our country is a direct threat to the “people-forming institutions” of family, church, and school. He considers the matter of paramount importance to civilization as a whole. “Sexual intercourse, like atomic energy, is a powerful agent for good if channeled well, but for ill if not. Healthy societies maintain their stability by channeling the sexual energies of young adults into marriage,” says his 2009 paper, “The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family, and Community.”
Fagan blamed today’s plague of pornography on modern media. One of his slides included the May 2011 cover of Vogue Paris, which features a pouting Kate Moss being groped by five anonymous male hands. Christian organizations have pointed fingers at everything from technology to politics when it comes to porn. In a 2013 fact sheet without footnotes or citations, a Christian vendor of Internet filtering software called Covenant Eyes claims that 24% of smartphone users store pornographic material on their mobile devices. The organization says that 79% of porn performers have used marijuana, and “politically liberal people” are 19% more likely to look at porn than others.
Using data collected by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, Fagan cautioned his audience about the personal consequences of pornography consumption as well. He flipped through a slide show of charts that correlated porn use and addiction with high divorce rates, abortions, and deviant behavior. According to his research, those who are exposed to porn as young adults become desensitized to its dopamine rush, which can lead to the pursuit of distorted fantasies involving children, the invalid and even vampires. In an earlier statement released by the FRC, he cautioned, “For college students, the use of pornography is especially problematic. Away from home and surrounded by friends, co-eds are susceptible to an addiction that can destroy their education, their relationships and their future.”
Relationships damaged by pornography use, said Fagan, can include the peer connections that young adults learn from while at university. Though college is a social phase of life, the consumption of porn draws individuals into themselves and discourages positive interaction with others.
Linda Williams, a professor film studies and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, begs to differ. She and college educators around the country have used pornography as a teaching tool and a basis for classroom discussion. “I do believe pornography reveals a great deal about who we are as Americans,” Williams told TIME. “Its sheer popularity warrants examination, the same way we have studied soap opera, television and other popular media in the past.” New York University, Vanderbilt, and Bates College are only a few of the institutions that now use sexually explicit material in film, law and sociology classes.
Though he opposes the exposure of young adults to pornography, Fagan claims that he is not against academic freedom. In fact, he would like to see an increase in the research and discussion of human sexuality on college campuses, because he believes that informed students will choose abstinence over porn. The centerpiece of his presentation was a graph showing that the adults who enjoy the most frequent and pleasurable sexual activity are monogamous, God-worshipping partners. “The single biggest irony is that by and large, those who enjoy the sexual most, that have the most frequent sexual intercourse, are those who follow the Judeo-Christian way,” Fagan told TIME.