Conor Friedersdorf makes a familiar point: that if porn is so bad for you, why is there less rape and greater support for gender equality?:

None of that answers whether pornography is medically healthy or morally permissible. But given that the rise of ubiquitous porn has coincided with significant declines in rape and spousal abuse, and with increasing support among men for gender equality, how can anyone be confident that it makes men disrespect women, let alone that it causes harm so dramatic that it represents a civilizational threat?

The same logic applies abroad.

Lots of countries with ubiquitous pornography seem to be much more successful, and to treat women much better––to grant them more rights, dignity, and status as equal persons––than countries where porn is more restricted or unavailable. Again, that doesn’t prove that the new era of hi-definition, streaming video porn doesn’t represent a public health threat, or that it isn’t morally objectionable, but it does suggest that Burk and those who hold his particular views about pornography have a lot of explaining to do about how porn functions in the real world.

Conor is referring to this earlier column by Denny Burk, in which Burk calls the pornography epidemic a “civilizational calamity.” Burk writes:

The sexual revolution promised us more sex and more pleasure. It has actually delivered to us a generation of men who think of women as objects to be used and abused for their sexual pleasure. It has not given us men who know what virtue and honor are. It doesn’t teach men to pursue their joy in self-sacrificially loving and being sexually faithful to one woman for life. It teaches young men to use women for sex and then to discard them when they become unwilling or uninteresting. This means that it has given us a generation of young men completely unprepared for marriage and for fatherhood.

I’ve read the Time magazine cover story on which Burk’s column is based, though the piece is not available online to non-subscribers. The lengthy Time story presents some neuroscientific evidence, as well as a great deal of anecdotal evidence, that prolonged exposure to pornography affects your brain and renders you sexually dysfunctional. Sociologist Gail Dines, writing in the WaPo, says the evidence that porn is a “public health crisis” is undeniable:

The thing is, no matter what you think of pornography (whether it’s harmful or harmless fantasy), the science is there. After 40 years of peer-reviewed research, scholars can say with confidence that porn is an industrial product that shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence and gender equality — for the worse. By taking a health-focused view of porn and recognizing its radiating impact not only on consumers but also on society at large, Utah’s resolution simply reflects the latest research.

The statistics on today’s porn use are staggering. A Huffington Post headlineannounced in 2013 that “Porn Sites Get More Visitors Each Month Than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter Combined,” and one of the largest free porn sites in the world, YouPorn, streamed six times the bandwidth of Hulu in 2013. Pornhub, another major free porn site, boasted that in 2015 it received 21.2 billion visits and “streamed 75GB of data a second, which translates to enough porn to fill the storage in around 175 million 16GB iPhones.”

Extensive scientific research reveals that exposure to and consumption of porn threaten the social, emotional and physical health of individuals, families and communities, and highlights the degree to which porn is a public health crisis rather than a private matter. But just as the tobacco industry argued for decades that there was no proof of a connection between smoking and lung cancer, so, too, has the porn industry, with the help of a well-oiledpublic relations machine, denied the existence of empirical research on the impact of its products.

Samuel D. James, a former student of Denny Burk’s and a Friedersdorf fan, writes:

I think Friedersdorf misses the crucial point. The reason that Time, and many other publications, are covering the pornification of American culture is not a sexual violence epidemic, but it’s an epidemic nonetheless. It’s an epidemic of sexual and spiritual dysfunction. Psychologists and social scientists are literally just beginning to uncover porn’s terrifying neural imprint. As Aaron Kheriarty has noted in an excellent essay for The Public Discourse, the mental and emotional stakes of sexual habits are high, and where those habits involve isolation, fantasy, and authoritarian control of the sexual ritual, the human brain quite literally begins “fusing” reality with unreality.

This psychological phenomenon has consequences. As Time and others have noted, those addicted to porn tend to struggle with even the basic elements of interpersonal relationships. But the consequences also go far beyond social skills. Pornography doesn’t just absorb libido, it replaces it with something completely different. This is why, for example, Kevin Williamson saw scores of men paying for access to an adult entertainment convention when cheaper and legal prostitution was nearby. What these men want, by definition, isn’t a sexual experience but a pornographic one. They aren’t getting bootleg copies; they’re going into another business altogether.

This gets at the heart of what I think professor Burk meant when he said “civilizational calamity.” Porn doesn’t supplement sex. It replaces it. And what many in our culture are beginning to understand is that whatever it replaces it with is an acid to healthy sexual psychology. Lest we pat ourselves on the back for ending the kind of patriarchy that Friedersdorf mentions, let’s remember that in the porn-saturated world of the internet, women are still subjugated to the language, attitudes, and behavior that exemplifies a culture where they are in real physical danger.