There is a stunning lack of bills this legislative session that focus on accessible housing and mental health care for youth that have received unanimous support. Yet, unsurprisingly, porn is once again a top priority for some of our legislators.
Despite what House Bill 243 (aka, the porn warning label bill) would lead you to believe, pornography is not proven to be inherently harmful to youth. The research surrounding porn’s impact on teens is sparse, and studies have yielded contradictory results.
Some studies have concluded that viewing porn has no negative effects on teens, and others have found that it can be an outlet for LGBTQ+ youth to safely explore their sexuality. Requiring a warning label stating that porn causes “addictive sexual behavior, low self-esteem, and the improper objectification of and sexual violence towards others,” among other issues, is both scientifically irresponsible and just plain false.
While the bill’s complete disregard for research is confounding, the most insidious aspect of HB243 is the provision that would allow the attorney general or individuals to bring an action against a sex worker who does not put the proposed warning label on their pornographic content. People in the sex industry will become prime targets for harassment and blackmail, and the penalties brought against them will likely inhibit their ability to find work.
The bill’s vague language, and Utah’s incredibly broad definition of pornography, opens up a clear avenue for clients or subscribers to report content out of malice.
This additional criminalization of online sex workers makes the industry even less safe. Globally, sex workers have a 32% to 55% chance of being sexually assaulted in any given year, according to a 2014 systematic review of 28 studies. They also face high rates of poverty, discrimination and other human rights violations. Ironically, this bill dictates that a portion of funds recovered from penalized sex workers — who are often victims themselves — be given to the Crime Victims Reparations Fund.
Suffice it to say, this bill is not about protecting children. HB243 is a poorly veiled attempt to further punish and dehumanize people in the sex industry, who are often our neighbors, family members and friends also just trying to provide for themselves or their families. (Meaning that HB243 isn’t very “pro-family” after all, despite the claim by Rep. Travis Seegmiller.)
The energy poured into this warning label bill would be better spent introducing bills that dedicate more time, workforce or funding for evidence-based mental health services, education, housing and sexual abuse prevention.
The truth is, porn becomes most unhealthy when we don’t teach teenagers the difference between real life and what they’re watching on a screen. Putting a warning label on porn and penalizing sex workers won’t solve any issues our teens face or deter them from watching porn.
We need comprehensive sex education for youth that addresses porn and healthy relationships. We need to have conversations with teens in our lives about sexual and mental health. And, if you simply morally disagree with the consumption of porn in your home, parental controls exist for a reason.
The bottom line? The onus should not be on creators of adult content to educate teens about sexual health.
If you want to tackle sexual violence and mental illness in Utah, it’s time to stop erroneously blaming sex workers for these issues and to start addressing your communities directly.
Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro, Salt Lake City, is a journalist and the co-founder of the Sex Workers Outreach Project Salt Lake City Chapter. She is also the assistant youth coordinator for the Youth Empowered Solutions to Succeed (YESS) grant.
Alexandria Dodge, Sandy, is a representative of the Sex Workers Outreach Project Salt Lake City Chapter, member of the Magdalene Collective and a mental health educator.
Hannah Christian, Salt Lake City, is a representative of the Sex Workers Outreach Project Salt Lake City Chapter, as well as an activist and crisis counselor. She is also a stripper and online sex worker.