OGDEN -- Is pornography harmless entertainment and perhaps an aid to sexual self-awareness? Is it akin to a dangerous drug that will have harmful, long-term effects on the user's brain? Or is it an artificial stimulant that will destroy the real-world romantic partnership in your life?
It all depended on who you asked at a Taboo Talks panel discussion at Weber State University. This month's panel discussion focused on whether pornography use is harmful.
Arguing for the benefits of pornography was Dawn Hall, co-owner of Black Velvet Boutique, a Clearfield store that sells adult novelties, videos and magazines.
Arguing that scientific studies prove pornography affects users brains in the same way addictive substances do, prompting users to seek greater stimulation, was Chandler Copenhaver, from the Weber State chapter of Fight the New Drug (www.fightthenewdrug.org), a Utah-based anti-pornography organization.
And arguing that pornography is emotionally harmful to users and their partners was Maurice Harker, a counselor and director of Life Changing Services, of Farmington, which has programs to treat clients for addictions including those to pornography and masturbation.
"I see a lot of people in my store who don't know anything about their bodies," Hall said. Utah's religious culture "tells people to avoid sex before marriage, then to get married, and then: 'Go. You'll be great at it,' " she said.
"The majority of Utah women who are not satisfied by sex suffer in silence," Hall said. Watching pornography can be not only enjoyable but instructional, she said.
Harker said he has counseled many couples hurt by viewing pornography together.
"It starts out great and fine," Harker said. "Then she starts to notice she doesn't look like the women in the video, and he says, 'Why don't you do the same things as the women in the video?' What you tend to see is women getting frustrated and feeling degraded, especially if the guy feels he had permission to look elsewhere to get what he sees in the video."
Hall said in the scenario Harker described, she sees the woman more as suffering from low self-esteem than from the effects of viewing pornography. Few intelligent people have difficulties discerning the difference between fantasy and reality, Hall added.
Harker said in his counseling practice he sees families destroyed by addictions that initially may have seemed harmless.
"Whether the relationships can be saved depends on how mangled the people are when they come through my doors," he said. "Often I don't see them until there are major financial issues. People are not paying rent or not going to college because the money was spent on online pornography. People can't buy groceries or pay for heat."
Copenhaver said pornography is not an addictive drug, but can affect a user's brain in the same way.
"It rewards the brain just as any chemical would," he said. "Constant use of pornography rewires the brain so that the brain is literally different. It shifts the neuropathways in the brain and creates new pathways, or synapses. Dopamine, the chemical reward we get from doing things like jogging, is released, and it stimulates the innate drives. When a constant rush of dopamine floods the brain, the result can be addiction."
Copenhaver said scientific studies on his group's website support his belief that pornography is addictive, and he added that addicts tend to lose control of their lives and their finances, and they alienate their friends and families.
Hall said she believes pornography does not hurt the vast majority of mainstream users and is harmful only in the most extreme cases.
"I don't think it takes away from real love, if what you have is real love," she said, "and if you can tell the difference between what is real and what is fantasy."