SALT LAKE CITY — The consumption of pornography "breaks hearts," said Mark H. Willes, president and CEO of Deseret Management Corporation.
Offering the keynote address at the 10th annual Conference on "Protecting Children and Families from Pornography and other Harmful Materials," Willes said popular culture teaches that pornography is no big deal, it doesn’t hurt anyone and everybody does it.
"If you don't remember anything else I hope you remember this: This is not a victimless act," he said, noting that pornography puts relationships, employment, healthy sexuality and well-being at risk.
More than 700 people gathered in downtown Salt Lake City for the conference, sponsored by the Utah Coalition Against Pornography. The event, held in the Little America Hotel, also included several sessions on topics such technology, prevention and recovery, the impact of pornography on marriages, and how to talk about dangerous things.
Willes centered his remarks on the Deseret Management Corporation anti-pornography initiative, "Out in the Light," which focuses on women who are married to men addicted to pornography.
Nationally, he said, 47 percent of people report that pornography affects their family.
"We conducted our own research with almost 600 women along the Wasatch Front," he said. "Fifty-four percent of those women say they know somebody who struggles with pornography."
Willes showed video clips of women talking about the devastating impact of their husbands' pornography use; one woman spoke of lying on her face, sobbing and sobbing.
"No man has any right to make his wife feel that way," he said. "No man has any right to subject her to his addiction."
Willes asked women to remember that their husband’s addiction is not their fault and emphasized that with effort and professional help, recovery is possible.
"It is easy to judge those that are addicted to pornography. We need to be careful not to do that," he added. "We don't know the struggles they have had. We do know that they need love and support. They need a helping hand."
He also asked parents to talk to their children about pornography.
"We cannot begin too early to talk to our children about this plague," he said. "By the way, they know more than you think they know. In fact, if they are 10 or older, they have probably already seen it."
Finally, Willes said, often media companies write about an issue and then move on.
"We are not going on to the next subject with regards to pornography because I can't stand the thought of women lying on their faces because of the addiction of someone they love."
Also offering remarks during the conference, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said pornography is not just a scourge on society, but "a growing scourge."
He compared pornography consumption in Utah to the current threat of massive flooding and asked people to "see the warning signs, be prepared and take action."
He said many are attracted to high water. "We are concerned that people will be sucked in and pulled away and lose their life."
Pornography is no different, he noted. "We have been given a warning and we all need to do something about it."
Herbert said that often people defend pornography as free speech.
"Whether it is legal or not is not the issue for me today," he said. "There is a great deal of scientific research that says this stuff is harmful."
This is something we don't want in our communities, the governor said.
"I believe the best way to handle pornography is to not view it at all."
Offering the closing address at the conference, Liz Hale, an individual and marriage therapist, said forming relationships is difficult and scary, especially in a world where "we all get entrapped or ensnared by something."
Relationships improve, she said, as people cut themselves free from the things that are holding them back.
"It is my hope that we will all do those things that make us more vulnerable and transparent," she said.
After the conference Pamela Atkinson, chair of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, said statistics show a growing amount of hard-core pornography and its negative impact on society.
She said many report that by attending the conference they gained the know-how to help loved ones who suffer from an addition to pornography.
She asked everyone in attendance to share the messages of the conference with at least five friends.
"For those of you who know someone is having a problem, reach out and care for them," she said.