In our opinion: Societal shift is needed to combat pornography, other destructive behaviors

Published: Friday, Aug. 24 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Clay Olsen speaks to students during the "Fight the New Drug" assembly at South Hills Middle School in Riverton on Wednesday, October 26, 2011. "Fight the New Drug" is a youth driven organization dedicated to raising awareness on the addictive and harmful potential of pornography.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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Not long ago, cigarette smoking was considered cool; so much so that many young people likely started the habit just to use a cigarette as a fashion statement. Those days are gone, and thankfully so.

A newly released Gallup poll shows the percentage of Americans who smoke has fallen to its lowest level ever recorded, and the decline in recent years has been especially pronounced among those in the 18-29 age group. Only 20 percent of Americans now smoke. Among young adults, 25 percent smoke, but that is down from 34 percent only a decade ago.

This good news is a triumph of reason and science over fashion. Now, if society could only find a way to make other encroaching destructive behaviors equally uncool. Consider the effects if the culture would attack pornography and incivility in similar ways.

Randall Burt, professor of medicine at the University of Utah, told the Deseret News the decline in smoking will be felt throughout society. Cancer deaths will decline, as will incidents of cardiovascular and lung diseases. Insurance companies will save money, which could result in lower premiums. Government expenses for Medicare and Medicaid will decline, as well.

The battle against tobacco has been waged on many fronts, beginning with government prohibitions on advertising and continuing through public service campaigns and cessation programs. These efforts have combined to induce a culture that finds the habit no longer appealing or acceptable, its allure firmly outweighed by its ill-effects.

In contrast, the worldwide increase in pornography consumption, spurred by the Internet, has led to cultural shifts in dress and attitudes. This long road to social acceptance began in earnest in the 1950s with magazines that peddled female nudity as art, and has now found its way into a general acceptance in many quarters, with softer versions of partial nudity a regular staple of some otherwise legitimate news sites.

If such behavior were made as uncool as smoking, the nation would see a decrease in failed marriages. Fewer men, in particular, would treat women as objects, seeking instead to establish relationships based on mutual trust and genuine love. Fewer children would grow up with false notions of sexual behavior and restraints. More young women would develop a healthy sense of self-esteem.

Five years ago, the American Psychological Association issued a study titled, "Report of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls." It compiled results from stacks of recent scholarly research on the subject. The overwhelming and consistent conclusion of these was that society's ever-increasing sexualization of girls and women was leading to unhealthy results. It even, according to some studies, diminished a young woman's ability to perform mathematical equations or think logically.

That report should have been a call to arms in defense of the rising generation. Instead, the scourge continues unabated.

Incivility, meanwhile, threatens to destroy the nation's ability to deliberate and solve its problems. Appropriate language and mutual respect define social interactions, set boundaries for civil discourse and ultimately make it possible to approach problems rationally. Incivility reduces people with differing opinions to stereotypes at best, and demons at worst. Such behavior should become so socially unacceptable it elicits gasps and ostracisms.

The nation's success against cigarettes ought to encourage broader campaigns against these and other proven ills.

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