National Edition

Ubiquitous assailant: The dangerous unasked questions surrounding pornography

Published: Saturday, July 6 2013 12:00 p.m. MDT

Gabe Deem believes the dopamine rushes produced by pornography can rewire the brain and cause addiction.

Photographer: Chris Arrant, Copyright: Chris Arrant Photography

Editor's note: The following story deals with sexually-themed subject matter that will not be appropriate for some readers. Discretion is advised.

This is part one in a four-part series. Read part two: "Second-hand porn: the spreading circle of damage." Read part 3: "Why laws to fight pornography aren't being used." Read part four: "How couples break the cycle of addiction."

LAS VEGAS — Tiffani’s blond hair falls around her face as she leans forward to sign another autograph. She scrawls a quick note on the glossy publicity photo then puts on a sultry smile as the fan comes to stand beside her for a photo.

His grin widens as she grabs his hands and wraps them around her body.

"There you are," she says, as he finally steps away, several poses later. "Thank you, sweetheart."

The line to meet Tiffani at the annual Adult Entertain Expo in Las Vegas is more than a dozen people long — there are college-age young adults, overweight, balding men and even middle-aged couples. All of them hold cameras, some even snapping pictures while they wait, zooming in on Tiffani’s tight red jeans and sheer black shirt.

She'll do this for four days, as thousands of fans flood through the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to be part of the annual Adult Video Network Adult Entertainment Expo, the largest pornography industry trade show in the US that draws between 20,000 and 30,000 people each January.

Formerly a back-alley, mafia-funded industry, pornography has exploded into a socially ubiquitous form of entertainment, evidenced by the throngs that roam the convention halls, snapping photos of their friends embracing porn stars to share via Instagram and Facebook.

Though Las Vegas is, by its own definition, a moral outlier, a growing number of experts are concerned with the way the entire country has accepted, and even embraced, pornography's cultural infiltration.

"The real issue is not whether (porn) has become worse," says Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at Stony Brook University in New York who studies gender, sexuality and masculinity. "The thing that's most important is that it's far more pervasive with far less apology."

An estimated 40 million Americans visit a porn site at least once a month, and 25 percent of all search engine requests in the U.S. are for porn. The heaviest use is among young men: in a 2009 survey of 30,000 college students, more than 10 percent said they viewed pornography online from five to 20 hours a week, and 62 percent said they watched Internet pornography at least once a week. Another study by researchers at Brigham Young University in 2007 found that 21 percent of all college students said they watch porn “every day or almost every day.”

Yet despite how "popular" pornography becomes, it cannot remain unexamined, say media scholars and medical professionals, who warn that failing to address the growing tangle of concerns — specifically the way pornography changes the brain — will come with dire consequences. Most children will have seen porn by the time they’re 11, if not younger, and 79 percent of that exposure will happen in the home — often through innocently misspelled words, pop-up windows or misleading websites, according to the report, “Online Victimization of Youth: Five Years Later,” as published by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

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