Before Christmas last year, 23-year-old Mercedes Grabowski left the home she shared with her husband in Ventura, California, and drove 20 minutes to a public park where she hanged herself. A suicide note was found in her car. In it she apologized to her parents.

Mercedes’ death might have gone largely unreported but for the fact that she was a well-known pornographic actress who had starred in more than 280 adult films under the name August Ames. Her grieving husband is a pornographic film director and former performer.

In interviews, Ames had revealed she had been sexually abused as a child and that as a teenager one of her high school teachers would beg her for naked selfies before class. She said she had suffered from long-term depression because of the abuse.

“Some days I’ll be fine and if I’m not doing anything I’ll get these awful flashbacks of my childhood and I get very depressed and I can’t get out of bed and cancel my scenes for like a week or two.”

Ames confessed to an interviewer that she needed therapy, but was worried that a therapist would frown on her career or suggest her job was the cause of her depression.

In the days leading up to her death, she was also embroiled in a Twitter war over her refusal to do sex scenes with men who also did gay porn. Various people in the porn industry called her homophobic and more than one person tweeted that she should kill herself.

Then she did.

While August Ames’ story might be more tragic than the average pornstar’s, it’s not uncommon in the industry to find examples of drug addiction, STDs, violence, coercion, humiliation, and mental illness. The average span of a performer’s career is usually only about six to 18 months, because it’s difficult to take much more than that.

The porn business is not only hard on its performers. We’re now getting a better idea of the harm that the long-term use of pornography, especially by young people, is having on them.

In his book, The Demise of Guys, Philip Zimbardo blames changes in the social interactions of young men on the rise of what he calls “technology enchantment”. He claims young men are socially awkward with women, unable to read non-verbal cues or form meaningful relationships because they are seduced into excessive and mostly isolated screen time, including viewing online pornography.

Zimbardo was one of the first to say that pornography is addictive, a view that was contested until 2014 when a Cambridge University study found that pornography triggers brain activity in sex addicts in the same way drugs trigger drug addicts. And like all addictions, the younger the user, the greater the neural response to porn, the greater the potential for long term addiction. Last year, it was found that 53% of 11 to 16-year-olds had watched porn.

Let that fact sink in.

Other effects of pornography use include:

  • Enjoying real-life sex less;
  • An increase in erectile dysfunction by users;
  • A link to infidelity rates, wherein porn users become dissatisfied with their current partners;
  • A link between watching violent porn and real-life violence, both in sexual activity and beyond;
  • Demanding partners submit to behavior observed in porn, such as violence, anal sex, group sex;
  • An increase in unprotected sex;
  • An increase in labiaplasty.

These days a new phrase, porn literacy, has emerged to describe the need to teach young people that the behaviors they observe when watching porn are not a useful guide for how normal, healthy sexual relationships are conducted.

Lord, have mercy!

All this recently led conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat to declare that we need to ban porn.

Yes, ban it altogether. That’s a big call. I know banning stuff doesn’t work (the Prohibition, anyone?), but our young people are being confronted by porn on an industrial scale right now. One website, Pornhub, says its videos were watched 92 billion times last year! By 64 million daily visitors. Yep, I said daily!

I doubt that Douthat is serious about the complete censorship of pornography. A complete ban would be labeled as anti-freedom and an infringement of civil liberties, etc etc. Some say it is also impractical and unenforceable anyway, so why bother. But tell that to the British. After initially passing legislation banning the production of certain objectionable types of hardcore porn back in 2014, the UK government is now preparing to introduce an age-verification requirement for all pornographic websites and people wanting to use them will have to prove they are over 18.

Short of complete censorship, that’s a pretty good initiative. I mean, making it harder for people to access porn, especially kids, is a good thing, right? We’ll wait and see if the British age restriction works.

Limiting access to potentially dangerous substances or practices by setting age restrictions is hardly radical. Booze isn’t readily available to underage drinkers. Kids can’t enter casinos or gambling areas in pubs. And since 2012, here in Australia, cigarettes have had to be sold in plain packaging. The look of every cigarette packet, regardless of brand, is standardized, including the colour of the pack (in Australia it’s drab olive green). No symbols, no colors, no enticing imagery. Instead, packets are emblazoned with horrific images of the effects of cancer.

Following Australia’s lead, standardized packaging has been introduced in France, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, and Hungary.  And all the evidence shows it leads to a reduced take-up of smoking by younger people.

I know these restrictions on alcohol, gambling and cigarettes don’t entirely stop kids from trying them. There’s always a way around these impediments for the enterprising person. But it’s inconvenient. It’s a nuisance. It slows the consumer down.

Seriously, if we can take on Big Tobacco and restrict their trade by introducing plain packaging, why can’t we at least impede people’s access to pornographic films?

Why not legislate to ensure all porn is behind a paywall? That still allows adults with a credit card to access it, but it will stop children. And wouldn’t the pornography business itself welcome this initiative? You’d think so, but they know that offering free porn is like bait. And they wouldn’t want to lose all those over-18s who wouldn’t buy porn on a card for fear of their spouse finding out.

It is an utter scandal that hardcore porn of the most disturbing kind is easily and freely available to anyone connected to the Internet.

 

The very least we can do is demand that the British model be adopted, or that it all goes behind a paywall to stop our kids from gaining access to it. Tech types can explain how difficult that would be to achieve, but they could also figure out a way to do it if they were required to do so.

I know porn didn’t kill poor little Mercedes Grabowski. But it couldn’t have helped her fragile mental state. And it’s having untold negative effects on an emerging generation for whom it has become a regular and unremarkable feature of their online lives.

 

 

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