New Film Documents Porn’s Harmful Effects

The film series Brain, Heart, World has just been released. It consists of three episodes each about 30 minutes long. Each episode explores a different realm in which pornography causes harm: the individual, human relationships, and society as a whole.

There are some depressing facts to be learned from Brain, Heart, World. For a start, if anyone didn’t know already, pornography is a huge business. The film estimates that the porn economy is running at an estimated $97 billion per year. Porn websites have more traffic each year than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. In fact, the film details one porn site that has enough traffic each year to have generated 4 billion hours of porn viewing. This is the equivalent of an eye-watering 52,465 years of pornography.

For many years, and certainly from the 1960s onwards, some have seen pornography as freeing as well as a freedom. One is familiar with the well-worn, now hackneyed, arguments suggesting that porn harms no one, and is only being outlawed because of religious prudery. People spouting such arguments should change channels and watch these three films. Collectively, they make not only sobering but very disturbing viewing. The effect is akin to being woken from an intellectual and moral slumber.

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The first episode of the series features a number of young people still in their early 20s. All are attractive, fashionably dressed, intelligent, and gifted in different ways; they are black and white, male and female. All are recovering from the effects of pornography addiction. What they describe is similar to the testimonies one hears from those recovering from drug abuse that has ruined lives. Here we have a testament to the electronic equivalent of drug addiction. We hear how pornography robbed these young people of their adolescence; how it corrupted and corroded their relationships and their sense of self worth; and then, and here’s the thing, how they grew to hate pornography as much as they hated themselves for viewing it—but, still, they continued to watch. Eventually, and luckily for them, they started to seek help and, in their own words, “fight back” against what was controlling their lives. Their brave witness on screen is moving and alarming in equal measure.

The first episode also looks at the effects of pornography on the brain. Neuroscientist after neuroscientist line up to tell us how the use of pornography affects the brain in the same negative ways as the use of drugs. This research has been publicized elsewhere. Yet when scientific analysis is combined with the testimony of young people who confirm in similar words what scientists say about the impact of porn addiction—“flat, dead, empty, exhausted…”—it has an impact upon the viewer.

The second episode in the series deals with the effects of pornography on relationships. The film maintains that pornography does not just create habits in the user but actually changes the user and, therefore, his ability to interact with others, especially in the most intimate ways. Needless to say, as the film demonstrates, the effects wrought by pornography are never positive. Put simply, pornography destroys the viewer. One young man talks on screen of his suicide attempt because of a porn addiction. Most survivors talk of their self-loathing while subject to this addiction—a combination of disgust at and fear of the control it had upon their lives. Again, much of this will not be new to many: studies have said as much for some years now, but it is to the credit of the filmmakers that they have presented these myriad facts in a way that is compelling and thought-provoking.

The third part of the film is by far the saddest. It contains the testimony of those who have taken part in the production side of the porn industry. These are pornography’s direct victims. They speak as if they have come from some dark place blinking into the sunlight of recovery. Given the destructive nature of the industry, many are just glad to have survived. These stories are less severe, however, compared to those of the former sex slaves and child prostitutes who talk of what has been inflicted upon them and how pornography was a constant in their personal horror tales. Many of these men and women feel abused all over again by the fact that their video images remain online, presenting an ongoing visual record of the rape and coercion they suffered; to this day these images of their pain and humiliation continue to be sold and bartered.

Such horrors are still happening, and maybe not so far from where you are reading these words. As Brain, Heart, World amply demonstrates, pornography, in all its vile forms, is the documenting of rape, prostitution, and sexual violence—especially against the young and the poor. And if you think that sex slaves are rare, then think again. The film estimates that the trade is worth $99 billion a year with a reckoned five million victims worldwide. Many of these victims are forced into porn production. The film goes further, however, and suggests that even those who are being paid will invariably pay a high price.

Brain, Heart, World is well made. It is well written, and the participants well chosen. Still, it is not easy viewing. Non-judgmental in tone, this film is not a polemic against pornography; it doesn’t need to be. It just shows what the effects of pornography are in the lives of those featured, and, believe me, this is enough. As the film makes abundantly clear, whatever one’s problems, pornography is never the answer but rather the start of an even bigger problem.

Brain, Heart, World would make ideal subject matter for an informed discussion with adolescents and college students. That said, the most depressing thing mentioned in the series was the age at which film participants were first exposed to pornography: 10 years old.

Today, in most Western countries, the official priorities for the young appear to be elsewhere. Governments seem keener to have so-called “sex education” from infancy onwards, destroying innocence and focusing on such spurious topics as gender fluidity rather than on the real danger in plain sight. Given what we know, there is an urgent need for a campaign to publicize how pornography not only warps—literally—one’s brain, but also one’s personality. To be mixed up in that twilight world, at whatever level and to whichever degree, is to enter the portals of hell itself judging by what was caught by the camera in the haunted eyes of the survivors, namely, a wearied combination of sadness and terror.

At the end of the day, what this film series reinforces is that it is not just flesh that is being exposed on screen but the exploitation and enslavement of those participating—including those who watch.


  • K. V. Turley

    K.V. Turley is the National Catholic Register’s U.K. correspondent. He writes from London.

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