Bravo to the victims of sexual misconduct who have broken their silence. Society can barely catch its breath before learning of yet another offense, and workplaces are scrambling to address the issue with rules that would provide, say, harsher punishments and greater ease to report incidents.

But even with beefed-up regulations, are we not merely skimming the surface when we need to examine deeper undercurrents?

One undercurrent is that our hypersexualized culture routinely objectifies women. Perhaps the greatest offender is present-day pornography. Permeating our society, it cuts across all ages, classes and races. Consider:

• Fifty-four percent of American males admit to viewing porn frequently.

• In 2015, 4.4 billion hours of porn were viewed on one popular website alone.

• Porn accounts for 25 percent of all internet searches — and 35 percent of all internet downloads.

• Own a laptop, tablet or smartphone? You’ve got porn 24/7.

Not only is porn pervasive, it’s stunningly misogynistic, demeaning and increasingly sadomasochistic. Porn producers admit they’re clamoring for more extreme scenarios that are, as one put it, “harder and harder.” Further consider:

• Eighty-nine percent of porn contains physical aggression, including gagging, slapping, hair-pulling and worse.

• Women are the recipients of this violence 94 percent of the time.

Research shows that, like a drug, porn literally alters pathways in the brain. Violence and sexual arousal/masturbation are a dangerous pairing when it comes to firing neurons. Porn proponents claim that it’s just “fantasy,” that everyone can separate fantasy from real life and that therefore porn has little impact. But research doesn’t bear this out.

Pertinent to sexual harassment and assault, numerous studies demonstrate that exposure to porn markedly decreases viewers’ empathy for victims. Other studies show that it increases men’s dominating behaviors, including increased touching as well as interrupting and ignoring women’s verbal input.

Desensitization to sexual degradation and violence, clearly one of porn’s effects, causes viewers to see women’s bodies as “more object,” “less human” and the “property” of the viewer, thereby fostering justifying beliefs.

Porn culture has profoundly affected attitudes, beliefs and values about gender roles, intimacy, boundaries and relationships. To ignore its relevance to sexual misconduct is to stick our heads in the sand.

 

Mary Schiesel Middlecamp lives in Minneapolis.