Written by Joanna Button
What’s happening? This year, six U.S. states have passed legislation requiring adult websites to verify the age of users before they can access the websites. Pornhub has retaliated by blocking access to its site in Utah, Mississippi, and Virginia. It will likely do the same in the other states (Montana, Arkansas, and Texas) as their laws take effect in the coming months.
Why it matters: A 2022 survey of U.S. teenagers ages 13 to 17 found that the average age children first consume adult material is 12, while 15 percent first saw porn at ages 10 or younger. Of those who had seen porn intentionally, over half said they had seen videos involving violence and nearly six in 10 reported watching pornography online on a weekly basis. Pornography may harm viewers’ prefrontal cortex, hindering decision-making and impulse control.
Background: In 2022, Louisiana became the first state to pass an age-verification bill for adult content. Pornhub complied, requiring users to verify their age with a driver’s license. The website’s traffic has since fallen by 80 percent. Several other states have introduced bills that would mandate age verification on websites or devices.
- Pushback: Critics of the legislation, including Pornhub itself, argue requiring people to give their personal information online violates their privacy. Pornhub also argues that users likely migrated to unregulated websites with more unmoderated content. It’s not foolproof—users could sidestep verification with VPNs. (Virginia became the top U.S. state to Google information about VPNs after its law passed.)
Between the lines: The adult content epidemic among young Americans has spurred conservative action against the issue, an example of swapping a laissez-faire attitude for government involvement in solving social issues. Libertarian groups, including the Free Speech Coalition, are fighting back and filing a lawsuit against Utah for its law, claiming the production and consumption of adult content is free speech.