Last year groups like Protect Young Eyes testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in an effort to seek better and more objective rating systems for phone apps that often appeal to children but may play host to pornographic content. Numerous states, meanwhile, recently followed Utah’s lead in passing resolutions declaring pornography “a public health crisis.”

Reacting to such efforts, some have voiced personal scepticism, citing an “absence of any credible research” on the negative effects of pornography. Is there really no credible research regarding societal harms of sexually explicit material? Is a shrug of the shoulders the appropriate response to the modern proliferation of pornography and the ease with which it is now accessed by minors?

Decades of research document myriad harms of pornography, hardly justifying a laissez faire attitude toward adolescent exposure to sexually explicit material. There are strong correlations, for example, between early encounters with pornography and potentially unhealthy sexual pathologies and behaviors.

As just one of many examples, with respect to the impact of early porn exposure on attitudes toward women, Alyssa Bischmann, a researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has found “that the younger a man was when he first viewed pornography, the more likely he was to want power over women.”

A recent German study, meanwhile, has further found that adult women who viewed pornography were much more likely to engage in “submissive” sexual behavior. The authors suggest that pornography was providing “scripts” that were then acted out by viewers. Others contend, of course, that correlation does not prove causation, and it’s possible that pre-existing sexual interests lead to porn consumption and not the other way around.

A more circular relationship seems likely. A person has a particular interest and goes online to find out more. Interest in sex is biologically normal, but porn provides harmful scripts shaping sexual interest. As daily crime report headlines attest, what sexual media promotes, children, teens, and adults may ‘buy into’ or be attracted to when it comes to sex.

What are the scripts porn invites its users to ‘buy into’? Is there reason for concern?

As a society, it’s perfectly reasonable to voice concerns regarding the kinds of sexual “scripts” and socialization children, teens, and adults may encounter online. Indeed, society’s collective well-being depends, in large measure, on the life scripts we all learn and choose to adopt. This is not to say that any of us are merely the products of our environment, but there’s little disagreement that careful attention to child nurturing and caution concerning socialization, sexual or otherwise, provides a healthy pathway from adolescence to adulthood.

In studying religious teenagers, for example, scholar Kenda Creasy Dean found that those who were less likely to engage in “high-risk behavior” and who were “the most positive, healthy, hopeful, and self-aware” were heavily influenced by “religiously articulate adults.” The life scripts learned from “the rich relational soil of families, congregations, and mentor relationships” provided models for young people to “see what faithful lives look like, and encounter the people who love them enacting a larger story of divine care and hope.”

By contrast, what relationship models and sexual scripts do children discover when confronted by gratuitous forms of pornography?

Studying the effects of prolonged consumption of pornography on family values, Zillman and Bryant found that, in contrast to a control group, young adults exposed to pornography were less likely to consider marriage an essential institution and had less desire to have children; they were more likely to view male and female promiscuity as natural and to accept “male dominance and female servitude.”

Far from “rich relational soil,” porn’s sexually explicit scripts train viewers to focus solely (even obsess) on the physical gratification of sexual experience, altogether ignoring relational regard, respect, or ethics, as well as the emotional, psychological, and yes, spiritual elements of human sexuality. Porn scripts its users for eroticism, objectification, promiscuity, and misogyny, altogether denying the humanity of sexual intimacy.

Pornography presents and caters to a one-dimensional, me-focused sexual experience. In these scripts, the rich, fully realized view of others and of the self is too often lost completely. Porn is myopic about personal gratification, obsessed with it, without regard to enriching and bonding relationships through sexual caring and commitment.

Porn doesn’t regard or script for relationship attachment, genuine connection, or committed caring for each other. Instead of fidelity, users often encounter scripts of promiscuity. Such scripts don’t inconvenience physical gratification with relational boundaries, constraints, or consequences—absent is the inter-personal accountability so central to sustainable real-life relationships.

In place of true intimacy, pornography scripts for objectification and sexualization of others—viewing the other (and oneself) not as a person but as a series of sexual parts and triggers. Along the way, as some porn users dehumanize one another and real-life relationships inevitably suffer, misogyny—a dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women—can creep in.

When it comes to our children’s education, eroticism, objectification, promiscuity, and misogyny are unlikely on any parent’s list of ideal lessons for sexual wholeness and well-being. These scripts are no better for adults’ sexual wholeness and well-being, either. Stable marriages depend in part on the biological, emotional, relationship, and spiritual bonding experience that sexual union can contribute to. The very biological dimensions of sex include what scholars call our “cuddle chemicals,” released following sexual experiences, that promote couple bonding. Pornographic material works hard to turn attention away from such attachment bonding and commitment.

From this flows another, indirect harm to children. Stable marriages support stable families, and children need families. Human children, unlike other offspring, need upwards of twenty years or more to grow, develop, and reach maturity. So a durable, reliable parental support system and family training ground, there for the long-haul of family life, is vital.

Sexuality focused on the couple relationship and secure attachment supports the couple bond, and the couple bond in turn helps sustain family life. Sexuality is biologically designed to support couple attachment, yet pornography is more often all-in on diverting attention away from and dangerously undercutting the connection of sexuality to attachment bonding. Porn’s scripts neither educate or socialize us toward bonding and commitment.

Because we care about marriage and family—the very fabric of society and a fulfilling life rich with meaningful connection—we must also care about the kind of sexual education children receive. To the degree porn threatens sexual wholeness and well-being and weakens the relationship fabric of our lives and society, it’s not irrational to see the ease and frequency with which children now access online pornography as a serious public health issue.

We ignore at our peril the kind of anti-relationship sexual education that porn promotes to children, teens, and adults. In addition to the deeply concerning social science regarding exposure to pornography—by children, teens, or adults—common-sense suggests that we can and should seek greater enforcement and retooling of laws already on the books designed to keep porn away from children in an age of cellphones and easy online access.

When the relationship education of our children suffers, and when porn’s scripts erode vital human connections, commitments, and ethics, our social fabric starts to fray. Sound, research-based policies, coupled with vigilant parenting and other social safeguards, and combined with positive relationship socialization can hopefully help to foster healthy sexual ideals, improving the well-being of youths and mending the tapestry of our shared future.

Mark Butler, Hal Boyd, and Julie Haupt are professors in Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life. Jacob Gossner is an undergraduate student at BYU and Daniel Hilton is a graduate student at Indiana Wesleyan University.