updated 11/19/2004 9:57:02 AM ET 2004-11-19T14:57:02

Comparing pornography to heroin, researchers are calling on Congress to finance studies on “porn addiction” and launch a public health campaign about its dangers.

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Internet pornography is corrupting children and hooking adults into an addiction that threatens their jobs and families, a panel of anti-porn advocates told a hearing organized Thursday by Senator Sam Brownback, chairman of the Commerce subcommittee on science.

Mary Anne Layden, co-director of a sexual trauma program at the University of Pennsylvania, said pornography’s effect on the brain mirrors addiction to heroin or crack cocaine. She told of one patient, a business executive, who arrived at his office at 9 a.m. each day, logged onto Internet porn sites, and didn’t log off until 5 p.m.

Layden called for billboards and bus ads warning people to avoid pornography, strip clubs and prostitutes.

“We’re so afraid to talk about sex in our society that we really give carte blanche to the people who are producing this kind of material,” said James Weaver, a Virginia Tech professor who studies the impact of pornography.

Brownback, a Republican from Kansas and an outspoken Christian conservative who has championed efforts to curb indecency on television and the Internet, said the public is beginning to realize “they don’t just have to take it.”

But he acknowledged the First Amendment right to free speech has limited congressional efforts.

In June, the Supreme Court blocked a law designed to shield Web-surfing children from pornography, ruling that requiring adults to register or use access codes before viewing objectionable material would infringe on their rights.

Brownback said scientific data is needed to help his cause.

Weaver acknowledged that research “directly assessing the impact of pornography addiction on families and communities is rather limited.”

But he pointed to studies that show prolonged use of pornography leads to “sexual callousness, the erosion of family values and diminished sexual satisfaction.”

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