Republican Rep. Laurie Schlegel says she never saw herself running for public office. Yet, just a couple of years into her first term in the Lousiana House of Representatives, she is recognized as one of the most effective legislators in the state — possibly the nation — for passing a popular law that protects children from viewing onscreen sex.
In the past, Schlegel’s husband encouraged her to join political races, but she told The Federalist she always “shut it down.” She is a busy mother, counselor, and community member who, until recently, never wanted to run a campaign.
“My husband is a judge here and so I never thought I would also enter into elected office. There was already one in the family, so it just wasn’t something that was on my radar,” Schlegel explained.
When a state House position opened after the Republican representative for Louisiana’s 82nd District abruptly resigned in January 2021, however, Schlegel decided to throw her hat in the ring.
“It just sort of felt right. I had to make a very quick decision. He resigned in January, and the election was going to be in March,” Schlegel said.
She won the seat with nearly 3,000 votes. By May 2021, Schlegel was officially a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. One of her first orders of business was cracking down on the porn industry’s grip on Pelican State children.
For almost a century, judicial precedents and legislative inaction have allowed the most horrifying sexual content to be easily accessible today to anyone, of any age. The kind of pornography kids can see includes torture, violence, degrading treatment, and all other manner of psychologically damaging material. In addition, as Fight The New Drug points out, “Today, porn sites receive more website traffic in the U.S. than Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Pinterest, and LinkedIn combined.”
Schlegel decided to take this situation head-on.
“We as a society have accepted certain behaviors need to be age-restricted — alcohol, gaming, [in-store] pornography — and so it’s very consistent with public policy to actually protect children,” Schlegel told The Federalist.
Not Your Daddy’s Playboy
Schlegel didn’t run for the legislature intending to challenge the multibillion-dollar porn industry. Yet just a few months into her term, she started working to legally shield children from the distortion of intimacy depicted in X-rated videos.
“Every single day porn websites are allowing minors to enter into their sites with actually no safeguards,” Schlegel said.
These videos, Schlegel said, are “not your daddy’s Playboy” but “hardcore pornography” that is proven to negatively affect adolescents’ sexual and mental development. Thanks to ubiquitous, internet-connected cell phones and tablets, the average first age of exposure to porn has dropped to 11 years old, with some kids encountering it as young as 7.
“What they’re seeing … is violence masquerading as sex. A lot of the research shows that 90 percent of the leading pornography scenes are aggressive towards women. That’s what little kids are seeing,” Schlegel said.
Premature introduction to explicit content that frequently romanticizes incest, rape, and other sexual horrors is linked to myriad mental and sexual disorders, as well as “low mood, melancholy, lower self-esteem, and decreased appetite.”
As a practicing licensed counselor and certified sex addiction therapist, Schlegel is all too familiar with the damage porn does to minds, bodies, and souls. She’s spent years treating clients who struggle with rampant porn addictions and “compulsive sexual behavior,” an uncontrolled hyper-fixation on indulging sexual fantasies and impulses that stemmed from prolonged interactions with visual sexual content.
If adults can become scarred from repeated exposure to onscreen sex, the havoc porn can wreak on children, who lack the cognitive function to contextualize it, is immeasurable. Despite the dangers porn poses, kids are increasingly exposed to it early in life.
“Once you really fully know the gravity of the situation and what kids are seeing online and how it’s impacting them, we can’t just sit back and just do nothing,” Schlegel said.
Schlegel’s professional life wasn’t the only thing pulling her to rein in the porn industry. On a personal level, Schlegel has a “heart for children” and sees her role as a mother as her “highest calling.”
“I do feel like our responsibility as adults is to help raise up the next generation to be well-functioning, adjusted adults. That’s why I’m super passionate about things around kids,” Schlegel said.
Before Schlegel filed her bill aimed at curbing the porn industry, she sought to educate her colleagues on how “pervasive and invasive” onscreen sex is among minors.
She brought world-renowned sociologist Dr. Gail Dines, a “leading anti-porn scholar,” into the state legislature to give a webinar on the harms of porn. The event, hosted by the body’s women’s caucus, attracted male and female Democrat and Republican legislators. They learned how exposure to sexually explicit material tanks mental health and normalizes dangerous, degrading, and predatory bedroom behavior.
“It’s not just an opinion, it’s not just a moral perspective, it’s actually a harms-based perspective where peer-reviewed research conclusively shows it’s harmful to children,” Schlegel said. “I think once you really fully grasp that, just like the body did, you have to do something.”
Do something they did. Once she established that age verification technology was available and, with the help of several constitutional attorneys, determined it legally possible to mandate it, Schlegel pitched House Bill 142. It requires websites with at least 33.3 percent pornographic material to confirm users are older than 18 before granting them access to the full site.
Schlegel’s hard work gained her bill the sponsorship of nearly 50 bipartisan colleagues. The bill was rewarded with a nearly unanimous vote in the House and a unanimous vote in the Senate and eagerly signed by the state’s Democrat governor.
It’s difficult to determine the ages of the people who made up the bulk of porn site visits in the state, but once Schlegel’s law went into effect in January 2022, traffic on sex-selling websites in Louisiana fell 80 percent.
“I’ve gotten a lot of really great feedback,” Schlegel said. “People even disclosing how they’ve been watching [porn] since they were a little kid and how they have been struggling and they wish they would have had something a safeguard them when they were younger.”
It wasn’t long before Schlegel led the charge to pass another bill, HB-77, which emboldened the state’s attorney general to investigate and fine any websites that failed to comply with her first law.
“I went through with the legislature and I actually copied down titles of the videos that were on the landing page of one of the noncompliant pornography sites. Most of the descriptions are about having sex with teens and incest,” Schlegel said. “These things are not normal and natural. And that’s what a young mind is viewing.”
Schlegel faced criticism from porn providers who claimed the law overstepped the Consitution, but she stood her ground. She said her legislation was solely rooted in her “desire to do right by our children,” not impose her Christian faith or restrict adults’ behavior.
“My law is to protect children. It’s not to inhibit adults from their First Amendment right. I made sure I narrowly tailored this law to protect adults’ First Amendment rights and not make an unduly burdensome,” Schlegel said.
A Warm Welcome?
Schlegel’s legislation couldn’t have been introduced at a more perfect time.
In 2021, the nation’s loneliness epidemic reached new heights. Americans who had suffered two decades of rapid technology advances and years of government-mandated isolation were looking for stimulation and intimate connections. Many found solace with onscreen prostitutes working for industry giants like Pornhub.
In a country where 97 percent of children as young as 3 years old have home internet access, the rapid rise in traffic on porn sites was not comforting to parents or voters.
When Schlegel’s bills soared through her state legislature, it made safeguarding kids look easy to more than a dozen other states. They quickly took up her model for protecting children from the physical, mental, and emotional injuries posed by websites selling sex.
Schlegel did not intend to shop out her strategy to other states, but politicians all across the nation flocked to her phone to ask for advice about how to get their own protections against porn on the books. Some of these copycat laws fared better in legislatures and courts than others, but Schlegel said that was to be expected.
“I knew that there were going to be legal challenges because the porn industry is a multibillion-dollar industry that is highly unregulated,” she said. “And because of that, they’ve been so irresponsible.”
Court rulings on states’ laws have been what Schlegel calls a “mixed bag” and will likely eventually need to be decided by the Supreme Court, which hasn’t ruled on a porn case since the early 2000s.
“So much has changed since then,” Schlegel said. “There was no iPad, there was no iPhone back then. It wasn’t like we had little computers in our pockets that kids have today.”
In a way, Schlegel views the legal challenges and political hurdles facing other states on this issue as an encouragement.
“When you see an issue and Republicans and Democrats are joining together, it means it’s a big issue,” Schlegel said. “And I think you’re seeing that around protecting kids online, whether it’s in our country and other countries. I’m very grateful that this has become a national discussion.”