Many people believe that talking about – or worse, seeing – sex leads to the moral collapse of society, and that sexual content is responsible for all sex crime. There is an underlying assumption, fed by the tabloid press, that seeing sexual content is dangerous. However, the links between viewing sexual content and increase in sexual harm are tenuous at best, with many studies finding an inverse relation- ship: namely, that sex crimes go down as porn viewing and access to strip clubs go up. Though correlation does not necessarily equal causation, the fact that this myth is perpetuated despite these findings gives a strong indication of how society is manipulated by those with a ‘moral’ agenda to push – with potentially dangerous results.
The Potential Threat
The British government demonstrated just how deeply this myth has been embedded in society. In July 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the UK would be introducing opt-out porn filters, saying, ‘Many children are viewing online pornography and other damaging material at a very young age and the nature of that pornography is so extreme, it is distorting their view of sex and relationships.’
However, there is much evidence to suggest that the ‘threat’ of porn to ‘our children’ is actually vastly exaggerated. In an article for Times Education Supplement, Alice Hoyle says, ‘The EU Kids Online survey of 25,000 young people across Europe found that exposure to pornography – and the level of distress or harm caused by such exposure – was much less than anticipated.’ Many sex educators who work with teens are concerned about the ramifications of this decision. Historically, porn filters have blocked far more material than they are intended to – including sex education sites, LGBT sites, support networks and many other vital resources. Though Cameron did say, ‘We need to make sure that the filters do not – even unintentionally – restrict . . . helpful and often educational content,’ as yet, no solution has been offered.
This raises serious concerns about what will happen should someone search for useful resources – such as bishtraining.com’s guide to talking to teens about porn, or Scarleteen.com’s guide to negotiating consent – once the filter is in place? What will happen to all the LGBTQ teens – especially those who are unable to talk to their families about their sexuality – if they are blocked from accessing support groups online and consequently realizing they are normal? To paraphrase the tabloids: won’t somebody think of the children? Further, the negatives do not seem to be outweighed by the positives. As teen sex educator Justin Hancock says, ‘There is little reliable evidence to demonstrate that sexually explicit materials can be harmful to young people.’ Though porn is an easy scapegoat for all society’s ills, in reality it is a false target. Intolerance, power imbalance and a culture of silence about sex all help perpetuate sex crime, whether indirectly or directly. However, it is much easier to believe that we can stamp crime out by blocking access to sexual content than to realise we have to change many of our underlying societal beliefs.
There is plenty of evidence to show that banning porn does not stop sex crime. In a piece for Policymic.com, Anna Hogeland says, ‘In some countries (i.e. India) rapes are even more prevalent than porn-permitting nations. In the US, reported incidents of rape decreased by 85 per cent over 25 years in which [time] porn became more prevalent and accessible. The Atlantic Wire infers, “at best, there’s no clear relationship between banning porn and that country’s treatment of women and children. At worst, a ban on porn is perhaps harmful.”’ Yet, despite all the evidence proving otherwise, it is still commonly accepted that blocking access to sexual content is the pathway to a ‘better’ society. However, numerous IT specialists have detailed how abusers can easily avoid the ban using the ‘dark net’; and pointed out that censoring the internet will not protect children.
Talking to the Sydney Morning Herald about Iceland’s porn ban, Smari McCarthy, of free speech group the International Modern Media Institute, said, ‘It is technically impossible to do in a way that has the intended effect. And it has negative effects – everything from slowing down the internet to blocking content that is not meant to be blocked to generally opening up a can of worms regarding human rights issues, access to information and freedom of expression.’
Rather than looking at ways to block people from accessing porn, the money that would be used for such technical wizardry could instead be spent on devising ways to distribute free, age-appropriate sex and relationship education to all, thus arming everyone with the tools to defend themselves against sexual predators, and the information to create loving, respectful relationships. In that way, we could genuinely protect our children from the risks of the modern world and give them the tools to recognise, identify and protect themselves from coming to harm. While child abuse is a hideous crime, and we should do every- thing in our power to prevent it, blocking porn is not the answer – particularly when every parent already has access to web filter- ing software, pre-installed on computers for free, should they be worried about their child accessing age-inappropriate content.
Censorship protects no one, prohibition protects no one – and both of these points have been proved time and time again. As Maxine Holz says in Whatever Happened to the Sexual Revolution, ‘By deflecting fears from the real causes, moral panics exacerbate the anxieties they pretend to address. We need to focus our fear and anger on underlying economic and social problems and not on false targets.’
Extract taken with permission from Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Female Sexual Fantasy ($15, Black Lace). Get it at Amazon here.