Why We Should be Opting Out of Opt-In Porn

This week in “get yer filthy paws offof our interwebs”…

Here is a thing I literally do not understand: how are people who do not understand the internet allowed to control legislation about the internet? HOW IS THIS A THING THAT HAS HAPPENED?!  Internet users aren’t exactly a niche gathering anymore: gone are the days of IRC and hamsterdance, Facebook is the biggest country in the world, and the INFORMATION SUPER HIGHWAY isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Is it too much to ask to have someone in charge of this stuff who has at least a vague grounding in internet technology, terminology and memes?

Anyway.

The old issue of whether we should block porn on the internet is rearing its ugly, engorged head again this month.

A group of 60 MPs has published a report saying that internet users in the UK should have to opt-in in order to access pornography online.  The campaign’s being spearheaded by Conservative MP Claire Perry – witness my lack of surprise – who has been going on about this for yonks now. Since 2010, in fact, if you’re the sort of dull, over-zealous person like me who followed the original parliamentary debate. It’s always nice to have a chance to dig these things out again and view them through the rosy tint of nostalgia.

The report found that “freedom from prying eyes, human imagination and zero barriers to entry have led to an explosion of pornographic creativity with every possible sexual act represented online including many that are deeply degrading, disturbing and violent”, and that the current system of parental filters is failing because “only a minority of parents use these filters and this number is falling.”

Let’s leave aside for now the frankly miserable implication that freedom, human imagination, zero barriers and creativity are a bad thing, and look at the reasons why porn blocking as a default is A VERY SILLY AND TERRIBLE IDEA.

We’ll start with the most bleeding obvious.

No one’s going to want to opt in!

Perhaps you, as an adult, have decided that you do want to receive adult content. That’s cool, it’s a personal choice! All you need to do first is phone up your ISP, spend half an hour in a telephone queue, and then have an awkward conversation with a member of their staff wherein you essentially beg them for access to porn. Perhaps you share your internet connection with some other adults; a spouse, flatmates? Ok, well the ISP will need to talk to the account holder, and if that isn’t you, you’re going to have to get someone else to phone up and beg for porn on your behalf. After that, your names going to be on the ISPs porn register. The Big List of People Who Are Considered Sexually Dubious, 2012.

…Yay?

If parents are so concerned about their precious little darlings, why aren’t they already using the filters offered by ISPs?!

I’m not a parent, so I can’t answer this. It sometimes seems like the moment you spew out a baby or two, you lose all rational decision-making ability. The technology is already available, should people want to use it.

Opening the door to further censorship

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think censorship is a bad thing, generally speaking, no matter how “moral” your motives may be. (We’ll leave aside for now the thorny problem of a small bunch of conservative-led MPs deciding what constitutes morality and what we should and shouldn’t be allowed to access freely). It’s all very well Western politicians outwardly condemning China (etc) for their internet censorship, but at the same time we’re seeing massive erosion of our online freedoms; from this week’s blocking of the Pirate Bay, to the numerous arrests because of activities on social media sites.

#bigbrotheriswatching

The most difficult – what constitutes pornography?

Is it art, or is it porn? What is porn, anyway?

Is this porn

Germaine Greer with her catflap out

Is this porn

The dirty pillows of Madonna

Is this porn

All the better to see you with my dear

Is this porn

Sexy.

Personally, I’m going to answer “no” to all of the above; your mileage may vary, YKINMK, etc.

Any filtering system would have to be semantically filtered according to keywords and image searches. Semantic filtering just isn’t doesn’t work that well yet; in the end, whether something is deemed “pornography” or not has to be a human decision – not to mention that the definition will differ wildly from one person to the next, depending on their levels of prudity.

Charlie (@sonniesedge) wrote a brilliant piece just over a year ago on why “pornblocking” ruling would have had devastating effect on her, growing up as a trans person. You can read it here. It’s one of a thousand “legitimate” reasons that a teenager or young person would have for accessing explicit content online; and that’s only if we assume that “exploring and coming to understand their sexuality” isn’t a legitimate reason, which, personally, I…kind of think it is?!

I’ll explain how a ruling like this would have affected me personally, growing up as a teenager. It won’t be as chilling or as vital a read as Charlie’s piece; a bit of censorship certainly wouldn’t have been fatal to me, but I would have turned out a very different person, and definitely not one as happy or comfortable with my own sexuality as I am.

One word: fanfiction.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment, whilst you judge me and leap to all the usual conclusions.  At least half of them will be reasonably correct.

Let me first clear up some myths: fanfiction isn’t about porn. Or, at least, it isn’t all about porn. And I have a lot more to say on this particular subject, which I’ll probably cover in a follow up post. For the purpose of this post, though, we will concentrate on the more sexually explicit side of things (Or “erotica”, if you prefer. I personally don’t, it reminds me too much of this sort of thing) since it’s the bit that’s relevant.

I think I started reading fanfiction when I was about 13 or 14, and nowhere near sexually active. My first ever ship was Rupert Giles/Jenny Calendar. It was a while until I discovered slash (fandom history! The term “ship” was first coined in X Files fandom; the term “slash” was first coined in Star Trek fandom. Anyway, I digress). Fanfiction was (and still is!) a safe space to explore my own sexuality, and discover the kaleidoscope of sexualities, genders and identities that are out there. It was many years before I’d hear the name Judith Butler, or even hear mention of ‘queer theory’, but when I did, it felt like coming home.

It also taught me some pretty good tips – the sort that the other, more popular girls in my year were picking up from More! magazine etc. I chose to avoid those types of magazines in favour of fictional pornography, and I’m glad; the negative body-image and degradation of women that these “officially sanctioned” items teach to young teenagers is far more destructive than the occasional glimpse of cock.

‘Guess Who’s Gone Under the Knife': my favourite Hasbro boardgame

The thing that people all-too-often forget, whilst they’re trying to protect their children from sex, is that children need to learn to understand sex. They have willy-wagglers and front-bottoms just like the rest of us, and the minute they hit puberty they’re going to want to start finding out what they can do with them. That shouldn’t be a verboten or disgusting or evil subject. Specifically banning things only makes them seem more tempting.

I’m not saying there isn’t stuff out there that isn’t dark and disturbing, stuff that I don’t want to see myself, let alone expose my (potential) kids to. But there’s stuff on the streets that is dark and disturbing, too. We should exercise the same precautions with the internet as we do out on the high street; keep a close eye on them, teach them them to be wary of strangers,  and hold their hands if they need it.

8 responses to “Why We Should be Opting Out of Opt-In Porn

  1. Just saying I love this post and 100%, totally agree with it! Glad someone says this shit! Yours truly, Nicola. :)

  2. You have a fair point… whilst child protection is a priority it should be the parents job and the adult world should not have to suffer. At the end of the day it always come down to the same point… children should not be on the internet unattended. It annoys me that a lot of people these days seem to think it’s ok for young children to have laptops and internet phones (i don’t even have an internet phone and I am 20) then moan the second they manage to see something explicit. The answer is simple… don’t let young children online unattended at a young age and teach them early on in life about sex and its function (obviously not all the details but that it is about respect etc). My parents were always very open and honest with me and so I have grown up knowing that porn is not representative of reality and that relationships don’t work that way and that porn is a fantasy. If all kids had such honest parents we wouldn’t need to worry about the potential ideas they could form should they somehow see explicit material because they would already have well rounded ideas of their own.

    Also, if you have to opt in… is this information to be kept strictly confidential or lost on a train somewhere. Professionals such as teachers may well view porn and that is their choice but it isn’t going to look good should someone find out that they have specifically opted for it… The implications for those who work with children in particular could be severe even though in the eyes of the law they are doing nothing wrong… I personally think that this point alone is reason enough not to go ahead with this idea and instead enforce responsible parenting!

  3. Quite right. Well said… :-)

    “When correctly viewed, everything is lewd…” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klME1mtuTOY

  4. As a mother, I find your comments wrong and ill-informed.

  5. A lot of good points but I’m not so sure on the responsible parents bit (also @jaime). Sure I’m a responsible parent – but others aren’t, it’s not an ideal world. I can’t keep my young child off school in case someone else takes in an iphone and shows her horrible woman hating porn images. Also, the point about opting in being awkward, well adults are adults and if they wan’t to watch porn, they should just be bloody grown-up enough about it to say so. If all adults were honest about it, it wouldn’t affect anyone’s job – not realistic I know but neither is saying that if all parents were…bla blah. Still undecided on this, don’t want to agree with a bunch of tories, but may arrive at same conclusions with different reasons.

    • I know it is super awkward and it is a shame that even when parents are responsible they still can’t guarantee their childrens safety against such images etc. It is also a good point that with total honesty jobs would not be effected but that is not the way society works… I wish it was. Either way there is going to be scandal. I just think that all measures need to be considered before any decision is made, including if the decision is passed then how such information is going to be dealt with and what is or isn’t going to be blocked. Maybe there should be various grades or something?
      Maybe there should be options with internet providers when you sign up rather than an opt in or out. Maybe like a super safe for those with children/ child environment. Moderate for those of us who don’t want a totally filtered internet (for example as an artist I may need to see images of a painted nude but don’t want to see derrogatory images) and then an open mode without filters. That way there is less of a feeling of obligation to ‘opt in’. If this was a piece of info that had to be given when signing up like your name or address… then hopefully there would be some level of universal safeguarding as I am sure most people would at least go for moderate if not safe.
      I’m not trying to attack parents in any way, it’s a difficult job, I just believe that making such drastic changes could have consequences that should be discussed and considered first.

  6. Reblogged this on live free range and commented:
    Brilliant post on online censorship. I couldn’t agree more.

  7. I would be nowhere if I didn’t have my blog. I write a sex blog, about my personal experiences with sex, life and anything that comes at me. It’s scary to think that at any point, the government could just come down on people like me like a tonne of bricks. :(

    Also, don’t be afraid of the word “erotica”! There’s good stuff out there! Not about… whatever that choose-your-own-adventure thing was about!

    xJillian

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