On Monday 22 July David Cameron announced that every household in Britain will be forced to declare whether or not they wish to be able to access online pornography. Internet service providers will contact users to give them an “unavoidable choice” on whether they wish to use filters which block pornographic websites.
The announcement sets out a list of admirable goals. Protecting children from the “corroding” influence of pornography; criminalising “rape porn” and violent pornography; aims which are hard to argue with. However, the plans are not beyond scrutiny. The proposed porn wall is both flimsy in its technical design and questionable in its representation of British society’s attitudes towards sex.
It is indisputable that pornography which depicts violence against women and rape should be confronted; the only real problem is defining the term “rape porn”. The concept of consent is a multi-layered one in pornography. Instead of simply asking whether all parties involved in the sexual act consented, it must also be asked whether all parties agreed to the recording and online public display of the act. The term “rape porn” is too vague, meaning that some content may slip through the net; and other more innocent content might become caught in it by accident.
The discussion needs to be far more specific. Confronting issues like pornography which displays the act of non-consenting sex – as well as “revenge porn” – is important and just, but without clarity and understanding the subject cannot be policed efficiently. The lack of clarity spreads further however, and affects the feasibility of the porn wall altogether. Technology experts are claiming that websites which provide sexual health advice, education and discussion may be blocked by the wall.
The very idea of this is unacceptable, the internet has become an integral part of modern sexuality and many websites exemplify how this can be a positive thing. A block on pornography which also blocks sexual education websites is a pointless exercise. The Conservative government would rather obliterate all sex from the internet than confront the genuine, individual issues. It is a lazy, repressive approach of a complex subject.
Additionally, people will still be able to access pornography. Piracy has shown the lengths that peoples are willing to go to in order to get what they want online. Attempts to shut down piracy websites have been met with failure. The porn wall will be the same; people will find a way around it. It doesn’t matter what the aims of this porn block are, if it blocks sexual education sites while simultaneously failing to do what it is supposed to, there is little point in its existence.
Therefore, surely it is more logical and feasible for the government to invest in a curriculum which expands and improves the nature of sex education. The crux of David Cameron’s argument is that porn is “corroding” children, but the fact remains that pornography is fundamentally unreal. If children are properly educated about the differences between porn and real life sexual relationships then children cannot be corrupted by it.
This proposal is based on the inductive argument that some porn is bad, therefore all porn must be bad. It is a sad indictment of our society that the government would rather invest in a system which will block an important part of modern sexuality than invest in educating children about healthy sexual relationships. As for the issue of “rape porn”, it is a topic which requires a lot more clarity and an entirely different form of policing which confronts the creators and perpetrators of such content, and provides support to those affected by it.