Protect the Children!

This article talks about porn, sexual harassment and bullying. If you are uncomfortable with this, you probably shouldn't read it.

In the UK, porn websites will now have to verify that their users are over 18 - perhaps with credit card information. Plenty of people are hailing this as a good thing to protect our children, but frankly, I think it's going to be about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Firstly, there are a mind-boggling number of porn sites out there and more will spring up. The BBFC is not going to have the time or resources to block them all.

Secondly, not all porn is on sites dedicated to watching people fuck. I think I've gone to a dedicated porn site exactly once in my life, but I've still seen a lot of porn. How? Reddit and tumblr host a fair amount (including pornbots everywhere - spectate lecherous women online!). Snapchat too. Twitter used to be full of pornbots. DeviantArt has been around forever, but has a ton of drawn images and directions on where to get more. And while I'm listing sites, I should probably point out that erotic literature is huge online. Trying to verify the ages of all users on these sites is pretty much impossible.

Finally, people really like wanking. Even if age verification worked perfectly on every porn and social media site, people would find ways around it - in fact, they already do! People are lazy and like free porn, and you need very little technical knowledge to get around the kind of verification the UK government wants. It'd be a doddle for a horny teenager. Since the filter is intended to be in place by April 2018 (which I doubt is going to happen), that also gives people plenty of time to fill up a hard drive with porn.

Let me put it this way: you could destroy the entire internet and people would still find ways to make and share porn. Erotic depictions go back to the Paleolithic era.

I am not saying that it is impossible for porn or porn use to be problematic. I am saying that it is pretty much impossible to stop people under 18 from stumbling across or seeking out porn, so they should be armed with knowledge about sex, consent and healthy relationships before they start seeing it.

This leads not-so-nicely into what I was going to write about before I got distracted.

Many adults support these measures because they want to protect children. They are concerned about how porn affects the way young people see sex and relationships. Many of them are especially concerned about girls growing up in an environment where sexual harassment is normalised - as it was when I was a teenager and as it sadly still is. And many of them are making things worse.

You could quite reasonably ask how in the seven hells I got to that conclusion, given that I'm against age verification and given that I acknowledge that young people will see porn. As an adult, that's pretty negligent of me.

If I were looking after a child or teenager, it would be negligent (and I'd probably be stricter if I were directly responsible for that child or teenager), but I'm not directly responsible for anyone's welfare except my own right now. I also don't feel like indirect responsibility means I should support something staggeringly ineffective, but that's besides the point.

We as a society have some incredibly fucked-up attitudes to sex. We try and use it to sell everything, but heaven forbid you actually have some or you're a slut. And don't even think about wearing revealing clothes, or you're slutty too. But don't cover yourself up like that and maybe actually go out and get laid, you loser. Oh, and by the way, here's a list of pre-approved sex positions that aren't too boring but also aren't that freaky gross shit. It's about having just the right amount of sex in just the right ways for fear of being shamed as a filthy pervert or a prude.

This is an overarching problem. It's not limited to porn. It's in our books, our music, our films and TV shows. It replicates itself on social media and crops up in our most intimate relationships. Parents pass it on to their children, who pass it on to their peers, who grow up and are hurt over and over again because of it.

And yes, it crops up in support for these new laws.

This morning, I read an article about why age verification laws are a good thing, because I'm not uncritical of porn. I found a load of authoritarian nonsense wrapped up in the desire to protect children. That article hurt children.

It hurt children by implying that accidentally stumbling across porn was going to "taint" them in some way. At first, I was irritated: stumbling across porn ultimately didn't have that much of an adverse effect on my development when compared to things like bullying or social isolation. Then I noticed that the article had some horrid undercurrents of victim-blaming: if a child sees porn, they will somehow be defiled or dirtied.

I've spoken about this before, but as a young teen I was sexually harassed and groped in public multiple times. One of the things that stopped me from talking to someone about it was that I felt dirty and I thought adults would blame me for my dirtiness (my peers were already blaming me). I'm fairly sure my parents didn't talk to me about it because they thought that educating me about sexual harassment would have made me less innocent - would have dirtied me.

It took me many, many years of therapy and education to realise that I wasn't dirty or defiled or to blame, and that it was the perpetrator's fault for treating me that way rather than my fault for throwing away my innocence. How many young people who stumble across porn by accident, or seek it out, or have it shown to them, are going to search for the resources I did or have access to good mental health care? Depending on how old they are, some might not even have the words for it.

Instead, I think that young people who have been exposed to porn, consensually or not, and who read articles which imply that they are somehow dirtier for having been exposed to it, will be hurt in very real and deep ways by the people who are trying to help them. They will feel like they have to hide something rather than being able to talk about porn, sex and relationships with someone they can trust. That will absolutely not help them to develop healthy ideas about sex and relationships - it will perpetuate our absolutely horrid attitudes towards them.

If you want to protect children, don't shame them for being exposed to something that they're going to stumble across. Teach them about consent, relationships and safer sex - and yes, about porn too and how it's not like real sex. Let them know that they're not dirty and that they shouldn't be pressured into acting in certain ways. Give children the tools to protect themselves.