Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Won't somebody please think of the children?

Along with a few other bloggers, yesterday evening I (briefly) attended the Sex & Censorship speakers' panel event (part of the XBIZ EU conference). There's plenty to chew over and certainly a lot to take in and let marinate. I thought the stuff being touched on was fascinating, but that's the problem: it was touched on. @HarperEliot tweeted that she felt it "skimmed the surface", which I suppose is fair, considering how short it was (one hour for four speakers, plus two via videos, plus plenary) and the amount of information that may have had to be left out due to that very short time.

Nevertheless, as I said, a lot of information, and worth attending, specifically since this part of the conference was free and incredibly important!

One thing I do take issue with, and that I'm going to mention here, is a comment made at the end of the event by an audience member (I can't remember his name, so I won't make an attempt to guess here, as I don't want to misquote); he mentioned the idea of fearmongering, but also added that "the real issue is child protection", and that "what we want is to stop children looking at pornography" (maybe those weren't the exact words, but something very similar).

I don't think that is the issue. There's a lot more to be said about the government's proposed filter on pornographic content online. Certainly the government is using the idea of child protection to propose such a thing (even if it is a ridiculous idea in practice, someone somewhere once thought the theory was sound), and a lot of it is about children - one point that was raised again and again was that responsibility for what children see should lie with their parents (and, to some small extent, I would add teachers there, such as during IT lessons, but I doubt porn is a big problem there). Fair enough.

But there's a lot to be said for other implications of the "porn panic". Adults can be anti-porn too (and there was a small anti-porn picket, so I hear, although it wasn't there when I turned up). How much is nature and how much is nurture, I can't be sure, but some have their own reasons, due to morality, religion, beliefs or upbringing to be against porn. Some mention rape, "extreme" fetishes or "over the line" sexual acts which could be harmful. And they are anti-porn because of it.

That's fine by me - the way I see it, I have my own views. I'm a white male socialist environmentalist vegetarian Christian from a middle-class atheist background and I'm very sex-positive and pro-porn. If you're OK with that, I'm OK with you: I just don't agree with you. Just don't try to filter out something because you think it's harmful, especially without proof that it is.

Whether the issue here is about children or adults, morals or ethics or just taste, I don't particularly agree with the comment that we want to stop children looking at pornography. I mean, really?

Okay, so I wouldn't give porn to a two-year-old. But I think there's a lot to be said for sexual expression, especially education, at a younger age - something, again, touched upon by the panel. It's widely said that sex-ed in British schools isn't particularly good. And, fair enough, it isn't. We need better sex-ed, and from a younger age (and not just one video in year 5, either). A lot of material isn't accessible until you're 18, but you can be legally married with children and having any amount of sex at age 16 and still not able to watch porn because it's rated 18 or R18. This is confusing.

Something else: children who want to watch porn will find it. Whether they should or not isn't particularly relevant here... they will! My first sexual feelings (after I knew they were sexual; I'd had these feelings before but I didn't know they were sexual) came from watching soft porn when I was 12. Soft porn isn't as easy to access as it used to be, even on Sky TV (which used to be where you'd find it; my gran had cable, hence my fill); it is, however, easy to find free porn online. Here's some. And here's some more. And here's some softcore. Some people find magazines. Some people have DVDs. Porn is there, you can find it if you look in the right places, and that is why we need education, knowledge and better understanding rather than a universal block!

And better porn, actually.

Personally, I don't want to "stop" children looking at porn. It's not something I want to crusade against... but I'm just not going to go around handing porn out to children. That's not what sex-positive people do, believe it or not.

Undeniably, there is an issue here, and an important one. A very important one. But it can't be simplified down. Children, adults, pro-, anti-, religious, feminist, misogynist, in the industry... whoever, whatever, wherever. This is an issue that has the potential to affect us all. It's not simple so far, and it's not going to get any simpler. And specifically not to a couple of sentences that I'm not sure I agree with!

Here's a first step, though: try signing the petition, if you haven't already. One more voice and it's making a difference.

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