The U.K.’s New Porn Ban Is a Step Forward

The UK's porn ban is a step in the right direction to protect children around the world.
Mary Rose Somarriba completed a 2012 Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship on the connections between pornography and sex trafficking.

Did you hear the news this week that the United Kingdom is going to be blocking porn as soon as April? Huge, right? Well, sort of.

First of all, it’s not making all porn unaccessible; it’s only making porn unaccessible to minors. If you think that doesn’t sound new because it’s pretty much already required with the “I am over 18” checkboxes on websites, you’re right.

This will simply enforce that those age limits are verified, rather than letting 10 year-olds cruise through to explicit content with nothing more than a quick lie about their age.

What Britain’s move indicates is an awareness that, with online porn as it is, society can no longer get away with a simple legal defense of porn’s easy availability (“we aren’t liable if they say they’re 18 and older!”).

With the consequences of free online porn as they are today, we’ve reached a point where we need to stop turning a blind eye to how easily kids can access this content and actually protect their minds at such impressionable ages.

This comes after Welsh journalist Jon Ronson surveyed wide-ranging effects of porn in his recent podcast The Butterfly Effect. In an episode devoted to the effects on children, Ronson found that hard-core porn is the default for tons of middle-schoolers today. Even the porn producers know this, but they overlook it to go about their job.

In February, the New York Times Sunday Magazine published a story about American children who are taking Porn Literacy extracurriculars to re-learn healthy sexuality after being influenced to think what they watch in porn is normal. You know, like in real life, how women should not be choked in sexual encounters.

Reasonably, that same week, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat proposed, let’s ban porn.

“The belief that it should not be restricted is a mistake; the belief that it cannot be censored is a superstition,” Douthat writes. “That we cannot imagine such censorship is part of our larger inability to imagine any escape from the online world’s immersive power, even as we harbor growing doubts about its influence upon our psyches.”

Douthat admits online porn will probably always exist somewhere in the interwebs, but enacting restrictions that make it harder to find would “dramatically reduce its pedagogical role, its cultural normalcy, its power over libidos everywhere.”

Seen through this lens, Britain’s ban is a positive.

But of course, there are opponents. Jerry Barnett, the founder of campaign group Sex & Censorship, told WIRED in 2017 that the legislation would “fundamentally change the internet in the UK and possibly globally.”

That’s true — but when it comes to protecting kids’ healthy sexual development, isn’t that a good thing?

“Although this appears to be just about protecting children from porn, it isn’t,” Barnett asserts. “It will block any site that doesn’t comply with strict UK content rules.”

According to the legislation, the only sites that will be 100% blocked are the ones that don’t comply with the age-verification technology, and we’re kidding ourselves if we think porn companies can’t come up with the funds or ingenuity to do this.

It was entrepreneurs working for porn companies who invented the online credit-card processing system (this true story was adapted in the 2009 film Middle Men).

Today, the IT folks behind porn sites work in swanky offices for companies like MindGeek (which owns Pornhub) and perform A/B tests all day on what people click on faster to fine-tune their selection — to make the porn consumer’s next click all the faster. There are insanely smart, wealthy, and tech-savvy people.

And we’re talking about an industry that makes $97 billion globally; suffice it to say they can afford technology that verifies the age of consumers.

So it takes intentional ignorance of the real stakes to oppose Britain’s new law.

And we’re gambling with some pretty heavy stuff if we think porn should be as free and easily accessible to all as it is today. We’re gambling with children’s innocence, their freedom to grow into their sexuality without the toxic additives of porn, and even their psychological development that prepares them for the best chances at future healthy relationships.

Britain’s ban is a step in the right direction. Perhaps this move will empower other countries to take similar steps in protecting the world’s children.

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