Pornography is not the demon you are looking for

The digital economies bill tells people with “non conventional” sexual desires that they are lesser. Karen Pollock explores why this is an unacceptable step backwards in the treatment of  gender and sexual diversity.


Earlier this week the team who curate the Queerness got together to put down their thoughts about the future for LGBTQ people after Trumps election victory in the US. I was cautiously optimistic that we had less to worry about in the UK. Cautious optimism, a glass half full approach, is probably a good attitude to have when you are a counsellor. I need to be able to look at the world and say, it will get better. However it must always be tempered with realism, and the glass looks a little more empty after the passage of the Digital Economies Bill.

The Digital Economies Bill will make age verification of any content judged to be adult and for profit, mandatory, and ban any depiction of sex acts which are judged by the outdated BBFC to intend to corrupt. Corrupt is an interesting term weighty with  judgement, of acceptable sex only being sex between a cis man and a cis woman, lights out and thinking of England. It is not a medical term, a psychological term or a sociological term, instead it is a term straight from a certain mind-set, that looks down on specific groups.

If you are LGBTQ the judgement of your way of having sex as being morally wrong is never far from the surface. Sodomy was a crime based on an interpretation of the Bible. It was seen to be worthy of punishment by those with power. Thousands of men were criminalised because how they had sex was unacceptable. The digital economies bill says that whilst behind closed doors you can fist, or squirt, sit on someone’s face, or practice sado- masochism, you cannot watch those acts, because they are so corrupting you need to be protected from them. This is the State deciding that consenting adults need to be protected, for their own good, from seeing the queers and the kinksters. It says consent and enjoyment are irrelevant (another exceptionally worrying development). All that matters is that your sex be from a pre-approved list.

The idea that simply seeing an act is of itself harmful has frightening implications. If the only sex  deemed acceptable to view is the sex between cis men and cis women, without visible signs of pleasure from the woman, and without any BDSM content, then cis het people are being seen as more acceptable than queer people or kinksters. Now simply on film, but what is the next step here? If the state decides how you have sex is wrong in one arena how far are we from the state extending that disapproval?

Corrupt  is an interesting term weight with  judgement, of acceptable sex only being sex between a cis man and a cis woman, lights out and thinking of England

LGBTQ people are also aware that there are those who will use knowledge of their gender and/or sexuality against them. It used to be Government policy to refuse to employ queer people in certain roles because they were blackmail risks. It seems in an ironic twist of fate that now the state has decided that it is acceptable to put LGBTQ people, and others, at risk of blackmail, so long as they can make their objection to pornography clear. With the hacks on sites like Ashley Madison we know anyone’s data is simply a bored teenager’s mouse click away. Wikileaks has already outed LGBTQ people and rape victims in their data dumps. Despite the impossibility of keeping the data protected we are expected to trust porn providers with personal data. Of course the answer will come that you should not be looking at porn in the first place, showing that this is not about protection but about prohibition.

The digital economies bill says that whilst, behind closed doors you can fist, or squirt, sit on someones face, or practice sado- masochism, you cannot watch those acts, because they are so corrupting you need to be protected from them

These regulations have been pushed by those who disprove of pornography for moral reasons, cloaking themselves in the battle cry of “Will no one think of the children”. They have produced false stats, and whipped up a hysteria around the idea that people are changing behaviour because of what they see in porn. There is no evidence that large numbers of children are accessing porn, or that this has a detrimental effect. It is a circular argument that porn is bad, so if someone under 18 sees porn it will damage them. Of course content should be age appropriate, but that means discussion, considering what is appropriate, not blanket bans. Most of all it needs the consent based compulsory sex and relationship education which the government voted against earlier this year. You do not get to say you care about children when you refuse to give them the tools to protect themselves.

We should be having “real sex” say others, connecting with “real people” not watching someone have sex online say others. The myth of the internet turning us all into robots who do not know how to interact with each other is often thrown at pornography. If only people were not whacking off online to rude tube they would be climbing mountains, hiking through the lake district, invading African countries and planting the flag of the Empire. (Baden Powell believed the Scouts would be an excellent way to stop teenager boys masturbating, these prejudices are not new).

You know what the reality pre internet was for many people? Feeling afraid, feeling alone, feeling that no one in the world felt as they did. Pornography is only one corner of the internet of course, but it is not the demon it is painted to be by those with another agenda. Porn is, as Myles Jackman has said, the canary in the coalmine of free speech. It is also the way those with power show which groups are deemed to be acceptable and in receipt of state approval.

The myth of the internet turning us all into robots who do not know how to interact with each other is often thrown at pornography. If only people were not whacking off online to rude tube they would be climbing mountains, hiking through the lake district, invading African countries and planting the flag of the Empire.

I do not like porn (not that my personal opinion matters here). However I know that for many people, including many young people, that moment of recognition, of seeing that their desires are not wrong, or abnormal is a life saving moment. I work with people who have often spent many years suffering because they believe how they feel, the things they desire, are wrong. I can only hope that the young people out there, growing up in a world saying your desires are too shameful to be seen, know how to use a VPN, and find the world’s which show acceptance and respect.

Follow Karen on Twitter (counsellingkaz)

4 thoughts on “Pornography is not the demon you are looking for

  1. I have no moral objections to porn, and I get your point about how seeing one’s desires acted out can help a person feel better about those desires. I’d like to add another perspective, if I may. As a surrogate partner therapist, I’ve seen many young men whose sex lives have been ruined by porn. Growing up watching easily accessible online porn during their adolescence and beyond has shaped their neurology so that their sexual response is cued to unnatural stimuli (purely visual, high diversity, multiple women), thus resulting in them having secondary erectile dysfunction when presented with an actual partner (where there is not the same type of visual stimulation, and there is only one person present, rather than several scenes with multiple partners to view). I’ve only worked with heterosexual men so far, but I myself am bisexual and our practice is open to all genders & orientations — I’d imagine that gay/bi men probably encounter the same issue (but I don’t have anecdotal evidence of that). So my support of porn always comes with a caveat — be careful about the frequency of use, and don’t make the mistake of using porn every time you masturbate. It’s important to focus on the sensations in your body to keep your sexual response attuned to sensation and not just visual stimuli.

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    1. There is no scientific evidence to supprot the idea that watching porn changes brains, and a lot to support the idea unscrupulous “therapists” collude with the idea sexual behaviour isnt a choice, but somehow dictated by porn habits. Perhaps its actually the case that these men are turned on by group sex, and feel shame around admitting that

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      1. There is research supporting this, and a huge wealth of anecdotal evidence. See http://yourbrainonporn.com/research-articles-and-abstracts for more information. What I’m referring to is not group sex. It’s viewing multiple women in a serial fashion (clicking from one scene to the next, repeatedly, thus reinforcing the brain’s response to novelty). I’m not referring to sexual behavior — I’m referring to sexual response. I’ve helped many men recover from porn-induced secondary erectile dysfunction. These men have been able to achieve erections only when viewing porn, and not when with a partner. I’m not saying that porn is morally wrong, and my practice fully supports LGBTQ and is fetish-friendly (I’m bi, and our trauma therapist is trans and is a leading expert in sexuality and LGBTQ). I’m just saying that I’ve seen porn ruin so many lives that I’d like to see more education around how it can affect one’s sexual response, so that people can be educated consumers. Seeing firsthand the damage that porn can do has led me to be much more conservative in my support of porn.

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