pornbanned

If Internet Porn Is A Problem, Is Censorship The Answer?

Photo courtesy of Sam Wolff via Wikimedia Commons.

Pornography is lucrative, widespread, and makes up an enormous chunk of the Internet. How do we reconcile this ultra-common form of adult entertainment with the industry’s pitfalls, and the resulting issue of censorship?

Everyone knows that “the Internet is for porn,” and not because there is a song about it. The only surprising aspect about the fact that pornography accounts for 30% of all Internet data is that this figure isn’t more surprising.

Other porn statistics only serve to support the notion that pornography is a pervasive and normalized, if not essentially normal, especially on the world wide web. For example:

  • Research shows that about 70% of men watch porn, as do 30% of women
  • 12% of websites are pornographic (4.2 million)
  • 25% of search engine requests are pornography-related (about 68 million)
  • 10% of adults admit to online porn addictions
  • Every second, $3,075.64 is spent on pornography
  • Porn websites have more unique monthly visitors than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter put together

Problems with pornography

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Photo courtesy of Michael Homan via Flickr.

From one angle, people and countries of conservative ideologies condemn and stigmatize pornography as morally corrupt; from another, some liberals of a feminist perspective recognize its potential to harm women and children.

There are a number of problematic findings that corroborate these concerns:

  • 88.2% of top-rated porn scenes contain aggressive acts
  • As part of a larger sex industry, pornography has links to sex trafficking, prostitution, and child pornography
  • One study (pdf) shows that after viewing pornography, both men and women were more likely to demonstrate aggressive behavior against the opposite sex; another found young viewers to be more likely to perpetrate assault; another found it decreased empathy for rape victims
  • 20% of Internet pornography involves children; an annual $3 billion industry which has increased by 1500% since 1988
  • The most common search term globally is “teen” porn

Many argue that these statistics serve to endorse subordination of women, sexualize minors, encourage sexual violence, and harm male consumers as well by severely altering their perception of sex.

But others say pornography is less the cause, and more the symptom of sexual deviance, with other studies finding no negative effects of porn use. Most agree that pornography is a right protected constitutionally.

In the Czech Republic, one study showed that after legalization, there was no increase in sexual violence, and a decrease in sex crimes against children, with researchers hypothesizing that the availability of child pornography served as a substitute for potential offenders. Denmark and Japan saw a similar decline.

A better example might be India, which despite bans on pornography distribution, has seen a brutal rape epidemic in recent years. In contrast, rape in the United States has declined by 85% in the last 25 years, amidst increased access to pornography.

Bans, censorship, and regulation

Typically, bans and censorships of pornographic content occur in nations subject to strict laws and limited rights.

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Map and legend from Wikimedia Commons.

The above demonstrates in red where all pornography is illegal, notably including China, the Middle East, and northern Africa. The second map shows in green countries in which child pornography is legal.

Despite the relationship between conservative politics and porn bans, liberal trailblazer Iceland proposed a ban on Internet porn in 2013. By this law, pornography would be defined specifically as violent or degrading sexual content, the Guardian says.

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Illustration by Berndt via Wikimedia Commons.

Other countries are vying for opt-in systems (where in order to view pornography on a server, a person must opt-in with their provider) in the interest of protecting children. The idea has been floated in Canada and took effect in the U.K. in January 2014, despite arguments from ISPs and anti-censorship advocates.

The Guardian argues that opt-in software will further the government’s already extensive tracking abilities, and that companies and politicians have no business blocking and filtering information.

This is a question that will likely continue to surface in coming years; a vital concern of Internet rights muddied by the criminally and socially problematic aspects of pornography which remain subject to critical debate.

Jennifer Markert