we_the_people

By Geoff Openshaw

I’m no moral relativist, but I do support the rights of others to do whatever the heck they want, so long as it doesn’t affect me. You want to smoke weed in your own home? Knock yourself out. You want to watch pornography? Have a ball. I don’t agree with any of these things on a personal level, but when it comes to the marvel that is free agency, which we Mormons believe is basically the greatest gift we have save the Atonement itself, I believe we have to roll with the upsides and downsides.

But porn goes beyond simply living in its own confided world, not affecting anyone who does not seek it. Please. It permeates our society, and the problem is that addiction continues to escalate. Pornography¬†skews the way people are supposed to view sex. I’m not saying we need to approach sex with puritanical zeal. Do whatever the heck you and your partner want, but don’t let something as unrealistic and ridiculous as pornography change what you expect from the experience of sexual intimacy. Whether you are religious or irreligious, the effects of porn are frighteningly real.

Pornography education website¬†Fight the New Drug argues that, “Men interviewed reported that after many hours looking at porn, they found themselves willing to look at things they would have previously found disturbing, including bestiality, group sex, hard-core S&M, genital torture, child pornography.”

That said, I don’t want to take away your perceived right to view pornography. I do believe it is one of society’s great ills, but since God gave me the liberty to choose not to watch porn and advocate against it, he also gave you the liberty to seek it out as much as you like, and I honor your freedom to do that.

I do, however, agree that the time has come to require ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to make porn a so-called “opt-in” feature. What does this mean? It means that a simple Google search for _________ will (ideally) result in nothing on its own. Porn will be blocked from view. Currently, as things stand, it’s a free-for-all. I don’t encourage anyone to do a search on Google for lascivious stuff, but this isn’t merely confided to web results. Images, video – whatever you want – are all right there in plain view.

So if you want your porn, under the idea of opting in, you would merely have to contact your ISP to unblock it. Is that so difficult? I really don’t think it is, and it could help many people and society as a whole if we pursued this agenda. The amoralists of Great Britain, the country that readily shows naked chicks in its publicly-available tabloids, have actually pushed through legislation that will block porn by default. Iceland is seriously considering similar legislation. If they can recognize that 1) Porn actually causes problems at a societal level; 2) Blocking porn by default doesn’t make it unavailable in its entirety; then why can’t those of us in the United States pull it off?

You might argue that it is the responsibility of parents to censor their internet, and normally I would agree with you. But parents often suck. And as electronic devices become increasingly varied, it likewise becomes increasingly difficult for parents to police everything going on on every screen with every child. I’m not saying parents should shirk their responsibility, but they need help. Also purchasable internet filters are, to say the least, buggy, slow, and easy to bypass. ISP filtering isn’t as clean as a search engine provider simply limiting results, but works at a deeper, root level as opposed to aftermarket filters.

There is a petition going around about opt-in pornography at We the People, the public’s gateway to White House petitioning. The site is not without its faults, but so goes democracy. (And without it, we wouldn’t have had last year’s petition to build a functional Death Star in the name of job creation and galactic order.) But this petition, which still needs 61,000 signatures over the next few days, would require an official response from the White House regarding the proposal to make porn an opt-in-only feature in the Internet. Sign it, would you? Take part in democracy in action and let your voice be heard. Even for those of you who love your porn, how will this limit you in any way other than the hassle and/or embarrassment of calling up your ISP and telling them to open the floodgates?

Now the most difficult issue in all of this is how we actually label and categorize porn. Many call opt-in porn a bad idea because of the perceived vagueness about how we actually define pornography. That is a totally fair concern. After all, are exposed breasts in and of themselves pornography? If so, goodbye art gallery websites and National Geographic. Or what of Netflix and other streaming services? Simulated sex in R- and NC-17-rated films stimulates the senses in the same way actual sex does, but it’s still not real. Indeed, there is plenty of murkiness to go around.

Others might feel that letting the government intrude upon the freedom of the internet is the first step away from freedom. That might be true. I’m no NSA lover, but there are surely sensible, non-cynical ways of approaching this.

Another approach, though, could be to require porn to go through a different port. That could differentiate pornography from other forms of web content without making ISPs get involved.

But I see some ways to draw a line in the sand, or at least have a place to commence:

  1. Start by defining pornography – at least for now – as visual depictions (photo or video) of unsimulated sexual acts involving humans. It doesn’t matter where in the spectrum this falls. If it’s real, it’s porn.
  2. Change the recently-unlocked .xxx top-level domain from voluntary to required for all porn sites.
  3. Automatically assign all .xxx domains to the porn blacklist. This is easier for organization for both the government and ISPs.

Will that solve every problem? Certainly not. With that plan, you’ll still be able to find nudity in various forms. And there will be those who will want to pursue further legislation in the opt-in pornography arena, but isn’t that a reasonable place to start?

I’m the last person who wants to deny someone freedom of expression or the right to access whatever sort of material he or she chooses. I argue vociferously for Internet freedom. But with opt-in pornography, do you really think that the porn industry is going to lose subscribers? Are people just going to give up on seeking it out? Please. Hardly. So while we debate the moral tenets of pornography in America, why not take the bold step of making opt-in pornography law? Porn lovers will not be hurt by this, but those against pornography can be placated a bit while we sort out the rest.

Let me reiterate. My definition of healthy sex and morality is different from yours, and that’s OK. But science alone has shown that pornography addiction is as chemical as alcohol addiction. Regardless of where you stand in the fight against or acceptance of pornography itself, sign the petition to raise awareness about the importance of requiring opt-in pornography in the United States. We can have freedom of speech as well as common decency. The two are not mutually exclusive.