Easy Access to Online Pornography is a Generational Time Bomb

Posted on June 9, 2013

I’m no prude and have no desire to see online pornography outlawed but the ease with which kids can access it is a breeding ground for misogyny and a dereliction of our duty to  to show our children the value of love and respect in an increasingly sexualised world.

The recent sexually motivated murders of April Jones and Tia Sharpe have sharpened society’s focus on the evil of online paedophilia. The fact that both Mark Bridger and Stuart Hazell are known to have accessed images of abused children before committing their vile crimes has brought this hideous activity into the public eye. Today, David Cameron has called for “more action” from web companies to rid the internet of images of child sex abuse, ahead of a government meeting with company heads later this month. We can only hope that action is taken.

However, online pornography in general should also be in the spotlight. Not because of its content but because it falls into a gap that exists in the debate over what goes on between consenting adults, the right to view it and the ability of children to access it. Earlier this year, the MP Diane Abbott, someone I rarely agree with, warned that British culture is becoming increasingly ‘pornified’ and pressed for a national conversation between parents and children about sex, porn and technology to help redress the “anything goes” attitude to sex in Britain that marginalises families and degrades girls and women.

Once I would have dismissed Abbott’s concerns as prudish and politically opportunistic. However, now that I have three children of my own, and am much more aware of the challenges they face in the world we have created for them, I strongly agree with her. We have a widespread problem that is already producing serious consequences and that could, if we don’t act now, have a devastating effect in the years ahead.

I remember exactly what it was like to be a young boy grappling with a growing interest in the opposite sex. It was made all the more challenging, and hilarious, by being at a boys’ boarding school that did not admit girls until the sixth form. Girls were an exotic but alien species, and almost everything I knew about them was derived from conversations with older boys, fanciful speculation and the occasional glimpse of an adult magazine. But, critically, there was no over-riding preconception of what to expect from girls, other than my own overly keen interest and a little anxiety. Even when the girls did finally turn up in the sixth form we learnt, as they say, on the job. Our sexual education went hand in hand with our emotional development.

Contrast this with the experience of today’s children, who are not just surrounded by sexualised content on a day to day basis but can access explicit hard core pornography with ease. As parents, we assure ourselves that most of it is harmless and that we have the ability to temper the way it affects our kids by providing an emotional and intellectual backdrop to help put what they see in perspective. But this is simply no longer true. The exponential growth of hard core online porn and its proximity to our kids has completely out-paced the ability of parenting skills to counter it.

I encourage every parent to go online and look for pornography. Seriously. Whether you’ll be shocked or not by what you find is not the point. Why? Because you’re an adult and you have the ability to compare what you see against your own experience and to understand the concept of fantasy. But imagine you’re a young boy or girl viewing hard core sex for the first time and then consider the impact. This becomes your yardstick, your starting place and reference point for future sexual activity. This is happening everyday, for thousands of young boys and girls, and almost always without parental knowledge. As liberal as I am about adults and pornography and against censorship, I am the polar opposite when it comes to children viewing it.

As a father of two boys and a girl, the consequences of inaction fill me with fear for all of them. It is indisputable that the majority of porn is male orientated and the message to boys is often one dimensional – the woman is there for your pleasure irrespective of whether she will enjoy it. It might ‘only’ be fantasy, but it’s aimed at adults who understand this and can compare it against real experience and a mature moral framework. For a young boy or girl this fantasy is a potential template for their own sexual activity

It is a sad reality that the consequences for girls have always been and will continue to be far worse. With no recourse to previous experience combined with a current scarcity of strong female role models, pornography sets a terrible template. I find myself increasingly unable to shake the growing suspicion that young girls have been abandoned by many of the magazines and strong women that played such an important role in the fight for equality for their mothers and grandmothers. Submission and pandering to male fantasy appears to have become acceptable and even encouraged by the media. The culture of WAGs and vacuous celebrity has become all pervasive. I don’t have the statistical evidence to support it but working as I do in the ad industry I can personally vouch for the lack of sexually strong and self-determining females versus the ever constant virile male used in brand imagery.

I appreciate that, as a man, I am on difficult territory when commenting on female sexual liberation. I will never know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of persistent sexism or misogyny and am in no position to lecture any woman about it. However, I do know that I never want my sons to behave like that or for my daughter to feel threatened or oppressed, and that unless we do something about the accessibility of online porn to children we are actively encouraging it.

For a young person that has yet to reach emotional maturity, exposure to hard core pornographic material risks destroying the idea of sexual intimacy and trust as the basis of mutually beneficial relationships. The act of sex, an essential part of most loving, sharing and successful relationships, becomes defined in terms that are incompatible with emotional stability and represents a significant step backwards for female equality. Dismiss this at your peril because the facts speak for themselves. There is a wealth of evidence showing a significant increase in predatory sexual behaviour by boys and an equally worrying tendency of girls, willingly or otherwise, to accept it as part of the male condition.

This is not an argument about the morality of adult pornography or censorship. I have no problem with adults viewing whatever they want providing it’s consensual. This is about ease of access by emotionally under-developed and sexually curious young people who cannot put what they see into perspective. It is about ensuring that boys grow into men who respect women and treat them as the equals that they are. It’s about making sure that girls turn into strong, confident women who don’t feel pressured to conform to sexual stereotypes. It’s about decency, self-respect and humanity.

Successive governments on both sides of the Atlantic have shown little appetite to tackle this problem. We hear rhetoric and moral posturing, but no action. A few years ago, the new triple xxx domain (e.g. .xxx instead of .com) was introduced for online pornography. The rational was that if, as most liberals agree, sexually explicit material is fine for adults then it should appear on xxx domains that can be easily filtered for adult only viewing. These domains could still carry the same explicit content but it would allow parents to block access relatively easily on the devices used by their children. And what happened? Practically nothing. Hamstrung by concerns about restriction of trade lawsuits from pornographers, the triple xxx domain is voluntary. The predictable result is that less than 5% of the hundreds of millions of sexually explicit websites have adopted it. Which makes it pointless. The emotional and sexual wellbeing of our children has been relegated below the interests of commerce and adult convenience. It’s short-sighted and, frankly, shameful.

I also find myself increasingly frustrated by the argument that whatever barrier is put in place to restrict viewing by kids, some will find a way around it. Of course they will. Guns are illegal, Class A drugs are illegal but some people still use them. They are the minority. It’s the majority we’re trying to protect.

In the wake of numerous recent high profile murder and rape cases and the exposure of endemic predatory sexual behaviour by well known male celebrities in the 1970s and 80s, we have been handed the perfect opportunity to make a stand. Sex and pornography are topics of national debate and, as parents of the next generation, it is our duty to force the government into action whilst the issue is in the public eye. If we don’t, we are doing our children an huge disservice and will simply contribute to the further dulling of their sensibilities and their appreciation of how rich, personally fulfilling and precious it is to share true intimacy with someone you love. Do we really need to wait for even more evidence, more rapes and more murders before we act?

We would well to consider these words from Sir Hugh Walpole (1884 – 1941):

“The most wonderful of all things in life is the discovery of another human being with whom one’s relationship has a growing depth, beauty and joy as the years increase. This inner progressiveness of love between two human beings is a most marvellous thing; it cannot be found by looking for it or by passionately wishing for it. It is a sort of divine accident and the most wonderful of all things in life.”

Let’s not deny this most wonderful and important aspect of humanity to our children. We must act. Now.

What Others Are Saying

  1. Tracy Thomas June 12, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Everything in this article resonates with me Andy – like you, I once would have dismissed much of Abbott’s concerns as prudish and politically opportunistic.And also like you, I now have 3 children and I’m extremely aware of the horrors we have potentially unleashed on them. The scariest thing for me is the lack of bandwidth we have as parents when it comes to this stuff – as you say, “The exponential growth of online porn, the type of it and its proximity to our kids has completely out-paced the ability of parenting skills to counter it.” You only need to look at the boundaries of what’s acceptable in music videos and in terms of the behaviour of role models now to see it’s moving into mainstream. I need to take some action on this as I cannot believe we are walking blindly towards the obvious consequences of doing nothing, in the name of commerce, business and “freedom”.

  2. Tracy Thomas June 12, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Everything in this article resonates with me Andy – like you, I once would have dismissed much of Abbott’s concerns as prudish and politically opportunistic.And also like you, I now have 3 children and I’m extremely aware of the horrors we have potentially unleashed on them. The scariest thing for me is the lack of bandwidth we have as parents when it comes to this stuff – as you say, “The exponential growth of online porn, the type of it and its proximity to our kids has completely out-paced the ability of parenting skills to counter it.” You only need to look at the boundaries of what’s acceptable in music videos and in terms of the behaviour of role models now to see it’s moving into mainstream. I need to take some action on this as I cannot believe we are walking blindly towards the obvious consequences of doing nothing, in the name of commerce, business and “freedom”.

  3. James Warne June 16, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Well written Andy – and so true. When we were at aforementioned boarding school there were no computers, iPhones, iPods or iPads, all of which are prevalent in all our homes today I am sure. To see a naked lady we had to screw up our courage and walk into a newsagents and risk the humiliation of being “refused” when we tried to buy the latest magazine, a mag, I might add, that was incredibly tame compared to what is out there today. It is concerning that it is so hard to protect our kids from this. It’s a different time.

  4. James Warne June 16, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Well written Andy – and so true. When we were at aforementioned boarding school there were no computers, iPhones, iPods or iPads, all of which are prevalent in all our homes today I am sure. To see a naked lady we had to screw up our courage and walk into a newsagents and risk the humiliation of being “refused” when we tried to buy the latest magazine, a mag, I might add, that was incredibly tame compared to what is out there today. It is concerning that it is so hard to protect our kids from this. It’s a different time.

  5. Jason Willis June 17, 2013 at 4:56 am

    Nicely put Andy. I probably hadn’t considered it properly before reading your blog, but it certainly resonated. I vaguely remember the xxx web address. Making this obligatory would really go some way to help. Have you followed up with anyone in government?

    • Andy Wheatley June 17, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Hi Jason. By complete coincidence there was a superb article on the same subject in the Sunday Times yesterday that backed up my own fears with real stats. Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall but well worth a read if you can get hold of it online (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/newsreview/features/article1274103.ece). I’ve been in discussion with some other ad industry types about what we can do but I think there is enough momentum here in the UK now that a national paper has taken it on. We’ll see……

  6. Jason Willis June 17, 2013 at 4:56 am

    Nicely put Andy. I probably hadn’t considered it properly before reading your blog, but it certainly resonated. I vaguely remember the xxx web address. Making this obligatory would really go some way to help. Have you followed up with anyone in government?

    • Andy Wheatley June 17, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Hi Jason. By complete coincidence there was a superb article on the same subject in the Sunday Times yesterday that backed up my own fears with real stats. Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall but well worth a read if you can get hold of it online (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/newsreview/features/article1274103.ece). I’ve been in discussion with some other ad industry types about what we can do but I think there is enough momentum here in the UK now that a national paper has taken it on. We’ll see……

  7. Miles Guerrini October 10, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    The older my children get the more this dilemna kicks hard. Surely those insanely liberal ideologist that oppose web constaint and controls are either not parents or guided by financial investment.

    The world of our upbringing now seems innocent and shattered. We must fight back.

  8. Miles Guerrini October 10, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    The older my children get the more this dilemna kicks hard. Surely those insanely liberal ideologist that oppose web constaint and controls are either not parents or guided by financial investment.

    The world of our upbringing now seems innocent and shattered. We must fight back.

  9. Derrington February 11, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    As a woman, I find it increasingly inadequate to hear liberals talk about porn in terms of ‘consenting adults’. The industry is the media arm of the sex industry, and its workers interchange between filmed prostitution and client prostitution. The average age girls are entered into prostitution is 13 which is child abuse and their average life span is 34 years old. Coercion, kidnap and drug bait are all recognised recruiting aids and the industry is one of the main commissioners of slavery in the modern world. It is a world wide media that refers to its female workers in terms of gendered hate speech and frequently carries plot lines that show females and children coercing males into having sex with them that they then cry rape about. Having worked in the media for 20 years myself, this is propoganda … and if we had a world wide media that refered to a race in terms of hate speech and only showed them as prolific liars about crimes against them, we’d call that out as being dangerous. 2 in 3 girls in UK schools suffer sexist abuse, 1 in 3 suffer sexist violence. I have just had to move my 6 year old daughter from her primary school for a four month campaign of violence by a group of 6 boys in her class and the year above which included a sexual assault amongst other attacks. The headmaster protected the boys by describing their behaviour as rough play and put my daughter in a special needs class. What is special needs about not wanting to be punched, hit and called a bitch every day? Porn is not about consent, porn is about media promotion of gendered violence and the effects of this media and the adults that protect its broadcast and viewership are protecting the rights of people to view eroticised hate material that is every bit as dangerous to females and children as the Nazis broadcasting videos of concentration camps dressed as holiday camps. This tsunami of violence is happening right here, right now. Sexist violence in the home accounts for 1.2m women put in hospital every year and 170 carried out of their own homes in body bags. Sexist violence went from 235,000 in 2009/10 to 800,000 in 2013. The Government doesn’t record womens deaths at all, let alone investigating them to see if they were sexist in origin but given the amount of sexist bigotry in the UK’s media, I think it is about time this debate was had in the same way it has been about racism. No one can consent to the right of another to call people of their genre ‘bitch, whore, slut and all the other dehumanising generic references that porn uses towards women. You are what you eat … and the same rules applies to media which is why its meant to be in the hands of people with a responsible attitude. If you eat hatred every day, it begins to colour how you see the people your media of choice calls bitches just like a drip drip drip on your subconscious and you only have to look on line to see how, if you challenge a person to stop refering to you as bitch, how quickly the debate turns into verbal intimidation, threats of rape etc. Imagine how those arguments play out when the two people are in the same room.

  10. Derrington February 11, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    As a woman, I find it increasingly inadequate to hear liberals talk about porn in terms of ‘consenting adults’. The industry is the media arm of the sex industry, and its workers interchange between filmed prostitution and client prostitution. The average age girls are entered into prostitution is 13 which is child abuse and their average life span is 34 years old. Coercion, kidnap and drug bait are all recognised recruiting aids and the industry is one of the main commissioners of slavery in the modern world. It is a world wide media that refers to its female workers in terms of gendered hate speech and frequently carries plot lines that show females and children coercing males into having sex with them that they then cry rape about. Having worked in the media for 20 years myself, this is propoganda … and if we had a world wide media that refered to a race in terms of hate speech and only showed them as prolific liars about crimes against them, we’d call that out as being dangerous. 2 in 3 girls in UK schools suffer sexist abuse, 1 in 3 suffer sexist violence. I have just had to move my 6 year old daughter from her primary school for a four month campaign of violence by a group of 6 boys in her class and the year above which included a sexual assault amongst other attacks. The headmaster protected the boys by describing their behaviour as rough play and put my daughter in a special needs class. What is special needs about not wanting to be punched, hit and called a bitch every day? Porn is not about consent, porn is about media promotion of gendered violence and the effects of this media and the adults that protect its broadcast and viewership are protecting the rights of people to view eroticised hate material that is every bit as dangerous to females and children as the Nazis broadcasting videos of concentration camps dressed as holiday camps. This tsunami of violence is happening right here, right now. Sexist violence in the home accounts for 1.2m women put in hospital every year and 170 carried out of their own homes in body bags. Sexist violence went from 235,000 in 2009/10 to 800,000 in 2013. The Government doesn’t record womens deaths at all, let alone investigating them to see if they were sexist in origin but given the amount of sexist bigotry in the UK’s media, I think it is about time this debate was had in the same way it has been about racism. No one can consent to the right of another to call people of their genre ‘bitch, whore, slut and all the other dehumanising generic references that porn uses towards women. You are what you eat … and the same rules applies to media which is why its meant to be in the hands of people with a responsible attitude. If you eat hatred every day, it begins to colour how you see the people your media of choice calls bitches just like a drip drip drip on your subconscious and you only have to look on line to see how, if you challenge a person to stop refering to you as bitch, how quickly the debate turns into verbal intimidation, threats of rape etc. Imagine how those arguments play out when the two people are in the same room.

  11. Tamsin Crook February 11, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    This is a great article. As a mother of three boys, I am terrified of the potential impact of online porn. As you say, it is imperative to me that my boys grow up to be respectful of girls and women, and to have healthy, loving relationships. Even if we can control what is viewed in our own house, we can’t necessarily control what they see elsewhere. This is an interesting video that I saw recently which illustrates some of the points made by Derrington: http://www.viralnovelty.com/men-enjoying-watching-scantily-clad-women-discovered-dancing/. A bit more education about what goes on behind the scenes of pornography might make people slightly more aware and take a bit more personal responsibility for what they choose to watch.
    Good luck with your campaigning, Andy – will support you all the way.

    • Derrington February 11, 2014 at 8:52 pm

      http://antipornfeminists.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/footage-the-porn-industry-doesnt-want-you-to-see/

      This link makes the points quite graphically, especially the ones about the porn industry being like any other industry. No other industry calls half its workforce by hate language and pays a premium for safety equipment not to be used or campaigns for safety equipment like condoms not to be used, or facilitates drug use at the work place as a way of getting the workforce to do certain work practises that they would be unable to do undrugged because of the pain.

  12. Tamsin Crook February 11, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    This is a great article. As a mother of three boys, I am terrified of the potential impact of online porn. As you say, it is imperative to me that my boys grow up to be respectful of girls and women, and to have healthy, loving relationships. Even if we can control what is viewed in our own house, we can’t necessarily control what they see elsewhere. This is an interesting video that I saw recently which illustrates some of the points made by Derrington: http://www.viralnovelty.com/men-enjoying-watching-scantily-clad-women-discovered-dancing/. A bit more education about what goes on behind the scenes of pornography might make people slightly more aware and take a bit more personal responsibility for what they choose to watch.
    Good luck with your campaigning, Andy – will support you all the way.

    • Derrington February 11, 2014 at 8:52 pm

      http://antipornfeminists.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/footage-the-porn-industry-doesnt-want-you-to-see/

      This link makes the points quite graphically, especially the ones about the porn industry being like any other industry. No other industry calls half its workforce by hate language and pays a premium for safety equipment not to be used or campaigns for safety equipment like condoms not to be used, or facilitates drug use at the work place as a way of getting the workforce to do certain work practises that they would be unable to do undrugged because of the pain.

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