Pornography has existed for millions of years. Ever since humans began to see each other as sexual beings (so, since humans began to exist) we have created erotica, all the way from pre-historic wall art to the dawn of pornhub.com. For quite a simplistic species, we’re really quite imaginative.
So, enter-stage right the British government. Theresa May and her band of merry puritans passed the Digital Economy Act in 2017, which legislated for the creation of an age-verification regulator to ensure that only those who are 18 and over can access websites that provide pornographic material.
After much hang-wringing (though clearly not enough) the government passed the issue of age verification onto private companies, who pondered the question of how porn watchers will go about proving that they’re of a ‘suitable’ age to watch porn. From the 1st of April, anybody who wants to indulge in the consumption of such videos have two choices: uploading a passport or driving licence to an online server or buying a pass from their local newsagent.
Any idiot from here to the other side of the world will be able to realise that uploading a form of identification to access a site, the contents of which would reveal an awful lot about your personal life, is a wet dream for hackers. Think Ashley Madison, times it by 100, and that’s what we’ll see.
But let’s talk about that porn pass, shall we? Let’s imagine a young man called Jim who has watched porn, on and off, for a few years. He is twenty-one years of age, and has a good relationship with the owner of his local newsagent. Let’s call her Mrs Morris. Jim understands why the government wants to protect children from watching pornography but doesn’t see why he should be affected so, early April, he decides to pop down to ask Mrs Morris for a porn pass.
Except, when he gets to the door of the shop, he finally realises that he’s going to have to ask, a confidante, a friend, for a card that’ll allow him access to thousands of pornographic videos which, let’s be honest, he doesn’t want to access for academic research. How can he bring himself to ask Mrs Morris, or anybody else for that matter, for a little card that’ll let keep him entertained on rainy days?
And therein lies the problem. I want to make one thing clear: the government may want to protect children from early access to pornography, I commend that, but these new rules are also a direct attempt to prevent adults from watching porn. In other words, what May and co are doing is declaring an all-out war on what individuals can and cannot do, issues that were previously between an individual and their internet history.
Why might this be? If you haven’t got the message yet, it’s because they’re the twenty-first century answers to Cromwell’s puritans. In fact, they’re the worst type of puritanical: they’re hysterically puritanical, clutching their pearls and sniffing smelling salts to settle their nausea. ‘Masturbation,’ shrieks the Victorian gentleman (sorry, twenty-first century politician). ‘We can’t be having that, can we?’
None of this, however, should come a surprise. Back in 2014, Cameron’s government also got hot under the collar about online pornography, and made a long list of sex acts banned from appearing in porn produced or sold in the UK. These include: abusive language, facesitting (hence the ‘sit-in’ outside Parliament), and female ejaculation, which is basically just female sexuality being repressed by a ‘we know best’ government, Again.
The fact remains that there are far better ways to protect children from viewing online pornography at an early age. We could start with education, which most people seem to forget about as soon as they think they’re going to be allowed to ban something. Dialogue, after all, is always far more useful than a silence.
Porn has always been around, and will continue to be so, even if this ban goes ahead. Curious children will simply begin delving into corners of the web that not one of us wants them to be in because, as we all know, children will instinctively want to do what they're told they cannot. By just going for the default position of ‘ban ban ban’, advocates of this position are actually subjugating their duty of child protection, putting them more at risk.
The government and its defenders ignore this glaringly obvious fact, though. Instead they’ve settled on putting individuals 18 and above into a very precarious position, either socially or in terms of data protection, should they decide that they want to watch porn. Why? Because they’ve decided that they are the moral arbitrator of a nation, that adults should not be allowed to choose what to pleasure themselves to, and they dress all of that up in the language of child protection.
Let’s be very clear here: this is a symptom of a government attempting to exercise some form of control over what we do and do not find titillating, over what we can and cannot produce and/or watch. Even those of us who do not watch porn should be concerned over this outright assault over our freedom to choose.
After all, this is about much more than porn. A government that can successfully control this with little to no resistance is free, therefore, do whatever it likes. This is about our ability to act as moral agents, and the government’s obsession with curtailing that as much as they can.
This is about our right to choose, and the government electing to make that choice for us.
And, above all, this is about us seeing Orwell’s 1984 as a piece of fiction, and the government seeing it as an instruction manual.