National Comment Comment

Clash of Comment: Do you support the incoming porn laws?

Our poll found only 14% of our readers support them but what do Izzy Moore and Joseph Silke have to say about the incoming porn laws?

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YES - Izzy Moore

As far I’m aware, I was never actually shown Two Girls One Cup, but boys in my Year seven class certainly enjoyed discussing it, playing it, and showing it to other unsuspecting pupils.

An extreme example? Yes. A video whose popularity was aided by reactions on YouTube? Also yes. However, it does illustrate that porn was normalised from a young age. The types of sexual behaviour shown in porn were also normalised and used as a source of deliberate embarrassment for girls. I was asked if I wanted to be fisted in Year eight and several other female friends were asked about fingering, anal and gang bangs, which I doubt was picked up from an AQA biology textbook.

It’s anecdotal evidence, but surveys have supported the increasingly young exposure to pornography. The NSPCC found 94 per cent out of 1000 children aged 11-16 had seen some form of pornography before the age of 14. A further survey demonstrated that 39 per cent of 13-14 year olds wanted to repeat what they had seen. Porn sets up expectations of sexual behaviour, how sex happens, and what naked bodies should look like. For many children this will be their first form of sexual education: a lesson without discussion of consent, condoms, STIs, and realistic female pleasure, lessons which can be reinforced for years before first sexual relationships or experiences.

In fact, porn can become more rewarding than actual sex. Recent studies have linked porn to changes in brain chemistry, including desensitisation to reward. It’s not difficult to link this to the increase in young men experiencing erectile dysfunction. The rates of performance anxiety and penis extensions have also risen in recent years. Believe what you want about watching porn over 18, but certainly for those younger the effect of porn is more pronounced and sets up expectations and anxieties for life.

The new pornography laws intend to address the problem of early exposure. From 15 July, sites which host pornography must have a form of age verification, to prevent those under 18 from accessing explicit material. The main public concern aside from the false narrative that “they’re taking our porn away from us!” is privacy. The major pornography websites are likely to use AgeID, owned by MindGeek, the same parent company of these websites AgeID will force the user to create an account and verify their age through such options as mobile SMS, a credit card, passport, or driving license. This data is not stored, and once the age verification occurs, this process will not need to be repeated, only, according to MindGeek, if the user switches their browser or device. Despite these reassurances, many have argued this will increase the likelihood of hacking, leaks, and places too much data in the hands of MindGeek.

If this method of age verification is unappealing, you can purchase a PortesCard pass from highstreet retailers; a method which again has sparked opposition, as if people have forgotten that prior to the internet you did have to leave the house and walk into a sex shop to get pornography.

The real issue is that a lot of people don’t want to take responsibility, be associated with what they are watching, or acknowledge the negative aspects of the porn industry - which could fill a whole article of its own. It’s much easier to deny the negative impacts of porn, than acknowledge that there are significant issues, alongside benefits, of pornography.

The industry needs to change, the way we consume it needs to change. Opposition to reform will only allow the industry to remain the same. The laws are not perfect, but they are necessary to introduce accountability and safeguard minors from some of the harmful effects and expectations from porn, which they are the most vulnerable to

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NO - Joseph Silke

In a competitive field, the porn block is possibly the current government’s worst idea. It ranks among the most incompetent regulations to soil the statute book. It is dreadful in conception and dreadful in execution. If finally implemented in July, it will do little to help anybody and has the potential to do significant harm to many.

The block has been dogged by delay after delay as the Government has been confronted with the cold reality of implementing such an ill-conceived policy. It dictates that porn sites must verify the age of visitors from the United Kingdom using ID. Failure to do so risks a hefty fine of two hundred and fifty thou - sand pounds, with the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) acting as the regulator.

Sites that consistently fail to abide by the new rules can be blacklisted by all the internet service providers in the country. Perhaps this sounds reasonable on the surface. The average age that a child first accesses porn is just 11 years old, so this might seem like a necessary and logical precaution. In practice, however, the ramifications could be disastrous, and the plans reveal a fundamental abdication of the responsibility to protect minors properly.

Firstly, it simply won’t work. It takes literally seconds to download a VPN and circumvent the verification process, with the BBFC openly admitting that they are powerless to stop anybody with even the most basic technological understanding accessing porn underage. Alternatively, users might turn to anonymous browsers like Tor, a programme used by many to access the dark web.

The dark web is the encrypted part of the internet hidden from traditional search engines which criminals often use to promote their activities. Driving users to the dark web has the potential to expose them to far more dangerous content, including child abuse. Nor are social media platforms included in the regulations, be - cause obviously that would be ridiculous. But if the goal of the block is to tackle the issue of children accidentally accessing pornographic content while innocently browsing the web, the chances are that they are more likely to stumble on such content while using social media rather than stumbling onto Pornhub.

These loopholes aside, let’s now consider the privacy ramifications for those who might decide to follow the new rules. Sex is an innately private thing, and these regulations would encourage users to put sensitive information about their porn tastes, as well as their card details, at risk. Porn giant Mindgeek has estimated that around 25 million Britons might want to use the new system.

That’s potentially 25 million people handing over highly sensitive information. It’s a hacker’s paradise. Imagine for a moment, too, that you are a closeted gay person. You are using a gay porn site to explore your sexuality. You want to obey the law, so you hesitantly supply your details. Your details then leak in connection with said website. It’s chilling.

Lastly, what this stupid idea truly shows is a total failure to address the core issues with the industry. The porn block leaves it up to porn sites to verify ages by encouraging users to put themselves at risk. If we want to truly tackle the potential harm of porn, we need to start with a modern sex education system. It’s temping to think that with a bit of lazy nanny statism, our own version of the wild west can be tamed, but the porn block is both a bad theory and a bad practice.

What we need are honest discussions about sex and how porn distorts expectations of it. It’s really no wonder that an awkward country like ours came up with a policy to avoid that, but I believe that we still have to try.

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