Arielle Pardes | Save pornography
The Screwtinizer | Why the European Parliament was right not to ban porn and why Iceland should do the same
March 20, 2013, 2:58 am·
It doesn’t sound like a typical political skirmish: members of the European Parliament spent last Tuesday’s legislative session defending their right to watch pornography.
The recent threat to European pornography came from a proposal authored by the EP’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. The report (innocuously titled “A Report on Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in the EU”) contained a clause to prohibit pornography in all forms. Some stereotypes, the committee argued, are perpetuated through the representation of women in pornography — and accordingly, pornography had to go.
The EP ultimately voted against the proposal’s sanction on smut, citing freedom of expression and freedom from censorship as reasons to keep the industry alive in Europe. But the Icelandic government is still drafting legislation to ban internet pornography within its borders — a move that is neither feasible nor desirable.
The trouble with trying to regulate the World Wide Web is that it is, indeed, worldwide. Legislation that bans Icelanders from watching porn has little effect on content streamed from Hungary. Even a continent-wide ban on European porn simply increases the market for porn produced in Asia. The internet allows us to plug into content from around the globe, and without enforcing full-blown censorship laws like China or Saudi Arabia do, regulating internet content is nearly impossible.
To complicate the matter further, the pornography industry looms large. In Europe alone, pornography brings in over $1 billion in taxable revenue each year, and that figure is even higher around the rest of the world — each year, porn rakes in $13 billion in the United States and as much as $70 billion in Asia. Porn is simply too big to fail.
Such is the case with child pornography — thankfully, a smaller industry — which is still existent and accessible, in spite of longstanding legislation criminalizing it in the United States. With so few barriers on the internet, one country’s law can’t regulate media content from elsewhere.
Effectiveness notwithstanding, legislation that prohibits child pornography is justified: children are unable to consent or meaningfully participate in sexual acts, so all child pornography is exploitative and bad.
But the same is not true of pornography in general. Yes, much of the porn available on the internet is unsavory — and I sympathize with Icelandic Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson’s point that “violent pornography has a very harmful effect on young people” — but there is a world of pornography that is neither violent nor exploitative, neither artificial nor degrading.
If we want better models for sex, then banning pornography is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A blanket ban prohibits not just the seedy material, but model erotic material as well.
Pornography is not inherently undignified. In fact, there is tremendous potential for porn to be educational and enlightening, modeling a real range of bodies, sexual desires and relationships. Sites like MakeLoveNotPorn (“real world sex!”) or No Fauxxx (“porn that doesn’t fake it!”) prove that porn can be a vehicle for positive and progressive messages about sexuality.
When the EP faced its potential porn prohibition, members also emphasized the right for people to produce their own pornographic material.
Rick Falkvinge, the founder of Sweden’s Pirate Party (yes, that’s a real political party) wrote that “freedoms of speech and expression most definitely include sending erotic material — text, images, sound — between consenting adults,” and that the proposed ban on all forms of pornographic media was “an unacceptable and intolerable political invasion of people’s bedrooms.”
Iceland would be wise to take a hint from the EP. Rather than attempting to police all internet pornography, the government should specifically target videos which are abusive, exploitative or showcase behavior that breaks Icelandic laws — like sex with animals or children.
The best way to change gender stereotypes is not to attempt to eliminate pornography in its entirety, but to change the messages represented within porn. Iceland’s issue with pornography is the message, not the medium. We do ourselves all a disservice by rejecting that medium altogether.
Arielle Pardes is a College junior from San Diego, Calif. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her @pardesoteric. “The Screwtinizer” appears every Wednesday.