The UK takes on online porn: A good case of "legislating morality"?

By Bryan Cones| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
blog Marriage and Family Sex and Sexuality Young Adults

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a major campaign against online pornography, particular images that depict rape or child sexual abuse. Cameron's programme (note the Brit spelling) takes it a step further: UK Internet users will have to opt in to access to pornographic sites; default setting on new accounts will be preset with filters that prevent access to pornographic images. "These images normalise sexual violence against women – and they are quite simply poisonous to the young people who see them," said Cameron of the most violent images. The Church of England, a major investor in internet service providers, has since 2011 threatened to divest if ISPs and search engines didn't do more to control the amount of pornography accessible online. A graphic in that story notes that online pornography in a $60 billion (that's a "b") a year industry.

The more interesting stat to me, however, is one that notes that a third of UK teens learned about sex from online porn rather than from their parents or sex education classes. That reminded me of an incident during a year of teaching religion at a Chicago Catholic high school: During a conversation about sex and ethics, it became clear that a lot of the information the young men were getting about sex came from pornography; further conversation (and their own writing) revealed that what they actually want from sex--expressions of love and care--was the exact opposite of what they saw on the videos. We had a good conversation about sex, love, and pornography, but I wondered if that was unusual in a church school.

The UK government's new attempts to rein in online porn in that country will likely protect children (and adults) from images that aren't good for them; it will hopefully also protect child victims of sexual abuse. But it won't replace the need for parents and kids (and adults in general)--and I'd add churches--from having good conversations about sex, and especially about the meaning of "good sex," which is more than the moral question of whether sex is allowed or not in a relationship. That kind of sex you'll never see in a video.