People in the UK will soon have to prove their age to watch porn online. The new legislation, which was due to be implemented in July but has recently been delayed, will require all adult internet users to prove they are over 18 in order to watch porn.
The UK will be the first country in the world to bring in this kind of age-verification system. To confirm their age, users will have to upload official identity documents such as a passport, credit card or driving license.
The government claims the change in the law will protect children from being harmed by “unsuitable content.” According to Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James: “adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online.” Internet Matters CEO Carolyn Bunting adds, “children seeing content they’re not emotionally ready for can be very damaging.”
I agree that there’s a need to restrict some forms of pornographic content, but here’s why I think the UK porn block is a bad idea:
1. It shames sex
Any ban induces stigmatisation. Even if the purpose is to protect children from misrepresented forms of sex, the main message conveyed is that sex is wrong. As a result, if a young person has illegally consumed porn or has natural curiosity around their sexuality, they will be much less likely to reach out for support for fear of being punished or shamed.
There are many, many issues with the mainstream porn industry – from workers’ conditions to misogynistic and violent depictions of sex. The concept of sexual content itself isn’t the problem, however. The porn ban lumps all sexual content together, stigmatising everything sex-related. If the aim is to avoid emotional damage from unethical forms of porn, such as hardcore or violent porn, we need to single out those types of content.
2. Sex education is still very poor
Porn displays a distorted image of sexual encounters. At the same time, it’s often the only source of young people’s sex education. The lack of an all-embracing sex education programme, along with taboos around sexuality, lead young people to ease their natural curiosities online. Teens learning about sex from porn is alarming, but banning it won’t improve the situation. Instead, we need to focus on providing quality comprehensive sex education (CSE) for all young people.
Education on sex and digital literacy is an urgent need. Children should learn that porn is fiction – an entertainment film genre – just as they learn that actors don’t actually die when an on-screen character is killed. There’s an imperative need for a comprehensive, sex-positive, and inclusive sex education curriculum that takes over porn as the main source of sex knowledge for youth.
3. Elsewhere, porn still exists
In today’s digital culture, everyone who’s halfway tech-savvy will know how to ditch the age verification system. Examples are potentially dangerous and illegal activities like fake IDs or the dark web. There are also simpler and legal ways to avoid the age verification, such as VPN services. These mask browsing locations, making it look like viewers are in other countries – ones without verification systems.
Ironically, the new ban on porn doesn’t restrict social media platforms such as Reddit or Twitter. This will, inevitably, result in increased traffic of porn on social media, where most young people spend vast amounts of their time. The new law won’t apply to pop-up ads either, proving just how flawed it is.
4. It’s a privacy breach
Watching porn isn’t (or shouldn’t be) an embarrassing or shameful activity. Porn viewers should be able to enjoy online privacy as other internet users do.
Asking people to provide their real identity details will automatically create a massive database of porn users and their tastes. Despite the government’s claims of security, a data leak of these records would have tremendous and humiliating consequences.
The need to protect children and young people from misogynistic and harmful sexual imagery is obvious. But introducing an age block? I don’t think it’s the solution.
Rather than imposing a block without explaining why porn is deceitful, efforts should be put into creating a safe environment for teenagers and adults alike to have open and honest dialogues. Talking about sex and pleasure can ensure healthy and happy sexual lives, away from porn’s misteachings.