Porn is not the Problem

Porn is not the Problem

This morning, I saw an article titled 'Conservative MP says underage access to porn is a key factor in #MeToo cases'.  It seems that at a press conference about the documentary on Sheldon Kennedy's experience of abuse, Alberta MP Arnold Viersen said that he believes that access to online porn is a major cause of the problem of sexual abuse.  As I would have expected, this sparked a lively social media debate, getting people all riled up about porn and what should or should not be done about it.  This, I believe, is exactly what Viersen, and other people who raise this issue, want.

All you have to do is shout 'internet porn is hurting our children' and everyone drops what they are doing in a rush to get into this debate.  

Internet porn is not the problem.  I'm not saying it's not a problem - or more correctly, that there are not some problems associated with it - but it is not a major contributing cause in the problem of widespread sexual harassment, assault and abuse that we are just finally starting to take seriously.

Easy accèss to online porn has existed for less than 20 years.  Sexual violence and harassment have existed for much much much longer than that.  I would argue that, in some ways, they were even bigger problems decades ago because there was even less willingness to talk about them and even less resources and support for victims than there is now.  

In an article on the site ipolitical, Viersen is quoted as saying "When you read about the Jian Ghomeshi case or even the allegations in the Patrick Brown case or the Dykstra case … it follows a porn script,”.  What he fails to consider is that all of these men are not teenagers.  They are middle-aged.  They did not learn this behaviour from porn, they learned it from the culture they live in, long before internet porn even existed.  We know that the things these men have been accused of, particularly Gomeshi, don't materialize one day out of nowhere.  The first public accusation is usually just that, only the first public one.  Previous to that there are many many unreported incidents or incidents that were reported and not taken seriously, and usually years of behaving this way.  They are not acting out porn scripts, they are acting out internalized messages about women and sex that they learned from their culture starting at a young age.

While I will admit that internet porn has become something of a sexual education resource to young people these days, I truly believe that most of what young people learn about consent and how they should behave towards women comes from what they see around them in their real daily lives.  Misogynistic, violent porn does not create a violent, misogynist culture, it just reflects it back to us.  Porn doesn't tell people to rape, porn in which rape is featured exists because our culture says this is something that is exciting and acceptable.

But Viersen is even getting me off topic, just as he hopes to do.  Demonizing porn and calling for tighter controls on internet access is an easy target.  There are a lot of people who will agree with him.  The problem is, it won't help.  There will always be porn.  We can't get rid of it.  And no matter what censorship you put on it, young people will be able to get around it.  Even if we could eliminate it,  the problem of violence against women and children would not go away.

The real solutions are much more complex and they are things I think Viersen probably doesn't want to talk about.  The real solution to reducing abuse and harassment in our culture is multi-faceted and it involves:

- consent education in our schools from a very early age that teaches children how to communicate and how to respect each other in all interactions, sexual and non

- providing real, honest, explicit, medically accurate and inclusive sex education in our schools so that young people get good information and don't have to seek out porn to get their questions answered

- media literacy in our schools so young people can evaluate what they see against the education they get and determine whether they think it's realistic and appropriate

- making it completely and utterly unacceptable to harass and violate anyone's boundaries by taking complaints seriously and having clear and consistent consequences - in schools and workplaces and in our laws

- listening to, believing and supporting victims - modelling that so that they feel safe to come forward and don't feel they have to stay silent or protect abusers

I am elated and excited to see that these last two are finally starting to happen. It's a watershed moment where we are finally saying that this is unacceptable and there will be consequences.  I hope that it continues.  Hopefully another piece of this major sea change is that the first three will finally start to happen as well.

Does porn cause some problems?  Yes I believe there are some negatives associated with it (along with a lot of positives).  But blaming porn for the rampant misogyny in our culture is an easy way out that doesn't obligate anyone to take responsibility for their part in it.  We need to resist being distracted by this red herring and do better.


Tags: #metoo harassment porn pornography sex education