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Lucy Mangan: "How much pornography do men actually need?"

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"It frightens me – actually frightens me – how angry some men get when their access to porn is threatened in any way. A few months ago there was a furore about the ‘No More Page 3’ petition and campaign begun by Lucy Holmes. The mere idea of being denied a single pair of breasts to look at over breakfast threw countless men into (frequently vicious and abusive) turmoil.

Now something much worse is about to happen to them. From the end of 2013, all computers are to come with anti-pornography filters set to the ‘On’ position as standard. If you want to access anything orifice-based, you will have to reset it to the ‘Off’ position.

I don’t know much about computers, but I imagine this is not too effortful a procedure – probably a couple of clicks in a couple of windows and then back to onehanded business. But if you were to judge by the panic and outrage that greeted the news you would think that a degree in particle physics were required to carry it out.

It begs the question – how much pornography do men need? And how quickly do they need to access it? Do they go from ‘Hmm, I fancy a moment of communion with my penis’ to fatal blue-ball explosion in under 60 seconds these days, leaving behind a phalanx of bereft family and friends – albeit ones not grieving as hard as they might if he hadn’t been found slumped in front of inflatabledollsdressed asmorrisdancers.com.

Slightly more seriously, it begs the question – how deep a sense of entitlement do you have to react so vehemently to so minor a tweak to your world’s order? And to one so likely to benefit people – women, children, men who don’t want to be greeted with porn at every turn.

There are, of course, plenty of legitimate arguments to be had about this effective censorship of the web. It is, you could say, an incursion on the right to free speech and free expression. If we let the government take this tiny step to limit our freedom on the web then before you know it, proponents of this point of view say, the only pictures left on the internet after we type ‘I love Our Glorious Leader, I do’ into our search engines will be of kittens playing with slow lorises.

To which the answer is a) you can take necessary steps down a path for a genuinely greater good without following it all the way to an extreme conclusion. It happens all the time. It’s why we have speed limits for cars but haven’t banned them outright. And b) I would love an internet filled with kittens playing with slow lorises: somebody MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Opting into, rather than out of, porn is better

There is also the argument that nothing implemented by the government regarding online pornography will work. Well, then let’s not do anything, ever, shall we? Let’s not have a drink-drive limit for alcohol, because people still get into their cars after a pint. Let’s not have an age of consent because 15 year olds will still have sex. Let’s not, in fact, have any laws against murder, because people still somehow manage to kill other people.

These arguments are made everywhere (and not just by men). But what is often found mixed in or humming fretfully underneath (the men’s) is a note of desperation and of panic. Because a world with less porn in it is a world less ideally suited to their needs.

And what is – not wholly, but disproportionately – absent is voices saying that the change will make the world better for them. A world in which you have to opt into, rather than out of, exposure to porn is better for me, as a woman. At least until I can be sure that every woman in every image out there is there of absolutely her own free will and delighted, active choice, and that their ceaseless objectification does not spill over into the lives of real women, it is better for me to live in a world where there are as many barriers as possible between those pictures and the people who want to see them. It respects some important sexual, private, public and cultural boundaries and in doing so liberates me and other women, just a little. That isn’t an assault on freedom, it’s a tiny re-allocation of it and one long, long overdue.”

Hopscotch & Handbags: The Truth About Being A Girl by Lucy Mangan is out now (£4.99 kindle edition).

Image credit: Rex Features

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