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Lucy Mangan says we should all “think twice” before considering porn harmless

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Whenever any controversy arises over porn, I think of my teacher friend who took the female half of her secondary school class for a sex ed lesson while the boys’ was delivered by a male teacher.

As the girls’ questions about what I was nostalgically pleased to learn is still called ‘doing it’ went on, a light dawned. “You do realise,” my friend said hesitantly, “that you’re supposed to enjoy it?” A dozen suspicious and baffled faces stared back at her. This, it seemed, was new information to them all. She spent the next hour deconstructing various myths and painful practices they and their boyfriends had come to define, thanks to barely filtered access to all sorts of porn, as well within normal adolescent activity.


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The latest controversy derives from the government’s plans to require porn-site users to register their credit card details, which has naturally prompted outrage among privacy and free speech campaigners. They say that the databases would be vulnerable to hackers, users open to blackmail, and that technology shouldn’t be used to solve a social problem – in this case, children accessing (or being ambushed by, as they search for other things) pornography. I have a few thoughts. The first and briefest ones are as follows:

a) Technology is part of society. It’s not a separate thing. That’s why rape and death threats on Twitter should be treated like rape and death threats. The message, not the medium, matters.

b) We don’t scatter our homes and public spaces with porn. Because we know this is Not Right, especially with children around. So, safeguard them online too, as best you can.

c) I have spent the past 20 years being told that pornography is harmless, natural and healthy. If this is so, then no-one would fear naming or blackmail, surely? But, of course, they would. Because porn has become normalised, placed almost beyond criticism by its sheer prevalence. And I welcome anything that encourages an attitude that marks it out as something different; as something you should think twice about watching. And not so much because I am concerned about protecting children (though I am) but because I’m concerned about protecting all our boundaries.  And I’m concerned about the women in porn.

Porn is placed almost above criticism by its sheer prevalence, and I welcome anything that marks it out as different

Nowadays, it is fashionable to insist that sex work of all kinds is as free and as valid a choice as any other career. That is half true. If it is a free choice – if a mentally and physically healthy woman has an array of properly waged options before her and wants to go into porn – more power to her, I say. And occasionally, this will be the case, just as it is occasionally the case that a woman gives birth without much pain, that two people fall in love instantly and forever, and that a pair of jeans fits without requiring any alteration whatsoever. It happens just often enough to keep the hope alive. But none of these is the experience of the majority.

Reports by domestic and international charities (especially those helping trafficked women), and accounts by ex-performers and even occasionally producers of porn give the lie to it. They are full of statistics and stories of women forced, tricked or pressured into the work. They speak of childhood abuse that leaves them too emotionally damaged for ‘normal’ life. Logging on to watch them do their work is something we should think twice about. We should ask ourselves why we don’t feel comfortable acknowledging what we’re doing by handing over our details. We should ask ourselves: do we believe women should enjoy ‘doing it’? And do we really believe all these women in porn are?

Main image: iStock

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