Age and watching porn:

Before the rise of the internet things were fairly simple when it came to getting your hands on explicit material. You could buy ‘top shelf’ magazines, which contained soft pornographic images of naked people showing off their bits. There aren’t any age restrictions on these types of magazines but a shopkeeper is within their rights to refuse to serve you if they wish. If, however, you wanted anything ‘hardcore’, involving images of actual sex, penetration and depictions of hard-ons – then you had to visit a licensed sex shop, which you’d have to be over 18 to enter.

Today, however, things are not quite so simple. The majority of pornography is viewed online these days – in fact 1 in every 4 searches on Google apparently is for pornography. That’s a lot of porn.

Currently, although this is set to change shortly, any adult site you click on will have a pop-up box which must state that you have to be over 18 to enter and view its contents. That’s all well and good, legally distributors must make every reasonable effort to prevent under 18s from accessing their sites – however, this does boil down to a pop-up box on the home page that you click to absolve them of responsibility. Obviously, if you happen to click on that box when you are only 15 – the sex police don’t jump out from under your bed and get you….This is what concerns a lot of adults and politicians.

This is one reason that the current Conservative Government at time of writing has passed the new Digital economy bill which will mean that anyone who wishes to access adult material will have to put in personal ID details, such s a credit card number of passport details. If sites refuse to comply they will be banned in the UK.

That all sounds well and good and on the face of it may make it more difficult for children to access adult material. However, there are massive ethical questions and issues around privacy that this new bill raises. Where will this information be stored, who will have access to it, what safeguards will be in place to keep the information safe from hackers… (do you not remember the Ashley Maddison web hack blackmail scandal?!?). When the bill is put in to effect the UK will have some of the most restrictive internet access and freedoms of any country in the world. Plus the fact that no experts in the internet safety field actually think it will make any difference to young people.

Indeed, countries that rely heavily on censorship, especially around sexual freedoms tend to have the worse records on human rights, breeding a worse rape culture, with greater inequality between the sexes, with high levels of misogyny and much higher rates of sexual offences against women.

However, let us leave that discussion for another day. The fact that hardcore porn is so readily available these days means that many young people especially, forget that by law it is still illegal for a young person under the age of 18 to watch pornographic material – although like with alcohol it is a distribution law – the distributors are at fault not the ‘buyer’.

The trouble is, it is common place for young people to have clips on their mobile phones that they pass around and show each other as a bit of a laugh – with very few of them realising that they may be committing a criminal offence. For example, if you Bluetooth or WhatsApp a porn clip or photos to your mates, technically you are distributing pornographic material and could be charged.

Indeed, in January 2009, there were further changes to the laws around possessing certain types of extreme pornography. These changes were made to help combat paedophilia and other sex crimes. These include any material involving anyone under the age or made to look under the age of 18; anything involving animals; anything involving urination, dedication or vomiting; forced sex; or any activity that might damage the genitals (including the anus).

We all agree that protecting children from harm should be a priority – however, there was also a lot of collateral damage in the process. This meant that a number of activities that are consensual and legal to perform in person – such as fisting, scat play etc were now illegal to hold. It also raised an entire court case around female ejaculation which was included under urination (despite the fact it has been proven that female ejaculation contains no trace of urine and is instead a natural female sexual response to orgasm). Again, raising many issues around individuals sexual freedoms and the argument of the state deciding what is acceptable when it comes to sex.

Further to this, it an offence for an adult to show a young person, or allow a young person to view pornographic material too, so your big brother letting you ‘borrow’ his secret DVD collection is not ok either. To find out more: read this about Porn and the law…

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