Why Banning Free Porn Would Hurt, Not Help, the US

The First Amendment is under siege, but not in the way most would expect. There has been an increasing sentiment in the United States to outright ban free pornography. The sentiment is spreading across Europe as well, with countries like Germany taking the banning of certain pornography websites to a national level. No matter your moral stance on explicit adult content, calls for such sweeping regulation should give us all pause as we consider the cascading effect this could have for future regulation on the protections of the freedom of speech and expression.

To be fair, this is far from the first time a nation has banned porn. Currently, 37 countries in the world have sweeping bans against pornography, with many others having heavy censorship and restricted access, including some surprise nations such as the United Kingdom and Australia. But from Playboy Magazine to Pornhub, explicit adult materials have been a part of the American media industry dating back to the early 20th century. By many accounts, the first pornographic film produced in the United States is 1915’s “A Free Ride,” a 9-minute piece of history dating back to the days of World War I. However, today’s pornographic industry isn’t constrained to 35mm film and movie theaters, all you need is the internet and device to access it.

Many Americans conflate their personal morals and objective views of the law of the land. However, one only has to look to The Supreme Court of the United States to understand the difficulty in regulating what some would consider “obscenities.” It has been held that sex and obscenity are not synonymous, and that the State has no business in telling a person sitting alone in their own home what books they may read or what films they may watch. Yet here we are today with calls for regulations to do just that. In fact, in the state of Utah such regulations are already being put in place.

Justifications for banning free porn have ranged from the claim that it’ll protect the minds of innocent children to a concern about addictive and antisocial conduct that may arise from porn consumption. But banning porn won’t fix either of those concerns.

If lawmakers think banning free porn will keep kids from accessing explicit content online, they’ve simply misunderstood how the internet and data transmission works in the 21st century.

Backchannel file sharing websites such as The Pirate Bay, and message boards such as 4chan, allow users to share content anonymously and instantaneously. This ban would be akin to the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Shutting down free porngraphic websites wouldn’t solve anything, it would just prompt the mass migration of free pornographic content to these backchannels. It might seem like a surface victory for those who think they are doing the right thing, but all they would have accomplished is the creation of another outlet for viewing — one that could easily be exploited by bad actors to spread malicious content to devices which would further security breaches and potentially dangerous exposure.

Instead of banning porn, parents should step up their game when it comes to sex education and handling their kids sexual curiosity.

Claiming the ban would curb addictive and antisocial behavior arising from porn consumption is a clear example of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. A recent study by the University of New Brunswick investigating pornography consumption and tolerance found that those who advocate to have porn banned are more likely to have sexist and misogynistic attitudes about women than those who support pornographic adult content. Overall, pornography consumption was either irrelevant in predicting sexism or was associated with greater egalitarianism, quite the opposite of the continued narrative equating pornography consumptiom to the objectification of women. Proponents of banning pornography also turn to arguments of the addictive nature of porn consumption, but then fail to hold the same contempt for social media addiction which is a far more wide-spread issue among children, adolescents, and adults alike. By their logic, we should ban facebook, instagram, cigarettes, sugar, alcohol — where does it stop?

Finally, there’s the moral claim that porn is just wrong. But if all the ban is trying to do is regulate morality, that betrays a misunderstanding of the function of government. In an increasingly sensitive society, the precedent a ban based on moral grounds would set could invite a dangerous and slippery slope of overregulation. Where would it stop? The unforseen consequences of legislation being based on moral principles, many of which gleaned from a religious basis, would result in the degradation of the separation of church and state and the expression of free will. The suppression of pornography on this basis would permit the government to certify and enforce a moral code that reinforces and justifies the political status quo. This is not a world any American should advocate for.

If there is one thing we should have learned by now as Americans, it is that prohibitions have always failed, and a prohibition on pornography would be no different. If we permit the governmental regulation of free speech simply on the basis that speech conditions and influences society, then that would be the end of the freedom of speech as we know it.

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