Age verification is the bare minimum governments can do to protect children from porn
By James Evans*
I was 19 years old when I was first exposed to porn. I have detailed previously how porn and escalating porn use ruined my life. I didn't even know hardcore porn existed before the first time I was exposed to it - some kind of opt in system would have protected me. How much worse is it for kids - seven, eight, nine year olds - exposed to graphic rape and torture porn? Even as a young adult, proof-of-age measures would have provided a layer of protection from exposure to porn. How much more so, had I been nine instead of 19?
Of course, if a nine year old was found to have bought an adult magazine at a convenience store, the authorities would be involved and people would be charged and fined. If a sex shop sold hardcore material to a nine year old, arrests would be made, licences would be revoked and there would be major public uproar.
The reason why the porn industry is euphemistically referred to as the 'adult entertainment industry' is because even pornographers understand the harms of exposing children to this material. There are appropriate safeguards in place to stop children being exposed to porn offline, indeed, it is illegal in most societies to show porn to minors.
Why then, is there no restriction on children's access to porn on the internet?
The fact is that anybody with internet access, including children, can see this hideously depraved material, material that even adults shouldn't have access to, in the time it takes to do a Google search. Legislation to protect children against access to porn online is years, even decades behind the pace that technology has evolved.
Porn is now the world's biggest department of sex education. We know the harms porn inflicts on the developing mind. We know that incidences of sexual harassment and abuse in schools have skyrocketed as children have grown up in a porn-soaked culture. Many boys are growing up thinking voyeurism, upskirting and revenge porn are socially acceptable because porn sites like PornHub and Xvideos are saturated with this material.
One of the most concerning aspects of children's exposure to porn is the eroticisation of violence against women that's embedded in the medium. When high speed internet porn took off nearly 20 years ago, violent, sadistic porn was considered a 'fetish' niche interest and wasn't so easy to find. Today, the violence has trickled down to mainstream porn is and is completely unavoidable. This isn't an argument in favour of 'ethical' porn as there's no such thing. However, it is concerning that anyone getting into porn today is exposed to the most brutal, most violent porn immediately, in fact as soon as they find a tube site. This is harming boys' perceptions of intimacy. Many cannot dissociate a sexual relationship from violence and abuse, and the main victims are girls.
As a recovering porn addict trying to help other addicts with their recovery, the stories I've heard from men who were exposed to porn in their childhood are heartbreaking. The nine year old who ended up molesting his siblings and is fighting porn addiction into his twenties. The 10 year olds who started on internet porn that became teenagers who escalated to illegal material who now face lifelong legal consequences. Anybody doubting the life-changing effects of early porn use should simply visit the NoFap forums and read how it has ruined lives.
Opponents will argue that protecting children from porn is solely an issue of parental responsibility, that mums and dads should be blocking smartphones and PCs. You'll never hear anyone argue that ‘stopping children buying cigarettes and alcohol is a parental responsibility - why should other people's children infringe on my rights?’ because as a community, we know that protecting children from the harmful effects of smoking and drinking comes before individual rights and civilised societies legislate to protect children. It's far past overdue that the same safeguards are applied to internet porn, safeguards that have always been applied to porn in physical media like magazines or DVDs.
Will age verification protect every child from exposure to porn? No. Will age verification undo the damage caused by porn to the countless children exposed to porn? No. What age verification will do is provide a layer of protection that will reduce the numbers of children exposed to porn. It is not a blanket solution by any stretch but it's the first essential step to address the harm caused by the porn industry to children.
*James Evans, 36, is a research scientist based in Oxford, UK. Name has been changed. Read James' previous blogs here.
Podcast with MTR: Federal Government supports porn protections for kids