Masthead CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996

* Sexually Explicit Materials and the Internet, by Douglas Birsch

Pornography Harms Women

There is a great deal of contemporary research that suggests that pornography harms women. ^20

I find the sociological evidence, as well as the philosophical arguments convincing. The testimony of many women who worked in the pornography industry shows that they have been harmed. The sociological and psychological research provides evidence that pornography creates a view of women that desensitizes men to the harm connected to violent crimes against women, and in some cases makes them more likely to commit these crimes. Finally, since I believe that pornography helps to create a sexist view of women, it works in subtle and not so subtle ways to deny them a social and political status equal to men. Therefore I am in favor of banning pornography from the Internet.

The proposal to ban pornography faces the same technological problems as regulating obscenity on the Internet, and I would use a similar strategy of household and services control. I think, however, that all services should strive to block pornographic materials. This suggestion creates a new interpretation problem for services whose standards allowed obscene material. They will now have to distinguish obscene material from pornographic material. This will be inconvenient, but I believe that it is worth the effort. I think it only takes some common sense to do an adequate job of identifying material that is degrading or abusive, and is presented in such a way as to endorse the degradation and abuse. Most pornographic material would be eliminated by banning all sexually explicit materials that (1) show or describe people being hurt, raped, beaten, tortured, bound, violated, killed, or having sex with animals and that (2) implicitly or explicitly shows or describes these things in a context which endorses or is neutral to them.

There is a temptation to think of the Internet as the last great frontier, or as a place where there should be complete freedom. This might have been appropriate if the net was only traveled by a small band of adventurers who had agreed to forfeit ethics. Today, however, the World Wide Web has opened the Internet to everyone, and almost everyone seems to be using it. We need ethics on the net for the same reasons we need ethics in society: people should not be killed or harmed, they should be treated with respect, and so on. Obscenity offends people and hence some systems should be available which do not allow it. Pornography harms women and hence should be banned on the Internet. The net will still offer an enormous amount of freedom. --

CMC Magazine Index
Contents Archive Sponsors Studies Contact