It’s a sad day when young people have to take matters into their own hands to protect themselves with anti-rape websites like Everyone’s Invited. Failure of the government to act to restrict access to commercial porn sites by children and young people under 18 years of age is a major contributory factor to the changing culture that women feel unsafe to be part of. Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 was shelved by the Government at the eleventh hour in 2019. But it’s not too late to implement it now. It could be ready in 40 days if there was political will to do so. All the main players are geared up to implement it.
Porn is a big problem
In a BBC interview Chief Constable Simon Bailey warned clearly that pornography was distorting how some young people saw relationships. He recognised that this had become a “driver” of the type of behaviour being reported online.
The problem started to emerge since the advent of highspeed broadband internet in 2008. It is also deeper than it seems, and I have to take issue with Simon Bailey’s easy suggestions to remedy it: to encourage parents to have that conversation with their kids because porn is not like real sex, and to change culture in schools. That is excellent advice but sadly, it is not enough, the government has to act too.
Digital Economy Act
His response is insufficient for 3 reasons and they all point to why we need Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act implemented as soon as possible to respond meaningfully to Everyone’s Invited.
His first solution falls on parents to speak to their kids. This ignores how huge a problem this is. While parents do need to speak regularly to their kids about porn’s impact, parents alone can’t deal with it. It absolutely needs government action to counter the unregulated might of the multi-billion-pound tech companies.
Second, there is a big hurdle to overcome. The use of porn by parents themselves and feelings of guilt about managing their kids’ use of it. There is a good article about this by child psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley in regard to screen use in general. Most parents think that it probably didn’t hurt them when they used porn at that age. But the the amount and strength of porn is much more powerful today, compared to even 15 years ago. We need to educate parents so that any residual feelings of guilt or even just embarrassment are reduced.
Third, thinking that a talk by parents who state that porn is not like real sex deals only with half the issue of how porn sexually conditions the child’s brain. Sexual conditioning happens in two ways. First there is what is called ‘conscious’ conditioning. It translates as “so that’s what sex is”. That is the kind Simon Bailey’s suggests a parental talk can deal with.
Sadly, it ignores the other kind of sexual conditioning, the ‘unconscious’ kind, namely the deeper brain changes that lead to a need for ever higher levels of arousal over time due to desensitisation. That translates into “I NEED porn to get aroused.” This is what is at the root of the problem. Young guys are not going to stop accessing free bliss on tap just because girls are complaining that they don’t like how it affects male behaviour or because parents say it’s not like real sex.
This deeper problem requires a more focused solution. We know from the tens of thousands of self-reports from guys on the porn recovery websites like NoFap.com or RebootNation.org that problems with their sexual function is the only thing that really gets and holds their attention. These reports highlight two important factors about porn’s impact.
First, so many guys have said that when they realised what porn could do to the brain, especially how it affected sexual function, they were ‘very’ motivated to try and quit. Second, it was only after they quit, did they notice that their compassion for women came back over time as their brains healed.
By no longer bingeing and hammering the brain with such a powerful stimulus, the grey matter will grow again in the part of the brain that helps them experience what is called “theory of mind,” the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes, feel empathy. It also allows the neural connections between the limbic (emotional) brain and thinking brain (prefrontal cortex) to strengthen. This allows a person to put the brakes on impulsive, anti-social behaviour. When their brains are healed, they are physically and mentally stronger and keen to be productive.
There is of course all the regular formal research from across various disciplines to support these arguments. In the neuroscience literature alone there are 55 studies that link porn use to addiction-related brain changes. See this short video to understand why porn is addictive and how it can affect young users. For politicians who are looking for clear evidence, here is our response to the government’s Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy Consultation 2020.
Surely this line of argument would be good for Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, to pursue in parliament. Parents would love it. Most of the people on “Everyone’s Invited” would appreciate it too. Let’s not forget most of them are about to become voters. Can’t we harness the women politicians in both houses to support action to protect our children from the destructive health and social impacts of unlimited amounts of hardcore porn?
Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee responded to the news of this anti-rape website, Everyone’s Invited. He called for a “full independent inquiry to find out why so many female students have suffered from sexual abuse and harassment”.
Writing about the rape situation at the University of Edinburgh, The Sunday Times quoted Mary Sharpe as saying “It is a sad day when young people have to take matters into their own hands with websites like Everyone’s Invited.” She said part of the blame was the lack of action on an age restriction for commercial porn websites.
Why do we need yet another inquiry? We know that pornography is a serious driver of it. Chief Constable Bailey, an expert on child abuse online, said so. The formal and informal evidence is abundant. Also, we have really useful legislation already passed by both houses that just needs implementation. It would be a great stop gap until the Online Harms Bill that will deal with pornography on social media can be processed over the next few years. It is not a case of either/or, but both /and pieces of legislation are required. They will deal with different aspects of this ever-growing problem. We need to protect our children and young men and women now. This 2-minute video summarises the situation.
In the meantime, see The Reward Foundation’s free parents’ guide to internet pornography. This helps educate parents to have those difficult conversations. We also have 7 free lesson plans for schools to help change the culture from sexual harassment to a more trusting environment around intimate relationships.
Please take action now.
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