On Pornography (1997)

It's depressing. These days, even bold defenders of free speech on the Net feel obliged to start all their paragraphs by saying "of course, I don't like pornography, and children should not be exposed to it."

Well, I do like pornography, at least good pornography; in the words of Tom Lehrer on the subject, "dirty books are fun".

Yes, I have kids, and no, I don't think their heads will explode if they see Naughty Pictures on the computer. They can see graphic violence on the news, they can (and do) see naked bodies by sticking their heads into the shower at the right time of the morning, and when they ask us questions about sex, we tell 'em the truth. They show no sign of trauma. Sex is good stuff, and I feel no strong reason to conceal the fact. Forced and exploitative sex is bad, of course, but there's lots of bad stuff in the world, and I doubt I'd be serving my kids well by pretending otherwise.

Note that the anti-pornography flap is not about things like forcing kids (or adults, for that matter) to take part in the production of pornography. Adults should only take part with their informed consent, and we assume that kids aren't competent to give their informed consent. Anyone that uses kids or unwilling adults to make pornography is already breaking various laws, and should be appropriately punished. We don't need laws against the stuff itself (although a law against distributing stuff that you know was made using kids or unwilling adults would be quite reasonable).

Anti-porn laws themselves make it clear that they aren't about protecting the models; like the vile Communications Decency Act, they are almost invariably directed at certain content, not certain methods of producing that content. They apply equally to cartoons and photographs, to written texts and live videotapes.

Some people claim that there's a demonstrated connection between (some types of) pornography and (some types of) crime. There are lots of problems with this, and I am unconvinced by it. First, I've never seen an actual study that actually came to that conclusion (if you have, I'd love a reference to the primary research). Some Reagan-era culture-fascists fabricated such conclusions in order to terrorize people selling naughty magazines, but that particular statement was pretty thoroughly debunked.

Even if some correlation between pornography and crime were found, would it justify outlawing pornography? If someone found a correlation between (say) reading science fiction and violating copyright laws, would you support outlawing science fiction? If someone found a correlation between reading magazines and shoplifting, could the government then ban all magazines? Would that be OK with you? Not all correlations are causitive. Perhaps people who are frustrated are both more likely to read porn, and more likely to commit crimes. Outlawing porn would in that case have no effect on crime.

Of course, the real reason many people want to outlaw pornography is that they don't like it. They don't want it themselves, and in their ideal world no one would want it. Well, we don't live in their ideal world, o