Pornography itself is not new, it dates back thousands of years. Mass media, however, is new. This Entry tries to examine some of the issues around Internet pornography and, for those who make use of it, looks at some of the pitfalls and problems.
Internet Pornography - the Issues
Internet pornography has become so popular partly because it offers a level of anonymity never available before. While most people simply enjoy keeping their personal thoughts and interests private, others use this factor as a shield for dubious activities. A married man can reasonably keep his wife from discovering his dissatisfaction with their sex life; a paedophile can conceal his interest from family members and co-workers; and a teen can learn a great deal about the facts of life without his/her parents' knowledge simply by clicking a link saying s/he is older than s/he really is. What impact this ultimately has on society is a question for debate.
Internet porn is also available in much larger quantities than traditional porn and at a cheaper cost. For a few people, this may be a good case of having 'too much of a good thing'. Many psychologists believe it is possible to become addicted to online viewing of pornography. As with other addictions, this has the potential to cause problems in other aspects of life - like one's career, family relations, friendships and sense of self-esteem. Someone who feels they have become addicted to Internet porn should seek professional help and/or counselling.
There are also those people who feel that all pornography is exploitative in nature. They argue that pornography teaches viewers to treat some people as mere objects of lust instead of viewing them as individuals with feelings and unique personalities. Some such theorists feel that this effect is increased as greater quantities of porn are consumed, so Internet pornography represents an increased threat of social injustice in their minds.
Other people feel that Internet pornography is not culpable in this fashion. They argue that the worriers have a misplaced sense of cause and effect, and that people with prejudicial and over-simplified views of their preferred 'sex objects' are already predisposed towards pornography. They claim that such people are a very small minority of online porn viewers and that most consumers are well-adjusted citizens. They point to the fact that crimes like rape and domestic violence have not increased in any country at the same rate that Internet pornography has grown.
Internet Pornography - Hard Cash
Internet porn is also big business with sales of over $140 million in 1997 and this was predicted to rise to over to $366 million by 2001. With sex sites being one of the highest visited types of site on the web, being viewed by over 13% of surfers over the age of 12 and with sites being able to generate over $3 million a month, it is here for good. This Guide Entry is a basic guide to what is out there
Whatever your views on the moral side, the legal side does need to be mentioned as it is an absolute. Most countries in the world have laws on what is considered decent and what is not. In the UK, photos of an erect penis are considered obscene and not allowed. The definition of obscene dates from the 1959 Obscene Publications Act:
... an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect... is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely... to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.
Similar laws exist worldwide. Therefore much of what can be viewed online may be illegal somewhere in the world. However, if you stick to some basic, commonsense principles you will avoid major problems.
Keep what you download to yourself - do not share it.
All images of children in any form could be considered as child pornography - even the holiday snaps of your four-year old daughter naked, paddling in the sea as the recent case at the Saatchi Gallery , London, UK has highlighted. Never download such images. If you accidentally stumble on some, and this is possible, for your own protection delete your entire web history and temporary files. There are sites such as Internet Watch where you can report such sites.
Images of models aged 16-18 are illegal in many countries, most of the USA for example. Whereas in the UK the law states it is an offence to take or distribute indecent photographs of children under the age of 16 (Protection of Children Act 1978 ).
Types of Sites
Generally these can be divided up into six basic types:
Free Sites - These normally have examples from a related pay site or are soft to moderate porn.
Index Sites - These are the sites that give a list of other sites - usually free with a brief description of what is on the site and number of images or movies.
Forums - Behaving like the h2g2 forums you can post and read and write messages, and, more importantly, links to sites you have found or put requests for similar sites. These sites are often linked to index sites.
Pay or Membership Sites - These will all require a credit card number to gain official access, some claim this is only as a proof of age and your card will not be billed. Believe this if you will. Others are up front about the charges. Again, if you feel like taking a risk with your card details go ahead. Often sites that say they will only bill you once make repeat billings against your card. While your credit card company will sort this out for you and refund any money fraudulently taken, many people are often too embarrassed to do this and take the more drastic method of cancelling their card.
Mixed Sites - Some of these may contain a few galleries and an index of other sites.
Private and Hidden Sites - These are frequently just a list of files in a free storage area, frequently on the wrong side of the law in most states and countries.
Types of Porn
Most porn can be classed into 'hardcore', 'softcore' and 'other'. Hardcore usually refers to material showing two or more people actually engaged in sexual acts. Softcore can be anything from bikini clad models, to naked spread-legged models, to people simulating sex. The 'other' category covers everything else from bestiallity, bondage, urination, through to sneak pictures, old, fat - the list is as long as people's imagination.
The vast majority of pornography is still images. These are nearly always displayed as a page of small, thumbnail images. Clicking on these opens the full picture. However, there is a sizeable market for movies. These can be of varying quality and size, ranging from a few seconds to 100MB plus movies that will fill up your hard drive in no time. There are also an increasing number of chat rooms with streaming video of a model (nearly always female) at the other end. Some of these are free initially, though the model will almost always stay almost fully-clothed. However, for some money, you can enter a private session, where the model is yours to command. There are also sites dealing in pure text pornography. With these sites there is less chance of any legal infringement.
All the above can be further broken up into subject matter; teens, mature, Asian, schoolgirls, sluts etc.
Hazards and Pitfalls
Apart from the legal side there are several hazards you should be aware of:
Advertising - These sites will attempt to place cookies on your PC. These will then enable other sites to see what sort of sites you have been visiting and, more importantly, others who use your PC can see where you have been.
Pop ups - These are the extra windows that are opened as you enter or leave a site and they usually display advertising of some sort. However some sites can spark off a loop of pop-ups, no sooner have you closed one then two more spring up. These can cause severe PC problems and can be very confusing.
Dummy links - Frequently you will be viewing a page you like and you see a link at the bottom saying 'Page Two', you click on it, only to be taken to a totally different site - frequently a pay site or an index site.
Hijacking - Some sites allow you to download a program which, it is stated, will allow you to view their material. It has been reported that some of these will log you off your current service provider, mute the modem, and redial to a premium rate line, frequently in some far flung country. This trick is not just limited to porn sites.
Cleaning Up to Protect Others
If you use a PC that is shared with others and you don't want them to see where you have been, it is important you clean up. Evidence of your visit can be found in your cookies, so it is best to disable them first, this is usually in your browser settings somewhere. This will also help reduce pop-ups. Your history will need to be purged, as well as temporary Internet files, again each browser has settings to do this somewhere. If you use Internet Explorer and you have manually typed in an address this can also be embarrassing as the list of typed addresses will appear on the pull down menu. These can only be removed by editing the registry - unless you know what you are doing, do not type in addresses.
For those who worry about the moral or social consequences of viewing Internet pornography, there are software filters that help people and their families avoid porn sites. Examples include NetNanny, Cyber Patrol, and Surf Watch. Most such software is available for free download. Most can also be bypassed with a password, in cases where some members of the household are comfortable with Internet porn and others are not.
However, even software filters are generally understood to be a flawed solution. The user surfing with the filter turned on can expect some loss of non-pornography sites. Frequently, the filters censor certain words, causing problems with topics that may contain those words, like gay rights, testicular and breast cancer, and family planning. Though some off-topic sites may also be lost, including sites about political parties and sites detailing the trouble that filters cause, and details of the sites banned by them. Also, many filters will allow access to a small portion of porn sites in error - particularly sites that avoid frequently censored words while maintaining extensive pornographic photo galleries.
Finally, children who have been forced to use filters frequently find ways around them. Some learn their parents' passwords to bypass the filters, while others develop or utilise renegade software that renders the filters useless. Because of this, parents are urged to discuss the possibility of viewing 'adult material' with their children before allowing them to surf the Internet without supervision - whether they have decided to employ a filter or not.