Is the Government’s ban on porn a solution to social evils?

The issue is not porn, the issue is censorship. Very few will disagree with the fact that the depiction of women and sex in porn is despicable. The potential harm which porn can inflict is also quite well known. I have personally seen in my experience as a lawyer, the fact that porn can wreck marriages. But as I said, the issue is censorship. Does the government have the right to dictate what I can or cannot watch or as to what constitutes obscene material? That is the real question here.

To assess whether the ban on pornography is arbitrary or unreasonable, we must first assess what is the objective of this ban and what are the reasons that underline this action. Let us look at this one by one.

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Banning of Porn will improve the perception of women?

Here is the problem, India’s love for porn is symptomatic of our perception of women, not the cause of it. Even before internet porn entered into our lives, we were a society that had mastered the art of treating women within and without the home as sexual slaves. Concepts like restitution of conjugal rights which find mention in our marriage legislation clearly reflect the lack of respect for concepts like bodily integrity and personal autonomy. Therefore manner and extent of the embrace of Internet porn became the symptom of a larger disease in our thinking and mind-set.

Even before internet porn became a reality, the local grey markets sold pornography by the dozens. In fact, children in Bangalore who went to shop for video games in the by lanes of Gandhinagar, were frequently offered “special DVDs” by these shop keepers and this was before any porn site became popular in India. The amount of money made by these vendors from the sale of porn movies is simply astounding.

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It scared us, to come face to face with our failings at creating a society based on values. So we wanted someone or something to blame, to save face for our failure to undo the damaging perception of women. Porn was one such target besides western culture and skimpy clothes. Experts agree that the ban on pornography will not improve the perception of women. It will only improve the business of underground dealers.

Internet pornography is easily accessible and therefore we must ban it?

Pornography has devastating effect on children. The connection between juvenile sexual behaviour and exposure to pornography is undeniable and often dangerous. That is why it is widely accepted that subjecting a child to pornography is a form of child sexual abuse. But is internet porn to blame or poor parent child relationships?

Remember the time, mum and dad closed your eyes when Kate Winslet’s beautiful body came alive on screen in Titanic or when James Bond happened to kiss his heroine in the end of Tomorrow Never Dies? Didn’t you feel curious as to what it is that your parents did not want you to watch? But you couldn’t turn to parents to address that curiosity. After all did your parents ever talk to you about what sex is or what the penis or vagina is? Did they tell you about Porn movies and how it could be detrimental? Isn’t it true that while a lot of fathers enjoy pornography, they still expect their sons to be asexual and never feel curious about sex? So pornography became the father figure that addressed this curiosity without judgement and inhibition. No wonder kids loved it.

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Indian parents made a choice. They chose to indulge their discomfort around genital organs and sex, instead of discharging the parental duty to equip children with conversations and knowledge, critical to personal safety and positive development. Their conversations with children became limited to marks resulting in shallow parent-child relationships. The shallow relationships our parents built with their children accommodated and nurtured the need for porn among our children. Our kids therefore were exposed to pornography without a proper perspective of gender roles and sex.

The result is porn addiction among our kids and consequent deviant behaviour in their sex lives. The ban on pornography will not make our kids any less vulnerable, the grey markets of Gandhinagar (Bangalore) being a case in point. What will make our kids vulnerable is better parent child relationships and more holistic sex education. Oh wait, we banned sex education right? Hmm…..

Porn causes rape?

This argument is premised upon certain assumptions namely, porn causes sexual arousal and that sexual arousal leads to rape for achieving sexual gratification. But rape isn’t about sex. In fact, the psychiatric definition of rape is that it is a pseudo sexual act that serves non sexual needs. In the book “Men who rape: The Psychology of the Offender” by Nicholas Groth, the study of sex offenders revealed that a significant majority of them experienced impotence, retarded ejaculation and premature ejaculation during the sexual assault. Many cases involved digital penetration or use of objects due to this impotence. In other words they found no sexual gratification but still perpetrated rape. Why? Because to them, rape was about domination, power, control and anger. Sex was not the end, but the means to express their personality dysfunctions. So if rape isn’t about sexual gratification, then sexual arousal and its precursor, porn, aren’t problems, are they?

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But has porn got no role at all in rape? The answer is that porn does have a role, albeit a limited one. Porn doesn’t instigate the need to rape. If porn gave rise to rapists, every man in the world would be a rapist which clearly isn’t true. However, once the need to rape is born in the offender, pornography helps mould the rape fantasy. In other words, porn doesn’t tell him to rape, but once he has made that choice, porn tells him what he can do to the victim during the rape. This offender will rape with or without pornography and therefore the ban will not kill that need to commit the crime.

It is true that serial rapists like Ted Bundy gave interviews in which they blamed pornography for their actions. However, Ted Bundy blamed pornography towards the very end of his life, just before his execution. He did not raise this point during trial. Experts of the Behavioral Science Unit at FBI explain this behaviour stating that a sex offender is a man designed to avoid responsibility for his actions. In the U.S. we have seen offenders blaming even sugar for their violent crimes. So for Ted Bundy when the hour of his execution came close, he was still looking to blame something else instead of owning up to the destruction he had inflicted as a matter of choice and found pornography in this search.

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The rapist is a thinking creature. He doesn’t make his move if a policeman is in sight or if the victim represents a fight. Such being the case, it is difficult to accept Ted Bundy’s or any other offender’s explanation that pornography turned him into a zombie who had no control over his actions. In conclusion, banning pornography will not per se reduce rape. We will reduce rape when we attack the social values and institutions that have reduced women into controllable objects. That requires all of us to take bold action and question the stereotypes and traditions we have built around women. The solution to the rape crisis is not just punitive but also social.

Conclusion

So if pornography is a problem, but censorship isn’t the solution, then what do we do to mitigate its ill effects? First and foremost, we must develop a holistic and scientific understanding of the male and female anatomy. We must also develop a scientific understanding of sex. Most importantly, we must remove the taboo around sex and come to accept it as an instinct, the same way breathing is an instinct. Once we achieve this understanding of gender and sex, we can elevate the quality of discussions around sex with our children and with our peers.

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If porn is sending the wrong message about sex, it is time we started sending the right message about sex. Even within the porn industry, you are seeing the emergence of feminist porn with women like Candida Royalle creating movies that have defied the conventional trends of depicting ill treatment of women and absence of foreplay. We must create an informative campaign that speaks of the ills of pornography, the same way we created campaigns around tobacco addiction. We must impose on our parents to spend more quality time with their children and pay attention to the world of kids and listen to them without judgement.

Pornographic content will always remain protected under the Freedom of Speech and expression, if not in India, at least internationally. In today’s day and age where borders are meaningless, that means that pornography is here to stay in India. But we can fight fire with fire by offering a counter narrative to Pornography. The question therefore is this, are we up for the fight or will we remain cowards and hide behind laws that cannot be enforced? If we choose to be the latter, then we better be willing to make peace with the damage pornography can inflict on our lives.

By Ashok G.V.

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