We are putting our children through a vast social experiment, the outcomes of which we have absolutely no idea. We are raising the first generation in history to be exposed to the most extreme hardcore pornography from a prepubescent age. Thanks to the internet, all manner of sexuality is now on full, uncensored display, at our fingertips, 24/7. That at least is the case if you and your family live in places where curbs on online porn are minimal or non-existent.
A survey in the US finds that the average age at which boys first see porn has dropped to 101/2. Some democratic countries are proposing to ban online porn, most notably India and Iceland. Liberal Iceland has already outlawed strip joints and the hiring of prostitutes. Now, it wants to ban online porn, at least the more extreme varieties. Meanwhile, a legal debate is raging in India to ban porn distribution after a series of rapes and murders.
Such proposals may be extreme but they are not completely indefensible. As a multibillion-dollar industry, the production of porn is dominated by a handful of democratic countries - the US, Japan and Germany. So its restrictions and censorship are often framed in terms of free speech. But an increasing number of social scientists, policymakers and feminists are proposing to look at porn as a public health issue. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that porn addiction is like other physical addictions, and that it affects behaviour in comparable ways. Of course, it is difficult to predict how porn affects some people but not others. But it's the same with drugs, alcohol and gambling. We still see fit to ban or restrict their availability.
The internet has transformed the world, just as porn has transformed the internet. Indeed, it's been pointed out that many online innovations such as payment subscriptions, video streaming, zip files and e-commerce in general were popularised, if not invented, by the porn industry. We have come to live in a pornographic world - in mainstream fashion, commercials and movies; with sex acts that were once rare but have become not only acceptable but expected in the bedroom. Porn is pervasive like junk food. If we can regulate transfat and sugar contents, porn cries out for tougher regulations.