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Can Iceland Ban Internet Porn?

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Moves are afoot in Iceland to ban internet porn. The ministry of the interior is pulling together anti-porn legislation after consultations with the police, health and education officials about its detrimental effects on young people, women and their relationships with men. Halla Gunnarsdottir, advisor to the interior ministry explains why:

"We are a progressive, liberal society when it comes to nudity, to sexual relations, so our approach is not anti-sex but anti-violence. This is about children and gender equality, not about limiting free speech".

The ban will aim to censor 'violent' and 'hateful' porn that demeans women - a great idea in principle but who will decide what constitutes 'violent' and 'hateful' porn? Where does it leave non-vanilla sex - BDSM and other alternative genres? The US website Gawker quotes Justice Potter Stewart who said of hardcore pornography in a Supreme Court obscenity case: "I know it when I see it."

Which is a worry.

"Porn" is a 'catch-all' term with negative connotations. There is a lot of hardcore and violent stuff that demeans women. Of course something needs to be done to prevent children accessing this and being influenced by it but there are as many genres of porn as there are directors. There is a new wave of feminist porn directors who make empowering, female-friendly, body-positive and sensual 'porn' - check out Candida Royalle, Anna Arrowsmith (Span), Petra Joy, and Erika Lust. Anna Arrowsmith runs a site called www.weconsent.org, which campaigns against moral panics and anti-erotic industry legislation. She made the point at a recent book signing with the academic Anne G Sabo that porn is democratic and diverse - "you will see men and women of all shapes and sizes". Sabo has a new book out: 'After Pornified,' which explores a new frontier of sex-positive, female-friendly porn.

Iceland is a progressive country with a passion for gender rights. It has an openly lesbian prime minister and liberal attitudes towards sex. I stayed in Reykjavik with friends recently and attitudes are different. There isn't the same stigma around having children with different fathers and families are tight-knit, with an emphasis on community. Kids are welcomed in restaurants and bars meaning parents can have a bit of a social life in the evenings. However, it is illegal to distribute porn there and strip clubs have been banned since 2010. Which pretty much leaves sex as the sole form of adult entertainment (and a way to stay warm!) when it's dark and cold for six months of the year.

My Icelandic friend Jenny has the following view: "I am not sure how they are going to do this. But it might be a good idea to make porn harder to find and obtain. It is hard to tell what is "healthy" porn and what is not. I might have a very different idea about what porn is 'OK' from the old lady across the street. Parents should keep a lock on home computers so younger children don't have access to it.

"As for the long dark nights and how we entertain ourselves...role play, sex games, lol and playing pranks on the neighbours..."

It's also a small country - just 322,000 residents so from a technical point of view banning Icelandic credit cards from accessing porn and using web filters etc might be feasible. I can't see how this would be done in larger countries like the UK. However there is still a backlash from anti-censorship groups in Iceland who feel it is a step backwards.

I have mixed feelings about censorship of any kind. I value the free press and my ability to search for what I want on Google. However, I don't want my six-year-old daughter stumbling across violent porn - she has an iPad and access to Facebook and is proficient at surfing the net. It might be Bear Behaving Badly and Charlie & Lola games but in a year or two's time she'll overhear something in the playground and her curiosity will get the better of her. Do I opt out of adult stuff via my ISP? I am a sex writer and a woman who also enjoys her sexuality and watches porn - for ideas, fantasy, research, and as a turn on. I don't watch violent, hardcore porn but I do like fetish and BDSM and to push my boundaries a little. Watching porn alone and with a partner can be a way to fuel fantasies and stimulate your libido and erotic imagination. My ex watched lots of porn and it didn't bother me - we talked about it and explored new stuff together.

Child pornography is horrific and at the other end of the scale - with agencies like the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) doing a stellar job in trying to eradicate it.

Fancy Photography Sex is part of human nature and porn isn't going to go away so we need to change the way we think and talk about it. My sex education in school was rudimentary - basic biology - nothing about emotions, relationships and life skills, self-esteem or body positivity - all of which men and women need to live a balanced, happy life. Let's educate children about porn - its pitfalls and how unrealistic and fantastical it can be. How stupid it is that performers never use a condom. This would go some way to normalizing and demystifying it.

Will we have a legal definition of 'violent' porn? Hildur Fjola Antonsdottir, a gender specialist at Iceland University says: "This initiative is about narrowing the definition of porn so it does not include all sexually explicit material but rather material that can be described as portraying sexual acts in a violent or hateful way."

It will be interesting to see what happens with this and I think it's admirable that the government is sticking its neck out to make a stand in terms of gender rights and protecting children - all very timely in light of the One Billion Rising campaign against rape and violence towards women. We need to reclassify 'porn' and generate some discussion around this.

Intelligence Squared is chairing a debate on 23rd April 2013: Pornography Is Good For Us: Without It We Would Be A Far More Repressed Society. Click here for more info.

Around the Web

UK 'will follow Iceland's lead over ban on internet porn' - The Guardian

Legal status of Internet pornography - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Could the UK really block internet porn? - Telegraph

Iceland's bid to ban web porn | Mail Online

Filth and fury: David Cameron's U-turn on online porn - UK Politics ...