There is no more active agent employed by Satan in civilized communities to ruin the human family than EVIL READING. It steals upon our youth in the home, school, and college, silently striking its terrible talons into their vitals, and forcibly bearing them away on hideous wings to shame and death.
- Anthony Comstock, Traps for the Young
We're all fucked. It helps to remember that.
- George Carlin, Brain Droppings
In 1998, it was possible for Abilene Reporter-News (www.reporter-news.com) religion beat writer Terry Mattingly to report, without irony, on Catholic bishops speaking out against sexual abuse: "The pastors who wear Roman collars believe they can see the wreckage caused by pornography... whenever they stand at their altars and scan the faces before them.
"While researchers continue to debate the links... the members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops have heard enough.
"The spiritual fathers see the dark side of the media lives of many families."
Later, of course, it would come to light that many families see the dark side of the repression, codes of shame and silence, and denial of healthy human instincts of many Catholic bishops. The major difference between the Bishops and pornography - and it might seem obvious, but for those who are unsure - is that one may be accessed by minors, and this access is historically sanctioned, trusted, and unmonitored; and the other may not.
It has been alternately comforting and distressing to talk to people with families inside the adult industry, and that's the majority of the work force. One performer who refused to answer questions stated matter-of-factly that her 8-year-old was simply off limits. While super-candid about every other facet of her life, this exhibitionistic pornstress turned into an overprotective mother in a heartbeat.
Lisa Turner, CEO assistant to owner Bill Pinyon and in charge of the marketing and advertising department at Badpuppy (www.badpuppy.com), would seem to agree that being "overprotective" is, indeed, the province of the parent. As the mother of a pre-teen, she has taken precautions to screen the things her child sees and hears, including adding filtering software to her home computer. "But it's not the job of the government [to protect children from porn]," she affirms. "It's the job of a parent."
Gramma, owner and operator of GrammaCash (www.grammacash.com), agrees. The mother and stepmother of several adult children and the grandmother of seven minors ranging in age from 1 week to 16 years, she says being in the adult entertainment industry gives parents a unique perspective on the "kids-and-porn" issue. "Seriously, at an impressionable age, children still need to think of sex as a reproductive act and as a private act," she says. "How mixed up about relationships and love could a child be if they stumbled upon extreme BDSM sites, or even simple amateur 'soccer mom' sites? Parents must police themselves and their children."
What really harms children, and who is responsible for protecting them? It's hilarious and infuriating to read things like this, from www.cuttingedge.org: "When a ministry like Cutting Edge speaks the Biblical truth that God hates the homosexual lifestyle and will bring it into physical judgment, we are guilty of 'denigration.' We will be placed on the 'Family Filter' list so that our pages are blocked and inaccessible. If you have our exact URL address, you will see a dialog box pop on your screen telling you that Cutting Edge Ministries is excluded from this Internet Service Provider because we are a site that is guilty of 'discrimination.' Some 'Family Filters' even have us listed as a 'Hate Site.'"
That's part of the problem with current filtering technology, according to experts: The extreme ends of both sides in the Great Pornography on the Internet Debate are being silenced in their own medium. Filters can be good and bad; they can filter both too much and too little. And while children, unlike computers, are not mechanical creations that can be programmed to behave in specific ways, filters may be helpful when used in conjunction with parents' right and responsibility to monitor their offspring. Children learn from their environments, and their knowledge can and should be shaped and molded by those who care about them, according to those who've been there, done that. "I think MSN [the Microsoft Network; www.msn.com] has a great idea with the new 'butterfly' thing they have going on," says Gramma. "It can track your children's surfing, and can also set the age-appropriate filters to the browser. This sounds like one that might actually work. If MSN isn't an option, [parents should employ] Net Nanny (www.netnanny.com) or some other type of filtering software. Java should be disabled. Most importantly, children should never surf alone.
"I believe there are some very responsible members of the adult industry that incorporate the necessary steps that, in combination with good parenting, would prevent a percentage of [accidental exposure to age-inappropriate material] from happening."
Gramma, it seems, should know. In addition to her duties as a maven of elder-erotica, she has taught classes about how to use the Internet to children ages 9-11 at her local community college. Although the course was not designed as an introduction to safe surfing, Gramma says she covered the topic with her students in age-appropriate ways because it seemed to be something their parents either didn't know how to address or were uncomfortable discussing. "I think someone in our business is uniquely qualified [to teach kids about safe surfing], and probably much more informed about the whole 'porn on the Net' industry [than the average person]," she says. "The kids were mainly interested in looking up cartoon shows, pop stars, animals, and chatting. At the very first class, they wanted to know if they could go chat somewhere. That scared me a little. I really don't think young kids should be allowed unsupervised in chatrooms. We made our own chat room and practiced safe chatting: no details about yourself; if someone makes you feel weird they probably are; don't ever meet anyone from the Net without talking to your parents first, no matter what. I didn't get into details with them about specifics and the sexual dangers, but I did send home handouts with advice and Web links for the parents to take an active part in monitoring their [children's] Internet activities.
"The kids were always anxious to tell me about their surfing adventures," Gramma says. "They thought it was hilarious when they came across a porn site, mainly from typo domain names. They always clicked out at the first page, and normally thought porn was taking over their computer when all the windows started popping up. They knew for sure they were in big trouble, and that they'd messed the computer up completely."
Terms of Disenchantment
When plugged into one of the major search engines, the phrase "harmful to children" gives these results:
Is Harry Potter Harmful To Children?; Is Spanking Actually Harmful To Children?; Fluoride Toothpaste Harmful For Children; The Commercial Hyping Of Harmful Or Useless Technology For Children...; Ask Babs: Mouthwash, Vitamins, Medicines Can Be Harmful For Children; Tobacco Smoke Extremely Harmful To Children; Is TV Harmful For Children And Families?; Are Computer And Video Games Harmful To Children?
"Pedophilia" shows up around item 25, and this turns out to be text from a Christian site's demonizing of Judith Levine's book, Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex [see review here. - Ed. ]. In 100 results, there is no item relating "sex" and harm to children (although there are quite a few anguished condemnations of Levine).
Many women in the industry for years have suffered the frustration of not being able to discuss their jobs with other adults without having to address the issue of child abuse two minutes into a conversation. AVN Online Editor in Chief Tom Hymes has weathered two or three staff petitions that we strike the term "child pornography" from the magazine, as most of us find it oxymoronic.
There is no such thing as child pornography. There is child abuse. There are still, unbelievably, tragically, sexual crimes against children. But pornography and children are oil and water - and that's a distinction that might as well begin in semantics. (Doesn't noted linguist Noam Chomsky argue that those who control the language control society?) If you stop to think about it, the devious (and incorrect) attaching of the words "child" and "pornography" to each other has caused more serious harm to the legitimate adult industry than any other accusation.
The Website All About Sex (www.allaboutsex.org) provides a forum for kids to ask and answer questions about sex and sexuality. The Webmaster and original creator of the site is one "Randal Blackburn, an Internet Web Developer/Designer and Webmaster for a leading Internet Banking software company," according to his bio. All About Sex was providing sex- and body-positive information four years before Levine's Harmful to Minors raised the ruckus that set, for example, this Online feature in motion.
Included in a posting from "Mary: North America" on the "Kids Speak Out!" page regarding nudity is this demented caveat: "Note: Just because we believe it is appropriate, under the right circumstances (which include parental supervision) to artistically photograph minors in the nude, this does not mean, in any way, that we believe adult-child sex is appropriate; and we consider these to be two completely different issues. Simple photography celebrating the human body in ALL its stages - infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and old age - is *NOT* pornography.... "
In what civilized society on Earth could such a thing need to be clarified?
Anecdotal evidence submitted by children themselves seems to indicate that accidental exposure to nudity in particular is more titillating than harmful in and of itself. One 23-year-old college student who hopes to be a football coach one day told us that he grew up in a home where both parents were employed in the adult industry, as publishers of a regional swingers magazine. He occasionally encountered a copy of Playboy or Penthouse in his parents' home, he said, but they really held no fascination for him until he was old enough to realize what they were about... and at about that time, his parents divorced and the magazines disappeared. His parents were always very frank with him about sexuality and the human body, he said, and today he credits that with his development of what he calls a "healthy attitude about sex." In fact, he does seem to be the prototypical all-American boy.
Gramma of GrammaCash relates similar tales. "My 9-year-old grandson told me that he was at his mom's one day, and he was looking for Pokemon cards or something similar and he came upon a 'naked site,'" Gramma recalls. "He giggled about it. He thought it was really funny."
In fact, Gramma says, such material has been available to curious children since way before the debate about "harmful matter" became so intense. She remembers her own introduction to erotica at a tender age: "The library was a good place to find erotica that bordered on porn. You could always look at the scientific journals there for anatomically correct nudes. We had to make do with what was available [in the days before the Internet]. National Geographic was a 'tit'illating read once in awhile."
That doesn't mean, she warns, that all adult material on the Web is "safe" for children: "I do think that accidental exposure can harm some children. The more curious of them, once exposed to it 'accidentally,' will actively search for it. I probably would have if the Internet had been around when I was young. In my opinion, it could scare a child to death if they came upon one of those 'clown porn' sites. Clowns are scary enough with those big red feet, but add in a big red [penis], and it could spell disaster."
"We care a great deal about the youth of America," the "Note" from "Mary: North America" on the All About Sex site goes on to say, "and believe they deserve more openness and honesty about sex, sexuality and nudity than we have been giving them. We want our children to be healthy (including sexually healthy), self-confident and self-reliant, happy, and free from sexual guilt, fear or shame."
That's a good list of "wants" for the adult Internet industry, as well. Somewhere along the way, a disconnect has occurred in America, one that keeps most citizens from thinking of pornographers as... other citizens. We are family people, parents, children, and grandparents, not to mention upholding of "our own standards that we live by.... I think we sometimes forget that there is a real person behind the keyboard, a person who is working very hard to provide for a family or just themselves."
The quote is from a June 2001 Adult Buzz (www.adultbuzz.com) column by Bestat about business ethics (and not at all on child abuse). In it, she asks adult Webmasters to "take the time to realize how our actions impact other people and the industry as a whole," an excellent rephrasing of The Golden Rule.
But even Bestat's expectations for pornography as an industry must have been lowered considerably: "Just because we utilize the Internet to make our living, it does not excuse us from basic ethics and standards." It's interesting to note that she does not specify "the adult Internet."
"So we are in the 'Porn Business,' she concludes. "[I]t is still business and it should be conducted as such."
So it is.