A Christian protesting against anti-porn laws

In recent years, Britain has slowly begun to wake up to the reality of sexual abuse. The Jimmy Saville scandal triggered shocking revelations about abuse carried out by respected entertainers in the 1970s and 80s. Child abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church have been followed by increased reports of similar outrages in the Church of England. Only this week, it was revealed that the Scout Association had paid out thousands to settle legal cases brought by survivors of sexual abuse.

There is a very long way to go. Research by children’s rights charities suggests that child abuse is still rife. The conviction rate for rape is dreadfully low. A string of opinion polls suggests that significant percentages of people believe rape is less serious if the victim is drunk or has previously consented to sex and changed her mind.

Challenging and reducing sexual abuse should be an aim that unites people of many different political, religious and non-religious persuasions. Unfortunately, some seem to be more keen on restricting unusual sexual behaviour between consenting adults – including consenting adults in loving, faithful relationships.

The latest “anti-pornography” laws will do nothing to reduce sexual abuse. On the contrary, they will perpetuate inaccurate ideas about abuse while restricting civil liberties and demonising sexual minorities.

That is why I will join the protest against them outside Parliament at noon today (#pornprotest). I am sure I will not be the only Christian there.

I am not naïve about pornography. I have no doubt that the majoirty of pornography is exploitative, abusive and misogynistic. It contributes to the commercialisation of sexuality, which is also seen in the pressure to spend vast sums of money on weddings and the way the advertising industry promotes narrow types of romantic relationships for the sake of profit (though many who criticise pornography overlook these more respectable forms of commercialised sexuality).

Whether you regard pornography as inherently unethical depends to some extent on how you define “pornography”. Some years ago, like many other Christians, I simply dismissed anything described as “pornography” as immoral. I do so no longer. This is not because I’ve adopted some ultra-liberal approach to sexual ethics (something which I’m occasionally accused of), but because I see the hypocrisy behind mainstream attitudes to sexuality.

Conservative Christians sometimes accuse me of simply accepting the dominant values of British society. On the contrary, I oppose the hypocrisy of conventional sexual morality – which idolises narrow ideas of romance and condemns those that don’t fit into them, which tells people that love is what matters but pressurises them to spend thousands of pounds on weddings, which screams outrage at child abusers on street corners but ignores the abuse that takes place within apparently respectable homes. And which condemns sexual activities and relationship structures that look a bit odd – such as kink and polyamory – even when they involve love, honesty and meaningful consent.

The new anti-porn laws will restrict “kinky” porn in particular. Producing spanking, caning and face-sitting images, for example, is likely to be illegal – even if the producers of the image are the people participating in the sexual act it depicts. By targeting kink, the law is unlikely to damage big corporate pornographers. It will instead restrict “home-made” and specialist small-business porn, which is, of course, less likely to be exploitative in the first place (although I accept that some of it is). Any meaningful government attempt to prevent physical harm caused by such activities would surely involve consultation with people who practise kink, who tend to know most about the health and safety issues involved. This certainly does not seem to have happened in this case.

There are at least four good reasons for opposing the anti-pornography legislation.

Firstly, there is the importance of free expression. I am not absolutist about free speech. For example, I do not think people should be allowed to stand in the street and promote violence. But free speech should be restricted only when there is a very strong case that doing so will reduce or prevent violence or other forms of abuse. No such case can be made in regard to this legislation. Any unjustified restriction of free expression is an attack on the civil liberties of us all, regardless of our sexuality or beliefs.

Secondly, the proposed laws tend towards sexism and homophobia. Most of the activities they will restrict are more common amongst women and within same-sex relationships. Many of them are related to female domination (which can be practised in a playful way between people who nonetheless regard each other as equals).

Thirdly, the laws demonise sexual minorities by singling out certain sexual practices, even though taking place between consenting adults. Of course, some forms of kink can be abusive. Kink, at times, can be used as an excuse for abuse. Marriage can also be used as an excuse for abuse. It is dangerous and wrong to encourage the idea that conventional sexual relationships are all fine and unusual ones are immoral. Sexual abuse can be found within the most outwardly respectable marriages – as can love, mutuality and compassion. It is the values present in relationships that make them moral or immoral, not how they look on the outside. I am, of course, talking about relationships between consenting and honest adults. There is nothing healthy or ethical about sexual activity that is without consent, that involves children or is deceitful.

Fourthly, these laws may make it harder, not easier, to challenge sexual abuse. They confuse abuse with oddness, criminalising sexual activity because it is unconventional rather than because it causes harm. I am against these laws precisely because I want to tackle sexual abuse. To do so, society must place a much higher value on meaningful consent. Let’s celebrate healthy sexual expression between compassionate, consenting adults while striving to eliminate the vicious, outrageous abuse that still pervades the sexually hypocritical society in which we live.

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One response to “A Christian protesting against anti-porn laws

  1. Pingback: Sex, violence and Margaret Thatcher | Symon Hill

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