As the Adult Pendulum Swings

Q. Boyer

As I’ve watched the debate concerning David Cameron’s proposal for opt-out porn filters at the ISP level play out in the U.K., I can’t help but wonder if a similar idea might not eventually percolate up again from the bowels of U.S. Congress — perhaps even a bill that lacks some of constitutional defects that doomed various iterations of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) and the enjoined portions of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), and that might better survive court scrutiny.

It seems to me that were due for such an effort, maybe even overdue. Things have been remarkably quiet on the “culture war” front of late, possibly due to the fact that the GOP has seen less benefit from beating the Family Values drum in the last few election cycles, and fewer socially conservative Democrats (like former Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a frequent sponsor or co-sponsor of culture warstyle legislation) are seeking to make hay of the easy access minors have to online porn. Even with a midterm election year upon us, the pols have been largely mum at the national level when it comes to regulations and restrictions aimed at the adult industry.

By fighting every single regulation that comes our way, we risk losing some of that good will and public acceptance that we’ve gained over the years.

While obviously a regulatory effort that directly impacts the industry, I don’t see the AHF’s efforts to mandate condom use in porn as a part of the culture war —certainly not in terms of the way it is presented by its proponents, which is as a workplace safety measure. This isn’t the sort of regulation I’m anticipating from Congress’ culture warriors; I’m talking about mass filtration, a possible reconsideration of age verification requirements and other, sweeping access-restriction measures.

One of the reasons I suspect the great porn debate will be rekindled, even if related legislative measures are not, is that the adult industry and its fans have been remarkably successful over the last few decades in winning a greater degree of social acceptance for porn (within the U.S., at least) than it has ever enjoyed before, and along with that acceptance, a higher public profile, as well. As I see it, something as controversial and divisive as porn can’t take a highly visible role in society without experiencing some push-back from those who are dismayed by its newfound acceptability. I also think that to an extent, porn’s critics are right, because porn really shouldn’t serve as the go-to sexual education resource for kids.

In a recent article by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslet of The Guardian, “Porn’s Influence Is Real, Sex Education Is the Answer,” Cosslet relates a quote from a young woman she interviewed about porn’s impact on sexual behavior: “It’s clear that porn is having an effect…. I mean, when a guy asks to come in your hair, he’s not thought that up by himself. He’s got that from somewhere.”

While it’s obviously true that some guy must have thought that particular idea up by himself (unless the pornographer who originally depicted the cum-in-hair shot was given the idea by ancient aliens), I see this young woman’s point: it’s now undeniable that porn’s popularity is influencing our not only our social norms, but our sex lives and sexual behaviors, as well.

In a recent interview with Sssh.com, pornographer Erika Lust cited porn’s influence as part of why she thinks it is so important for women like herself to be out there making porn.

“[Porn] has an impact on society, it speaks about our roles, our sexual roles as men and women, you know, about masculinity and femininity,” Lust notes. “It’s very important that women participate, and that we realize that young people do watch porn to learn about sex, and if the porn that they are watching is very negative ... that’s what we’re going to learn from pornography, and that’s what we’re going to reproduce in our own sexual lives —and I think that’s a huge mistake.”

Lust’s comments are significant, not only because she has a solid point, but because of who she is. This is no antiporn, Morality in Media mouthpiece decrying porn’s impact on the youth of today; this is an award winning erotic filmmaker delivering a frank assessment about the downside of porn’s popularity, reach and impact. Lust also offers a clear and compelling antidote to the problem: making better (as she sees it, anyway), more realistic and more responsible porn — a salve far more palatable to my civil libertarian inclinations than sweeping statutes and restrictive regulations.

If and when culture war blowback hits in this country, instead of simply reacting defensively and lashing out at our critics, I think the American adult industry might be wise to consider what sort of regulation we can tolerate (or even benefit from), and then seek to help shape and define the new rules of the road. Among other things, every industry that is worth a shit in this country is regulated to some degree or another, and some of the most profitable (like pharmaceuticals, for instance) are heavily and tightly regulated.

This is not to say that the industry should embrace censorship, or accept being pushed back into a quasilegal corner like the one it occupied in the pre-Freeman days — we’ve collectively fought too hard and individually sacrificed too much to roll over and let that happen. I’m just saying that if as part of the blowback we’re presented with a legislative means to reduce the extent to which minors access our products (which they most likely do in the greatest numbers on tube sites, properties of which a lot of adult producers are not too fond to begin with), rather than lining up our lawyers to fight every line of the new statutes tooth and nail, the wiser choice for the long term might be to extend an olive branch to the powers that be, and to lobby the government to allow our legal teams to help in crafting the new regulations from the ground up.

This might sound like heresy to a lot of adult industry readers (and like I’ve plumb lost my fucking mind to some of my friends in the legal profession), but I’ve come to think that rather than wait for the next regulatory proposal directed at the industry to be handed down, we should be proactively offering ideas to legislators and public officials of our own volition, particularly where access restriction is concerned.

Ask yourself, how does it benefit any of us in the industry to have minors watching porn? Put quite simply, it doesn’t. It angers parents, riles their elected representatives, and even the most cynical among us has to admit when it comes to porn, a kid’s money is no good. Even if they do find a means to purchase our products (like, say, by using mom’s credit card while she’s not looking?), that purchase is invalid, just as is a sale of cigarettes or booze to that same minor.

Remember that regulations aren’t just about law; they are about politics, public relations and perception, too. By fighting every single regulation that comes our way, we risk losing some of that good will and public acceptance that we’ve gained over the years. If we (selectively) embrace some of the more reasonable regulations that come along, or at least support their goals, we can actually enhance and broaden our social acceptability as an industry.

This is the adult industry, after all; it’s supposed to be by and for adults.

Perhaps the time has come to act like we really mean that phrase, instead of just trotting it out as a slogan to defend against the notion that we’re a bunch of exploitative profiteers peddling flesh indiscriminately to all who cross our path.

A 16-year veteran of the online adult entertainment industry and long time XBIZ contributor, Q Boyer provides public relations, publicity, consulting and copywriting services to clients that range from adult website operators to mainstream brick and mortar businesses.