opinion

A Slice of Reality

Stephen Yagielowicz
Recently, the Idaho Falls Post Register ran a series on adult called “Pandora’s Boxxx” – which delved into everything from “sexual addiction” to children and porn to the efforts of various anti-porn groups to eliminate our livelihood and ability to enjoy adult entertainment.

I participated in this series; responding to a number of questions that were submitted to me.

Here’s the questions, and my replies:

Much has been written and said about pornography being addictive, on par with drugs, booze and cigarettes. Do you buy this notion?

While ‘much has been written and said about pornography being addictive, on par with drugs, booze and cigarettes,’ it’s important to consider that this misinformation has been based upon questionable ‘science’ and the opinions of anti-porn activists – not upon any legitimate, unbiased research.

Consider also the fact that “drugs, booze and cigarettes” are all physical, chemical agents that are ingested and can indeed have measurable, harmful, addictive effects. The mere viewing of any type of subject matter hardly falls into this category and in fact belittles the very real battles that addicts face over “drugs, booze and cigarettes” – all of which can be lethal. No one ever died from looking at porn.

While some compulsive types can be “addicted” to anything, such as watching a favorite television show, eating ice cream or going to the gym; nobody suggests that ice cream is akin to crack cocaine and should be regulated to protect fat people from themselves – instead, these compulsive actions are rightfully viewed by society as personality defects in the individual – not as evil perpetrated by the dairy industry, for example.

The bottom line is that the addiction myth is being perpetuated by anti-porn activists that are seeking additional means by which Constitutionally-protected speech they disapprove of may be further regulated; presumably under the auspices of the FDA, if they can prove that porn is addictive. This truly is the height of absurdity and disingenuousness.

The Supreme Court definition of obscenity talks about average people applying contemporary community standards and whether the work lacks “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” That implies that the work must posses some redeeming value. Can you speak to the societal good that comes from adult content?

There are three areas in this question that need to be individually addressed: the first is that of community standards. The concept of contemporary community standards is a simple one, which allows, for example, the good folks of Salt Lake City to deem that they do not want to be publicly exposed to the type of material that may indeed be in demand in say, New York, Miami, Chicago or Los Angeles. By the same token, folks in other jurisdictions should not be limited in their choice of entertainment by what is considered proper by Salt Lake City standards.

While I do not dispute the fact that a community may be impacted by the physical presence of an adult entertainment venue and that a community has the right to decide what is appropriate for its members; when looking at the topic of Internet porn, the issue of ‘community’ dissolves.

In the real world, a case may be made that children shouldn’t be exposed to, for example, adult magazines in plain view at a supermarket, or even questionable signage on an adult bookstore (signage which is usually regulated by local ordinance); but when the content is delivered directly to the consumer in the privacy of his or her own home, via the web, then it is not an issue for the community, but for the individual.

As for whether or not a work when taken as a whole lacks “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value,” this is known as the Miller test, based upon the 1973 court case which has set the standard for obscenity since. To make this easy to understand, I’ll use the example of men’s magazines, that while featuring explicit imagery, can not be found obscene because interspersed throughout the work and alongside the explicit imagery, one might find political satire, a road test of a new sports car or review of the latest electronic devices, etc. This is what constitutes “the redeeming value.”

As for the societal good that comes from adult content, I’ll venture that the accessibility of adult entertainment saves more marriages than it harms. This is because fantasy can replace infidelity, when, for example, one partner in a marriage is unable to satisfy the other’s sexual needs; either due to medical reasons, emotional issues or an unwillingness to engage in a specific act. Rather than leading to acting out their desires, exposure to adult entertainment provides a safe alternative, free from the risk of sexually transmitted disease, immune to unwanted pregnancy, and within the confines of the marriage vows.

Another benefit is that folks who are emotionally repressed and somehow view sex as being “wrong” or “bad” can see just how common sex is – as if our very existence was not evidence enough.

The CP80 Foundation, based in Utah, wants to set up separate Web ports on the Internet for adult and family content. What do you think of this idea?

If the goal is to protect children, then by all means, establish a kid-friendly zone on the Internet. Indeed, Congress visited the creation of a “.kids” TLD that would feature only that content that is suitable for younger children. Surprisingly, no one is interested in this. Indeed, Congress acknowledged that there was no industry support for such a measure, and .kids is at this point merely a failed experiment.

But even a kid-friendly zone will be ineffective without parental responsibility, where it’s up to parents to supervise their children’s online activities, rather than the more common trend of using the Internet as a babysitter.

I’ve personally advocated the establishment of an “.adults” TLD that would be all-encompassing of material deemed potentially harmful to or otherwise inappropriate for minors; including pornography, liquor, gaming, tobacco, firearms, etc. – but such moves to “ghettoize” any class of legal, Constitutionally-protected material are met with fierce levels of resistance; as evidenced by the recent defeat of the “.xxx” TLD initiative.

The use of filtering mechanisms is a much better alternative that is already here today.

Should pornographic material, whether purchased in the community or viewed online, come with the same kinds of warning labels we place on alcohol and tobacco products?

Like what? “Warning: if you don’t stop it, you’ll go blind!” Going back to my comments on the fallacy of addiction; alcohol and tobacco are physical substances with very real health risks that are ingested into the body and not at all comparable to material that is simply viewed.

Having said that, responsible operators of adult websites already place warning notices on their home pages; alerting visitors that may have accidentally stumbled upon their website, that it contains material of an adult nature.

Should minors be able to view adult content online?

Absolutely not; it’s illegal in the U.S. and wrong besides. No legitimate operators of online adult entertainment companies want or encourage visits by minors: they pose a liability and cannot even pay for our products and services; making this an issue with many downsides and no benefits to the website operators.

If the answer is “no” to the prior question, is there a better way to keeps kids from the myriad of pornographic sites available online? And does the industry that is providing this content have an obligation to come up with a solution?

The best way to keep kids away from adult entertainment is for parents and guardians to exercise personal responsibility and supervise their children’s Internet access. In our household, even though the “children” include a junior in high school and two college students in their 20’s, unsupervised Internet access is not allowed.

Pornographers shouldn’t have to replace lazy parents as the guardians of our children.

Having said that, the online adult entertainment industry through the auspices of ASACP, the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, has in response to Congressional demands, released its RTA or Restricted To Adults labeling solution, which allows all responsible adult website owners to add a free snippet of code to their sites which prevent the site from being displayed on computers that use any of the popular software filtering mechanisms. Of course, for this to work, parents must also be responsible in ensuring that the computers their children have access to, make use of filters. As a side note, Microsoft has included a filter in its market-leading Internet Explorer browser for several years, so this isn’t necessarily a financial burden on parents or schools.

Also, it’s important to distinguish between grade-school children that may accidentally stumble upon an adult website, and a hormone-ravaged 16-year-old that has already had a number of years of computer science classes in school: there is little one can do outside of direct supervision to prevent the latter from purposefully accessing an adult website.

What does it say to you that companies such as Marriott, AT&T, General Motors and Hilton are now partners in your enterprises?

It says that these publicly-held companies acknowledge the demand and mainstream acceptability of adult entertainment and recognize that it is only a very small but vocal minority of intolerant book-burners that oppose it.

Thankfully the decision makers at these companies leave the choice of which legal material consumers want to see, up to the consumer; rather than giving in to pressure from those self-righteous individuals that think they know what’s best for the rest of us.

Some, such as the Lighted Candle Society, a group led by the former lieutenant governor of California, promise to hit the adult industry with tobacco-style litigation, essentially civil suits intended to damage the industry with huge jury awards. Is there a fear in the industry that, given its unpopularity in some circles, that it could be damaged through this approach?

Not at all: of course, this points to how for some, being anti-porn is all about the money and illustrates why the enemies of free speech are so interested in proving “addiction” or other harmful effects as a gateway to a profit-driven witch hunt. After all, “tobacco-style litigation” requires the establishment of tobacco-style harmful effects.

The question is who do these “huge jury awards” go to? Would that be a special interest group, or an individual or class-action group suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome over its own personal excesses? Follow the money and you’ll uncover the lies.

Some in the adult industry use various means to entice people to their product: buying up registered domain names; sending people who may not want the content unsolicited emails; and connecting adult pages to each other so that when you attempt to close a window you are instead connected to another. How do those in what might be considered the mainstream adult industry view these practices?

Let’s look at these issues individually:

“Buying up registered domain names” is misleading and more appropriately, “buying up previously registered, but since abandoned, domain names” – a practice more common among mainstream marketers than adult webmasters. This is done to capitalize on any existing traffic to the domain and to build portfolios of what is essentially real estate.

“Sending people who may not want the content unsolicited emails” is illegal in the U.S. under the CAN-SPAM act and as such is the province of overseas criminal operations; not of legitimate, U.S.-based companies. As a side note, adult entertainment offers now account for only three percent of spam, according to the latest figures.

“Connecting adult pages to each other so that when you attempt to close a window you are instead connected to another” is all a matter of degrees. For example, the launching of one or two windows, known as ‘exit consoles,’ is an accepted, but outdated form of web marketing. Accepted because in the past, a website could expect an additional 30 percent or more in bottom line revenue from using these consoles; outdated because most major browser software features built-in “pop up blockers” that limit their efficacy today.

This is very different from the ‘console hells’ that misguided marketers once employed that would spawn countless windows and often force users to reboot their computers. This is among the techniques defined by the FTC as ‘mouse-trapping’ and is not used by legitimate website operators.

At this point and in conclusion, it’s vitally important that folks understand that there is a great difference among adult website operators: you have the legitimate mega-brands as well as countless ‘mom and pop’ operators striving to do the right thing while satisfying an enormous public demand for our wares. On the other hand, you have literally tens of thousands of overseas operators (what I like to call the 15-year-old Ukrainian kid in his momma’s basement) that are beyond U.S. law and totally uncaring of the consequences of their actions, as long as there are a few rubles to make. The facts bear out that these enterprises are the main sources of illegal child pornography and of most of the abusive practices that legitimate operators are tarnished with. As an example, it’s like holding up a back-alley abortionist as a poster-boy for the medical profession: it’s just not the truth.

At the end of the day, the choice of what legal material a consenting adult chooses to view in the privacy of his or her own home should be left up to that individual and not be the choice of a third-party that sees itself as being more capable of making that decision. Capitalism is about letting the market, and by inference, the people, decide what is “ok” and what is not. For my critics, I’ll offer a bit of paraphrasing: “Hypocrites! How dare you point out the splinter in your brother’s eye while ignoring the beam in your own?”

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