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Burn down the disco! Porn panic comes to Canada

Maclean's wants us to mess with fundamental freedoms; I say, let teens look at XTube

I’ve been looking at porn online for 15 years, or since I was about 10 years old.

My family was an early adapter. We’d had a home computer from the time I could walk (where I learned math and reading skills from rabbit-themed video games.) The computer always seemed to be on, between my brother, my father and me. Its location, in a small, amateurly-drywalled corner of the basement, made it semi-private, the perfect place for me to explore my strange, new sexual urges.

This was the early days of the internet. The generation before me got their jollies in the back of the Sears catalogue and from their fathers’ poorly-hidden Playboy collections. Another generation read dimestore pulp and stared longingly at the covers.

I didn’t have sex until I was 20, but at least I had an outlet for my sexual urges.

PANIC ON THE STREETS OF LONDON

Maclean’s magazine, living up to its reputation as the sensationalist tabloid of Canada’s magazine world, wants you to know that kids — although mostly teens and twentysomethings like myself — are looking at internet porn.

Well, duh. Since that’s about the most obvious statement, um, ever, they’ve tarted up their coverage with the some typical boogiemen.

Although none of the teens they interview seem to be suffering from anything more severe than a stiff wrist, author Monique Polak takes us through second-hand accounts of porn leading to “sex addiction” and the tenuous assertion that porn triggers violent behavior. In fact, most of the teens and twentysomethings they interview say that porn may be something they watch, but it’s no big deal. Why doesn’t Polak listen to them?

Polak’s article, to her credit, reminds us — albeit in the second-to-last paragraph — that watching porn isn’t deviant or unhealthy, even among youngsters.

Unfortunately, the accompanying editorial appears to have been written by sex hating bigots. They seem to have missed Polak’s statement that “little bit of pornography, even among young people, as good, healthy fun.”

Porn is bad for teenagers, somehow nebulously dangerous, and governments have an obligation to protect them from harm, the editorial asserts. In the opening lines of Polak’s feature: porn on the internet is so much worse than the girlie mags of their childhoods because teens now have access to images of, among other things, anal sex and same-sex erotica.

THE MUSIC THAT THEY CONSTANTLY PLAY SAYS NOTHING TO ME ABOUT MY LIFE

Maclean’s has put its finger on one source of parental panic: what if my son goes to gay websites? What if he likes them?

It is exactly because the internet provides images of anal sex and same-sex erotica that it needs to continue to be widely accessible, and yes, even to teens.

Gay teens grope around for ways to understand what they feel at puberty. It’s a confounding time for everyone — gay or straight. But while straight folks can find sexualized portraits of their burgeoning feelings on every billboard and bus shelter, gays can’t.

It’s not uncommon to hear an older lesbian say, “I thought I was the only one who felt this way.”

Younger people tend not to say that. In part, Canada’s coming out shift is the result of 40 years of activism in Canada, which made gay sex and gay love visible. But not, of course, as visible as porn does. For teens today, porn is a part of coming out. I am thankful that I accessed images of gay sex when I was a teenager. I hope that future generations of teens also have access to gay porn on their home computers.

The myth that porn is harmful is self-perpetuating. A kid is told that porn is bad for him. Then, when he looks at it, he feels guilty. He feels like a criminal and he hides what he’s doing. But it’s not porn that threatens to turn our sons into paranoid, self-loathing introverts, it’s the hate-on for sex that parents are trying to instill.

BURN DOWN THE DISCO! HANG THE DJ!

I’m not a big fan of hypocrites.

Maclean’s is embroiled in a protracted battle against Canada’s Human Rights Tribunals for attempting to punish free speech, no matter how sensationalist the editorial. And on that front, I agree with Maclean’s. Free speech isn’t about protecting speech you agree with. The degree to which we allow people to say and depict things we disagree with is the best measure of free speech.

I’ve argued elsewhere that we shouldn’t ban abortion groups from university campuses or homophobic lyrics from our iPods.

So, I think that arguing that regulators and ISPs should be censoring the internet is a tad two-faced. ISPs shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the content they provide.

And can I point out that Maclean’s has posted to their website the controversial Paul Bernardo interview, which journalists had to fight a publication ban to have released?

Maclean’s says keeping kids from porn isn’t censorship, because we have laws that prohibit teens from driving cars and buying cigarettes. They’re wrong. We have four fundamental freedoms according to section two of the Canadian Charter: freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association.

So, let’s review. Freedom of expression? Fundamental. Buying cigarettes? Not fundamental. And according to the Supreme Court of Canada, freedom of expression extends to the right, not just to say something, but the right to hear something. Or see it.

Maclean’s claims its position isn’t censorship, but it is. And in Canada, it isn’t our only limit on expression. So let’s at least identify it as such rather than claim it’s not.

Already, we have filters in libraries and schools. Okay, that sentence just gave me the chills. Censoring libraries! Because of these filters, news and health sites are ending up on the wrong side of kid-friendly programs. That means, for instance, that a 16-year-old girl may be denied access to some safer-sex websites. Or, she might find no search results when she types in the word lesbian.

I mean, seriously, just try to write a porn-catching algorithm that doesn’t catch PFLAG’s website, or ours.

I think parents should not try to shield their teenagers from looking at porn. They’re not protecting them, they’re giving them fear- and guilt-based complexes about what should be happy, healthy sexual exploration. And why? Because parents are afraid. Maclean’s is endorsing that fear and its editorial staff should be ashamed of themselves.

To modify the lyrics of The Smiths: Panic on the streets of London, Ontario, indeed.