back to article Academics challenge moral consensus on sex and the net

A moral panic around childhood sexualisation and the dangers of the internet is closing down important channels of debate and making the internet a more dangerous place for adults and young people alike. That was the consensus view taken by Onscenity, an international network launched this week, which draws together experts to …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The law has a problem

    Children will gain knowledge of various activities at different times in their lives. Being young they are likely to have no reasonable comprehension of law and therefore won't give a flying about any age limits.

    Society has a choice.

    Either have adequate resources that children and teenagers can access when they, themselves are of maturity to ask a reasonable question; and providing they understand the question they are asking, then they deserve a reasoned and educated response...

    ...or we just tell them to put a lid on it until they are 18.

    It doesn't take a genius to realise that any kid is just going to scoff at the latter option and carry on regardless.

    It is about time that an organisation like this was created to get issues like this in the open, with the kind of wisdom and grasp of facts that are necessary to firmly shut the self righteous up and put them in their place.

    Look out, you moral crusaders ... there are new kids on the block!

    1. Graham Marsden
      Thumb Up


      If someone *really* wants to "think of the children" they should provide them with the information they need, rather than trying to keep them in the dark in the hope that "well, if they don't hear about it, they won't do it".

      The latter statement has been the justification of every bit of censorship from the Extreme Porn legislation and the Dangerous Drawings law back to when Socrates was sentenced to death for "Corrupting the youth of Athens".

      Information will always get out one way or another, trying to deny children information just means they will get it from other (unreliable) sources and nobody benefits except the "Moral Crusaders" who feel smug that everyone is benefitting from their repressive attitudes.

    2. M man


      meh...couldnt resit the mixed metephor

  2. Michael Baines


    They've discovered Rule 34.

    1. Circadian
      Thumb Up

      @Michael Baines

      Thank you - I've seen a few references to "Rule 34" recently, and was left wondering... :-)

      1. Dave Bell

        Also to be a novel

        I understand Charles Stross finished writing a novel entitled "Rule 34" a few weeks ago, a sort of sequel to "Halting State".

    2. William Towle

      Re: Congratulations...



      // head asplode

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    It would seem that finally some folks have come up with some sensible comments.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Couldn't agree more

    What's missing from the entire debate is the role that the family should be playing in raising a child - and I use "family" in a broad sense - it's worth looking back at history too. Basically kids grow up using the role models that we, as parent, provide - if you don't like what your kids do - look to yourself.

    Trying to censor the Internet doesn't work anymore than hiding the dirty magazines under the bed did when I was a kid - when we were interested and looking for it we found it no matter how well our parents hid it. The kids who wanted to play "doctor" did and those who didn't want to ... didn't.

    It's my belief that almost every argument for "protecting the children" from "sexualisation" will inevitably contribute to, and channel, children towards "sexualisation"

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      yes, but...

      If only we could get the DNA donors to do actual, responsible parenting...

      THAT's the real and, I fear, impossible trick for most.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Moral Panic...

    I wonder if this outrage is caused simply because society is pushing for freedom of sexual expression on the one hand yet trying to protect the vulnerable on the other.

    A moral contradiction or paradox?


    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    1. dpg21

      Moral panic indeed

      Look, in these hard times some departments budgets are being slashed and staff are being cut back to the bone. How is a minister these days to expand their empire and get their face in the papers if they don't exploit some children?


    2. Anonymous Coward

      Stealth Malthusian

      Perhaps just a clever ploy to stop reproduction (ala the Quakers)?

      "FOR GOD SAKES, DON'T LET YOUR CHILDREN BREED!" might be more in order, eh?

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. jake Silver badge

    Shall we explore this a trifle?

    "Onscenity was created as a response to public concerns"

    Which public? Assumes facts not in evidence.

    "about a range of issues"

    In other words, we'll wave our hands in the air & get funding.

    "including the new accessibility of pornography,"

    Eh? New? Where have these people been the last ... Oh, I don't know, 150 years or so, when the Victorians declared the naked human form "pornographic"? I don't know anybody who hasn't had access to so-called "porn" from their early school days, when they start noticing nekkid folks are attractive.

    "the mainstreaming and normalization of sexually explicit representation"

    Normal human behavior for thousands of years ... See Egyptian tomb paintings et ali.

    "the commercialization of sex"

    The first cottage industry, like it or not.

    "the role of the internet in circulating 'extreme' images"

    Since day one. Get used to the idea, it's only been fortyish years. It would have been longer, but the 'net's only been around for that long.

    "and the use of communication technologies, often by young people, for sexual purposes."

    I was chatting up this bird behind the bike shed at school ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Did you read the rest of it? Or just the preamble?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    There is no debate

    "...The real problem, though, is that no one knows what "sexualisation" is: it is a convenient label used to position the child as always the victim, and then to pile every problem imaginable on top, including paedophilia, body image, sex trafficking and self-esteem. Once that particular juggernaut gets rolling, it is almost impossible to have a sensible debate about what's really going on..."

    Laudable sentiments, but we all know there is NO debate. There never will be, as long as the likes of The Rev Jim Gamble (for it is he), Chief Enforcer of this current Moral Panic, continue to enjoy the wholly uncritical favour and patronage of governments and large media corporations. As part of the UK Police Service, organizations like CEOP have been grossly over-empowered, so much so that they can (and do) directly influence judicial process in the formation of new, unnecessary (to all but themselves) laws on 'obscenity' and 'indecency', criminalizing ever-more swathes of citizens in their enthusiasm to bolster the Maleficarum - all this, with scant explanation and practically no verifiable evidence to support their increasingly surreal claims.

    We do need a debate. Trouble is, like feckless addicts hopelessly bound to their drug of choice, politicians, police and judiciary just cannot bring themselves to address the glaring iniquities of their approach to issues of 'sexualisation', 'obscenity' and 'indecency', preferring to wallow in the rank injustice of it all, content to consolidate ground gained during the last thirteen years of NuLabour's little social engineering experiment, under which bogus empires and grand edifices have been carefully built within the emergent child protection industry, at great expense to the public purse - allied in their dedication to ratcheting up the fear, suspicion and distrust between adults and children, their hatred of the online world, their fear of sexuality in all its many forms and their utter determination to stamp out anything - including some forms of consensual sex between adults - they sanction 'deviant'.

    And how they must love their paedomonsters - if ever their was a profit to be made from soft-shoe moralising and snake-oil justice, they found their golden goose in the moral panic they helped to create around these particular sexual deviants. Inviting society to throw away it's veneer of intellectual maturity, it remains the purview of Police in particular to subtly encourage the idiot Mob mentality that always seems to follow this subject around. Society needs it's monsters under the bed. Terrorists. Paedomonsters. Governments love 'em. Police love 'em.

    There will be no no debate. Not now. Not ever. And if you try, if you express ideas and concepts contrary to the Maleficarum they will come for you, charging you with incitement (or worse) for promoting 'wrong thought'. It is a fancy to imagine anyone - even those touting academic credentials of any kind - can openly conduct any sort of serious, open-minded debate on these issues. And it's a dangerous one, at that.

  9. Scott 19
    Thumb Down

    Hog Wash

    This is all a load of hog wash really in my day when i was a kid and the net was a thing of dreams, we'd just go down our local One stop stick Razzle in between the pages of the news of the world and 'buy the paper for our dad', walking home with a smile on our face, mars bar in our pocket and a happy dad cause he got his paper.

    Warning generalisation btu most of these moral gaurdians generally grew up as the ignored child and now want to make a statement as they've been ignored for the first 30/40 years of there life, you'll also find most of 'em don't even have kids.


  10. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Moral panic cannot exist on its own

    Something must be fueling it and that something requires a lot of money. What requires a lot of money would not exist unless there was an expectation of even greater financial return. Which means that, ultimately, all these moralisers and protectors of childhood are nothing but lobbyists and corrupted instruments of peddling influence on behalf of the groups benefiting from the scare.

    Which groups? Churches, sects, religious organisations whose congregations (hence sources of income) have been seriously reduced by the generally rising levels of public scientific education (over the past century or so) and freedom (you don't need to ask their permission to sleep with someone anymore).

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Anonymous Coward

    "the ultimate snow bondage and shivering website"

    How disgusting...

    ...excuse me while I go look that one up

    Oh yeah, - mmmmmm

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Not seen it.

      ...but it sounds cool.

      1. Rattus Rattus

        Don't be like that...

        'sno joke.

    2. Frumious Bandersnatch

      not so unexpected

      Rule 34 and all that...

    3. mmiied

      oh yer

      a new week a new fetish

  13. Dazed and Confused

    @ Michelle Knight

    > Look out, you moral crusaders ... there are new kids on the block!

    Sadly the "moral crusaders will simply label anyone who disagrees with as perverts or worse.

    1. 46Bit


      Spot on. Similar people to those that moan at people who they can't afford it about giving to charity, whilst they spend money on all sorts of junk.

  14. Circadian


    "...terms such as "pornification" and "pornographication" which, like sexualisation, are rarely defined..."

    I'm not absolutely sure, but don't they mean "fucking over the English language for fun and profit"?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Censorship is counterproductive.

    The problem with censorship is that generally when people change things to appease the censors it turns out worse than the uncensored version.

    If censors hadn't leaned on Russ Meyer to put less nudity in films he wouldn't have made the film credited with increasing the level of violence in all films since (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) and modern gorefests would probably not have happenned.

    If censors in Japan had just let the maker of a certain anime show a penis he wouldn't have chosen to comply by replacing it with a tentacle. The censors were fine with a tentacle, tentacles are wholesome and noncorrupting. That's right, tentacle rape exists to comply with censorship because it's not as bad as showing a penis.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Actual experts needed...

    "Too many so-called experts – most famously, Dr Linda Papadopoulos - were speaking well outside their field of expertise."

    Sadly this happens rather often and in my opinion the British Psychological Society should be stricter with its members about speaking outside of their areas.

    I've been approached by the media and then bumped when they got someone 'better'. Unfortunately 'better' seems to mean a known face rather someone who has actually published (or even read) research in that area. Empirical findings can be counter-intuitive so psychologists speaking outside their field can make absolute howlers by giving a seemingly common sense opinion.

  17. Elmer Phud

    Ah, Linda

    "Too many so-called experts – most famously, Dr Linda Papadopoulos - were speaking well outside their field of expertise. "

    Not that the reason she's on telly etc. is due to the fact that she isn't a right cracker and thus not exploited for her sexuality.

    And, while we're at it, how come that a certain multi-multi-million dollar profit raising oddball with one silvered paw is championed across the planet while a tubby balding geezer who invited folks to be in his gang is paraded as a threat to all humanity?

    It's got fuck all to do with 'Think of the children' but more of ' Think of my childrens' trust fund'

  18. Ally J


    In fairness, not all feminists are anti-porn. The trouble is that the ones who are then denounce the others as being traitors of some variety. Please don't tar all feminists with an abolitionist brush.

    1. Graham Marsden
      Thumb Up

      See the group...

      ... Feminists Against Censorship for more details

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Ally J

      "In fairness, not all feminists are anti-porn. The trouble is that the ones who are then denounce the others as being traitors of some variety. Please don't tar all feminists with an abolitionist brush."

      I think that is *exactly* one of the points the speakers at this event were trying to make.

      Campaigning for equality of opportunity and freedom from being coerced into doing things they do not like is something Isaiah Berlin called negative liberty. What some (pretty much anything anti-) campaigner *refuse* to accept is that a minority of people might *choose* to do these things (which Berlin called "positive" liberty). I've met plenty of people who quit (or wanted to quit) smoking. I have only ever met *one* person who wanted to start. I'd try to dissuade them and point out the down sides (it's not like the health hazards are exactly secret) but *true* freedom is accepting people do stuff that may (or will in some cases will) harm them and that it is their *right* to do so.

      In the porn context what some performers have done looks *very* painful. But if they choose to trade their pain for cash (or possibly because they like doing this sort of thing) in properly equipped surroundings whose business is it?

      Kidnapping, imprisonment and rape are *crimes*.

      Producing pornography between *consenting* adults is a *business*.

      BTW I've not seen a table but I understand po()n is one of the few industries where women being paid more than men is the *norm* not a rare exception. No doubt something else that will outrage some people.

  19. Claus P. Nielsen
    Big Brother

    Thought crime of the second degree

    A thought crime of the first degree is when you have a bad thought that is not approved by the government.

    Thinking about underage children in a sexual situation falls squarely into this category.

    But this is presently hard to prove due to limited mind reading technology.

    A thought crime of the second degree is when you make somebody else have a bad thought that is not approved by the government.

    Making somebody else think about underage children in a sexual situation by producing or viewing anything that some sick mind somewhere could claim shows underage children in or close to a sexual situation falls into this category.

    This crime is fortunately easy to prove. The prosecutor can act as his own witness ( "She was provocative in that picture"

    A second degree thought crime is obviously much worse than a first degree thought crime, since many more people could be affected by the bad thoughts that are not approved by the government (maybe the prosecutors colleagues also thought the picture was provocative when he showed it to them - strictly in a legal investigative manner obviously).

  20. david wilson

    @There is no debate

    >>"Society needs it's monsters under the bed. Terrorists. Paedomonsters. Governments love 'em. Police love 'em."

    And so do large chunks of the media, who must wet themselves whenever a good juicy story comes up, when they can turn the handle and churn out article after article about "Little xxxx" or "Baby yyyy" as if they (or any of their readers) actually knew the victim.

    It's sad, but many people do seem to need their monsters under the bed.

    Sometimes, that's people needing someone to feel superior to, like parents who mistreat or ignore their own kids being able to rant about some rare Evil Stranger Pervert (how many of *them* would one find in the crowd screaming pointlessly at a prison van, or throwing bricks at a paediatrician's house I wonder?), or someone in prison for fleecing vulnerable pensioners into poverty or deadly violence against entirely innocent adults needing someone they can look down on.

    Other times, it's people who don't really seem able to put a value on what they have unless they can feel there's some Outsider plotting to take it away from them, whether it's that Evil Stranger who wants their children, the EU nonexistently plotting to ban the British banger, or another country just salivating ready to invade.

    How many people would actually have been disappointed or insulted if, during the Cold War, it had been reliably shown that the USSR considered their country as just not being worth invading?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      The banality of evil

      The rise of the paedomonster, elevated to hitherto unheard of levels of (almost entirely misplaced) infamy in the past twenty years, can be no accident. This was a carefully orchestrated campaign by all interested parties - governments, police forces, advocates and media - in most global societies. It chimed well with NuLabour's election success here in the UK, facilitating a breathtaking, taxpayer-funded growth in all areas of the child protection industry - as well as an avalanche of new legislation.

      Perhaps when the enemy 'without' (the Soviet threat) faded away, there was a need to look within for new demons to terrorize a population with. Every dictator needs a stick to wield, and - by god - paedomonsters and terrorists (those other late, but most welcome, arrivals to the party) fit the bill so very well. Politicians can encourage hate, openly and without irony, towards such targets, because no expense has been spared to make the threats they represent so very real - whether that manifests itself, perversely, as tanks sent into Heathrow for the benefit of waiting news cameras, or repeated attempts by police and government to spy on their citizen's online activities, the effect is the same: the monster is made real.

      At least that is what we are told. And told again. Nobody thinks to ask for the evidence - especially not when it comes to issues around children and sexuality. Perhaps nobody dare, since the police have now made it legally impossible for anyone to verify any claim they care to make in this area without risking arrest and imprisonment, as well as entry onto the Sex Offenders Register. It's a lovely system and it works well.

      I doubt there is some grand conspiracy behind all of this. It's merely a pretty tragic example of job creation in an emergent market: the child protection industry is worth hundreds of £millions annually in the UK (much more globally) to countless organizations of all sizes. Jobs and careers (and therefore mortgages and school fees) are at stake, so the wretched carnival must roll on, regardless and no matter what, high-stepping its way through all our notions of common sense and proportionality with increasing violence and disregard for basic human rights. Doubtless, those who work in these parasitic industries consider themselves virtuously: just doing their job, after all, isn't that so?

      Hasn't that always been so?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I agree

        to a degree but

        "facilitating a breathtaking, taxpayer-funded growth in all areas of the child protection industry - as well as an avalanche of new legislation."

        I think it's a well known that _real_ child care and protection organisations are under funed, over stretched, and demonised by the press. Re social services and peadotricians and GP's, as well as quality care homes, fostering schemes, and under 18 activity faciliites (clubs and schemes alike)

        While databases, police, think tanks, lobbiests/charities and, qaungos have received a vast amount of tax payer funded growth.

        It does come back to nobody really giving a shit about caring for children, they just want to be seen doing something (at one level) and making a truck load of cash (at the other), meanwhile people who give a damn (social workers/health care profesionals/psychiatric professionals) get sod all and are left in the s--- with no support when the inevitable happens (most obvious case atm being the Peter affair.)

  21. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    All that Iihave to say is

    Per (reasonably safe)

    "It's very cold in Finland"

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good luck with that....

    I salute the efforts of the speakers at the conference. But unfortunately the moral puritanicals are now in charge and all logic left the building quite sometime ago. The day they though it would be a good idea to criminalize looking at drawings, drawings for peat sake, then all logic and common sense had been replaced by zealotry.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Made up words

    How can these people be taken seriously when they use so many made up words and terms that no one agrees on?

  24. Luther Blissett

    'Think of the children'

    can be interpreted not just as solicitous, but equally, as chilling. Consider the recent show-trial of children, as Frank Furedi does here:

    1. Rolf Howarth
      Thumb Up

      Thank you!

      Thanks for the link to, that looks like a truly excellent site... lots and lots to think about there.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Susanna Paasonen is a bit of a babe

    has she done any nude modelling?

    1. Jane Fae

      Why did i just KNOW...

      ...that someone would make this comment.


  26. Rolf Howarth

    The REAL reason

    I suspect the real reason we as a society are so keen to protect children from sexualisation is simply because we're jealous of them. Today's society is so obsessed with youth and personal freedom and consumerism and having fun that we just can't accept that, no matter how many boob jobs or viagra pills we have, most of us are never going to be 18 again. If we ever find a 19 year old who's lucky enough to have a pretty 16 year old girlfriend we're collectively driven crazy with envy, so we're going to make damned sure we can find a way to punish him for having what we can't have.

  27. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    @Luther Blissett

    I don't watch the news these days (it's all bad or lies) so had missed this.

    We are now in a VERY frightening place.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Things of the children

    sounds a bit rude

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "sounds a bit rude"

      But fortunately courtesy of the last UK administration also illegal.

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