March 22nd 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The future ... after Iraq

CANBERRA OBSERVED: After Iraq: the challenge facing John Howard

MEDICINE: Leading specialists reject destructive embryo research

BIOETHICS: Embryo research and state laws

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Bazaar politics/Sponsors/Beautiful People socialism

COMMENT: The real culprits in the internet porn scandal

FAMILY: Youth legal guide alarms families

MEDIA: Accord strikes a chord / 'Australian' shake-up a matter of opinion

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Deregulation and water could be a tragedy for National Party

LETTERS: Foreign debt (letter)

LETTERS: The vision thing (letter)

How Australian support is rebuilding East Timor

WATER: Towards healthier river systems: a flawed process

NUCLEAR WEAPONS: The future of non-proliferation treaties

BOOKS: Life, Liberty and the Defence of Dignity, by Leon Kass

BOOKS: Australia And Israel: An Ambiguous Relationship, by Chanan Reich

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The real culprits in the internet porn scandal

by Michael Cook

News Weekly, March 22, 2003
It's time somebody stood up and defended internet pornographers. The poor buggers have to make a living, too, and it must be hard to keep their minds on the job when media wowsers are dumping on them one week and defending them against Brian Harradine the next. Give them a break.

The latest assault on their self-esteem follows a survey reported in the Melbourne Age last week showing that increasing numbers of 16 and 17-year-old boys are accessing hardcore porn sites on the internet.

Boys and girls agreed that eyeballing X-rated videos is widespread in their age group, says the report from the Australia Institute. Still more disturbing is that even younger children - more than half of 11 to 17-year-olds - had seen some of this stuff on the internet.

The gasps of self-righteous horror from journalists and politicians will probably lift a couple of those multicoloured hot-air balloons into the morning skies in Canberra over the weekend.

Personal view

My personal opinion is that guys who make porn involving children, bestiality, rape and other perversions available to curious teenagers, or anyone else for that matter, make Khalid Sheikh Mohammed look like Mother Teresa. They ought to be drowned in a vat of Mortein.

But that's just my opinion. What do editorial writers, Government ministers and CEOs of advertising agencies have to say? Even internet porn-purveyors deserve the courtesy of an explanation as to why what they do is wrong.

And they'll never get one from the hyperventilating crowd in Canberra or from advertisers.

The real reason we have failed to stop the spread of internet pornography and X-rated videos is legislative inconsistency. It's absolutely wrong, children and teenagers are told. Until you're 18. Then it's OK, as long as you do it at home and don't chat about it over dinner.

But how do you expect 16 and 17-year-old boys to rein in their curiosity when the media tantalises them daily with a barrage of sexual content?

Our society has lost its capacity for idealising and defending sexual restraint.

From a parent's point of view, even worse than the ready availability of pornography is the sniggering and innuendo that fill cool radio stations such as JJJ.

When was the last time you read a serious defence of virginity or modesty in a newspaper? Words like chastity, abstinence or modesty can hardly be uttered without sounding quaint, comic or prudish.

No wonder it has become nearly impossible to convince young people that purity (another antiquated term) is possible. How can they learn to respect others' physical intimacy when billboards and the sides of trams double as anatomy textbooks?

The level of sexual references is rising steeply in the media. Suggestive TV shows are getting earlier and raunchier; the movies are becoming more explicit. An American survey last year showed that 68 per cent of all TV shows and 89 per cent of TV movies had some sexual content.

As a result, every year US teenagers are barraged with 15,000 sexual references, innuendos and jokes through the media - compared with 10,000 acts of violence. The situation is probably much the same here.

The unmentionable fact is that Australian children live in a bubbling cauldron of sexuality stoked by the media and advertising - which no one is willing to censor. And the result is exactly what you would expect. The latest figures from the Centre for the Study of Sexually Transmissible Diseases, at La Trobe University, show that about one in five Year 10 students (about 16 years old) have had sexual intercourse. The figure for Year 12 students (about 18 years old) is about one in two.

It sounds wowserish to say so, but the consequences of this casual sexual activity, not to mention pornography, is almost unbearably sad for both young men and women.

Sad, because young people learn to treat sex as a recreational activity, rather than as a way of expressing lasting commitment and bringing new life into the world. Sad, because they feel the shame and the pain of being treated as an object rather than as a unique beloved. Sad, because it alters the way they look at the opposite sex. Sad, because it lessens their ability to stick to the commitment of marriage.

Who's responsible for screwing up our kids' emotional future? Don't point the finger at the pornographers. Point it at the politicians, journalists and advertisers who won't deal with the problem because deep down they don't believe it's wrong.

  • Michael Cook is editor of the email newsletter Australasian Bioethics Information. For subscriptions to the free ABI email newsletter, contact

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