AVNONLINE COLUMN 200602 - HOMEPAGE - Wake Up and Smell the Ethics

You may have noticed that in this issue of AVN Online we’ve chosen to focus on age verification. This is a thorny subject for an industry that has thus far evaded the federal shit-hammer while raking in the profits from surfers whose numbers undoubtedly include those of questionable age. Having slid in under the radar when porn nemeses weren’t paying much attention to the Internet, the notion of implementing less-than-perfect age verification systems and then taking a hit in both traffic and the pocketbook isn’t a very palatable one. The concept of change itself is always a burden when one is feeling particularly comfortable with the status quo.

To which I say, tough titty.

If we take a moment to look at the big picture, the issue that seems to be swept under the rug or ignored altogether in many anti-AV arguments is why kids shouldn’t be able to view adult materials in the first place. The answer may seem painfully obvious to most, but for those who may feel it’s a trivial matter – and there are many, judging from the ludicrous “I am over 18” buttons on most sites – here’s a reminder: Children are not adults, and they shouldn’t be able to access materials that not only are they unable to fully comprehend as minors, but which may have a deleterious effect on how they view sex, men and women, and the world itself. No child should learn about sex from hardcore pornography. This is like teaching them to drive by throwing them into a demolition derby.

We make it difficult for children to get their hands on tobacco and alcohol. We restrict the age at which they can drive a car, vote, buy a gun, and join the military. Movies, games, and television are rated for content. No child can stroll into an adult bookstore, shout “I am 18,” and be given free rein. Why then is it so difficult to grasp the concept of preventing kids from accessing hardcore materials on the Internet?

A cynic might fault “greed.” The free-market reasoning can easily be twisted to justify business as usual, no matter how sleazy it may be. If the tobacco and liquor industries could sell their products to kids, they probably would—which is why the government regulates them. Prescient thinking might lead one to conclude that it would be best for adult companies to take matters into their own hands before Big Brother does it for them with its usual draconian measures.

The arguments against age verification – “it doesn’t work,” “it’s up to the parents,” “it tramples personal freedom” – may appear valid at face value, but they ring hollow upon further scrutiny. No age verification system is or ever will be perfect. Just because some minors will be able to circumvent restrictions, that's no excuse for a company to not bother putting those restrictions in place. By the same token, good parenting involves monitoring children’s access and exposure to all media, but that doesn’t eliminate the onus from any industry that uses a public communication tool like the Internet to act in a responsible manner. Lastly, if I have to prove I am an adult before I can view pornography, how does this impinge on my personal freedom any more than having to show ID before I can buy a pack of smokes, a bottle of booze, or board a plane? There’s a difference between inconvenience and oppression.

The government has already used age verification issues to control adult entertainment, and it will undoubtedly continue that tactic until it eventually succeeds. Some in this industry are gambling that this will be later than sooner, but I don’t doubt there will come a day when age verification is adopted across the board as simply the cost of doing business. As a result, some ventures will fall by the wayside. Like evolution, our beloved free market is all about survival of the fittest–even for pornographers

Ultimately, however, preventing kids from accessing hardcore material shouldn’t just be a pre-emptive strike in the name of self-preservation; it should also be a matter of ethics. Those who think otherwise or believe the issue will simply disappear are whistling in the graveyard.