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dr. Albert Benschop
translation: Connie Menting
|Hornification of the Internet||Cybersexual Obsessions|
NetLove and CyberSex: the (im)possibilities of bodiless intimacy
Child Pornography: Traces of a Crime
Regulation of CyberPorno: Filters, social control & criminal prosecution
CyberStalking: Menaced on the internet
|Hornification of the internet|
Pornography is one of the most controversial themes in internetuse in the last years. The availability of pornography on the internet has caused a 'moral panic' among authorities, judicial and police institutions, and among the traditional media. There is the notorious Communications Decency Act in the United States (June 1995) intended to protect children from access to “patently offensive 'indecent' sexual material”, easily accessible to them via online computerservices. The controversial law aimed at the restriction of access of minors to explicit pictures of sexual activities. The law is not focused on documents with an educational, political, medical, artistic, literary and social value with respect to themes such as sexuality, reproduction, human rights and civil literties. The Congress and Senate voted for the law which had to ban obscenities and immorality from the internet. Republican Dan Coats from Indiana called the internet “a wild frontier of degraded and degrading pornography ... available to every child with a computer and modem". In 1997 the Supreme Court rendered the law inoperative.
In conservative circles the internet is often depicted as a digital version of Sodom and Gomorra, where pornography and perversity control the flow of data. Parents are incited to protect their children against damaging content (e.g. nudity) by installing internetfilters, such as Netnanny, Net Shepard and Cybersitter. Internetprovider Compuserve even tries to recommend their services with a 'free' protection against unwanted information. In their zealotic enthusiasm Compuserve even succeeds in introducing a man who looks a bit bewildered because his wife has just installed the Compuserve filter on the computer, stopping him from having access to 'sex'. Sex is made a taboo again. The Compuserve fanatics have put sexuality behind bars again, as a dirty and filthy thing. Again, there is a lot of work to be done for the Dutch Association for Sexual Reform.
Sex remains a controversial subject, no matter whether it is distributed via digital or analogous means. The representation and practice of sex is closely interrelated with cultural ideologies and fears. Sex is preferably the affair of a monogamous heterosexual couple in the privacy of the bedroom. Any aberration from this sexual norm is not considered a 'variation' but a 'deviation'.
Internet is a 'training field' for local social life. In the safe and anonymous setting of the internet people can experiment and explore their sexual limits and skills. People experiment with sexual preferences and – partial or global – identities. Some moral crusaders consent to this, as long as these experiments don't exceed the virtual boundaries and as long as it remains 'functional'.
The most important activity of legislators and parents in relation to internet-content is child pornography, and not so much other forms of pornography. Paedophiles have used the internet for the circulation of pornographic material related to children. Paedophiles make up a sexual minority-group, with their own forms of expression of fantasies and representation of sex with children. There is a general consensus that the line should be drawn at child pornography. In most cases child pornography is a permanent proof of the sexual use of child (except in the case of pseudo-pictures).
The internet is an enormous, international library. It goes without saying that some people don't like their children to drift around on the internet, with the risk of reading potentially dangerous material. But the remedy is not pulling books out of the bookcase and prosecuting librarians.
It is ironical that the new legislation is most profitable for commercial pornography distributors: when they can keep minors out of the door they will become practically immune for the law, and even more popular because they can offer the only uncensored areas of the internet.
In the discussion on the regulation of the internet two themes should be strictly distinguished. In the first place the regulation of potentially damaging content such as pornography and in the second place the regulation of illegal content such as child pornography. Regulation aimed at the protection of a specific group of people (for example children) should not take the shape of an absolute ban on the use of the internet to distribute specific material which is freely available for adults in other media. The production, distribution and possession of child pornography is illegal in The Netherlands and in many other countries. But this doesn't count for pornography as such. It is expressly not the intention of the Dutch legislator to keep adults from examining sexually stimulating visual material. In 1985 the provisions on the distribution of offensive material have been deleted from the Criminal Code of the Netherlands. Since then the general rule has been that adult, mature civilians can decide for themselves which information they want to receive. For the government there is no task in the field of 'good taste' or decency. Thus, the government is no 'moralist', but does have the task to penalize certain behaviours in order to protect a third party, for example children or certain communities. This principle, however, is not shared internationally.
|What is pornography?|
Pornography: arousing sexual stimulation
"We can't spell, but we can scream..."
Pornography knows no legal or consistent definition. The definition of each individual depends on their upbringing, sexual preferences and the context in which the pornographic material is being watched. What is 'exciting' for one may be 'filth' for the other, or 'boring' for a third person.
A lot of pornography is biased in a sexist way and therefore little attractive, or even repulsive and insulting for women. Yet, sexual images, which do not comply with the desires of women, should not be prohibited. The answer to bad pornography is good pornography and not no pornography.
There is no fixed or unquestioned definition of pornography, not in The Netherlands, nor in the multi-national context of the internet, where cultural, moral and legal variations over the whole world make it hard to define 'pornography' in such a way that it is acceptable for everyone. What is considered to be 'sexually explicit but not obscene' in one country is considered to be obscene in other countries. And what is considered to be pornographic but legal in another country can be considered as obscene and illegal under the law of still another country. In some countries there is hardly any legislation against child pornography and sexual abuse of children.
'Indecency' is a word that covers a wide range: from four-letter words to nudity and all sexual material that is considered to be 'insulting' according to certain standards.
The USA has laws, regulating pornography with a clear understanding of the First Amendment, which covers freedom of speech. There is a difference between 'obscenity', which is not protected by the First Amendment and 'indecency', which is. To decide what is and isn't obscene the threefold Miller test is used.
Distribution and use of pornography
Pornography on the internet is available in different formats, ranging from pictures and short animation-films to sound files and stories. Most pornography is available via the pages of the World Wide Web. Sometimes it is also distributed via Usenet newsgroups or ftp-sites. Of course the internet also facilitates discussions on sex, watching live sex (PornoCams), and the simulation of sexual activities from computer screens. The history of pornography time and again closely follows the rhythm of development of the mediating technologies, and plays a hard-core role in this process. The webmasters of porno sites were the ones who made an important contribution to the development of shopping carts, the embedded pop-ups, payment per click, etc.
Originally the internet business mainly consisted of the sale of pictures and videos containing porno. At this moment approximately half the traffic on the internet concerns porno, and the majority of the sites which require payment concern porno shops. The Netherlands creates a substantial export surplus on the internet. The number of visitors of porno sites is roughly higher than of 'ordinary' sites. The most popular page in the 'adult site' top-10 is an index page with references. Advertisers with porno-offers have immediately adopted this site. The site Hun's Yellow Pages draws more than a million visitors each day [source: NedStat; SexTracker].
Because porno is sold to men (and sometimes also women) in all tastes and formats on the internet market, it has struck the market for erotic reading and salacious videos a hard blow. The surplus nude magazines are dumped in the former Eastern bloc on a large scale. According to the Dutch sexline-owner Buch many distributors of pornographic reading find it extremely difficult to survive. Expectations are that as soon as the bandwidth of the internet is big enough for the transfer of films, the market of porno videos will have to take a severe beating.
The internet facilitates the distribution of gigantic quantities of pornographic material on a non-regulated market with a huge, international public. Intrinsically computerpornography doesn't differ essentially from pornographic magazines and videos. But the costs can be drastically reduced by distributing it via computernetworks. This lowers the barriers for both publication, distribution and opening up. The internet makes access easy.
Whenever users log in on a pornosite their clicking behaviour and possible transactions are filed in the databases of the pornographic entrepreneurs. This way the porno bosses are increasingly better informed about their buying behaviour and sexual preferences. The more sophisticated the computer pornographers are, the more they use these databases to develop mathematical models with which they can decide which picture is best suitable to put aggressively on the market. The marketing strategy of pornographic entrepreneurs is shifting. The strategy of market satiation was followed by a strategy of market segmentation. This specialization on certain segments of the market is at present more and more replaced by a strategy of individualized 'one-to-one' marketing. At any rate, the internet has become a more or less ordinary means of transport for the distribution of large quantities of 'hard' and 'soft' pornography.
Before the 'ordinary' e-commerce emerged the erotic sites ran the show on the net. The top-10 of search-terms existed for 90 percent of erotic terms. But also the commercial erotic sites have met with drawbacks the past years. The time of acquiring customers and generating growing income seems over. Several factors play a part in this process: the economic recession, the satiation of the internet with free pornography (of an increasing quality), the irritating and dubious practices of some pay-sites (free trial subscriptions which are automatically changed into a regular subscription), and lasting problems with regard to the safety of payment. In the meantime there is such an overkill of free 'adult content' that many people find it unnecessary to pay for pornographic pictures and video clips.
The pornographic industry on the internet has grown big through the system in which smaller, free sexsites generate traffic to the big pay-sites. The bigger commercial sites pay the small ones per click on a banner, or per arranged subscription. This has made the supply of digital porno overwhelming. Visitors of pornosites are flooded with an endless series of banners and pop-up windows, intended to keep them in the pornocircuit as long as possible. The consequence of all this is dat visitors of free pornosites are less and less inclined to subscribe to pornographic pay-sites. Moreover, the main search machines like Yahoo! have by now discovered that they too can conquer a piece of the pornocake by changing to a system in which porno-distributors have to pay for a place on the list. The smaller sites, who lived on the thousands of visitors per day through the searchmachines, cannot afford these investments and do not get as many visitors as they used to. For many webmasters these are not only indications of a forthcoming shakeout of paid pornosites, but also that in the wake of this many free sites leading to the big commercial sites will disappear.
Sexually compulsive behaviour via the internet is not only the result of deviant individuals who use the internet to live up their already acquired obsessions. Also people without any psychiatric past increasingly yield to obsessive internet behaviour. So the question is if, and if so why the internet creates a cultural climate of tolerance, which encourages and appreciates sexually deviant behaviour. The ACE-model investigates the Anonymity of online interactions, which increase the chance of sexually compulsive behaviour, the Convenience of interactive online applications makes it easy for users to access temptating sexual material and online interactions, and finally the Escape from the mental tension that reinforces the behaviour leading to compulsion.
Some participants in virtual roleplays succeed extremely well in drawing attention. In the LambdaMOO Lynn, in real life a law student gives a well-considered description of his fantasy character with the name Leather Goddess:
Gender significantly influences the way in which men and women experience cybersex. Women prefer cybersex because it hides their physique, removes the social stigma that women shouldn't enjoy sex, and enables them to concentrate with safe means on their sexuality in new, unrestricted ways. Men prefer cybersex because it takes away their fear of performance, of which underlying problems with premature ejaculation or impotence can be the cause. It also hides the physique of men who feel uncertain about loss of hair, size of penis or overweight.
|Anonymity||Stronger sense of control over own online sexual experiences by the loss of local social control on deviant behaviour.||Encouragement to live fantasies to the full and acceptance by cyberculture.|
|Convenience||Direct universal availability of cyberporno.||Facilitation of sexual exploration and experiments.|
|Escape||Flight from or other definition of frustrations of local reality.||Sexual satisfaction and emotional escape by development of online fantasy-life.|
Internet doesn't create sexual addicts, but offers opportunities for sexual expressions which may lead to sexually addictive behaviour. Sexual addicts are responsible for their own behaviour and for the consequences of their sexual expressions and practices. Although the internet offers easy access to sexualised information it cannot be held responsible for the addiction. Sexual addicts should learn to draw the line for their consumption of cyberporno. Fortunately the internet is not only a strong seducer, but also a potential educator. The internet plays a role of growing importance in the information on healthy and lustful aspects of sexuality. Moreover, many sources are available on the internet which can be used to 'kick off' from a cybersexual addiction.
Cybersexual addictions leading to obsessive internetuse occur to people who watch online pornography, download and trade it, or who are involved in a role-play for adults in chatrooms. A cybersexual addiction is one of the specific forms of internetaddiction (next to cyber-relational addiction, netgaming and gambling addiction). At a rough estimate 1 out of 5 internetaddicts is glued to some sort of online sexual activity. Men watch more cyberporno, while women usually lose themselves in erotic chat.
A cybersexual addiction usually comprises a wide range of practices. Sometimes an addict only has trouble with one undesired form of behaviour, sometimes with more. Unhealthy use of sex is not an innate condition, but the result of a (failing) conditioning, learning and socialization process. It usually begins with an addiction to masturbation, pornography or a relationship, but it can gradually grow into morally reprehensible or dangerous forms of behaviour.
Sexual preoccupations take up an enormous amount of energy. As this energy increases, a behavioural pattern (or ritual) follows, which usually leads to 'acting out' (for one person this means flirting, looking for pornography on the net, for the other this means walking in the park).
Indications: warning signs of cybersexual addiction
You might like nswer the following questions to judge whether you have a problem with a sexual addiction.
The unique and tempting interactive qualities of the internet are a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for the origin of obsessed internetuse. A cybersexual obsession only occurs to people who are predisposed. We could use some more research is into the extent to which frustrations in local social life contribute to a tendency towards cybersexual obsessions.
We have learned that in virtual communities status and power are acquired in a different way than in local social life. The lack of visual signals and the relative anonymity of the participants stimulate a sense of equality. In virtual communities people are primarily judged by the strength of their ideas, regardless of the status they have in their local community. This levelling of status enlarges the accessibility of virtual communities for new people (mostly the communities are very 'hospitable'). Internet communities provide access to information, relations and communications that one cannot expect when operating within the boundaries of the interactional, organizational en community structures of local social life [Garton 1995].
Addiction is a form of trained helplessness, leading to negative feelings. The immediate reward of gambling, gaming or lusting after someone offers temporary satisfaction of the unsatisfyable desire for self-assurance [Taber 1987]. People suffering from cybersexual addiction often take up a defensive position and magnify the positive aspects of their lives to compensate for this lack of self-assurance. We notice the same mechanism in other forms of addiction, of which alcohol addiction in our cultures takes up the first place, leaving all other addictions far behind. Therefore it is not surprising that half of the internet addicts were already addicted to something else [Young 1996; Brenner].
The basic pattern always seems to be the same. People who become frustrated in their attempts to satisfy their specific needs in local social life, will regard the internet as the first interpersonal medium that satisfies these needs. This can be so much reinforced that people neglect their interactions in local social life for some time. When this tendency is preserved, the temporary cybersexual passion becomes a permanent obsession, with as the result an unliveable balance between virtual and local social life. Potential victims are most probably chiefly people with a large, uncontrolled fantasy.
A large number of new internetusers for some time explore with great passion the possibilities of cybersexual relationships and enjoy themselves with cyberpornographic material. In the diagnostic criteria for internet addiction the time-perspective is very important. In a cyberpornographic addiction it only involves the lasting tendencies towards online porno, over a significant period of time at the expense of the quality of local social life. This makes addiction to cyberporno a pathological condition (in contrast with a freely chosen passion). As with all addictions the difficulty remains to draw a clear borderline between 'normal enthusiasm' for and 'abnormal preoccupation' with cyber-eroticism and – pornography.
|A world of sexaddicts?|
These true to internetlife horny scenes are not unique. It started at the time with the 06-lines. The partylines and chatboxes enabled people to make sexually charged contacts quickly. Much quicker than in the normal, local world, where so many people trip over corny opening sentences. The disadvantage of 06-lines is that contact takes place via verbal exchanges and that it is very expensive. The internet has added images to the communication and is much cheaper nowadays.
Does the internet contribute to the hornification of society? More and more reports are published which conclude that the internet creates a world of sexaddicts. The porno consumption of frustrated and lonely men increasingly shifts from dark sexcinemas, pornovideos and 06-lines to the internet. In itself that's not so surprising or alarming. The pornobosses were the first entrepreneurs to understand they had to transfer their sexploitation to the internet. The only thing the cyberpornobosses worry about is the huge number of internetplaces where people have free access to pornographic material (they share this worry with conservative moral censors and moralists, even though their motives differ immensely).
The hornification of society via the internet may just as well arise from a completely different source. After all, people who go on a spree online belong to the groups that are sexually most restrained in local social life: women, homosexuals, sado- and masochists, fetishists, paedophiles. They try to regain their lack of excitement, advances, intimacy and satisfaction in local life via the internet. In an obsessed manner they immerse in a cesspit of horny fantasy.
|Therapy: Sexaholics Anonymous|
Just like other forms of addictions cybersexual addictions know multiple causes and several phases. The treatment of a cybersexual addiction is most likely to succeed when the specific peculiarities of the individuals involved are taken into account.
Pornographic representations have an important function in the self-gratification behaviour of people (predominantly men). Masturbating is something most people sometimes do. This doesn't mean and certainly not necessarily that someone who masturbates has a problem. However, masturbation can be compulsive and cause great problems. When masturbation is compulsive and leads to problems for a person, it is a good idea to change this behaviour. To change this the first thing to do is to understand the function of this behaviour. Regulation of masturbation is not a task for the government, lawyers or policemen, but for the people involved, their counsellors and therapists.
We have seen before why it is really necessary to pay special attention to the use of and addiction to cyberpornography and interpersonal cybersex. Something that can safely, quickly and completely satisfy basic human desires ('instant satisfaction') is predestined to become an addiction for some. The problem here, of course, is the secrecy with which pornography-consumption and cybersex are surrounded. The question is how people can be induced to report on such internet-activities themselves. Fortunately the same technology with which someone got into trouble can also be used to discourage cybersexual obsessions. The internet offers several possibilities for online sexaddicts to talk about their problems with fellow-sufferers and experts and to search for solutions.
A lot of good information on online sexaddicts can be found on the site: Online Sexual Addiction. People who have a need for it can follow an online course to conquer their compulsive sexual behaviour or their cyberpornographic addiction. They can also make use of several links to sites where sexaddicts can get advice and support: recovery links. In Struggling with Porn one can read how Christians struggle with their sexaddiction.
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Eerst gepubliceerd: August, 2003