Jay Evensen: Hard to wallow on porn's edge and not fall in

Published: Thursday, May 17 2012 9:48 a.m. MDT

In this Jan 23, 2008 file photo, a computer user is silhouetted with a row of computer monitors at an Internet cafe.

Associated Press

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Sometimes, irony crosses the boundary to the absurd.

A British newspaper recently published an informative piece on Internet pornography addictions, noting that some children as young as 8 are developing a dependency as they view images on smart phones, tablets and other devices.

Near the end, the report said British Prime Minister David Cameron supports a measure that would block all porn web sites into the United Kingdom, requiring anyone who wants access to physically opt in.

This, the paper said, went along with its own campaign to block online porn and to open a "consultation on the introduction of content filtering systems for Internet accounts."

What's ironic about this, you ask?

The story on the paper's web site was surrounded by links, with photos, to other content on the site. One was for a story about a "sex guru" talking about her new book while posing in a bikini. Another lured readers with Jennifer Lopez flaunting "her famous curves in an array of plunging swimsuits…"

The list of links seemed endless, and endlessly provocative. None could be categorized, in a legal sense, as pornographic. But all were nibbling at the edges, inviting readers with the same emotional bait that attracts people to the hard-core stuff.

C.S. Lewis said, "We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst." By the same token, if we laugh at the virtues of modesty and fidelity, should we be shocked to hear that the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that seven out of 10 teenagers have viewed pornography on the Internet, often without even seeking for it?

Or can we really act with indignation when an Australian addiction specialist says some children share such things on their electronic devices with their friends?

If we, as some parents in a recent New York Times piece, decide that kids are naturally attracted to smut, therefore they should be allowed access to milder pictures of nudes "not much racier" than what appears in the swimsuit edition of a sports magazine, should we be surprised when they develop unhealthy attitudes toward women?

Two stories this past week highlight aspects of this problem. The first involved a court of appeals ruling in New York that dismissed a conviction against a man who had 132 images of child pornography in temporary files on his computer.

The other was the conviction of Steven Powell in Washington state on 14 counts of voyeurism involving the surreptitious filming of children.

The New York story brought to mind a column I wrote in 2007 about how difficult it is for lawmakers to keep up with the many devious ways pornographers go about their business. At the time, portable devices were beginning to make inroads, as were flash drives, making it easier to hide images.

Today the "cloud" and streaming video let users get around laws that specifically outlaw the act of downloading certain images. The New York court ruled that browsing was not the same as possessing child pornography.

This one had a happy ending, of sorts. Only 12 hours after the ruling, the normally divided New York Legislature had bills in the Senate and Assembly to close the loophole. Other states, however, remain vulnerable with their outdated laws.

The Powell case, meanwhile, is a textbook example of how pornography can capture a mind and change a personality. As Deseret News reporter Pat Reavy documented in an excellent piece on Powell's background, those who know him describe how he went from a devout father and husband to a bitter deviant, and now a convicted felon, all because of an addiction to porn.

The culture appears determined to continue splashing around the muddy edges of this murky swamp while expressing outrage at those who fall in. This tug-of-war between the outer boundaries of an increasingly sexualized society and the inner guardians of basic propriety has been going on for awhile.

But the mixed messages and the never-ending development of new technologies are making the struggles more pronounced. A generation coming of age in the midst of this could use a lot less absurd behavior from the adult world.

Jay Evensen is associate editor of the Deseret News editorial page. Email him at even@desnews.com. For more content, visit his website, www.jayevensen.com.

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