America's War On Sex

Marty Klein

Part 9

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* Italian and English emerged as popular, national languages due to the publication of bawdy stories-Boccaccio's Decameron Decameron (approx. 1351) and Chaucer's (approx. 1351) and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Canterbury Tales (approx. 1387). Pa.s.sed from hand to hand and read to a largely illiterate population, they made people want to learn how to read-the languages that had until then been local vernaculars. (approx. 1387). Pa.s.sed from hand to hand and read to a largely illiterate population, they made people want to learn how to read-the languages that had until then been local vernaculars.

* When the printing press appeared in 1452, it was used mostly to print the Bible and scholarly works. But Arentino's Postures Postures and Rabelais' and Rabelais'

Gargantua and Pantagruel-filled with engravings of s.e.xual positions, stories of exposed genitalia, and the most coa.r.s.e scatology-were enormous and immediate hits, showing the press could make money.

Although both were banned, Rabelais boasted that "more copies of [Gargantua] have been sold by the printers in two months than there will be of the Bible in nine years." This would apply to every new medium ever after: s.e.x sells.4 * When stil photography was invented, it was a complicated, staid affair requiring tremendous discipline from its subjects. But during the Civil War, soldiers demanded their sweethearts mail them erotic photos-a practice so common that by 1865 Congress outlawed it. The new medium of photography, however, had become an accepted part of life.5 * VCRs were terribly expensive when first invented. The first videos produced, in 1977, were straightforward p.o.r.nography; the first non-p.o.r.n videos followed a year later. People really desired the expen-104 7/24/06 10:57:26 AM.

Battleground: The Internet 105 The Internet 105 sive new technology, not to replace taking the family to the neighborhood cinema, but for the chance to watch p.o.r.n in private. Sony bet wrong-predicting videotape would be used mostly to record TV shows, it created one-hour Betamax tapes. When the market for videotape proved not to be time-shifting but prerecorded films-p.o.r.n films-the less-sophisticated but longer VHS format quickly won out and became the industry standard. With p.o.r.n films available for home viewing, demand for the machines exploded, the price plummeted, and today 91 percent of American homes have at least one VCR.6 Whether a technological innovation involves transportation, communication, or new materials, the pattern looks like this: * In the early stages of acceptance, a few people predict there will be s.e.xual "abuses" (i.e., uses) of the new technology, which will lead to awful consequences (e.g., cars were predicted to give lovers mobility and privacy, leading to debauchery and white slavery).

* Indeed, people do do use the new technology for s.e.xual purposes, which can involve entertainment, expression, health, pleasure, and convenience (electricity was quickly used to light downtown cabarets, where people could meet or court unsupervised for the first time; ma.s.s printing was quickly used for salacious books and pamphlets). use the new technology for s.e.xual purposes, which can involve entertainment, expression, health, pleasure, and convenience (electricity was quickly used to light downtown cabarets, where people could meet or court unsupervised for the first time; ma.s.s printing was quickly used for salacious books and pamphlets).

* The s.e.xual uses lead to the development of practical applications of the technology, enabling more widespread adoption of it (once perfected, systems to pay for Internet p.o.r.n were adapted to make Internet shopping possible).

* When the technology is adapted for widespread nons.e.xual uses acknowledged as valuable, certain groups or individuals attempt to limit or eliminate the s.e.xual uses (including "900" phone lines, the French minitel, and paperback books).7 It doesn't matter which people, which technology, or the format of the s.e.xuality involved, the pattern is almost always the same. People upset about s.e.xual adaptations of technology may blame it on the lasciviousness of a particular group (atheists, immigrants, h.o.m.os.e.xuals, liberals, perverts); or on the modernity or soullessness of a particular innovation (crocodile dung, the printing press, latex rubber); or on the temptations of a particular s.e.xuality (kiddie p.o.r.n, swinging, sodomy). All are missing the point: humans are hungry for s.e.xual imagery. They fantasize about s.e.xual opportunity. And they'll do so any way they can.

Just as humans yearn for an easier, richer, safer world regarding economics, food, childrearing, and health, they have the same yearnings regarding s.e.xuality.

105 106.

As people adopt technologies for enhancing nutrition, improving their health, and keeping warm and dry, so too they adopt them for making s.e.x safer, easier, more exciting, more varied, less expensive, and more self-expressive. The Internet is only the latest chapter in this timeless story. And while most humans want privacy around their s.e.xual expression, these same humans have been dying to know what their neighbors do s.e.xual y since privacy became the norm.

People will always always respond this way to technology. You and I will live to see dire predictions, efforts at control, and moral hysteria about other technologies that haven't been invented yet. Because those yet-to-be-invented technologies will be adapted for s.e.xual purposes. Count on it. respond this way to technology. You and I will live to see dire predictions, efforts at control, and moral hysteria about other technologies that haven't been invented yet. Because those yet-to-be-invented technologies will be adapted for s.e.xual purposes. Count on it.


* The Internet, originally developed by the Department of Defense and later by the National Science Foundation, was limited to a smal number of specialists-until it was used for s.e.x.

* Once uses for s.e.x were practical, money poured into the Internet.

This propelled entrepreneurs to make the Internet less expensive and easier to access.

* This acquainted more people with the Internet, which spurred demand for access to it.

* When enough laypeople heard about the Internet, some started talking about the "bad" uses of it. They began to describe it with a fear-based vocabulary adapted from other antis.e.x campaigns: inappropriate content, dangerous for children, online predators, exploitation of women, and so forth.

* These people demanded that the government do something to limit Americans' access to the Internet, and the Internet's access to Americans.

* To justify this, they developed a full-blown moral panic. They made it clear that the Internet posed a clear and present danger so intense that it justified compromising certain basic rights.

Why is this history important? Because we should look beyond the specifics of the attacks on the Internet. We should see today's battle over the Internet as one of a long series of such battles.

In this chapter we'll examine recent history and you can watch the War on s.e.x in action.


In its purest form, the communications technology known as the Internet has five key features: 106 Battleground: The Internet 107 The Internet 107 * Anyone can add anything they want to the material available to everyone.

* Anyone can access anything that's available.

* Anyone can communicate privately with anyone else partic.i.p.ating in the network.

* Both producers and consumers can partic.i.p.ate anonymously.

* The network is infinitely expandable.

As one federal court put it, the Internet is a "vast democratic forum, open to any member of the public to speak on subjects as diverse as human thought."8 The combination of these features gives the Internet extraordinary potential. In less than two decades, three developments fulfilled this potential: * An enormous volume of human culture is currently stored on this network: an estimated 11.5 billion pages in 2005.9 * This material can be searched very effectively, according to practical y any criteria; the most popular search systems are intuitively usable by almost anyone.

* An enormous number of individuals currently partic.i.p.ate in this worldwide network, with 167,000,000 in the United States alone.

The features described above make the Internet a revolutionary tool for human communication that is actual y changing the way people think and interrelate- subject to this caveat: subject to this caveat: The criteria for what these 167 mil ion Americans choose to write onto it, to read on it, to search for in it, and with whom to communicate are, The criteria for what these 167 mil ion Americans choose to write onto it, to read on it, to search for in it, and with whom to communicate are, in the Internet in the Internet' s purest form, s purest form, not regulated by government, a corporation, or other authority. not regulated by government, a corporation, or other authority.

And that's how it was until the mid-90s. But as with al technologies, when use of the Internet expanded beyond the initial technology-oriented, younger group of early adapters, the demand for legislation to control it grew. And that has triggered a fierce, take-no-prisoners battle in the War on s.e.x.

From the individual users' point of view, the Internet is a special world. To a degree unknown in the non-virtual ("real") world, the virtual world: * empowers users-including minors-without punishment for feeling ent.i.tled; * presents unlimited, typically anonymous opportunities for s.e.xual talk, research, imagination, and fantasy; * is an amoral universe, without the restrictions of an external moral code; * tolerates an unlimited range of beliefs, desires, and imagination.

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For those who wish to control others' s.e.xuality, thinking, or family structure, the Internet is a nightmare come true.

Not coincidentally, the Internet-in its purest form-also represents the fulfillment of America's loftiest ideals: * Democracy: equal rights for all partic.i.p.ants * Meritocracy: no one cares about your "actual" skin color or "true"

physical beauty * Liberal rights: people can do what they want if they're not hurting others * Pluralism: the recognition that different people want different things, and the a.s.sumption that all will tolerate all These are two different ways of describing the same phenomenon. Many people hate or fear the Internet precisely because its fulfills these lofty American ideals.


The Internet started out as part of a multination physics research project, CERN. Computers had been around since the end of World War II. By the 1950s, deep in the Cold War, the U.S. government wondered how to keep its chain of command intact in the event of a nuclear war. The desired solution was to have a decentralized system that didn't physically exist anywhere. That system became the Internet. It won't, of course, survive a nuclear war, but today's typical Internet user rarely thinks about its military uses.

At first, partic.i.p.ating in the Internet required technical skill and equipment that few people had or could acquire. The early partic.i.p.ants were an esoteric group, members of a mostly invisible society that developed its own language, etiquette, and priorities.

During the 1980s, a long series of technical achievements was making the Internet more practical for more people. Things we take for granted today had to be, and were, invented: HTML, URLs. The World Wide Web project was announced in 1991. Three years later, Netscape released the first Netscape browser.

And the thing that drove the whole development was . . . s.e.x. p.o.r.nography to look at. To read. To buy. Chat rooms in which to discuss s.e.x or have "virtual"

s.e.xual experiences. Fetish sites which proved you weren't the only one who enjoyed your unusual fantasy. E-mail with which people could flirt, discuss s.e.x, and m.a.s.t.u.r.b.a.t.e together. People took pictures of themselves nude or having s.e.x and posted them for others to enjoy. It was commonplace to note, for example, that online p.o.r.nography is the first consistently successful e-commerce product.

With the Internet becoming more easily usable, people started going to it for a wide range of nons.e.xual activities: shopping (made possible because of p.o.r.n-108 7/24/06 10:57:29 AM.

Battleground: The Internet 109 The Internet 109 for-pay systems), research (via high-resolution, compressed images needed for p.o.r.n), education (via CD-ROMs, developed to deliver p.o.r.n), and e-mail, with the extraordinary opportunity to communicate with others around the world (a network financed by people using it for s.e.xual purposes).

And so the whole country started finding out about this cool way to interact with others. And some people started freaking out about this s.e.xual way to interact with others.

Which brings us to the predictable thing that happened next: people brought the War on s.e.x to the Internet. The frontline moved online.


It wasn't long before the public was being told there was "too much" s.e.x on the Internet, and that it posed a danger to many people, particularly children.

There was already a powerful civic-political alliance battling against s.e.xual rights relating to videotape, TV, radio, telephone s.e.x, library books, and adult entertainment. Thus, there was an infrastructure of fear/danger already in place to explain that: 1. s.e.xual material on the Internet is dangerous.

2. An ever-growing group of people were "abusing" the new technology, increasing kids' vulnerability.

3. These people were themselves dangerous.

The supposedly out-of-control reader of Mickey Spillane was simply transformed into the out-of-control reader of Internet p.o.r.n. The supposedly ever-present playground predator was easily transformed into the ever-present chat-room predator.

Since the special technology of the Internet makes an enormous range of words and images widely available, people who worried about uncontrolled access and experience were easily frightened. s.e.xual imagery formed an easy target on which to focus the anxiety of this group; for anyone who believes that access to the "wrong" material frees people's dangerous "latent tenden-cies," the Internet is the most treacherous thing ever invented.

Many inst.i.tutions-churches, "morality" groups, think tanks, parent groups-devoted themselves to controlling online s.e.xuality, while many more came into being with this specific mission. It was the focus of enormously successful fundraising efforts; indeed, it helped make some groups, like Concerned Women for America and Focus on the Family, the big players they are today. Like Jenna Jameson (and Senator Sam Brownback), they can proudly say, "We owe our success to Internet p.o.r.n."

Since these groups' const.i.tuents were (and often still are) technologically unsophisticated, they were easily misled about the magnitude of the dangers the Internet posed. Those already partic.i.p.ating in other moral panics (regarding, for example, h.o.m.os.e.xuality, child abduction, satanic abuse, feminism, or 109 7/24/06 10:57:29 AM.


contraception) found it easy to believe almost any a.s.sertion about destructive s.e.x on the web.

If they heard sensational claims about it, they rarely checked them out, and certainly weren't having experiences that contradicted these lies. If their pastor told them that kids can access millions of Web sites showing women having s.e.x with horses, they didn't surf the web to discover it isn't true. If they heard that there are perverts molesting young girls in every chat room in cybers.p.a.ce, they didn't go to chat rooms with their nieces and share benign experiences there.

The moral panic was fed by stories citing the explosive availability of, and interest in, s.e.xual material on the Internet. It became commonplace to cite how s.e.x was the most-searched for word on the Internet, a fact that has continued to this day.

Obviously, tens of millions of people, from every walk of American life, were eager to look at, think about, or discuss s.e.x via the Internet. But antis.e.x forces didn't consider the meaning of this very typical interest. Instead, the moral panic quickly grew to the point where some people demanded that the government take steps to control what others could see, read, and hear on the Internet.

Congress responded with a series of measures in 1995 and 1996, addressing "Protection of Children from Computer p.o.r.nography," material "harmful to minors," and the use of morphing technology to create simulated child p.o.r.n.

And still some people feared, and still they wanted more control. In 1998, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced legislation "to ensure that pervasive, obscene, and violent material is screened out [of schools and libraries]

and that our children are protected."10 That year the government pa.s.sed the outlandishly comprehensive Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which criminalized the sending of anything "indecent" (is that a broad enough, vague enough category?) over the Internet.

So the government joined in the Big Lie about (1) the Internet being a dangerous environment that (2) needed to be controlled.

The moral panic around the Internet needed villains, of course. Not surprisingly, the category of "dangerous people" is getting bigger and bigger. It now includes couples who post nude photos of themselves, adult women who dress in fantasy teenager costumes, political a.n.a.lysts and impolite bloggers, and people who publish sites providing information about s.e.xual health, h.o.m.os.e.xuality, and nonmonogamy.

Antis.e.x forces continually expressed outrage that so-called p.o.r.nographers were allowed to do what they wanted on the Internet-as if the rights of people to consume what p.o.r.nographers were producing was of no importance. So p.o.r.nographers were a handy villain. And the people who protected Americans'

rights to consume their online products-such as the American Civil Liberties Union, National Coalition Against Censorship, and People for the American Way-were branded as protecting p.o.r.nographers' rights to poison America.

That strategy has continued to this very day-ignore the rights of consumers of s.e.xual y oriented materials when discussing possible harm and possible solutions.

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Battleground: The Internet 111 The Internet 111 A SPECIAL KIND OF PANIC-STATE BY STATE As the panic spread, the Internet was increasingly looked upon as an enormous pipeline pumping toxic sewage into innocent homes, giving night-marish predators access to innocent lives. Individual states began pa.s.sing laws attempting to prevent this monstrous technology from harming its citizens.

Pennsylvania's law is typical. Pa.s.sed in 2002, it required all ISPs to block access to sites accused accused of containing child p.o.r.nography of containing child p.o.r.nography . . The state attorney general, or any county district attorney, could ask a local judge to declare that a certain Web site The state attorney general, or any county district attorney, could ask a local judge to declare that a certain Web site might might be child p.o.r.nography, thus requiring any ISP serving Pennsylvania citizens to block it. This would occur with no prior notice to the ISP or Web site owner, with no option of appeal. be child p.o.r.nography, thus requiring any ISP serving Pennsylvania citizens to block it. This would occur with no prior notice to the ISP or Web site owner, with no option of appeal.

The law imposed potential liability on ISPs, even if they had no relationship with the publishers of the allegedly offensive content. Any ISP doing business Any ISP doing business in Pennsylvania was therefore potentially liable for content anywhere on the Internet. in Pennsylvania was therefore potentially liable for content anywhere on the Internet.

Not satisfied, Pennsylvania's attorney general started issuing orders directly to ISPs himself-over 300-demanding they block certain content. The attorney general has refused to comply with "Right to Know" law requests for the content of these secret orders.

For a year, providing Internet service in Pennsylvania was a dangerous business. Residents never knew which sites they couldn't access due to mere suspicion, or worse, because an innocent Web site was technically entangled with a site that was suspected. Finally, the law was challenged in 2003, and overturned in court a year later.

Pennsylvania's law was technologically impossible and const.i.tutionally unacceptable. But it did make a statement: we are so afraid of child p.o.r.n that we're willing to shut down the Internet in Pennsylvania.11 FILTERING? BLOCKING? CENSORING?.


Just as fear of alcohol (particularly of how immigrants, poor people, and minors were using it) 80 years ago led to Prohibition, fear of the Internet (particularly of how perverts, liberals, and minors were using it) led to demands for "filtering" technology.

This was the impetus for developing Internet filtering software, which many private companies made commercially available in the mid-1990s. Installed on a computer, it would prevent the user from accessing Web sites whose address or content were considered "inappropriate"-that is, connected with s.e.xuality.

Vendors claimed that their products "protected children" by eliminating "p.o.r.nographic" content, but the range of s.e.xual references they also eliminated was extraordinarily wide. This included sites about breast cancer, psychology, political debate, art, and even people (d.i.c.k Armey) and communities (Middle-111 7/24/06 10:57:31 AM.


s.e.x) whose names included certain magic letters.12 was blacklisted by CyberPatrol because it listed teams as "boys under 12," "boys under 10," and so on.

These companies did what any profit-making venture does: they encouraged a demand for their product. Logically, they did so by "alerting" people to the terrible dangers cybers.p.a.ce posed-mostly for their children, but even for themselves. Note, for example, the headline on this site that sells a variety of filtering products: Today's high-tech p.o.r.n pushers are more aggressive than ever before, making it almost impossible to protect our families from unwanted p.o.r.nography. Thankfully, with tools like internet filtering software, it's possible to fight back.13 Note the language: "p.o.r.n-pushers" are "aggressive," we need to "protect our families," and now we can "fight back." This site sells fear, need, and a solution in just two sentences.

Thus, these companies were in col usion with others whose agenda is to frighten the public about the s.e.xual uses of the Internet. That has continued to this day, primarily because they have a common goal-to raise alarm about the s.e.xual aspects of the Internet-and also because the inst.i.tutions of the Right purchase and encourage the use of these products. For example, religious and other conservative groups increasingly urge the use of filtering software as part of the treatment of "p.o.r.n addiction" and "cybers.e.x addiction."

CYBERsitter was once distributed by the antip.o.r.n group Focus on the Family. The site, purporting to explain the objective facts supporting filtering, was partly funded by the group Enough is Enough, whose stated mission is protecting children and families from Internet p.o.r.n.14 In selling security products such as burglar alarms and motion detectors, the key to success is persuading potential customers that they are vulnerable.

People, of course, are more easily frightened by appeals to emotion than by fact. And so filtering companies, like their antis.e.x collaborators, recklessly tell and retell legends such as, "The average age a child is first exposed to p.o.r.nography online is 11 years old," and, "Nearly all (90 percent) kids aged 816 have viewed p.o.r.n online, mostly while doing homework."15 These numbers are created via categories so broad that they show almost everyone experiencing almost everything. For example, according to www., "More than half of teenagers have visited Internet sites containing p.o.r.nography, offensive music lyrics, gambling or messages of violence or hate." Only half? With a category that diverse, 99 percent wouldn't be surprising. Looking at scary data just a bit clarifies it a great deal. A 2000 "online victimization" study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children ( reveals that 96 percent of those who solicit teens are under 25, and nearly half-48 percent-are themselves children under the age of 18. Some 20 percent are female.

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Battleground: The Internet 113 The Internet 113 Having succeeded in persuading the public that their product is desperately needed, filtering companies sold it, while refusing to tell people exactly what they were buying. What were their algorithms? What words, sites, concepts were blocked? How did they add or delete a site? Every filtering company had the same response: that's proprietary information, and we're not telling.

There's nothing wrong with the manufacturer of Coca-Cola saying that, because no one is forced to buy their product, and isn't needed in order to do your job, get proper health care, acquire an education, or be an effective citizen. But when your employer, library, hospital, city planner, or university is required to use a filtering company's product, or consumers of these inst.i.tutions are subject to the limitations of filtering products (a doctor can't find out about the health issues involved in a.n.a.l s.e.x, a library can't provide information about the longevity of nonmonogamous couples, a city planner can't find out about zoning and prost.i.tution, a judge isn't al owed to read Web sites being discussed in a case),16 "we won't discuss our product" is outrageous and inappropriate.

Private companies enjoying the huge advantages of being used as quasi-public utilities should be required to disclose substantial product information.

But presumably, any government that required this transparency wouldn't be requiring Internet filtering in the first place.

Was there really a problem? Morality groups cried yes, although no one could really point to much actual harm. In congressional testimony on November 10, 1998, they told satanic stories of an 11-year-old boy "hooked on p.o.r.nography" who "left s.e.m.e.n samples in his favorite teacher's cup," and a babysitter showing p.o.r.n to a four-year-old who then wrote "s.e.xually explicit notes to a little girl in his 1st grade cla.s.s."17 And unfortunately, their fear drove public policy decisions in Congress. How is it that being frightened is its own credential to discuss s.e.xuality and behavioral science?

Filtering was a solution looking for a problem, according to the federal District Court that overruled the Loudon County (Virginia) library's use of filtering that very year (1998): No reasonable trier of fact could conclude that three isolated incidents nationally, one very minor isolated incident in Virginia, no evidence whatsoever of problems in Loudon County, and not a single employee complaint from anywhere in the country establish that the [filtering]

policy is necessary to prevent s.e.xual hara.s.sment or access to obscenity or child p.o.r.nography.18 Nevertheless, by 1997 the group Family Friendly Libraries identified its top priority as "protecting children from age-inappropriate materials." Chaired by Phil Burress-who went on to promote laws prohibiting same-gender marriage, adult entertainment establishments, and any advertising that "exploited"

s.e.xuality-they demanded the installation of filtering systems in public libraries.19 And did the corporate rationale of "proprietary information" justify the 113 7/24/06 10:57:32 AM.


compromise of library patrons' rights? Not according to the federal court that overturned the Loudon County library's filtering policy: "A defendant cannot avoid its const.i.tutional obligation by contracting out its decision-making to a private ent.i.ty."20 The collusion between filtering companies, the Right, and the government reached its zenith in 2000 with the Child Internet Protection Act (c.i.p.a), pa.s.sed after federal courts overturned two congressional attempts to censor the Internet.21 c.i.p.a required libraries to install Internet filtering-even for adults-if they wanted to receive federal funds. Undereducated in the meaning of American democracy, ignoring the critical mandate of public schools to encourage curiosity, most city councils and county supervisors thought the funding was more important than whatever material would be excluded. Besides, no elected official wanted to be in the position of sacrificing desperately needed funds so that patrons could "look at p.o.r.n all day long."

Some libraries didn't even wait for the federal demand to install filters. The Kern County, California, library had to be threatened with legal action in January 1998 if they didn't remove the filtering software. Less than a year later, a federal judge ruled that a library in Loudon County, Virginia, had to reverse its policy of installing filters on its computers.22 c.i.p.a exposed any pretense of so-called conservatives of simply wanting to raise their families and live their lives free from government intrusion. Any parent concerned about library computers can take their kids to the library and supervise them, or forbid their kids from going to a library alone. Instead, these "conservatives" brought a system to every town in America in which the government-implementing their personal values-controlled what everyone could see and hear.

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