Why fighting porn is getting more attention in European politics

18-01-2024

European Union

Lennart Nijenhuis, CNE.news

Photo ANP

More and more European countries want to block access to porn for minors. The Spanish Prime Minister is following France in this. The chairman of the German Evangelical Alliance sees growing support for fighting porn, “but too many people, including Christian leaders, are infected with it.”

The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez sees a porn epidemic in his country. “The data is devastating”, he says in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais. “One in four under 12 years has consumed porn. Almost half of young people under 15 years watch it.”

Those figures are too high, according to Spain’s progressive PM. That is why he wants legislation banning access to porn for minors. “This is not puritanism. Porn affects our adolescents’ training and their future behaviour on an issue such as equality.”

Sánchez, therefore, pleads for new legislation that blocks porn for minors. He is, however, not the first to fight the industry. In November, Italian regulations went into effect to prevent minors from seeing porn on their phones. France is also working on a ban porn for minors, and Great Britain is contemplating what to do with the issue. These plans were all introduced after the Council of Europe unanimously passed a resolution in 2021 that calls on countries to rethink pornography laws.

Whether the resolution is the reason various countries are updating their laws around pornography is something Frank Heinrich does not know. “But I see that the attention toward this issue is growing.”

Mr Heinrich, currently the chairman of the German Evangelical Alliance, is a former German MP who authored between 2019 and 2021 the Council of Europe report on which the resolution is based. “All parties recognised the need for a report on this subject”, he says. “A few members had reservations, they did abstain from voting to have the report adopted. That was a real fair move by them.”

Violence

Although most European countries officially prohibit minors from accessing porn, it takes little effort for a young person to watch the graphic images anyway; providing a false age is enough to gain access in many cases. Therefore, the report states that countries should consider nationwide age verification. According to Heinrich, over 90 per cent of pornography on major websites contains some form of violence. “That has a normalising effect on children and other people. They think: this is what is expected of me.”

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According to Heinrich, there should be more focus on the issue of pornography, including in Christian circles. “But I think too many people, including Christian leaders, are infected with it themselves.” Photo Wikimedia Commons

What shocked Heinrich most during the reporting period was the scientific evidence. “Young brains, of both men and women, change when they watch porn regularly. That affects family relationships, and our society is falling apart already. Pornography consumption by minors could be seen as an axe at the root of society.”

Italy, France and Spain all say they want to limit porn to protect minors. That line of argument comes as no surprise to Heinrich. “Generally, in society, people mainly talk about the impact porn has on children and their brains,” he says. According to the German, the policy perspective of national ministries leads to a greater emphasis on the production side and on the rights of women involved that may be at stake. “Many around me call porn as one entrance into prostitution,” Mr Heinrich says.

Spain’s Pedro Sánchez, a socialist, sees pornography primarily as a problem of inequality rather than a moral problem. But that makes sense, argues the Christian Heinrich. “Morality is not a main issue for politics. It can be your personal conviction or from your church, but in politics, morals are human rights, inequality and violence.”

Surprised

The three EU governments that recently spoke out against pornography are primarily located in Southern Europe and have Roman Catholic backgrounds. Heinrich, however, sees no connection between them. “I was surprised that France got so involved in this because, during the discussions around the report, parliamentarians from France and the Netherlands in particular spoke out against porn legislation.”

According to Heinrich, a dividing line mainly ran between East and West. “Colleagues from the Netherlands, Belgium and France felt that pornography falls mainly under freedom of expression, while countries like Romania and Poland supported preventive measures.”

That pornography is also a problem among Christians is something Heinrich faces regularly in his role as president of the German Evangelical Alliance. “I see it in the number of seminars that deal with it, but would not know how many people are actually addicted to it.” According to Heinrich, there should be more focus on the issue of pornography, including in Christian circles. “But I think too many people, including Christian leaders, are infected with it themselves.”

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