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How to Regulate Pornography


A thirteen-year-old with a smartphone in 2019 has greater access to porno­graphy than the most depraved deviant could have dreamed possible two decades ago. At the time of the landmark Reno v. ACLU decision to permit online pornography in 1997, the Internet was still in its infancy. In his majority opinion striking down anti-­pornography provisions in the Communications Decency Act, Justice John Paul ­Stevens explained that existing precedent allowing government to regulate the “broadcast medium” did not apply to the Internet because “the Internet is not as ‘invasive’ as radio and television.” This seems ­laughable today.

The online pornography industry exploded in the years following Reno. The lewd photos of the 1990s were replaced by salacious videos in the 2000s and on-demand livestreams in the 2010s. The ability to access pornography on bulky personal computers was supplemented first by laptops and then by smartphones. Not only has pornography become more accessible, it has become more diverse and perverse, as cultural vanguards and even mainstream institutions have promoted sexual fetishism as a new sort of societal norm, if not overtly, then with a wink and a nod. Online pornography has contributed to the abuse of women and to human trafficking. It has been declared a public health crisis by fifteen states. It has broken up marriages, destroyed families, and ravaged communities.

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