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Nov
2016
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Book Review: Porn Panic! – Sex & Censorship in the UK by Jerry Barnett

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I just finished reading Jerry Barnett’s book Porn Panic! – Sex and Censorship in the UK. Barnett has a long history as an activist and is a passionate campaigner for free expression. He heads the Sex & Censorship campaign, which he founded in 2013.

Barnett’s book is in some ways a brutal, but thought-provoking, read. While much of the focus of the book is on efforts to censor porn, the best part of the book is how Barnett looks at the historical perspectives on porn while it deftly intertwines critical analysis of those perspectives. And when I say brutal, I mean Barnett pulls no punches. He clearly shows how the ongoing battle against porn is fueled by emotion, moral judgment, and religion as opposed to research, evidence and logical, rational thought.

While the book is aimed at censorship issues in the UK, Barnett includes a plethora of information about the US. For someone looking to get a solid understanding of this issue, this book tells it well for both the UK and the US.

The book will challenge many readers. Barnett acknowledges the emotional arguments against porn and then proceeds to challenge them with facts, research, and reason. Even as a reader that comes down firmly against the crusade against pornography I could feel the tug of those emotional arguments. Yet Barnett’s logical arguments show that the emotional arguments are just that – positions fueled by fear, misinformation, and moral judgment. Barnett shows that just because it seems something should be right, it doesn’t mean it is.

I imagine some might assume this book mostly takes on religious opposition to porn but Barnett doesn’t shy away from taking on anyone. The book covers anti-porn crusaders of all ilk – religious, conservative, anti-science, government, and anti-sex feminism. In fact, he clearly addresses the idea the lower levels of religiosity might mean less objection to porn as can be seen in this passage –

Sex has always been a subject where the science clashes with deeply-held feelings, and so the science of sex regularly comes under attack for reasons of superstition and dogma. The rapid recent decline of religion has (unfortunately) not been matched by a rise in scientific literacy. New, God-free myths about sex have been created to replace the old religious ones.

Barnett highlights the conflict over sex and sexuality inside of the feminist movement and demonstrates how modern anti-sex feminism is duplicitous in it’s use of the argument “women should be empowered to make their own choices…unless it is a choice we don’t like.” His dissection of this issue illuminates how our societies sex-negative views conflict with many of the goals of feminism.

The book not only challenges a wide variety of institutions but also takes on current ideology about rape culture, safe spaces, trigger warnings, and words as assault. This discussion is especially poignant given their current relevance and the amount of debate presently surrounding them. I have no doubt that many people will push back against some, or all, of Barnett’s arguments. My hope is that the ideas presented will be given consideration and not simply dismissed out of hand.

I doubt this book will do much to change the hearts and minds of the most strident anti-porn crusaders. However, for anyone open to critically thinking about the issue, this book is fantastic. It is thorough, thoughtful, and easy to read. Both porn and censorship are important topics of great relevance. I encourage everyone to read this book!

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  1. Pingback : Porn Panic! Reviewed at Spiked Online and Elsewhere - Sex & Censorship

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