French Digital Minister Jean-Noel Barrot announced Monday that the French government would block access to online pornography for minors. “I intend to put an end to this scandal,” he said. “In 2023, it is the end of access to pornography websites for our children.”
To do this, he will require that any adults who want to watch porn must “install an application for government-licensed digital certification on their mobile phones to prove that they are at least 18 years old.” Porn sites that fail to comply with this directive will be banned.
Americans may be surprised that this action is happening in France of all places. After all, the country has been home to such people as the Marquis de Sade, who was one of the earliest composers of perverted smut, Serge Gainsbourg, who always sang about sex and even propositioned Whitney Houston on French TV, and Pepe Le Pew, the cartoon skunk whose sexually aggressive tendencies made him inappropriate for today’s young audiences. Did a Great Awakening dawn on the sexually liberal French to turn into prudish puritans on pornography?
Not quite. This new policy is coming from the same place as France’s other policy of banning smartphones at public schools. There’s simply no benefit to allowing children to consume pornography, and there are some very real harms. It’s an addictive habit that warps minds, ruins relationships, destroys personal drive, and is utterly exploitative and depraved by any moral standard. For a once-proud country such as France, banning online porn is an obvious first step to revitalizing the culture and its people.
The rise of mental illness, the decline in marriage, and the crisis of masculinity in the developed world all have a major thing in common: pornography. The sequence is clear. At an early age, the great majority of men and a significant amount of women are exposed to pornography and begin to watch it regularly.
This habit induces feelings of guilt and shame and introduces distorted notions of sex, sexuality, relationships, and identity, causing young people to suffer extreme anxiety, delusions, and depression. When they become adults, their hangups prevent them from being able to commit to others and take on the responsibility of caring for other people. Thus, a great many men end up miserable losers who achieve little and have little reason to change.
Morally speaking, pornography is incredibly destructive. It is prostitution on the internet. People who produce it are exploiting and objectifying those who perform in it. The viewers who consume it are consequently conditioned to see themselves and others as either exploiters or objects of exploitation.
With this moral framework, human dignity is an illusion, empathy is impossible, and using others for one’s own pleasure is encouraged. The hope of truly loving oneself and others is soon replaced with a deep and cynical hatred of everyone and everything.
Yet when it comes to discussing any of the issues concerning young people, pornography seems to be that massive elephant in the room that doesn’t get much air time in American policy discussions (Republican Sens. J.D. Vance and Josh Hawley, who have both loudly condemned pornography, are two key exceptions). Instead, the debates settle on the rise of feminism, fears about climate and overpopulation, controlling narratives, and similarly obtuse or abstract controversies.
The closest the two sides come to talking about pornography is whether to include certain books in school libraries (as though this needed to be debated in the first place). It apparently takes European technocrats to identify the root cause and devise a system that would plausibly eliminate it.
Some Americans would loudly object to such an action in their own country as a restriction of their “freedoms.” Rather than view it as a way to protect children, they see it as an overreach from an oppressive government that doesn’t respect the lifestyles and choices of its citizens, and that’s doomed to fail anyway. They insist Americans are perfectly free to make and produce porn and that parents should just raise their kids better. Internet sex is a business like any other, and online prostitutes’ rights need to be recognized, they claim. Additionally, they may see something like forcing porn consumers to identify themselves as a dangerous precedent violating one’s privacy and anonymity — what if social media sites did the same?
However, all these defenses of universally accessible porn rely on mischaracterizing porn as a form of speech, a valid form of work, or even some blessing of liberty, not as a corrosive evil that destroys society. Of course, there should be regulations on this, if not an outright ban.
It wasn’t too long ago when adults showed their faces and presented their IDs at the adult video store outside of town when they wanted to see pornography. Barrot’s method of enforcement essentially goes back to this time, denying porn consumers the easy, unaccountable access provided by high-speed internet.
As it stands, the only state in the country that even comes close to France’s policy is Louisiana (coincidentally a former French colony). At the beginning of the year, the state implemented a law that requires porn sites to force users to present a photo ID to access their content. Nevertheless, even taking this small step has resulted in critics objecting to it. NPR was particularly concerned about those porn-watching adults who didn’t have government-issued IDs.
In this instance, the French are right to dismiss such concerns and take action. At this point, no leaders or politicians should have to bother explaining why porn is bad. The evidence is everywhere. The real challenge is how to effectively eliminate it. If the French are able to rid themselves of this vice that’s crippling younger generations, Americans should think about following their lead.