Peter Acworth: An Open Letter to David Cameron

Dear Mr. Cameron,

You recently announced sweeping measures to combat illegal child pornography. Let me say that we in the adult entertainment industry applaud any well thought out measures to achieve this goal.

However, in the name of ‘protecting children’ and as a ‘moral obligation’ you also intend to expand laws which make mere possession of some forms of pornography illegal, and to censor the Internet of all forms of pornography in the UK. I am writing to you to let you know why I believe these are mistakes. I speak both from a personal perspective and on the basis of statistics.

I grew up in England, and am the product of a family dynamic where sex was not a topic of conversation. Any form of sexual information — be it pornographic or otherwise — was unavailable to me. I graduated Cambridge University, in a college consisting of 80 percent men, primarily focused on academia. I consider my sexuality to have been repressed until adulthood. My first understandings of my sexuality came — aged 18 — from purchasing bondage and kink themed magazines and videos from seedy london sex shops. I say ‘seedy’ because these establishments had to be prepared to break UK law by selling this material — and still do to this day. It was upon acquisition of this material that I started to understand that BDSM was part of my sexuality and that I was not alone. From there, I identified communities of people with similar sexual tastes. For me, access to pornography was healthy.

My repressed sexuality could only stay repressed for so long. Shortly after moving to the USA, and having identified a need for the widespread availability of kink-centric pornography, I started Kink.com, a business which now employs 130 people. I felt a need to express myself, and in a big way. I felt a need to let people know that expression of sexuality is OK. My life’s journey has taken me wide, far, and back to where I find myself happily married with a child today.

I do not mean to suggest that if I had not been able to access pornography aged 18, I would have committed a sexual crime. However, had the repression I felt lasted indefinitely, had I never found communities of people who shared my sexual desires, and had this lead to isolation, I have no idea where I would be today. As it is, I have explored my desires to such an extent, that my sex life today is probably not obscene, even to you.

The ‘extreme pornography’ laws of the UK which – incredibly – you are considering expanding are ambiguous to say the least. Who is to say what is illegal to possess and what is not? Are a couple who take pictures of their BDSM activities guilty of this law for merely possessing the images?? How will you make the distinction — from a single image — between a heavy S/M scene and what UK law calls “likely to result in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals”? Is the depiction of a woman who consents to being bound and penetrated deemed ‘rape’? Where will this stop? What about educational websites which include elaborate pictures of S/M? You are sending a message that kinky sex is wrong. You are repressing sexual expression. The point of my letter is to tell you that your actions are inherently short sighted, unhealthy, and indeed likely to have the opposite of the intended effect.

My experience is an isolated case, and so clearly not the basis of any scientific conclusion. However, you are guilty of exactly this — considering only isolated cases. You draw the conclusion that consumption of pornography by a handful of sexual offenders actually caused the offense, and then you extrapolate to other forms of legal pornography and assume this also leads to crime. Let me clue you in. Consumption of legal pornography is widespread beyond your wildest imagination — the vast majority of it, healthily consumed. You are using a moral compass to make sweeping policy decisions without any real evidence or analysis of the consequences.

I have yet to see any compelling evidence whatsoever that there are any negative consequences to the proliferation of pornography on the Internet. Indeed, during the period from the creation of the Internet and today, there has been a remarkable reduction in the incidence of rape in western civilizations. Anthony D’Amato, Leighton Professor of Law at Northwestern University argues this point very well in his paper, Porn Up, Rape Down (this paper was written in 2004, but rape numbers have dropped a further 15% in the US during that 2004-2013 period).

Further, If your assessment was correct, it would follow that countries such as Denmark, who prides herself on an absence of censorship of any kind, would have a sexual abuse problem. Far from it. Rape numbers in Norway are one quarter of those in the USA or UK.

From my personal experience and these statistics, I believe you are wrong in this decision. Indeed, I believe that society’s acceptance of sexual expression is fundamentally healthy. Repressed people become isolated, lost and frightened, and that is the real problem we face. Those who use pornography to help explore their sexual tastes end up healthier.

As an Englishman, it saddens me to read of this shortsighted approach to policy making in my home country.

Peter Acworth
Founder, CEO, Kink.com