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No smut please, we’re Bangladeshi

  • Published at 02:01 am April 5th, 2019
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Why no one is discussing the pornography ban in any meaningful way


The government’s recent decision to try and block as many websites which host pornographic content as possible was sudden and swift.

With next to no precedent, entering the URL to your choice adult entertainment website suddenly started yielding an ominous warning sign stating “this webpage has been blocked.” Or so I have heard.

Well, that’s not entirely true -- there was some precedent.

Around three years ago, then State Minister for Posts and Telecommunication Tarana Halim shared the government’s then brilliant idea of “exposing” internet users who use the technology to view pornographic material. And, of course, they even formed a committee for blocking pornographic sites (just try and imagine those meetings if you can).

The justification for the ban thus far has been that the very existence of pornography stands contrary to our country’s “norms and values” -- a nation where you cannot go one day without reading about horrendous acts of sexual violence launched against women and even children as young as three.

Well, surely that’s the point, isn’t it?

If our rape statistics are that high, surely clamping down on pornography would only help reduce sexual deviancy in our country?

Not quite.

There is a veritable treasure trove of research out there which shows that since the democratization of the internet, and therefore the democratization of pornography, instances of rape and sexual assault have in general reduced rather than increased, quite significantly in certain instances.

To quote a 10-year-old article by sexuality journalist Michael Castleman (nice work if you can get it, I would imagine), since the advent of internet pornography: 

“Sexual irresponsibility has declined. Standard measures include rates of abortion and sexually transmitted infections. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 1990, the nation’s abortion rate has fallen 41%. The syphilis rate has plummeted 74%. And the gonorrhoea rate has plunged 57%.

“Teen sex has declined. The CDC says that since 1991, the proportion of teens who have had intercourse has decreased 7%. Teen condom use has increased 16%. And the teen birth rate has fallen 33%.

“Divorce has declined. Since 1990, the divorce rate has decreased 23%.

“Rape has declined. According to the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, since 1995, the sexual assault rate has fallen 44%.”

These statistics have, of course, been gleaned from the US, and say next to nothing about Bangladeshi society -- different culture and everything. But that’s actually part of the argument.

Despite being home to nearly 170 million people, we Bangladeshis for the most part like to pretend that sex doesn’t exist. The cultural stigma surrounding even the topic of sex and intimacy is a large part of the problem surrounding sexual deviancy.

By burying our heads in the sand about all things sex, we completely forego passing on an essential fact of life to our children. With sex education being an uncomfortable, indeed alien, notion for our people, young folk are often left to their own devices to learn about the birds and the bees, if they even learn anything at all.

For many of them, unfortunately, pornography is their first exposure to the topic.

While that by itself isn’t as problematic as most people would make it out to be, the toxic entitlement that is instilled in the minds of young men, combined with out-of-context exposure to simulated sex on-screen must have contributed to the fomentation of a warped definition of intimacy and consent which results in the status quo being left intact.

If you didn’t quite get that, what I am trying to suggest is that it is not pornography that is to blame per se -- it is us.

There should not necessarily be any shame in enjoying pornography, just as there should be no shame in enjoying sex for reasons other than reproduction. Within limits, of course.

It is our negative attitude towards sex, our hesitation to discuss it with our children, our domestic male privilege, all of these factors that combine to perpetuate our toxic “norms and values.”

Which is why it is all the more baffling that more people aren’t discussing the pornography ban in any meaningful way.

There are few things that NGO-speak-spouting talking heads like to discuss more than “women empowerment” and “violence against women” -- but there is next to no discussion anywhere regarding how the pornography ban might in fact potentially end up impacting both in very adverse ways.

Correlation might not mean causation, but is that really a gamble we’re willing to take? 

Rubaiyat Kabir is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. He can be followed on Twitter @moreanik.