No More Porn with Your Happy Meal

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Last week McDonald’s announced that it will add internet filters to its WiFi in restaurants throughout the country. My first thought was, “now what about Starbucks?” as this news came literally the day after a client disclosed that he had downloaded pornography at a Starbucks. What I didn’t know is that Starbucks also has committed to providing “Porn Free” WiFi in its stores. According to news sources, McDonald’s and Starbucks already filter pornography in their stores in the United Kingdom.

Why do these announcements make me happy? There are two answers to that. The first involves recovery from pornography addiction. For those individuals who identify as pornography addicts, initial behavioral interventions to help them stop watching pornography often include internet filters or locking down their home internet connections. What we do know in recovery is that where there is a will, there is a way. This means that if someone really wants to watch pornography, they will. No filter will stop them and not having access at home won’t stop them either. Frequently, this means that they will go to a place where they know they can get access to WiFi (which is literally everywhere now) and download pornography at these locations. As more and more companies choose to filter their WiFi and not allow pornography, this open access for relapse decreases. Currently, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Panera and Chik-Fil-A provide internet filtering in stores in the U.S. or will do so soon. This decrease in access to pornography may help someone in recovery find success.

The second reason I am in favor of blocking access to pornography in public locations involves choice. I consider myself a sex positive sex addiction therapist. For me, this means that I am not anti-porn. I simply think that it can be addictive for some people. What I also truly believe is that watching pornography is a choice. A person can choose to engage with pornography or to avoid it based on their own values and personal experience. This is a very personal decision that each person makes for themselves.

When someone is viewing pornography in a public place, i.e., at McDonald’s, on the bus, on an airplane, in the library, they are making a choice to view pornography. However, what they are also doing is taking away someone else’s choice as to whether or not they wish to view the material. Anytime a person is viewing pornography in a public place on a laptop, phone or tablet, there is a risk that another person might see it. For example, the person watching pornography on the phone on the bus potentially exposes everyone else on the bus to the pornography, regardless of whether they want to see it or not. There is also a risk of exposing a young child to pornography as well.

This brings up the concept of consent that we teach both in healthy sexuality and to sex offenders we treat. For a sexual interaction to be consensual, both parties need to agree to the behavior and it needs to be free of coercion, manipulation or compliance. If a person with their two children walk by someone at Starbucks who is watching pornography on their laptop, they are exposed to sexual imagery, without their consent.

It is each person’s choice as to whether or not they wish to watch pornography. Removing access to the material in public spaces reduces the non-consensual exposure to the material, helping to ensure that each person can make their own choice about the material and that they are not exposed to pornography without their consent.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the Director of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services and the Author of The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to Your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.

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