Bulletin Boards, Newsgroups, Websites, and Sex

Bulletin boards, newsgroups, and Internet websites provide a wide array of sexually explicit and pornographic material, available to anyone with a computer and a modem (or any other Internet access). One study identified "consumers of pedophilic and paraphilic pornography via computer in more than 2000 cities in all fifty states in the United States, most Canadian provinces, and forty countries, provinces, and territories around the world." Given the large area of coverage, it seems that finding sexual explicit materials online has provided individuals a source for sexual gratification beyond the traditional (and physical) venues of magazines, adult clubs and bars, and physical sex.

Usenet is "a collection of over 14,000 newsgroups that are created and maintained by users at sites throughout the United States and the world. In many message systems, including those at Carnegie Mellon, Usenet newsgroups appear as bulletin boards (bboards) under the node "netnews." Usenet is also a protocol (method) for exchanging articles identified as belonging to one or more newsgroups. Usenet articles are transmitted both over the Internet and over the public phone system. Thus, Usenet and Internet overlap, but neither are proper subsets of each other. There are, however, many mail gateways to Usenet. These allow people to read and post articles to Usenet newsgroups even if they only have an e-mail account, and no direct Usenet access. Usenet is also a complicated cooperative system that allows for management at various levels."

Research done at Carnegie Mellon found that roughly 83.5% of all sampled images on Usenet contained pornographic imagery.

"The first BBS was established in 1978 following the advent of the Hayes modem and the FCC's Registration decision,[26] which eliminated the need to rent from AT&T a costly Data Access Arrangement. A few years later, with the introduction of the IBM PC and commercial BBS software, thousands of BBS (commercial and non-commercial) began springing up across the country.

Bulletin board systems differ from the Usenet in a number of ways. First, unlike the Usenet's diffuse configuration of newsgroups, BBS usually operate from a central locus. More centralized control of BBS files permits BBS operators to charge for their services, and this opportunity for profit has motivated a number of pornographers to operate "adult" BBS. This is another important contrast between the Usenet and BBS: while access to files on the Usenet is often free (particularly for academic users), a user must subscribe to a BBS in order to gain access to its files.

The bulletin board system allows an individual to download large amounts of pornographic and elicit material, which in turn allows a user to redistribute the material to friends, acquaintances, or through newsgroups, such as those in the alt.binaries category. In this manner, the individual not only experiences the effects of increasing exposure to pornography, but may in fact become a pornographer himself by redistributing the materials to others. It is also estimated that 71% of Usenet pornography comes from commercial "adult" bulletin board services. The market leader among "adult" BBS, Amateur Action BBS, relies on three methods to service its clientele: a) power imbalance and disproportionate representation of women in acts which may be considered degrading; b) deceptive marketing; and c) exploitation of children. The fear with "adult" or pornographic BBS is that these materials effect the individual aversely, changing the individual's perception and regard of deviant or socially undesirable behavior, such as pedophilia, loss of respect for women, and desensitization to violence.

There have been a number of studies done on the documented effects of easy access to pornography. One such study, the "Effect of Easy Availability of Pornography on the Incidence of Sex Crimes: The Danish Experience", done in 1973 by B. Kutchinsky after the legalization of sexually explicit material by the Danish government found that there was actually a "drop in criminal sexual offenses, particularly in child molestation." In Int. J. Law Psych. 26: 47-64, Kutchinsky also reviewed similar evidence in three other societies "where pornography is readily available (Germany, Sweden and the U.S.), and reached the same conclusions."

Baron in L.J. Sex Res. 1990 27:363-380 compared "the circulation rates of softcore porn magazines against gender-equality statistics in all 50 states. Baron figured that the findings would show that in states where women had low gender equality (in other words, states where women are considered second-class citizens), circulation rates for porn magazines would run high." However, Baron's results were the opposite: states with the highest gender equality had the highest circulation distribution.

While both of the above studies indicate that pornography is not strongly correlated with either crime or perceptions of gender, this is more likely due to the fact that the effects of easily accessible pornography is difficult to detect. The Internet, especially Usenet and BBS services promote a strong sense of privacy for the individual to have an environment to explore sexuality. In many cases, the individual is allowed to pursue and explore sexuality in a moral vacuum, where his or her actions do not affect any other person. However, the pornography indelibly makes an impression on the mental state of the user. This can occur both in the value system of the individual and in the perspective of the individual towards specific actions and behaviors. In either case, this mental change must eventually be translated to a physical change when the individual is forced to interact with people. Problems occur as images seen in pornography seem to relate to real-life experiences; the individual begins to confuse fantasy with reality, resulting in a dangerous potential for deviant behavior, which may or may not be harmful to others.