Do you remember being at that age when you had learned your alphabet enough so that you were just about able to look things up in the dictionary?

Do you remember the first words you looked up? They were “rude” words that you’d heard adults using and you wanted to be sure you understood properly so you could tell your friends.

Take another look at that old family dictionary on the shelf. Note the dirty finger marks around that f’ word in there. Apply the same logic to some other words you can think of. Am I right or am I right?

So long as we live in a society which imposes via religion, custom or received wisdom moral boundaries which place taboos on sex and sexuality then our natural human curiosity will always lead us to look outside those boundaries for enlightenment, amusement and satisfaction.

Anyone who uses the internet for just about any purpose today cannot fail to be aware of the prevalence of pornography. Our In Boxes are bombarded with junk mail inviting us to improve the size of our sexual organs, increase our sexual pleasure or subscribe to some website which will fulfil our every sexual fantasy. If a vast number of people did not take up these offers, then they would cease. Nobody continues to spend money on advertising campaigns that do not make money.

who is to blame for this spread of internet pornography?

So who is to blame for this spread of internet pornography? You are and I am. We started all those years ago thumbing through that old family dictionary, and we just can’t kick the habit.

I can hear the discontented grumblings already. “Not me!” “How dare he blame all of us together?” “I’ve never looked at porn in my life!”

True, we are not all paying customers of the pornography trade.

We do not all approve of the enormous and growing number of sexually explicit images invading the internet. Many in society spend a great deal of time and effort in campaigning against pornography, or at the very least ensuring that it is not freely available to our children, who risk becoming as “corrupted” as previous generations.

And here is the crux of the argument. When did you last speak to your children about sex and sexuality? When did you start to teach them that the human body was something to be ashamed of? Not necessarily in those stark terms, but by ensuring that they never saw you naked that they never suspected you were normal parents who made love with each other. When did you start hoping or imagining that they would never grow up and develop a sexuality of their own? When and why did you imagine you could successfully impose your own moral values on another sentient human being, and not be questioned?

The internet has grown faster than anyone could have imagined since its inception and there is no evidence that its growth is slowing down significantly. As an open and democratic global forum, it is natural that it should contain material which is revered in some quarters and abhorred in others. While there is universal agreement that the exploitation of children is to be condemned we can be assured that much effort is being placed on ridding the internet of child pornography, but from recent court cases we know that even this effort has not been entirely successful.

Ridding the internet of all pornographic material cannot be a realistic objective so long as people are prepared to fund the industry that produces it. There is a quite separate argument about what constitutes pornoraphy and about whether pornography always exploits its participants, particularly women. There are a growing number of women prepared to stand up in defence of pornography and whose argument is that it need be neither exploitative nor the prerogative of men. The opinions of women like Nina Hartley, Nadine Strossen, Wendy McElroy and others are hotly contested by others, but are nonetheless strong indicators of the power of the porn industry.

There are strategies for dealing with unwanted e-mails of the pornographic variety, and for ensuring that your server does not permit access from pornography sites. These involve spending a little time with firewall and spam programmes inputting unwanted terms and ensuring that mail which contains these terms and sites exhibiting certain behaviours are rejected. It’s a bit like changing the channel or turning off the television when a programme comes on that you don’t want to watch. That is the short term strategy for dealing with the invasion of unwanted internet pornography.

And the long term strategy? Talk to your kids about those thumb printed dictionaries. Don’t pretend to them (or to yourself) that sex and sexuality is something dirty to be hidden from sight. Encourage them to be their own people and (with your good support and guidance) to go their own way and form their own opinions. You may be pleasantly suprised at the outcome.