The Problem Isn't The Politicians Who Watch Porn - It's The Ones Who Pretend They Don't

Ted Cruz accidentally 'liking' porn is amusing, but the real scandal is that politicians can't admit they're just like the rest of us

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There's almost nothing more satisfying than a hypocrite getting their just desserts. So like most people on Twitter, I was tickled to learn that Ted Cruz had favved a tweet from a porn site.

There was nothing particularly kinky about the scene – a short clip from Reality Kings, in which a woman comes home to find two strangers having vigorous sex on her sofa. In apparent contradiction of the site's 'reality' focus, she declines to call the police and instead settles in to enjoy the show with one hand down her knickers. Standard stuff, nothing to write home about. Until it was liked by one of America's most famously conservative politicians, a man who is so publicly anti-masturbation that he once went to the supreme court to try and uphold a ban on sex toys, arguing that "There is no substantive-due-process right to stimulate one's genitals."

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As I say: satisfying.

But while it's easy to expose individual hypocrisy like that of Ted Cruz, the collective hypocrisy of our politicians when it comes to porn is a much more difficult challenge. Let's be blunt about this: lots of our politicians watch porn. We know this because lots of people watch porn, and our politicians – despite appearances – are actually people too. The Guardian's sex survey in 2014 revealed that 56% of Britons watched porn on the internet 'at least occasionally', and its safe to assume that number would go up if you included erotica, porn magazines, and those old-school TV channels where women look sexy in lingerie while waggling a touch-dial phone.

Given how many of our politicians likely enjoy porn, isn't it bizarre how naïve they appear when trying to discuss it? In all other walks of life, MPs scramble over each other to prove just how 'like us' they are – downing pints on the campaign trail and telling anecdotes about the local comprehensive school they went to as a child. Yet when it comes to porn their personal experience is written off as if it were drug use – they're aware that this stuff exists, but never partake of it. I wouldn't expect a cabinet minister to give me a tour of their browser history, but I'd certainly expect that something half of the population enjoys would warrant more than a blush and a swift denial. My drug analogy only goes so far, though: it may be reasonable to expect a lawmaker to avoid outright breaking the law in their down time with a spliff or a line of cocaine, it's not unreasonable to expect them to engage in legal porn consumption. As long as they're at home, rather than logged in to the Commons wifi.

There's an important reason for this – I'm not just obsessed with the wanking habits of cabinet ministers. The first reason is that porn is legal. Watching something that gets you off is an entirely legal activity for an adult to partake in. When our politicians treat legal entertainment as if it's an illicit misdeed, they create an environment in which it's much easier to persuade people it should be banned. Encouraging moralistic pressure-groups, and feeding into the false narrative that masturbation is harmful or that porn 'destroys your brain.'

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It's not all their fault – there may be proud porn-fans who are simply cowed by fear of headlines or the worry that their honesty will lose votes. But what, honestly, are we expecting to happen when these people have to pass porn regulation? Do we think they'll be so principled that they'll stand up in the chamber and point out the flaws, detailing the impact it'll have on their own lives as well as their constituents? Do we expect them to tell anecdotes from their past – as they do with social and economic policies – to highlight how the law will affect people? Of course not. We expect them to distance themselves from porn further, one-upping each other in condemnation of something legal that half the population enjoys.

They then go on to create legislation. Legislation like the Digital Economy Act, which forces porn sites to ask every single user to hand over identifying information to prove they are over 18. It doesn't sound that bad on the surface: it's a neat way to protect children from seeing material they aren't ready for. In practice, however, the Act's token gestures towards privacy and security mean that it will be a goldmine for hackers and scam artists. Not only will the personal data that people are asked to hand over be a juicy prize to incentivise an Ashley-Madison-style hack, but privacy experts have pointed out that training the UK population to offer their actual passport number in order to access porn might be a little bit reckless.

What's more, the law hands a lot of power to large porn companies which won't just weather the age-verification storm: they'll money from it. Mindgeek (which owns PornHub, YouPorn and myriad other sites and studios including Ted Cruz favourite Reality Kings) is developing an age verification system called AgeID. According to a PornHub spokesperson, AgeID "will be made available to all adult sites for a flat monthly fee, in accordance with the size of their UK traffic." So even if your porn site would rather operate independently of the massive corporations, you might end up paying them a subscription anyway if you want to comply with the new UK law. Handing power to massive porn companies isn't the stated aim of the law, but it is certainly a by-product. And it's a by-product that isn't receiving much scrutiny. Why would it? Why would a politician scrutinise the industry and risk revealing in-depth knowledge when it's far more politically expedient to just say 'I don't watch that sort of thing.'

Luckily for troublemakers like me, the biggest problem with the Digital Economy Act is also the one with the greatest potential for fun. As most young people know, you can easily circumvent porn blocks with a VPN. Do all our MPs know how to do this? Or, when we see the first inevitable massive data leak of porn user details, will there be a few familiar political names on the list?

The short-term embarrassment of this would be horrible, but the long-term impact might be fairly positive: if we lived in a world where politicians were open about the fact that they also watch/read/listen to erotic material, perhaps they'd make better laws. Ones which don't treat legal sexual activity as if it's a criminal act. Maybe it would help to foster an environment in which we could address the important issues in porn: ensuring decent competition and transparency and securing better employment rights and working conditions for performers. But instead of having an adult conversation about adult content, our politicians are forced to pretend that they think 'private browsing mode' is only ever used to shop for Christmas presents.

Everyone's entitled to privacy, so I'd never demand that ministers publish their internet history. Nor do I think using your official work-based Twitter account to curate porn is a wise move. But while we're laughing at the hypocrisy of Ted 'no right to stimulate your own genitals' Cruz, it would be nice if we acknowledged the inherent hypocrisy that's present whenever politics meets porn. I'd love, just once, to hear the people who make laws about porn admitting that sometimes they watch it.

You might think I'm naïve to hope for this, but I'm no less naive than the politician who pretends they never watch porn, and expects us all to believe them.