Sexual rights, regulatory frameworks and the internet – the EROTICS project

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The third Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) was held at the end of May this year. SIF is a space that aims to deepen discussions on how internet freedom can promote economic and social development worldwide. This year’s theme was related to privacy, transparency, surveillance and control, stimulating debate on topics such as applying the rule of law online. For sexual rights advocates, the potential impacts of internet regulation are complex, with concerns that conservative internet legislation would directly impact on internet users’ ability to access vital information on sexuality, sexual health and sexual rights.

Unpacking some of these issues, the Association for Progressive Communications’ (APC) Women’s Rights Programme’s (WRP) research project titled EROTICS: An exploratory research project into sexuality and the internet,looks at the “impact of regulatory frameworks and control mechanisms on the actual lived practices, experiences and concerns of internet users in the exercise of their sexual rights”. The first phase was a study carried out in Brazil, India, Lebanon, South Africa and USA between June 2008-2011, examining how the internet hosts critical information about sex education, health, fighting sex discrimination and defining one’s own sexuality, debunking the commonly-held view that sexuality online is just about pornography. This research, which included young women, transgender communities and lesbian queer activists, found that “the internet has become an important emerging public sphere… where rights are contested and defended” particularly for those groups who face multiple forms of discrimination and have limited or no access to public spaces. Their research also found, however, that “missing in the debate is a clear comprehension and articulation of the critical role that an open and free internet plays in the exercise of sexual rights and sexual citizenship, particularly for marginalised sections of society… The internetʼs potential… is being threatened and constrained through increasing regulation by state and non-state actors. Notably, calls for regulation are often accompanied by arguments for the need to limit and control sexual speech, information and practices. In many countries, sexuality-related content online is filtered, blocked or censored for being “obscene” or “pornographic”.

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Source: Thomson Reuteurs Foundation