From Iceland — Ask An Expert: Why Is Pornography Illegal In Iceland?

Ask An Expert: Why Is Pornography Illegal In Iceland?

Published May 7, 2021

Ask An Expert: Why Is Pornography Illegal In Iceland?
Hannah Jane Cohen
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With all the talk recently surrounding OnlyFans, we wondered—isn’t making pornography supposedly illegal in Iceland? To learn more, we sat down with Dr. Thomas Brorsen Smidt, MA and PhD in gender studies and project and research manager at the GRÓ Gender Equality Studies and Training Programme.

It is and it isn’t. According to article 210 of the Icelandic penal code, whoever prints, imports, sells, or distributes pornographic material, or has it publicly on display, will get fined or jailed up to 6 months. Still, porn is still available in Icelandic bookstores, sex shops, and of course via the almighty internet. Very few convictions involving pornographic material with consenting adults have been made since the law was first formulated in 1869 (with amendments made in 1940 and 1996). Convictions include that of a satiric magazine for some suggestive silhouettes, and a TV channel for broadcasting some lewd Danish films back in the 1990s.

The discussion on the legal status of pornography really flared up in the years from 2010-2014 when the government sponsored a series of meetings dedicated to discussing the “pornification” of Icelandic society, culminating in a conference on pornography and legal frameworks featuring U.S. based anti-porn feminist Gail Dines. In the wake of the conference, a work group was assembled with the task of examining how Icelandic police could stop the distribution of pornography. As it turns out, this is very difficult if the police do not have 1) a working definition of what pornography is and 2) control of the internet. These attempts at censoring pornography were heavily criticized. Some argued that the government’s efforts were entirely feeble and relied on a complete misunderstanding of what the internet is. Other voices felt that resources could be better spent on sexual education to counter the influence of pornography on adolescents. Still others pointed out that historically the censorship of pornography tends to negatively impact the wrong people, such as sexual minorities.

Recently, the debate has flared up again after people started realizing that a lot of Icelandic young people were producing and selling access to homemade sexually explicit content via the online platform OnlyFans. In a recent interview in Stundin, the Icelandic police said they have not received a single report referencing Article 210 on the distribution of pornography via OnlyFans and that this is also not among their priorities.

There you have it: No one cares, not even the police.

So why is pornography still illegal in Iceland? My best guess is because of signal value. Sure, it might be appropriate to repeal a dead letter law that no one follows anyway, but because there is still a big divide on the issue of pornography in Iceland (as clearly indicated by recent debates), whoever attempts to repeal the law will still be perceived as de facto endorsing pornography, and so no can be bothered to initiate the process.

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