I have a whole series of posts on child pornography, often abbreviated as CP. Another more recent phrase for this is "child sex exploitation material", abbreviated as CSEM.

Certain earnest people will attack any writing which refers to child pornography. The objection is that pornography implies sexual enjoyment and consent of the actors or actresses involved. What is depicted in child pornography is instead the sexual exploitation of children, they argue, and it is vital to refer to it as such. You even read suggestions that anyone referring to "child pornography" is trying to minimize the harm to children from such material. It looks like some such people think anyone using the term "child pornography" -- or anyone who doesn't instantly agree to using CSEM when it is offered to them -- is not worth talking with. They are the Other or the Enemy.

I do not accept that the term "pornography" implies willing actors or actresses. All it refers to is material that is produced for purposes of sexual arousal. "Child pornography" implies that the people depicted are children. That's all. The term itself doesn't make any moral judgment. That doesn't mean anyone using it thinks it's good. It's just that you don't have to use terms with moral judgments built in, and productive discussion may be easier if you don't.

Consider for comparison the words "killing" and "murder". Killing does not make any moral judgment, while "murder" implies that it was morally wrong. Consider a controversial sort of killing -- capital punishment. Opponents call it "state-sanctioned murder". Supporters would reject that characterization, as they would feel it is just. Suppose opponents refuse to talk with anyone who calls it simply "capital punishment" without the "murder" part included. This is a guarantee that no discussion will happen. It seems counter-productive.

Suppose that those who oppose Donald Trump settled on a new name for him: "evil, despicable Trump", or EDT for short. They might insist that no one can simply refer to Donald Trump, because that implies he is not evil and despicable. This surely is a way to not have any conversation with someone who has entertained the idea that Trump has some good qualities.

In the case of child pornography, the problem is not so much the basic moral judgment as the fact that there is great variety in what is included under that label. Some concepts have a better-defined center than edges, and I think child porn may be a case. At the center of "child porn" is video of a child crying as she or he is brutalized sexually. That is clearly wrong. Hardly anyone would disagree. In that case "child sexual exploitation material" might if anything seem too bland. The problem comes around the edges.

Virtual child porn is made without any real children, but just computer graphics. Cartoon depictions of children involved in sex is child porn. There are cases of young teens who take sexually explicit images of themselves, perhaps to send to a lover. Some people would classify fictional text-only stories about children as child pornography. In some jurisdictions all of those things are illegal, but I believe none of them qualifies as child sex exploitation material.

Others might disagree, but we can't even have the discussion as long as "it's immoral" is included in the term we use to talk about it. "Child pornography" is one concept. When "exploitation" is part of any term for it, that is two concepts. It hurts clear thinking rather than helps.

I dislike the phrase "child sex exploitation material" and refuse to give up the phrase "child pornography".

In general I have a serious problem any time a group tries to change the use of language for political purposes and insists others accept those changes.


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