The uncomfortable questions about porn raised by Neil Parish’s resignation

As far as parliamentary defenestrations are concerned, Neil Parish’s was swift and spectacular. Last Tuesday night, at a private meeting in Westminster, two female Conservative MPs complained that they’d seen a male colleague watching porn on his phone in the House of Commons. The identity of the MP only emerged on Friday. And on Saturday, Mr Parish, the MP for Tiverton and Honiton, was on BBC South West explaining why he was resigning.

It was an extraordinary interview, a mixture of humility and hubris. There was an acceptance that there was no justification for his behaviour along with an expectation that people would believe this was “a moment of madness” and that “funnily enough (sic), it was tractors I was looking at, and I did get into another website with a similar name”.

I don’t doubt that this is possible – the Claas Dominator has been “an icon among combine harvesters for half a century”, and Mr Parish’s search trail may well have led him towards a less pastoral-inclined site. It’s just that I don’t think it’s likely, notwithstanding his interest in farming machinery.

Again, this is entirely plausible. Virtually every adult in the UK with access to the internet will have discovered how easy it is to become an inadvertent watcher of pornography. It is ubiquitous and pervasive, and an entirely innocent search can quite quickly take you to an unintended, and much darker, destination.

But it’s quite a leap from that point to watching it on your phone, in public, or in your place of work, as Mr Parish did. That suggests a rather unhealthy interest in the subject, and a willingness to take an enormous personal risk to, at best, satisfy one’s curiosity, or, at worst, to feed a voracious appetite.

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We do not know at which point on this continuum we may find Mr Parish – he has not alluded to being an addict – but the fact that a man of some standing and with a public reputation at stake would view pornography in clear sight of others would suggest someone who is in the grip of something more powerful than mere curiosity.

He admitted that he subsequently went directly to the porn site, without being diverted by the discovery that the Claas Dominator 100 “set new standards for the industry”, and watched this on his phone, in the House of Commons, and in the view of other, female, MPs.

This case has been discussed only in terms of one man’s misdemeanour. Yet addiction to pornography is a huge problem for society, and one which is rarely discussed, or fully understood, and certainly not treated empathetically. A recent study in the US suggests that porn addiction affects up to six per cent of the adult population, and up to 65 per cent of young men and 18 per cent of young women say they watch porn at least once a week.

An honest debate about porn addiction, its harmful effect on personal relationships, how it causes isolation and its propensity to encourage risky behaviour at work, would be a more mature reaction to the shaming of Neil Parish.

A cautionary note comes from Relate’s advice on the subject: “People who become addicted to porn often start out as casual users and over time watch it more more frequently and more compulsively. Often, people don’t realise that their habit is problematic… until things have become particularly bad.”

This is much bigger than the story of one man’s sorry demise.

https://inews.co.uk/opinion/neil-parish-resignation-porn-uncomfortable-questions-1606325

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