64

I am about to start my graduate studies in an American university, moving from my native Peru. Over the course of my under-graduation, I have developed this strange habit of watching porn at odd times, say afternoon, or morning. Sometimes I watch in classroom too, of course, reducing the volume to zero. I ensure I do not disturb others while watching, by not giggling, or engaging in other clumsy activities.

I am nervous about moving to America. Will I be caught by the IT admin of the university and suspended or barred? Does this policy change with universities? Do some universities not mind this? Many of my friends spend their entire nights in their labs and I find it difficult to believe they do not visit any porn sites.

  • 176
    Caught or not, illegal or not, each activity has a proper place and time. That is not the time nor place for this particular activity. Don't. Just don't.... – Fábio Dias Apr 6 '16 at 15:59
  • 132
    Note that illegal and conflicting with usage policies (of the internet access) or with in-house rules are two different things. – O. R. Mapper Apr 6 '16 at 16:00
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. If you're reading this and feel the need to add your two cents, please go post it in that chat room; if you have an answer that isn't already addressed here, post an answer. – ff524 Apr 11 '16 at 9:22
  • This is an obvious troll. Also the question text and the title differ appreciably. "Is it a crime to watch porn" is different from "should I be allowed to watch porn in class". But in any case, I throw the BS flag. – guest Jan 24 at 18:19
147

Let's start with the disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.

  • If you're over the age of 18, it's not illegal to watch most types of porn in the US. Certain types of porn, like child pornography are illegal. Don't watch that crap.
  • It is illegal to download works without permission of the copyright holder. From what I've seen, porn companies are more likely to sue than others.
  • Streaming copyrighted works is a legally gray area. Mostly it seems that the sites hosting the material get hit with lawsuits, not the viewers, but this may change.

Certain universities may require that you don't watch porn. This will probably be the case at the more religious ones (e.g., Liberty, BYU), so check the school's honor code/student policy if you're concerned.

As to watching porn in class or lab or the library or any public space: Don't. I imagine most every US university has a policy against this. If they don't have a specific one, they'll find another one that applies. It's not only rude to those around you, but watching porn where non-consenting people might see it can be considered sexual harassment. This may get you expelled.

If you want to watch porn, do it in your apartment or dorm. Social norms dictate you shouldn't watch it when others are in the room, but you can talk with your roommates about that if you want.

  • 30
    I imagine most every University has a policy against this. My school doesn't. One of my male students came in to physics lab early and had porn on the screen while his female lab partner stood by uncomfortably. On the same day, he swiped her take-home exam and copied her answers while she wasn't looking. When I brought this case to the dean, the student got in trouble for cheating, but my school has no policy that forbids porn-surfing on the school's computers. For example, if you are watching porn for research in a human sexuality class, it's not against any rule. – Ben Crowell Apr 7 '16 at 0:31
  • 13
    Those who just click agreement without reading them may not even see the restrictions. For example, use of a university-provided network may not allow personal uses at all. – GEdgar Apr 7 '16 at 1:07
  • 9
    As Mr. Chef always said: "There's a time and place for everything children, it's called College". I never knew he could be wrong >< – solalito Apr 7 '16 at 19:06
  • 2
    @BenCrowell It's certainly understandable that viewing porn in class or around other students who aren't also watching with you may be acceptable in certain academic scenarios. But for the general case, I expect your school was treading in very dangerous waters by not investigating or doing anything about your student's viewing activities in class. As others have said, the lab partner could potentially have filed for harassment - in that case, it at least would not look good (and could be legally dangerous) for the school to have knowingly ignored it. – Iszi Apr 7 '16 at 23:54
  • 5
    @BenCrowell: Note that over the past 5 years, most US institutions have gotten a lot more serious about sexual harassment and sexual assault. The U.S federal government has been putting pressure on universities to crack down on sexual assault, since (they reason) it drives women away from college at a higher rate than men, and practices that are effectively discriminatory between genders (even if not intentionally so) are barred under federal law. If that incident happened within the last five years, I'm honestly a little shocked. – Michael Seifert Apr 8 '16 at 16:31
73

tl;dr there is at least one instance of a disorderly conduct charge for watching pornography in a university library.

I bring you the story of STATE OF WISCONSIN v DAVID J. REIDINGER. From the most recent (January 2016) appeals court decision:

David Reidinger was found to have violated WIS. ADMIN. CODE § UWS 18.11(2), which prohibits disorderly conduct in University of Wisconsin System buildings or on university lands. The evidence at trial established that others witnessed Reidinger viewing pornography in a public library on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC) campus. On appeal, Reidinger argues he has a First Amendment right to view legal adult pornographic material at a public library. Reidinger also vaguely alludes to a conspiracy between numerous public officers and employees to harass him. We reject these arguments and affirm.

Background

Following a bench trial, Reidinger was found to have violated WIS. ADMIN. CODE § UWS 18.11(2) and was fined $295. Shannon Riley, a student supervisor at the McIntyre Library on the UWEC campus, testified she received a complaint from a student at 10:40 p.m. on December 14, 2014. The complaining student testified that she and her roommate were working on homework at the library when they noticed Reidinger watching pornographic material on the computer next to them. Two university police officers, Edward Lancour and Amanda Henry, responded to the complaint.

Lancour and Henry met with the complaining students, who showed the officers a picture they had taken of Reidinger’s computer screen that showed open pornographic images. Lancour then personally observed Reidinger watching pornographic material on the computer for approximately thirty seconds before asking him to close the browser and move with him to a library stairwell to discuss the matter. Lancour testified he told Reidinger his watching pornography was causing a disturbance, to which Reidinger responded that he had a constitutional right to view pornographic material at a public library. Lancour then told him they had received several complaints, and witnesses had stated that Reidinger viewing pornography at that location made them feel uncomfortable. Reidinger was issued a citation for disorderly conduct under WIS. ADMIN. CODE § UWS 18.11(2) the following day.

(Note: I also posted this answer on Law.SE)

  • 7
    I can't help but laugh at his claim to have a Constitutional right to watch porn in a library. I suppose now people who are kicked out of a library for being too loud will claim that their 'free speech' rights are being violated, too... – reirab Apr 8 '16 at 15:21
  • 2
    @reirab Actually, if you look at the extra note at the bottom of my Law answer, his claim is not that far-fetched. – ff524 Apr 8 '16 at 15:36
  • 1
    @reirab, actually in the USA you do have a protected right at public libraries to watch pornography. The issue with this case is that the library in question is on university property and the state has created a law that was forced to apply in this specific situation. If the defendant were to press his luck and take this to a higher court it would eventually be won in his favor. Those who complained about what was on his screen miss the fact that no one was asking them to look at his screen and I would assume this library is set up as most are with the screen having some privacy. – NDEthos Apr 8 '16 at 18:42
  • 1
    @NDEthos I suggest you look at the answer on Law, too. It is not so straightforward to say that you have a protected right to pornography at public libraries, at least not according to the Washington State Supreme Court. – ff524 Apr 8 '16 at 18:44
  • 1
    @NDEthos "It's not illegal" is not the same as "you have a Constitutional right to do it." That case explicitly rejected the latter notion. If you want to discuss this further, please ping me in chat, since we're kind of straying off topic here. – reirab Apr 8 '16 at 19:19
32

Since you are moving and starting a new chapter in your life, perhaps it is best if you start fresh and let go of some yours "old habits" such as watching porn at school. If you get stressed or need to do that, just go home. There is no need to stay at school or lab if you are not going to work. If you are waiting for some analysis or simulation to end, you can start it at the lab, go home and remotely access your lab PC. You are a graduate student, be professional, act like it, otherwise, this may end up haunting you in your career.

From my understanding, schools (in general) do not monitor if students watch pornography. "The only time porn watching on the MSU [Missouri State University] wireless network might come to the university's attention is if there's an allegation of copyright infringement." Check this link. However, you need to know that some types are illegal to watch (i.e., child pornography etc.). Also, you need to check your university's rules and regulations too. I'm only citing an article regarding one university that was published about a year ago, so do not take that for granted.

You do not need to worry about what friends do, stand up for yourself!

  • 5
    It's worth noting that child porn is not just illegal to watch, but also to possess or distribute. As far as I know, this is true in all 50 states. And, yes, there is a good chance you'll get busted, especially if anyone sees you watching it and/or you use the university network to download/stream it. There were students arrested for this at my university while I was in undergrad and I've heard lots of stories from the guy who does computer forensics for the local police about busting people for it (he taught my university computer forensics class.) – reirab Apr 6 '16 at 21:27
  • @reirab It's also worth noting that laws defining "child" differ between states. In some countries they even include fiction. – Cees Timmerman Apr 8 '16 at 13:42
  • @reirab A case in 2012 in New York found a man innocent because he didn't actually "possess" the material, despite viewing it. In the future, that case may be referred to as a valid defense in many states, because most laws are written to say that possession is the crime (I don't think I've ever heard of a case where simply viewing it has reached the media, at least in the US). – phyrfox Apr 8 '16 at 16:10
  • 1
    @WayneWerner That's ridiculous. Reminds me of a violent ex of my mother forcing me to get rid of my Garbage Pail Kids stickers. – Cees Timmerman Apr 11 '16 at 0:55
  • 2
    @CeesTimmerman I thought so, too. I'm very confused as to what protection that's supposed to offer. Similar to two 16-year-olds (which is the age of consent in Arkansas, for example) who can legally have sex, but owning nude photographs of each other will get them registered as sex offenders - for the possession of child pornography. – Wayne Werner Apr 11 '16 at 0:59
10

While you are mentioning that you move to the USA, the question was asking for watching porn in general, so I am talking about universities in Western Europe. Still there are several countries, so if you go to the north, you may expect a more lenient approach, if you go to the south (Catholic influence), you may expect a more strict approach.

First: The definitions what is unacceptable are different.

  1. Nude pictures, including display of all sexual areas are socially much more acceptable. There are also not generally associated with the word usage "porn". Nude pictures are easily accessible in many stores and supermarkets. So if you are caught with a nude magazine hidden in your book, the reaction will be likely that of a forgivable sin (but beware that you still may lose status in the eye of the beholder !). It is still not something to be proud of and it should be especially avoided if women are around. It is not a crime and not a reason to be expelled, but if you are doing it too much or God forbid, people get the impression that you are doing it on purpose so that people must see them, it puts you in the next category...

  2. People in action are what is translated in Europe as "porn" or "pornographic". Especially because it triggers often "clumsy hand activities", it is expected everywhere to be watched in private. Watching it publicly and be caught puts you on solid ground for the "weirdo" category. Being caught will likely not immediately result in expulsion (depends again on university policy), but it is noted as unsocial behavior and it is expected that you never do it again (and apologize).

Anyway watching normal porn (if we are talking about consensual sex between adults) is never a crime. The other...stuff is exactly as prohibited as in the US.

It should also be said that there are very different people, your assumption that people are likely to watch porn in long nights is wrong. While it may foster stereotypes, I am quite sure from personal experience that different faculties have very different porn usages.

  • 3
    Especially in the given context, the north/south is not really to the point in my opinion, and I do not think that "Catholic influence" is to the point either. – quid Apr 7 '16 at 14:17
  • "watching normal porn (if we are talking about consensual sex between adults) is never a crime." - False. In some countries you can be put to death for it. – Cees Timmerman Apr 8 '16 at 13:40
  • 1
    @CeesTimmerman He did say "Western Europe", which is all legal according to the link there. – Mario Carneiro Apr 8 '16 at 13:55
  • 1
    @CeesTimmerman In the UK case they are prohibiting "extreme" porn (simulating rape, necrophilia, bestiality etc. etc.) with legal definitions which are as hardly defined as 'Jell-O', so you have a point. But still: If we define "normal" as the typical depicted horniness endurance sport, you are still on the safe side. – Thorsten S. Apr 8 '16 at 23:20
7

Others have addressed the main issues you raise. Let me bring up two lesser points:

One: Watching or reading ANYTHING in class other than class-related materials is generally considered at the very least rude to the professor, even if the material itself is not offensive in any way. Teachers routinely complain about students passing notes or texting on their cell phones, even if what they're saying is "let's go out for pizza tonight".

And it seems rather foolish. You're paying thousands of dollars a year to attend this class -- or somebody is paying on your behalf. And you're not even going to pay attention?

Two: "I find it difficult to believe they do not visit any porn sites." I can't speak for your friends, but I'm am quite sure that there are many college students who never visit porn sites, period, never mind while in a school lab. Really, you need to be very careful of the thinking, "I and my friends do X, so of course everyone in the world does X." No, that doesn't follow.

I have often heard people say, "How in the world did Jones win the election? I voted for Smith. Everyone I know voted for Smith. Who voted for Jones?" The simple explanation is that you and your friends are not necessarily a representative sample of the population. Etc, I could give many other examples. Everyone in the world does not think and act just like you. Don't assume they do.

I'm 57 years old. The Internet wasn't invented yet when I was in college. But I've been working in IT for 36 years now and I can only think of one time in all those years that I ever saw someone accessing pornography at the office -- and that was someone who gave the phone number of a "phone sex" line to co-workers as a joke, telling them it was a client who had called for them and they should call back. Maybe there were some who did it discreetly and never got caught, but it is certainly not common practice in American business.

3

In most US Universities, no one forces you to attend classes (barring a few instructors who may insist on their course being the one exception). This is even truer for graduate school. This is good news for you because if a lecture doesn't interest you, then you can skip it, stay home and watch porn as much as you want, as long as you can catch up through the materials through other means.

That being said, if your porn habit is such that you can't even function as a student in a semi-public space without watching porn, then I'd say that this "habit" is seriously interfering with your life.

It's not just the legal consequence of watching porn during class that you have to worry about. This kind of behavior will get you expelled (even if no charges are filed, which may or may not be the case). This kind of behavior will also get you fired from any job worth having. And forget about having normal sex with an actual human being, chances are the only way you'll be able to get yourself off is with your own hand and thinking about a different partner than you're currently with.

Now, I don't expect that you'll find my argument the most compelling. Chances are, you've already accepted your behavior as normal and as acceptable.

But I want you to consider the fact that you may be depressed, and/or have a serious addiction, in need of professional help. Depression, sex addiction, and/or porn addiction are all treatable conditions. And I'd suggest you look for that professional help before the consequences of that addiction get too bad for you.

0

To the OP. If you are still around, I hope you will not mind an invasive suggestion to make an effort to attend a local, free and open Sex Addicts Anonymous chapter to listen to (and optionally participate) with others who come to admit they may have/had porn/pornography/sex addiction tendencies. If you are lucky, you will have changed your habits by now. If not, take the time to go attend asap. Don't risk your career, relationship and family prospects. In case you are wondering you will be stunned at the number of such participants, both male and female professionals who have taken/are taking advantage of these support groups, and have since stayed away from "acting out". They won't judge and they won't stop you from doing anything. But you will feel strength from the community and your sponsors to stop any possible decline and move upwards from that point on. Actually, you'll do better in all aspects of your life at the same time with all the time you regain.

-1

In most cases, no. There are some, already mentioned exceptions (copyright, child porn, etc), but it is very improbable that you will confront problems on this ground.

Watching porn, it is surely not what matches your goals of study or work there. Thus, you use the resources of the university for something which is not study and not work. The problems on this ground are much more probably in your case.

But not this is the real danger. The real danger is, that it is a highly anti-social act in that environment (and also in any study or workplace environment), and thus it will cause a permanent and serious damage in your reputation.

In your place, I never ever did it. Even if it would be totally legal and accepted (while it is not).

If you can't completely avoid that, I suggest to do it before going to the uni, and pray more.

P.s. The network firewalls of your university may have some porn-filtering, or at least detecting functionality and thus visiting porn sites may trigger a security event. Even if nothing happen on the social side, this may show from you until the ethernity, that you watched porn. The same is the case in every workplace. Either use your own devices and network for that, or use some VPN gateway solution which is knowingly undecipherable on an intermediate node.

protected by ff524 Apr 6 '16 at 20:05

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.