You are currently browsing the daily archive for April 5, 2022.

Warning: mature content below.

Earlier this year, I was saddened to see how much pornography has invaded the British psyche and damaged people’s relationships.

On January 28, 2022, the House of Lords held a debate on the fact that online users of pornography are not required to verify their ages.

Our communications regulator Ofcom should be doing it, but the British Government has not required them to do so. Lord Morrow wants Ofcom to be given permission to proceed with age verification.

I watched part of the debate. Baroness Benjamin — Floella Benjamin, who was a BBC children’s programme presenter decades ago — gave a particularly harrowing testimony at the end of her speech (emphases mine):

… While it is preferable for the Government to implement Part 3 of the DEA immediately, the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, that Ofcom be designated now under Section 17 of the DEA and that it commence work to prepare to be the regulator is reasonable. It would be shameful if the Government further delayed action on age verification and protecting women and girls from the harm of violent pornography by failing to act now. Children and women have waited far too long for these protections. The Government should act now to alleviate any more harm and suffering.

A mother wrote to me telling me that her four year-old daughter was sexually abused by a 10 year-old boy, who told her, “I am going to rape you and you are going to like it”. Now when the daughter hears the word “rape” on the news, she asks her mother, “Did she like it mummy?” It makes me weep to tell this story, because childhood lasts a lifetime. This is why I support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow. It is a moral issue.

That is simply horrifying in so many respects, yet that is the sad reality for too many young people. To hear that a mere child, barely out of toddlerhood, is assaulted that way by a little boy is shocking, not to mention the lad telling her that she would enjoy rape.

Our society is becoming ever sicker.

A few days later, on Wednesday, February 2, The Guardian had a long article on the adverse affects of pornography on women: ‘”It stopped me having sex for a year”: why Generation Z is turning its back on sex-positive feminism’.

The paper says that the sex-positive feminist movement was supposed to:

free women from guilt or being shamed.

However:

now many are questioning whether it has left them more vulnerable.

The article begins with another child-centric true story:

Lala likes to think of herself as pretty unshockable. On her popular Instagram account @lalalaletmeexplain, she dishes out anonymous sex and dating advice on everything from orgasms to the etiquette of sending nude pictures. Nor is the 40-year-old sex educator and former social worker (Lala is a pseudonym) shy of sharing her own dating experiences as a single woman.

But even she was perturbed by a recent question, from a woman with a seven-year-old daughter who had caught her new partner watching “stepdaughter” porn involving teenage girls. Was that a red flag?

Given her professional training, the story set Lala’s alarm bells ringing. “To me, you can’t take these risks – things like that I’m willing to die on a hill for,” she says. So she was taken aback by some of the comments on her Instagram account, where she asks her 175,000 followers to respond to other people’s dilemmas. “There were people on that post saying: “What people watch in porn is not what they do in real life; how can you be so judgmental?’”

Lala notes that the proliferation of dating sites that make sexual encounters no different from ordering fish and chips make finding true romantic relationships difficult. Furthermore, pornography is now setting the standard for ‘relationships’ (I use the term advisedly):

“Since sex has become easier to get,” she writes, “love has become harder to find.” Through her Instagram account and the dating column she writes for OK! magazine, she hears regularly from women tolerating activities they don’t enjoy in bed for fear of being rejected for someone more willing – an age-old story, except that those sexual norms are now set by pornography.

“Sexual liberation is great, but in some ways we ran with that, and then ended up in a model of sex that has been created by men,” says Lala. “We have got the part where it’s: ‘You can do this without judgment, you don’t have to be married or worry about unintended pregnancies!’ but we’re not balancing that with the education or that sense of what sex really is – how should it feel, when should you do it, how should you do it?”

Lala’s Instagram followers had a lot of complaints about sex — violent sex — but they were afraid to tell their partners:

almost three quarters said they had experienced rough or painful sex but had chosen not to complain about it. “It’s like: ‘I don’t want to disappoint him, I don’t want to be bad in bed.’ If you really like someone but every time you have sex it hurts and you don’t want that, how do you negotiate that when you’re only 18?” For all her professional expertise, she says, she remembers some “pretty horrible sex” when she was younger.

How awful.

Lala is 40. Things don’t get any better for younger women, though. Some begin delving into pornography while they are still young children:

In December, the singer Billie Eilish, then 19, declared that watching porn from the age of 11 had “destroyed” her brain. At first it made her feel like “one of the guys”, she told the Howard Stern radio show in the US, but now she thinks it twisted her expectations: “The first few times I, you know, had sex, I was not saying no to things that were not good. It was because I thought that’s what I was supposed to be attracted to.”

… But Eilish is not alone in questioning the way porn tropes have coloured everyday relationships.

The statistics are shocking:

More than one in 10 teenagers claim to have had anal sex by the age of 18, according to the UK’s authoritative National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, which also found under-24s almost as likely as middle-aged people to have had more than 10 partners, despite being sexually active for many fewer years. But the generation most likely to have its first sexual experience via a phone screen seems increasingly willing to question what that means for individuals’ lives.

It gets worse because violent sex is becoming the norm for some because of pornography:

A third of British women under 40 have experienced unwanted slapping, spitting, choking or gagging in bed, according to research carried out for the pressure group We Can’t Consent to This, which campaigns to limit the so-called “rough sex” defence for murder (used by men who killed their partners to argue that the women died accidentally, in consensual sex games) …

… Lala argues, the normalisation of pain in porn may provide cover for some abusive men, and make women feel prudish for refusing potentially dangerous acts like choking. “A lot of young men have co-opted BDSM [bondage, discipline or domination, sadism and masochism]. They’re not into power plays and consent. They just like hurting women.”

I can believe it, sadly, only because a number of parliamentary debates concerning women have often mentioned a phenomenon called non-fatal strangulation, which is a man-on-woman means of punishment or sexual thrill — or both. I’d never heard of it before, so I have no idea how it came to be so commonplace. Perhaps through pornography?

The Guardian interviewed a post-graduate student about her experiences, a few of which were far from being joyful or romantic:

Anna-Louise Adams was in her early 20s, and at university in London, when she experienced a handful of casual sexual encounters that turned rough without warning.

Luckily, she says, she was confident enough to object. “But I did find it quite shocking, and it did deter me from having sex for probably about a year. I’d had two or three experiences of varying degrees of extremity and I just thought: ‘what’s the point of this?’” she says. “I’d come to my own conclusions about sex that wasn’t in a relationship, at least. I feel quite sad for my younger self, really.”

Now 25, and having compared notes with friends who had similar experiences, she no longer thinks it relevant that the encounters that turned sour were casual ones. “I’ve heard about plenty of relationships where it’s happened, and happened unexpectedly.” Speaking publicly for the We Can’t Consent to This campaign has, she says, also helped to channel her feelings into something constructive.

Another woman thinks that the sex-positive feminist movement has benefited men more than women:

Louise Perry, press officer for We Can’t Consent to This and author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, due to be published this summer, argues that a movement originally meant to liberate women is being hijacked to serve men’s interests. Perry, 29, held the same liberal views in her early 20s as “most other millennial urban graduates in the west” …

“I’m not anti the sexual revolution per se – I don’t want to go back to having 10 children, or whatever would have been in store without the pill,” she says. “But I think the beneficiaries [of sex-positive feminism] overwhelmingly have been a certain subset of men.”

Perry blames this on certain dating apps and pornography:

The problem isn’t just porn, she argues, but dating apps inadvertently making men less accountable for abusive behaviour. “I’ve spoken to women who have dated men from apps and have been sexually assaulted, then find he’s deleted his profile and they don’t even know his username – that’s the sort of thing that really, really serves the interests of men.”

Lockdown seems to have changed people’s minds about relationships for the better. That’s probably the only positive we can take away from being holed up in our homes for weeks on end:

The dating app OKCupid reported a rise in the number of British users seeking a long-term relationship after the 2020 lockdown while in the US, Match.com’s annual Singles in America report last year found that only 11% of users claim to be seeking casual flings, with qualities such as trust and emotional maturity now prized over physical attractiveness. If only temporarily, the loneliness and insecurity of lockdown may have made cosy coupledom look more appealing.

During that time, sex-positive feminism shifted to include the right to decline sex altogether:

After all, it was never meant to be about just saying “yes” to everything. Indeed, some sex-positive activists are defined by actively not wanting sex, such as the lingerie model Yasmin Benoit, who identifies as asexual or ace – meaning that she never or rarely experiences attraction to others – but maintains she is not anti-sex just because she isn’t interested, personally.

The reality of violent sex is turning some young women off sexual congress altogether:

“I think we’re on the edge of a real anti-sex backlash,” says the activist and writer Laurie Penny, author of Sexual Revolution: Modern Fascism and the Feminist Fightback, who points out that destigmatising sex has freed women to talk about what were once taboo subjects. “A culture where sex is stigmatised is also one where we can’t talk about any of those things and I don’t believe there’s anything progressive about a society that wants to control or limit women’s sexuality.”

Penny, who uses they/them pronouns, also thinks some attacks on sex-positive feminism – such as that it means porn is beyond criticism – are fights with straw men. “There’s a brilliant quote from [the porn star] Stoya, which says that trying to learn about sex from watching porn is like trying to learn to drive from watching monster truck videos. The thing is I don’t often see that argument made, that you’re not allowed to criticise pornography,” they say.

Penny also said:

You have to actually deal with sexual violence in order to create substantive sexual liberation.

Lala agrees with that assessment:

The missing element of this half-finished revolution, Lala argues, is a cultural shift in men’s attitudes. “Sex-positive feminism has laid the foundations, it’s given us a platform and a voice and a space to use our voices. But without getting men on board and proper sex education, we’re all going to be on the same old hamster wheel.”

That won’t happen overnight, she acknowledges.

There is a bright ending to the article when one man confessed he did not like choking his girlfriend — and stopped:

Recently, she counselled a man who had been choking his girlfriend during sex for years. It was only when the girlfriend mustered the courage to say she didn’t like it that he admitted he didn’t like it, either. They were both, it turned out, going along with what they thought the other one wanted, and each secretly wishing the other would make it stop.

I can’t begin to comment on this other than to advise people to avoid pornography and stay away from pick-up dating sites.

If something feels wrong, it is wrong, so don’t do it.

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