Category Archives: Moral Panic

Major kink site Fetlife Forced to Censor Content

We received news today that Fetlife.com, a cornerstone of the global kink community, has been forced to remove vast amounts of content in order to stay in business.

My book Porn Panic!, published last year, warns of an imminent attack on sexual freedom and free speech. These things don’t exist in a vacuum: they are proxies for liberties that have been taken for granted in the western world for decades. The sexual expression I defend isn’t that important in its own right: what’s important is that sexual expression is the stone on which wannabe dictators sharpen their knives.

Now, with the authoritarian Trump administration taking power, and the promise of Internet censorship coming to the UK this year, there can be little doubt where things are going. Only a couple of weeks ago, Backpage.com was bullied into closing down its adult services advertising in the United States. Now, the assault on Fetlife confirms the direction of travel. Hold onto your hats, because this is going to get very very rough, very very fast. To support this campaign against censorship, please donate or buy Porn Panic! and help spread the word.

Below is the full announcement issued by Fetlife this week:

John Baku @ Fetlife posts:

Changes
by JohnBaku

I have a lot to apologize for; I apologize for the cryptic announcement I made last Tuesday. I apologize for the deletion of 100s of groups and 1,000s of fetishes without any warning, let alone sufficient notice. I apologize for not making this announcement earlier and leaving everyone in the dark, and most importantly, I apologize for letting many of you down.

I wish we could have done things differently, but even upon reflection, I believe we did what we had to do to protect the community and FetLife with the information we had when we made each decision along the way.

Before making any decisions, we consulted with multiple parties. We consulted with the team, partners, financial institutions, the NCSF (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom), the FSC (Free Speech Coalition), lawyers, and anyone else we thought might have insight for us.

So, why did we make the announcement last Tuesday? Why did we remove some of the content we removed over the last 3-4 days? And, why didn’t we delete some of the content a lot sooner?

Everything falls under one of three categories: financial risk, legal risk, and community risk.

Let’s first talk quickly about the financial risk and get it out of the way because I don’t want it to detract from the high priority issues i.e. the legal and community risks.

The Financial Risk
A merchant account is what allows us to process credit cards on FetLife. The ads you see on FetLife covers the cost of approximately 1/2 the cost of our servers and bandwidth – that’s it.

Your support pays for the other half of the servers, plus the team that keeps FetLife up and running, lawyers, accountants, software, etc. So your support pays for the vast majority of FetLife’s monthly expenses.

Hence, without a merchant account, FetLife runs at a loss every month – and we are not talking a couple of dollars a month, we are talking significant losses.

Last Tuesday we got a notice that one of our merchant accounts was shutting us down. One of the card companies contacted them directly and told the bank to stop processing for us. The bank asked for more information, but the only thing they could get from the card company was that part of it had to do with “blood, needles, and vampirism.”

Like me, you are probably thinking, but they have to give you a good reason? No, no they don’t. The only thing they have to do is protect their interests sadly.

Because we couldn’t get any more information than that, we had to act quickly and preemptively protect our other merchant account by making changes to our content guidelines. But since we were very much in the dark, we didn’t think it would be a good idea to go into any more detail than we did at that point.

Three days later, we get another notice, this time from our other merchant account. They got a similar call from the same card company, and they were asked to close our account. This time they were told it was for “Illegal or Immoral” reasons.

Both of the bank’s compliance departments thought it was prudent to close our accounts down even though they were only contacted by one of the card brands so not to risk being fined from both card brands.

The banks maintain a shared list that contains all merchant account closings. The card brand also required the banks to add us to the list which will make it tough for us to ever get a merchant account again, at least for the foreseeable future.

Hence we can no longer process credit cards on FetLife and will most likely not be able to for a while.

The Legal Risk
Over the last five days, we’ve had the opportunity to speak to multiple organizations, each with part of the puzzle.

There are numerous things at play here:

A highly publicized rape case in Australia involving a member of the community;
An organization that participated in the anti-porn bill that wants to see sites like FetLife taken off the internet;
Talk of reviving the obscenity task force in the US;
The Digital Economy bill in the UK that’s being debated currently;
BPjM in Germany; and
We’ve been one of the most liberal, if not the most liberal, adult site on the web which makes us the perfect target;
We can put our heads in the sand, but that is both naive and irresponsible. All of the above have real legal risks attached to them with potentially equally real consequences. Maybe not to you directly but it does to FetLife, the team behind FetLife, and myself.

The Community Risk
The one thing that bonds us all together is our love for the kinky community. Without the kinky community, without sites like FetLife, many of us would not have a place to call home, a place in which we are accepted and understood, and dare I say a place in which we feel free to be ourselves.

If we hope to win the war, if we want our society to be more accepting of us, then we can’t give them a reason to vilify us. People always need someone to blame, and we need to stop making ourselves the easy target.

On what seems like a daily basis, we hear of another atrocious sex or hate crime committed against a fellow friend. And for every story we hear, there are tens of thousands we never hear about. As a community, we need to stop turning a blind eye.

One of the ways to do that is through defining a better list of guidelines that we live by as a community.

Changes Ahead
At first, it bothered me that we would have to tighten our rules because I felt I was letting people down. But after discussing potential changes with the NCSF, CFP, lawyers, and our merchant providers, I couldn’t help but be excited for the community and FetLife’s future.

Maybe I’m just a naive optimist, but I believe this is an opportunity for us to set the bar higher. These changes affect many of us, to one degree or another, but I think the sacrifices some of us will have to make will be worth it in the grand scheme of things.

Both FetLife and the NCSF believe that the proposed changes will give us the opportunity to flourish as a community while better protecting ourselves from outside attack.

With the help of the NCSF, lawyers, partners, and merchant providers, we came up with the following pillars that will make up our guidelines:

Nothing non-consensual (abduction, rape, etc.)
Nothing that impairs consent (drugs, alcohol, etc.)
No permanent or lasting damage (snuff, lacerations, deep cutting, etc.)
No hate speech (Nazi roleplay, race play, etc.)
Nothing that falls under obscenity (incest, etc. )
These guidelines aren’t intended to be a negative comment against your kink or your fantasies. Some things we believe can be done ethically, like CNC or hypnosis, but they can also be considered nonconsensual in a legal context, and we have to take into account the opinions of the authorities and merchant accounts as well to not only survive but thrive as a community.

Non-Consensual Deletion of Content from FetLife
Why did we act without first announcing changes and without first notifying anyone who would be affected? I know many of you might not believe me when I say this, but it was for our protection.

Yes, it was mainly for FetLife’s and my protection, and we had to act swiftly. One could easily argue that we didn’t move swift enough and that I shouldn’t even make this post because something in it might incriminate FetLife or me.

It’s always been a delicate balancing act. We try our best to balance the needs of individual members, the community as a whole, the team, and FetLife itself.

Theresa May is Watching You
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Everyone’s needs are not always balanced equally. Historically we’ve sided more with individual members needs, but what we’ve learned from recent events is that we need to start putting more weight on the safety of the community, FetLife, and the team behind FetLife – including my personal safety.

Next Steps
We are still going through FetLife to see if anything else needs to be removed or cleaned up. While going through this exercise, we are using the different situations we encounter to help us better define where we need to draw a line.

We hope to be able to publish our new content guidelines shortly as well as implement changes to caretaking so that we don’t ever find ourselves in a similar situation again.

After that, we need to work to repair any relationships we might have ruined with members both inside and outside the community.

Donate by Paypal, card or Bitcoin
sexandcensorship.org/donate/

Buy Some Free Speech This Xmas

The UK state will begin censoring the web in 2017 – and almost nobody has noticed. Online free speech as we’ve known it for over 25 years is about to come under fundamental assault. The Digital Economy Bill, currently going through Parliament, will become law in 2017. It contains a little section about “protecting children from pornography”. And who could disagree with that? But this isn’t about porn, or child protection: it’s a power grab by the state, which wants to control the Internet as it does TV and video.

From next year, a state-approved private company (the BBFC), funded with £millions of taxpayers money, will have the power to block websites that it considers pose a “threat to children”. Initially, this related to sites containing sexual or erotic images, video or even audio. But we know it won’t stop there. Porn is the testing ground for one of the greatest attacks on free speech in British history. This campaign has worked for three years to inform the press and public about a disguised threat to Internet freedom.

It is vital that we continue to educate journalists, politicians and the public on what this law is actually about: censorship. I can’t continue this work without your help. Please donate to support Sex & Censorship – donations above £20 will receive a signed copy of my book Porn Panic!, which documents how the “porn threat” is used as an excuse to attack sexual freedom and free speech in the UK.

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
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Jeremy Hunt’s Curious Sexting Ban

(This article first appeared in the i newspaper under the title “A proposed ban on teen sexting is just another excuse to spy on our phones”)

Taken in isolation, Jeremy Hunt’s suggestion that teenage “sexting” should be banned might seem like one of those quaintly out-of-touch things that fuddy-duddy Tory ministers tend to say. After all, a generation of teens have had access to camera phones and smartphones, and have (unsurprisingly) used them to share photos and videos of their naughty bits. And teens were the first adopters of SMS 20 years ago, and (also unsurprisingly) used the technology to send each other dirty messages. Hunt’s target group, everybody under 18, is an odd suggestion, given the age of consent is 16.

And then, when you take a moment to consider how such a ban could be implemented, you realise just how ludicrous the suggestion is. Does Hunt seriously think that mobile phone networks, WhatsApp, Apple, Facebook, Gmail and a plethora of other platforms should all install technology to ensure that under-18s don’t send each other sexual content? And if they do, then what happens when they catch a repeat offender? Do the morality police arrest them, and perhaps take them away for a programme of modesty and decency training?

But although the temptation is to gently mock politicians who say such silly things, such outbursts should be taken seriously, especially in the current authoritarian climate. As I outline in my book Porn Panic!, sex is regularly used as an excuse to justify attacks on both privacy and free speech (terrorism being another favoured excuse). The Snoopers’ Charter represents the greatest attack on online privacy in any democratic country, ever. And the recent announcement that porn sites are to be blocked is also unprecedented in a “free” country. Britain is trying its best to become China.

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
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If you’ve been paying attention for the past few years, you’ll have seen multiple government attempts to spy on, or block, Internet communications, using a variety of excuses. Perhaps the first example came during the 2011 riots, when the government and police blamed services like Blackberry Messenger and Facebook. Then in early 2015, in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, David Cameron threatened to block encrypted services like WhatsApp and iMessage. Twitter, a popular platform for free speech, regularly comes under attack by assorted moralists and control-freaks for not censoring its users enough. So far, these companies have – to their credit – largely resisted UK government attempts at intrusion, and even strengthened their encryption. They are mostly US-based, and protected by the US Constitution. This infuriates the UK authorities.

To implement Jeremy Hunt’s apparently simple anti-sexting proposal would require wide-scale automated spying using intelligent text-recognition and image-recognition technology. Such technology would, of course, be able to spot a far broader range of thoughtcrime than sexting. And once in place, of course mission creep would set in. Why not use it to identify drug users, tax evaders, or racists?

Some would argue that this is desirable: after all, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide, right? But if we are to introduce automated policing of speech and behaviour, and erode our right to privacy on this scale, we need a serious discussion in Parliament and beyond. Instead, our rights to privacy and free speech are being eroded step-by-step, in a series of small, quiet nudges.

Keith Vaz, Brothel Clampdowns and Dark Clouds

When, a few weeks ago, a parliamentary committee – chaired by Keith Vaz MP – declared its support, in an interim report, for decriminalising sex workers, I was sceptical. My scepticism was based, not on inside knowledge of the committee, but on two main things:

  1. The declared purpose of the inquiry was to determine whether clients should be criminalised for paying for sex. But this point was ignored in the interim report. So why was an interim report issued before even considering the most important issue? This remains unclear.
  2. Over recent years, I’ve documented a rising ultra-conservatism which is permeating society, and is prevalent across the entire political spectrum (see my book Porn Panic! for details). Could it be, just as the pendulum is so clearly swinging away from liberal values, that we are about to see sex work fully decriminalised? Much as I’d like to believe that, it seems unlikely.

In the mean time, a couple of things have happened. The sudden downfall of Keith Vaz, following a tabloid sting, has led to him stepping down from the committee. The sting (which involved recording his alleged encounter with two young Romanian men), exposes him as a potential hypocrite (MP IN HYPOCRITE SHOCKER!) and has led to him stepping down from the committee. This was immediately seized upon by abolitionists, who called for the entire review to be scrapped.

Whether it is, in fact, hypocritical to pay sex workers while chairing a committee on sex work, will be left for another discussion. Can one imagine “Hypocrite MP who chaired football enquiry discovered to be Arsenal fan!”? Me neither.

Even more creepy than the carefully planned sting on Vaz was yesterday’s call from the “anti-slavery commissioner” (ugh) for Londoners to shop suspected brothels to the Metropolitan Police. The “sex trafficking” narrative has been escalated to a “sex slavery” one. The new campaign has been accompanied by hysterical language: “…sex workers in the capital were being beaten, raped and sometimes starved by the men controlling them in a form of human slavery that was blighting the capital”.

The coverage neglected to mention the almost total failure of the police to find “sex slaves”. In fact, raids on brothels have been used to arrest and humiliate sex workers, bust them for drug possession, and identify (and then deport) illegal immigrants. In short, the sex slavery hysteria is yet another new cover for the recently merged anti-prostitution and anti-immigration movements. “Rescuing” has become code for “harassing, criminalising and deporting”.

This new, Stasi-type attempt at citizen spying also ignores the fact that Vaz’s parliamentary committee has recommended the decriminalisation of brothel keeping. The police are ramping up anti-brothel raids under a law that is now widely seen – including by parliamentarians – as outdated and redundant.

Not only have illegal immigrants been targeted in this way, but even legal migrants have been targeted for deportation. In May it was reported that Romanian sex workers – EU citizens – are facing deportation on the basis that they are criminals. And their crime? This is unclear, as prostitution is legal in the UK.

So while we appear to be looking at isolated incidents, these events take place in an atmosphere of rising authoritarianism, anti-sex prudery and xenophobia. While Keith Vaz is in no way a libertine, one can predict with confidence that he will be replaced (on the Home Affairs committee) by somebody more socially conservative.

As I document the rising fascism in British society, I frequently check myself: am I cherry-picking to fit my narrative? Have I been swayed by conspiracy theorists? I’d like to discover that my pessimism about the state of society is misplaced. But sadly, I don’t think it is (feel free to reassure me in the comments section below).

Brooke Magnanti and Paris Lees Appear at Parliamentary Sex Work Inquiry

An inquiry is currently under-way in the British Parliament into the laws governing prostitution, and last week Dr Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle de Jour) and Paris Lees – both former sex workers – gave evidence.

There are two broad forms that a change in the law might take: either towards full decriminalisation – as has been the case in New Zealand since 2003 – or towards the criminalisation of clients (the so-called Nordic model). While the vast majority of sex workers favour decriminalisation (96% according to a recent survey), the inquiry made clear from the start that it is inclined towards the Nordic model:

“The Home Affairs Committee is looking at the way prostitution is treated in legislation. In particular, the inquiry will assess whether the balance in the burden of criminality should shift to those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it.”

So from the outset, the inquiry appears to be slanted towards a legislative model that is opposed by sex workers: an approach that signals moralistic goals, rather than a desire to reduce harm.

Judging by The Mirror’s account, the discussion was somewhat surreal. Labour MP Keith Vaz, who seems to have a particular, long-term issue with sex work, appeared reluctant to believe the accounts of women who had actually been sex workers:

“Mr Vaz expressed disbelief at when Ms Lees said she’d never met anyone who had felt pressured into becoming a sex worker.”

It is well-known that prohibitionists claim to have met countless women who have been forced into prostitution, but these victims tend to remain invisible, and are apparently never able to speak for themselves. As Lees responded:

“It seems to me you’ve had people at this inquiry who’ve got absolutely no business talking about sex work. Whose only qualification seems to be that they write for the Observer.”

This experience is very similar to my own when debating against anti-porn campaigners. As I wrote in my open letter to the anti-sex Object some months ago:

“It has long troubled me that Object are prepared to make endless claims of rape and sexual abuse against the sex entertainment industries; and yet, to my knowledge, you have filed no police reports.”

Those interested in the issue should carefully watch the inquiry unfold in Parliament. Any truly open-minded exercise would doubtless come to the same conclusion as Amnesty International did last year: full decriminalisation is the only way forward that is backed by evidence. But, I suspect, this is not the recommendation that this particular inquiry will reach.

 

The Guardian and the Return of the Victorian Lady

Guardian Journalist
Guardian Journalist

I have a confession: for many years, I was a loyal Guardian reader. At one point, prior to the arrival of smartphones and apps, I bought the paper, at a quid a time, perhaps three or four times a week. I always enjoyed, and wanted to support, its high quality, liberal-minded news coverage. It was saddening, therefore, to became aware of the deeply conservative slide the paper was taking, most of all when it came to the subject of sex. In the Guardian’s war on sexual expression, honest journalism at the paper has been sidelined, and bigoted opinions have appeared in place of fact. This bigotry hasn’t  just been directed towards strippers, models and pornstars, but also has included deeply racist attitudes. I documented much of this in my book Porn Panic! (which is now available for pre-order on Amazon).

The Guardian’s descent into social conservatism dates back more than a decade. Brooke Magnanti – better known as Belle de Jour – who had blogged about her life as a sex worker, was awarded the Guardian’s blogger of the year award in 2003. She recounts in her book The Sex Myth that a group of Guardian journalists threatened to resign en-masse should she be offered a column. She instead went to write for the Telegraph. The irony that the right-wing paper was more accepting of sex work than the supposedly liberal Guardian was not lost on Magnanti.

In 2013, the paper published an editorial titled “Internet pornography: never again” in which it openly called for Internet censorship. The paper’s liberal values had been overruled by its hatred of sexual expression.

But porn is not the only area in which the Graun has succumbed to moral panic and pro-censorship attitudes. It has joined a far bigger and more worrying war on free expression. This time, the justification for censorship is the very Victorian idea that women are incapable of dealing with the same situations as men. Gender equality is under fierce attack, as it has been many times in history; this time, bemusingly, the attacks come from the political left. This massive assault on gender equality, and on free speech, began to rear its head a few years ago, and began with Twitter.

The War on Twitter

Twitter has long been hated by control freaks. Unlike Facebook, Twitter has been reluctant to censor the content of its posts. This has led the platform to be far edgier than Facebook, and thus more exciting and anarchic. The UK government first signalled its discomfort with free speech on this scale when it blamed Twitter, in part, for the UK riots of 2011. You get the message: free speech is all very well when you’re sending photos of kittens, but too much can be a dangerous thing. This is the age-old mantra of dictators and fascists, and it apparently never gets tired. Threats by David Cameron to provide a “kill switch” for emergency situations were thankfully ignored by Twitter, which is protected from state censorship by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

The control freak tendency instead reached for the oldest trick in the book: Twitter’s free speech is a threat to womankind! The opportunity to play this card came when a journalist, Caroline Criado-Perez, was abused on Twitter. Now, here was the perfect victim: a photogenic, blonde, middle-class journalist. The press initially reported the abuse as if it had come from a multitude of people, implying that Twitter’s free speech policy was somehow turning hordes of men into misogynistic monsters, and coining the term “misogynistic Twitter trolls”.

Yet once the moral panic had dissipated, it turned out that the abuse received by Criado-Perez had largely originated from two people, and (inconvenient for the “MASSIVE MISOGYNY” narrative), the worst offender was a woman, Isabella Sorley. Furthermore, Sorley had 25 previous arrests, mostly for being drunk and disorderly. Here was a minor story of two unpleasant people – at least one of whom was probably mentally ill – sending horrible tweets to another person; but in the hands of the pro-censorship feminist lobby, it had become a false message that misogyny was everywhere, and that too much free speech can be a bad thing – at least, for ladies.

A line had been crossed: ugly, foul-mouthed working class people are not supposed to come into contact with nice, blonde, middle-class ladies. When the two were imprisoned for their speech crime, the press was notably silent in questioning the sentences.

The Criado-Perez case set a precedent, and suddenly feminist commentators were climbing over each other to discover widespread online misogyny.  The only problem with this “analysis” was that beyond anecdotes, there was no evidence to be found that women were being systemically targeted more than men. Indeed, when Demos carried out comprehensive research into abuse on Twitter, it was found that men were far more likely to be targeted than women.

This mirrored the situation with real-world violence, which men are far more likely to experience than women. Indeed, in a rare moment of clarity a 2008 Guardian article stated:

“Although it is the attacks on young women that we are most likely to respond to, it is young men who, overwhelmingly, are victims of violence (as the stories of knife attacks over the past year so well illustrate).”

This is hardly a radical new idea: we know that men are more likely to experience violence, and always have been. Despite this, neo-feminists have chosen to cherry-pick evidence to fit their “massive systemic misogyny” narrative. In other words, it isn’t that women are being targeted: it’s just that women are considered weaker and less capable of handling things that should be the preserve of men. This is, of course, not a feminist message at all: gender equality was once the core thing that feminists believed in, and the infantilisation of women was frowned upon. But from the 80s onward, the feminist movement has become ever more conservative in its attitudes, to the extent that it now largely opposes feminist positions from the 1960s. 1960s feminists argued that women were capable of handling any situation that men could. 2016 feminists disagree.

The neo-feminist view of women, while being nothing like the second-wave feminist view, is remarkably similar to the Victorian one. In Victorian times, women were considered to be frail creatures, prone to “hysteria”, “lunacy” and prone to fainting. Thus, they could not possibly be expected to handle gender equality. Since the Women’s Lib era, there have been frequent campaigns by conservatives to put women back in their place. What has changed is that now, the conservatives are on the political left, and call themselves feminists. The old forces that resisted gender equality – such as the Tory Party and the Daily Mail – have been replaced by new ones, including the Labour Party and the Guardian.

As demonstrated by violence statistics and the Demos study of online abuse, the feminist claim that women suffer more abuse than men is simply false. This is a huge problem for a movement whose single message is that women are “oppressed” by “patriarchy” and “structural misogyny”. Quite simply, if there did exist widespread hate of women by men, then women would suffer more violence and online abuse than men, not less.

And now, enter the Guardian to save the day. Last week, the paper published its own study into online abuse, and unlike any previous study, it found that women were, indeed, more likely to be victims. The study (and accompanying daily drumbeat of moral panic) was chillingly titled “The Web We Want” (“we”, meaning Oxbridge-educated Guardian journalists). Here was the Guardian in campaign mode, pretending to be publishing news but in reality whipping up a Daily Mail-esque moral panic over free speech:

“…along with online camaraderie, the vituperative modes of interaction took hold: bullying, shaming and intimidation… For women it frequently assumes a particularly violent and sexualised form, sometimes extending to public rape threats; for ethnic minorities it is often racist.”

In a nutshell, here is the methodology of the conservative left: attack free expression, but using left-wing language. Don’t say “Christian family values are under threat”, say “OMG people are being sexist, racist and homophobic! We must stop them!”

But it is, indeed, puzzling that the Guardian’s findings overturn conventional wisdom. Puzzling that is, until the methodology is examined: it is simply laughable. The explanation is packed with irrelevant technical detail (they used Postgres database software, and wrote scripts in Perl – so what?) which apparently is only included to distract the reader from the important bit. The entire article contains one useful, and very revealing, sentence:

“In our analysis we took blocked comments as an indicator of abuse and/or disruption”

So the reasoning is entirely circular, and hugely dishonest. Guardian moderators, acting (one presumes) under Guardian policy, block posts they subjectively consider to be sexist, racist and homophobic. They then examine the blocked posts and (shock horror!) discover they are largely sexist, racist and homophobic. The newspaper is guilty of the worst sort of misinformation: making a headline claim and then providing small print that doesn’t back it.

This is far from being the Guardian’s first campaign for censorship – it has actively campaigned for porn, “sexualised” imagery and (black) music videos to be censored. But this is the broadest attack so far, targeting the very basis of online free speech. Furthermore, the moral panic is obviously carefully planned and orchestrated, with day-by-day updates. Unsurprisingly, a Labour voice has now joined the campaign, with an Orwellian call by Yvette Cooper for “greater monitoring of online harassment”. Labour MP John Mann is already on record as calling for internet bans on “trolls”: crushing people’s right to speak out if the authorities consider them unsavoury. The implications for controversial political speech are profound.

Little of this could fly in America, where free speech has been protected since 1789. But speech in Britain has no such protection, and so (as predicted by George Orwell in 1984) is a soft touch for “nice” censorship, designed by a paternalistic state to protect us from ourselves.

My book Porn Panic!, which documents sexual prudery, the decline of the progressive left, and the rise of a new fascism, is now available for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

The Kiddle Search Engine: Anti-Sex Censorship Dressed as Child Protection

The new Kiddle Search Engine is ‘protecting’ teenagers from learning about sex, sexuality and the human body.

Readers of this blog will be aware that attempts at anti-sex censorship are usually dressed up as ‘child protection’. You might remember, for example, the ‘porn filters‘ that were rolled out by ISPs to protect the little dears from all that horrible pornography; yet in practise blocked everything from sex education to drug information and self-harm support: things that are vital for teenagers to access.

Again, the current government consultation on ‘protecting children online’ is actually aimed at preventing everyone – including adults – from accessing porn that doesn’t comply with UK censorship laws.

In short: when you hear ‘online child protection’, you can expect the exact opposite: defining teens as ‘children’ and then blocking access to vital information and resources is NOT protection: it’s abuse.

So when the new ‘child protection’ search engine from Kiddle turned up, I was suspicious. And, it turns out, rightly so. As Jane Fae writes in Gay Star News (link below), the search engine believes that any terms related to homosexuality are unacceptable. This is not accidental. Searching for ‘LGBT’, for example, returns:

“You have entered an LGBT related search query. Please realize that while Kiddle has nothing against the LGBT community, it’s hard to guarantee the safety of all the search results for such queries. We recommend that you talk to your parent or guardian about such topics”

But the restrictions aren’t confined to gay or trans issues. Searching for ‘breast cancer’ returns:

“Oops, looks like your query contained some bad words. Please try again!”

We live in a country so determined to stop teens seeing nipples that they can’t learn about breast cancer. This isn’t child protection: if a young person is old enough to search for LGBT information, they’re old enough to read the results. To tell a young person exploring their sexuality to “talk to your parent or guardian” is beyond insensitive.

Read Jane Fae’s article here: The new ‘Kiddle’ search engine for children is homophobia at its most creepy and dangerous – Gay Star News

ALERT: UK Government Consultation on Further Anti-Porn Law

When attacks on civil liberties are announced by governments, they are usually sold under the guise of “tackling terrorism” or “protecting children”. Today, we have an example of the latter.

The UK government today announced the start of a consultation on protecting children from the insidious effects of online pornography. This might seem a little like Groundhog Day to many observers, who have repeatedly seen British porn laws and regulations added and extended over the years, always to “protect children”.

So, it turns out, all of the previous exercises in child protection weren’t enough. Now we need yet more action, since (unsurprisingly) companies based outside of the UK are ignoring our regulations. Since the UK is the only country in the world to implement such a ludicrously large raft of anti-porn laws, this is hardly surprising.

The latest proposals are to implement a new law that can be used to attack those naughty foreign porn sites that ignore the UK’s (pointless) age verification regulations (in other words, all the porn sites in the world). The planned means of attack will to cut off UK revenue streams to porn services, via pressure on services such as payment providers and advertising companies. It is not made clear whether hosting companies or ISPs will also be targeted.

The government document is deeply dishonest in its presentation of evidence that porn is harmful, for at least one good reason: as far as we know, it isn’t. Even the government’s own research suggests that porn access is broadly beneficial to society, rather than harmful. The document ignores this basic fact with skill, and even reprises the discredited ‘research’ from the NSPCC that this campaign challenged last year.

According to research (Kendall), porn use among 15-19 year olds is responsible for a decline in rape among that age-group; yet this is the very group to which the government seeks to switch off access (the government considers everyone under 18 to be a ‘child’ when it comes to pornography).

The document also claims that only 100 sites constitute 77% of UK porn traffic; yet it fails to make the obvious point that if these 100 were somehow blocked, users would move to other sites. So the regulator would have to target another 100, then another 100, and so on. In fact, there are many millions of porn sites (not to mention millions of others that are not pornographic, but which the UK government considers unsuitable for children anyway).

Sex & Censorship will, of course, be submitting a response to this consultation, and begin a campaign of public education to demonstrate how dishonest – not to mention dangerous – this government’s anti-porn campaigns are. We call on supporters to also submit your own responses.

Readers are also asked to consider donating to this campaign – even just a few pounds/euros/dollars can help – to support our work. Think of it as an investment to protect your right to watch free porn.

Kate Smurthwaite and Anti-Sex Feminism

This Tuesday I appeared on a panel at the National Theatre to debate pornography and its cultural impacts. Joining me in the red corner was the feminist porn producer and performer Pandora Blake. In the blue corner were Heather Brunskell-Evans of Resist Porn Culture (an apparently new anti-porn group; don’t we have enough?) and Kate Smurthwaite, the comedian, writer and anti-sex feminist activist.

It wasn’t the easiest of debates; not because of the subject matter, but because of some heckling from the anti-porn speakers and certain members of the audience (Pandora recognised at least one audience member from other events – there were clearly a number of activists in attendance). This gives reassurance: when one has evidence and reason on one’s side, heckling is unnecessary.

Of course, nobody ever admits they’re anti-sex, for obvious reasons: if you’re trying to get people on-board with an anti-porn message, looking like a fundamentalist doesn’t help your cause.  So when I chose to talk about the anti-sex, rather than anti-porn movement, my choice of words was questioned. In attempting to answer (I was cut off more than once), I pointed out that Smurthwaite, appearing in an anti-porn guise at this event, is a supporter of a variety of other, puritanical causes. I had printed out a tweet of hers in preparation for the event; when I tried to read it, Smurthwaite shouted over me, and threatened to walk out if I read it (I backed down – which I regret, in hindsight).

So here is the tweet which Smurthwaite (@Cruella1) was so determined should not be heard:

Classy: blaming sex workers, not rapists, for rape
Classy: blaming sex workers, not rapists, for rape

@gingerrobbers is a stripper, and as I interpret the above, Smurthwaite is blaming her choice of career for women being raped.

This is, of course, a disgusting thing to say, and surprising from a feminist, since it blames rape on women’s behaviour, rather than on rapists. It’s also a lie: there is no evidence that strip clubs and other forms of sexual expression cause men to commit rape.

Blaming sexual expression (and thus, women who undress in public) for rape has always been a feature of anti-sex feminism. Catharine Mackinnon, an American pioneer of anti-sex feminism, actually went so far as to suggest that a rapist/murderer should be freed, and instead the porn industry put on trial, because he had watched porn prior to committing the crime, and so was not responsible for his actions.

It also demonstrates that the ‘anti-porn’ label is misleading. I have never encountered an anti-porn feminist who is not also anti-striptease, anti-prostitution, or anti-sexual expression that goes far beyond what most people would consider pornographic.

It is for this reason that the anti-sex campaigner Gail Dines coined the term ‘pornification’, which is popular today in the anti-sex movement. It is designed to imply that all sexual expression, however soft, is somehow pornographic in origin and intent, and so proof of the insidious influence of porn across our culture. Thus, Beyoncé music videos, Page 3 of the Sun, sun cream adverts and lads’ mags are all examples of ‘pornification’… created by the river, the torrent, the TSUNAMI of filth that (they say) bombards us on a daily basis.

So if a person attacks every possible known instance of sexual expression as harmful and dangerous, how could they not be anti-sex? I have always wanted to ask Dines, Smurthwaite and their colleagues in the Porn Panic industry to explain what expression of sexuality they would find acceptable; perhaps a Ministry of Smurthwaite could be established to approve erotica that – according to the puritans – does not demean, degrade, objectify or otherwise ‘harm’ women. One suspects it would be a small, sad and sexless library of content.

So I don’t apologise for referring to such types as anti-sex rather than simply anti-porn. I use the term with care.

Porn Addiction Therapy: the New Gay Cure?

The Porn Panic – my name for the rising tide of scaremongering against sexual expression over the past decade – has followed familiar paths. As religion has declined in this country, so pseudo-science has risen to take its place. Attacks on normal sexual behaviours, once wrapped in biblical terminology, have evolved in step with the new, “enlightened”, times.

Sexuality may be impossible to switch off, but fear and guilt can be instilled to stigmatise and control sexual behaviours. Once it’s branded abnormal, a sexual behaviour can be attacked and suppressed, all in the name of helping the victim. In this way, “medical conditions” ranging from nymphomania to homosexuality have been attacked, stigmatised, and then turned into profit-making vehicles for peddlers of cures.

As already outlined on this blog by psychologist Dr David Ley, porn addiction is at the very least a dubious concept. But this has not stopped the media from promoting the condition as a genuine one. In recent months, the Porn Panic appears to have swung  from a primarily feminist attack on sexual expression (under the “objectification” banner) to a pseudo-medical one.

A particularly blatant example appeared recently on the BBC’s yoof-news channel Newsbeat, where a young man’s “cure” from porn addiction was trumpeted without a shred of scepticism. The story was based on a self-diagnosis by a 23 year old who had found that his “porn addiction” was leading him to watch “pornographic content that disturbed him” – although the nature of the content wasn’t revealed. The article then introduced an expert, Robert Hudson, who said:

“The first thing we ask them to do is stop masturbating for 90 days”

This sounded familiar: masturbation-as-sin has been a target for centuries, and has long been stigmatised under a variety of pretexts. It has only been in the Internet age that much of the stigma has been lifted, and people have felt more free to admit that they, too are wankers. It is now well known that masturbation is good for both physical and mental health; we also know that it is an outlet for pent-up sexual frustration. This advice seemed deeply troubling to me, so I approached Dr Ley for his thoughts, and he agreed:

“It’s disturbing to me when people recommend giving up masturbation for 90 days. I always wonder how they treat “oxygen addiction?” Should I give up breathing for 90 minutes?”

He continued:

“The sad fact is that teenagers and teenage boys especially, need lots of support to understand, talk about and express their sexual feelings. We don’t allow that, so these young men go to porn instead. Blaming problems on porn is like blaming Fast and Furious movies for a speeding ticket. Society has a responsibility to teach people about sexual health, and sadly, we’ve neglected that responsibility.
Porn isn’t addictive: excessive use of porn reflects libido, sexual shame, and an inability to understand and discuss one’s private sexual desires. When we allow young men and women to safely discuss and express their sexual needs, even those we are afraid of, this pseudoscientific concept of “porn addiction” will vanish.” [My highlight]
But cures for porn- and sex-addiction are rising in popularity, with the help of promotion from the BBC and others. Just as “gay cures” became popular in those parts of the US where homosexuality was not widely accepted, so today normal sexual feelings in young people are stigmatised as an illness; and once an illness is deemed to exist, remedies can be sold, and money can be made.
But selling cures for fake ailments isn’t just harmless profiteering. Research has found (HuffPo link) that people with sexual hang-ups (in particular, religious people) are more likely to self-diagnose as “addicted”. In fact, perceived addiction is not related to the amount of porn viewed, but to the levels of guilt felt by the viewer. Furthermore, the research suggests that a belief one suffers from porn addiction can itself be harmful:
“Regardless of whether porn addiction is “real,” Grubbs and his co-authors note that perceived addiction has been linked to several real elements of psychological distress, such as depression, compulsive behavior and anxiety.”
The parallels with “gay cures” are strong. Just as the very existence of gay cures may have led to psychological harm, and even suicides, are the practitioners of “porn addiction therapy” sowing the seeds for more anguish?