Category Archives: Moral Panic

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:

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“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?
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Object Release Another Porn Poll

It seems the NSPCC are not alone. The anti-sex morality group (sorry, I mean “feminist human rights organisation” or whatever they are calling themselves this week) Object has commissioned a poll on porn.

Faced with a complete lack of evidence that can link porn with violence or other harm, Object have cut out the science and gone straight to the public.

object

Do serious researchers think that porn causes violence? No. Does the public? According to this poll (which we’re sure was carried out to impeccably high standards), 64% say Yes. Worryingly, only 2% don’t know. And a very sensible 1% refused to answer.

So we’re carrying out our own “scientific” poll here:

 

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
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Do you think that hatred of sex and sexuality is caused by:

a) Genuine fear that it is harmful,
b) A twisted and hateful view of humanity,
c) Badly fitting underwear?

Please answer in the comments section below or send us an email. We’re sure the mass media will be fascinated to publish our results.

Alternatively, please donate to our campaign to help us continue to oppose this dangerous moral panic, which is aimed at creating a case for Internet censorship.

Alert: Tories Promise Chinese-Style Internet Censorship

For about five years, I’ve tracked state plans to introduce mandatory Internet censorship under the guise of “protecting children from pornography”, and for the past 18 months or so, I’ve documented these activities on this blog. This drive to censorship has been backed by carefully orchestrated scaremongering about children being “harmed” by pornography by an alliance of government regulators, religious moralists and anti-sex feminists. Most recently (and disturbingly) the child-protection charity NSPCC joined the party, with a deeply unscientific piece of market research.

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
Install a VPN

Today, the Tories confirm that they will, indeed, enforce blocking of web content, if they win the election. To summarise the steps leading up to this:

  1. In 2010, a new regulator, ATVOD, was created to regulate UK video-on-demand providers. ATVOD has focused almost all its efforts on closing down UK-based porn businesses that don’t comply with extremely stringent age-verification controls.
  2. ATVOD has devoted its own resources to lobbying for more powers for itself, complaining that no other country has implemented the same controls, and thus UK citizens are still able to access pornography overseas (or in other words, they’re complaining that no other government has the same prudish and panic-prone view of pornography as ours).
  3. In December 2014, a new law was introduced, banning online pornography that exceeds the BBFC’s strict R18 rating. Sadly, many pro-porn campaigners got distracted by controls on squirting and BDSM, and missed the bigger picture – as I wrote in December, “well over 99% of the world’s [adult] websites are now technically illegal here in the UK”.
  4. The last, inevitable step is to introduce mandatory website blocking of the vast majority of adult content worldwide that does not comply with the UK’s puritanical regulations.

This new law would empower an “independent regulator” (almost certainly ATVOD) to ensure that non-compliant material will be blocked. The result would be the blocking of millions of sites to ALL UK citizens. Although this march to censorship has been done in the name of child protection, there will be no official way for UK adults to access porn outside of the UK (although technical workarounds such as Tor will be easy enough to implement).

Based on the experience so far with the optional “porn filter” (which blocks far more than pornography), we can be certain that this new mass-blocking of websites will encompass far more than porn. Indeed, the government has already signalled a desire to block “extremist” sites – whatever they might be, and media corporations have long lobbied for blocking of pirated content. If implemented, this law puts the power of Internet censorship into the hands of a non-governmental body, and certainly marks the end of an open Internet for UK citizens.

Shamefully, these plans have been backed by certain porn companies, both British and American, which see a commercial advantage to the blocking of their competitors.

Finally, the end-game of the Porn Panic has arrived: now the task of building a broad movement for free speech begins. This was never about pornography.

Through the Looking Glass with No More Page 3

If you want to attract mass support for a dodgy cause, the trick is to sound eminently reasonable. Extremists tend to alienate most people, including those that are inclined to agree with them. If you have extreme objectives, the important thing is to deny them vociferously, however implausible the denial. Remember that most of your supporters don’t pay close attention to the detail: it’s the presentation that counts.

The far-right know this. The British National Party abruptly switched from an anti-Asian message to an anti-Muslim one within days of 9/11. Their target (working class Pakistani communities) hadn’t changed, but the presentation had. Similarly the English Defence League, eager to avert accusations of fascism, tried to show how pro-Jewish they were by carrying Israeli flags on their protests. “You see,” they were saying, “how can we be Nazis when we love Israel so much?” (although their supporters didn’t always get the message).

The anti-sex movement has had similar presentational problems. The powerful campaigner Mary Whitehouse had become widely mocked by the younger generation by the end of the 20th century. The new generation could no longer be convinced that enjoying and flaunting their sexuality was a bad thing. It seemed that the fear of sex had become a thing of a more prudish past.

The Whitehouse style of moral outrage gave way to a new presentation, re-wrapped in feminist terms. The new anti-sex movement talked in terms of objectification rather than decency or permissiveness, and tried to demonstrate that sexual expression was harmful to women, and thus censorship could be justified in the name of feminism. But beyond the realm of student unions and Guardian comment pages, anti-sex feminists suffered from the same problems that had afflicted Whitehouse: they were seen as prudish, humourless and ideological.

The biggest problem with building a popular anti-sex movement is that most people like sex. Trying to ban all visible displays of sexuality is unlikely to attract mass support, especially when the reasoning (“OMG Objectification, Sexualisation and RAPE CULTURE!!!”) is so easy to pick apart, given the chance for debate.

The problem is one of presentation. Just as the far right was forced to adopt a “we’re not racist, but…” approach, so the anti-sex movement had to learn to to be more subtle than repeating “porn is rape”. A soft target for censorship had to be found – one that attracted little sympathy. Enter No More Page 3.

The success of the No More Page 3 campaign has been based on two decisions: first, to pick the widely-hated Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper as the target for censorship; and second, to deny that their blatantly anti-sex, pro-censorship campaign was either anti-sex or pro-censorship. The first move was smart; the second took sheer brass nerve, reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf (aka Comical Ali), who famously claimed Iraq was winning the war, against a backdrop of invading American troops.

As well as nerve, denying the obvious with a straight face takes a good deal of PR expertise and media training, and NMP3 clearly has no shortage of such resources. In politics, most people follow the voice they like, not the one with reasoned argument, and the nice ladies of NMP3 have fashioned themselves an image as the Women’s Institute of the anti-sex movement (though of course, they’re NOT anti-sex). They have successfully formed a broad church ranging from middle-English Christians and girl guides to various strands of feminism and the puritan left.

Last week, my long-held ambition to meet NMP3 came to fruition, when I was invited to debate the issue against a NMP3 representative at Loughborough University. The NMP3 “argument” is almost identical to the anti-porn one that I’ve found so easy to overturn in numerous debates; the big difference is that NMP3 caveat everything they say with “But we’re not anti-sex, we only care about Page 3”.

Thus: Naked models “objectify women” BUT ONLY WHEN THEY’RE ON PAGE 3! WE LOVE PORN!; Bare female breasts contribute to a culture of misogyny and sexism BUT ONLY WHEN THEY’RE ON PAGE 3! WE LOVE BOOBS! And so on…

It’s all so silly, one should laugh; except that 250,000 people have signed a petition on the back of this nonsense, and various public figures, including MPs, have supported the campaign.

The debate itself felt like some combination of Alice Through the Looking Glass and Orwell’s 1984. Bianca, the NMP3 representative, seemed to be treating the occasion as though she were a government minister, sent to appear on Newsnight to defend a policy she didn’t really agree with. So, for example, when I questioned whether she really didn’t have a problem with sexual imagery in general (for example, lads’ mags), she simply refused to answer, saying that her own views were irrelevant, and she had come to represent the official position of NMP3. When I pushed the issue, she embarked on a long, skilled and off-topic ramble of the type that Jeremy Paxman is so often forced to deal with.

Again, asked why NMP3 appears to have strong links with anti-sex organisations and individuals, the response was one of faux outrage: To label NMP3 anti-sex was totally unjustified! (Although I hadn’t actually done that). Yet she refused to provide any clarity as to why NMP3 mingles with anti-sex campaigners when it is a pro-sex organisation. Questioned as to why NMP3 attended the extremist Stop Porn Culture conference in London, she simply denied that they were anti-porn, but didn’t clarify why they had attended. Surely if an “anti-racist” had attended a BNP conference, they would at least have a case to answer.

I was genuinely impressed, and somewhat thrown, by the skilled use of doublespeak. When I pointed out the the lack of any research evidence linking Page 3 with harm against women, Bianca announced that NMP3 have never claimed Page 3 was harmful! And as I tried to stop myself falling off my chair, she then embarked on a speech listing instances of harm caused by Page 3: body image problems, a culture of sexism, and so on. So no evidence of harm, but lots of harm. Who needs evidence when you just know, deep in your heart, that it’s wrong? Again, doublespeak was much in evidence when dealing with the issue of censorship: NMP3 is definitely NOT in favour of banning anything, explained Bianca, before proudly stating that 33 student unions, with the support of NMP3, had voted not to allow sales of the Sun on campus. But – I questioned – isn’t that a ban? No, she replied, because NMP3 don’t call for legislation. The Sun isn’t banned from those 33 campuses. It’s simply not sold because the student unions voted to – er …. No, not ban it! Simply prevent it from being sold. There’s a word for that kind of thing… it’s on the tip of my tongue.

Similar wordplay is in evidence whenever NMP3 talk about their goals. They don’t want to censor anything! They simply want the Sun to remove Page 3 so people can’t see it any more. I was ultimately reduced to suggesting the attendees should look up the words “ban” and “censor” in a dictionary, as well as read 1984, to get an understanding for how skilled NMP3’s abuse of the English language was. Dictionary.com provides this definition of censor: “any person who supervises the manners or morality of others”… and what could better describe a mob of non-Sun readers trying to dictate what Sun readers can look at?

The debate ended with a stereotypical, and comical, student-leftie discussion about “capitalism”: It’s outrageous, claimed a speaker, that Rupert Murdoch is profiting from women! Ignoring the fact that “profit from women” happens anywhere that women choose to work, from banking to sport to journalism to… well, everything. The only solution to this horrible exploitation would be to ban all women from working! And although that may sound snarky, it reveals a truth about much that is said in the name of feminism these days: many self-declared feminists are working to reverse, not defend, the gains of the Women’s Lib movement.

No More Page 3 is establishing a dangerous pro-censorship precedent: that there are cases (or one case, anyway) where imagery of women must be suppressed for the wider good of all decent women and girls. It’s an old, moralistic viewpoint with a new twist. That precedent being established, where would the anti-sex, anti-woman witch-hunt end?

Video: Is Object a Hate Group?

In October, I wrote to Object to question their accusations of sexual violence against the sex entertainment industry, and their behaviour during a recent protest. Although they tweeted that they would be responding to the “false” allegations, we have heard nothing more from them.

We have now exclusively obtained a video of Object’s protest outside Spearmint Rhino in London on 27th September – watch it below:

For those that had any doubts, this demonstrates hateful, harassing behaviour by Object supporters towards both men and women – bizarrely, men were labelled “scum” and “rapist”, while women entering the club were called “loser”. We have also heard from strippers claiming to have experienced harassment by Object supporters.

And yet, Object claims to be a human rights organisation, takes funding from the National Lottery and other sources, and receives strong, positive coverage from the Guardian and other publications. We believe Object is a hate group: how and why are they gaining access to these funds?

The Censorship of Dapper Laughs

– The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship – George Bernard Shaw

– I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it – Evelyn Beatrice Hall

In my upcoming book, Porn Panic, I raise a question about the censorship state – specifically the British Board of Film Certification (BBFC), the police and prosecutors – Are They Superhuman? In Britain, all DVD and cinema releases are required, by law, to be certified (and possibly censored) by the BBFC. Obscenity law defines obscene material as that which might “deprave and corrupt” the viewer, listener or reader, and it’s the BBFC’s job to ensure that no such material gets into the public sphere where it might damage our fragile little minds. BBFC examiners watch all submitted material, second-by-second, and recommend cuts if they encounter obscenity. Similarly, police officers who are preparing a case for an obscenity prosecution must sit through hour after hour of depraving and corrupting material. So how is this possible? How can material that depraves and corrupts its audience not deprave and corrupt BBFC examiners, police officers and prosecutors? Are they a different species from us?

I asked the obscenity law specialist, Myles Jackman, for his thoughts on this, and he said: “I’ve have to watch a lot of fairly colourful material in my career, and it doesn’t seem to have had a significant effect on me. Who watches the watchman? Why normal, average members of society are considered to be more sensitive and delicate, I simply can’t answer.”

Censorship is a decision by one group of people to deprive another group of people the right to access some content. At its core, censorship is inherently elitist, and can be nothing else. The censor doesn’t believe that he or she is weak, stupid or brutal enough to be depraved by the material, but believes that other people are. This elitism usually appears in class form, though it can also be linked to sex, sexuality, race or age. Most people don’t think they have the right to censor others, even if they dislike what they watch; but some do. These people, by definition, are elitists.

Elitism rears its head in every single moral panic and act of censorship, without fail. It appears constantly in attempts to censor pornography: “Of course, porn didn’t turn ME into a rapist, but then I’m not one of those people…” It appears among the nice, middle-class ladies of the No More Page 3 campaign, who don’t want to see breasts in a newspaper, and don’t want the Sun’s (mostly working-class) readership to do so either. It appeared in the 1960 Lady Chatterley trial, when the prosecutor asked whether… “you would wish your wife or servants to read”… such books. It appeared during the Video Nasties moral panic, in response to the idea that, thanks to the new VHS technology, ordinary people could now see the kind of uncensored material that had, formerly, only been accessible to the wealthy. It appears now in a new moral panic over computer gaming, in which “the impressionable” are considered at risk of being turned into rapists and murderers.

“The impressionable” are never people like us. They are other. They are poor, or black, or female, or male, or gay, or belong to some other group that we decide to fear or hate. In moral panics, bigotry becomes acceptable – such as this Guardian piece implying that African men don’t have the restraint of white people, and are thus especially prone to being turned into rapists by pornography: “I used to think porn was tremendously good fun… [until in a Ghanaian village, a mud hut is transformed] into an impromptu porn cinema … turning some young men into rapists…” – those primitive Africans, and their rapey ways! And this is in a “liberal” newspaper. As the left has lost touch with its labour roots, it has also become ever more elitist.

Advocates of censorship are certain of their own superiority over those-who-must-be-censored. If they weren’t, it might dawn on them that they don’t have the right to control the behaviour of other people; that they are no better than the people they seek to control. They would instead realise that, while they have the right to boycott material that offends them, the other people also have the right to see it.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the middle and upper classes, already secure in their innate superiority, are the ones who most seek to censor and control the activities of others. Of course, few people ever admit elitism – they instead try to justify their behaviour with spurious claims of harm: “I’m not a prude, but porn turns men into rapists”, “I’m all for free expression, but computer games make people violent”, “Much as I admire the energy and enthusiasm of youth, heavy metal gives power to Satan”, “I’m not a racist, but hip-hop encourages misogynistic attitudes”… “I’m as reasonable as the next person, BUT THOSE PEOPLE ARE DANGEROUS!”

It is a sign of these conservative times that universities, once bastions of free thought and rebellion against the status quo, have become increasingly censored places. The excuses for campus censorship tend to sound vaguely progressive, but (as the quote at the start of this article makes clear) censorship is anathema to progressives. Conservatism in progressive clothing is the order of the day.

The latest target of campus censorship is a comedian called Dapper Laughs (DL), who has a show on ITV2. I hadn’t heard of him until a week or so ago, when an explosion of outrage erupted on Twitter. Personally, I’m of the opinion that “ITV comedy” is an oxymoron. See – I’m an elitist too!

This latest moral panic began when a Cardiff University student, Vicky Chandler, began a petition to block DL from performing at the university, based on the fact that he’d been recorded telling jokes about rape. No evidence has been presented – it should go without saying by now – that men hear jokes about rape, and then go on to commit rape. The beer sold in the Cardiff student union bar is far more likely to have been involved in sexual assaults than any comedy act. But to call for alcohol to be banned from campus would a truly brave act*, whereas calling for a “sexist” comedian to be banned is guaranteed to win applause and admiration for Chandler from those looking for the next pro-censorship hero.

So the students that might have wanted to see DL, and decide for themselves, are told they’re not allowed to. Because they’re not clever enough to see (alleged) sexism without endangering the female population of Cardiff. Only the elite can decide what is suitable for the entire Cardiff student body to see or hear, and the elite have signed Chandler’s petition. Game over. Predictably, once a few-hundred signatures had been received, the gig was cancelled. Then ITV announced DL would not have another series. But the witch-hunt was just beginning.

The Twitter hysteria followed a pattern which has become tediously familiar: person found guilty of “hate speech” (without the need for a messy trial – who needs due process?); those that question the verdict are accused of supporting hate speech, as are those who defend the right to free speech on principle. Attempts at reasoned discussion are futile (OMG I can’t fucking believe you support violence against women!!!, etc.) Lynch-mobs have no need to hear alternative viewpoints, and the risk of being publicly branded a misogynist is enough of a deterrent for most people to keep quiet.

Supporters of the ban tried to deny this act of censorship was, in fact. censorship, and claimed this had been a democratic process, because everybody had the right to sign the petition, or organise a counter-petition. If this is democracy, it’s an ugly variety – more commonly known as tyranny of the majority. And not even a true majority – just the small number of elitists that decided they should have control over the viewing habits of the quiet majority. This is a fascistic interpretation of democracy, and has chilling implications for all the minorities that might next face censorship-by-petition. As a Jew (we make up 0.3% of the UK population) with mixed-race kids (they constitute 2%), this makes me more than a little uncomfortable. But hey – the elite would never turn on us, would they?

This country, once the birthplace of Enlightenment values, has lost touch with the meaning and purpose of liberal thought. Free speech must, by definition, include bad speech, and (as the old saying goes) the antidote to bad speech is good speech. Allow an elite to deem (without a hint of due process) certain speech to be unacceptable, and freedom is fundamentally lost.

Chandler herself has showed a deep ignorance of liberal values by declaring herself qualified to determine the limits of free speech for everybody. While justifying herself, she tweeted “offending a religion isn’t freedom of speech, it’s hate”. But to offend is a basic right. I find Chandler’s utterances offensive in their dangerous ignorance as to what constitutes free speech, but still, I defend her right to her ignorance, and her right to shout it from the rooftops. All speech that has any value will offend somebody; without the right to offend majority values, the feminist and civil rights movements would have been crushed before they had begun.

But many of today’s “progressives” come from a different school. They use liberal language to cloak the fascistic idea that some viewpoints can be crushed by a small, active group. The censorship of Dapper Laughs is a victory for a censorious elite that is growing in strength by the day.

* For clarity: no, I don’t support bans on alcohol either.

PS: a quick look at Dapper Laughs’ Twitter mentions reveals more people (male and female) regretting the closure of his career than rejoicing in it. But sorry folks, you can’t enjoy your comedy. The elite have spoken.

No More Page 3, Baby Sol, and Me

Baby Sol - photo by Jerry Barnett
Baby Sol – photo by Jerry Barnett

Some days, really weird sets of coincidences happen. For me, yesterday was one of those days.

Readers of this blog are probably not aware that I’m a photographer, and for a number of years I’ve followed many of London’s up-and-coming soul singers, musicians and hip-hop artists. London is brimming with musical talent, and my photography has allowed me to follow and get to know some of the best. Among the most amazing singers I’ve got to know is Baby Sol. I was lucky enough to see one of her first public appearances during a gig in Mau Mau Bar, Portobello Road, when she was handed the microphone by the performer. I’ve attended and photographed several of her performances, and once shot her in the studio. She’s beautiful, smart, has a wonderful, distinctive voice, and yet is utterly modest, with no hint of diva about her. It’s no surprise that in the last few years, Baby Sol has rapidly climbed the ladder to success.

Yesterday, I was contacted by Baby Sol’s manager to request use of one of my photosbaby-sol-no-more-page-3-guardian-screenshot in a Guardian blog post. I made clear that I don’t provide images free of charge to commercial publications; but, due to a miscommunication, the image appeared on the blog. I then spoke to Baby Sol’s manager, who explained that the image was being used to back the launch of a new charity single, in support of the No More Page 3 campaign. Those who know me and my views will realise that I am not a supporter of NMP3. Finding that my image had appeared without my permission, to support a cause I object to was a surprise, to say the least. I made my view clear, and the image was removed from the article early this morning.

Why Oppose NMP3?

I founded the Sex & Censorship campaign with the primary aim of countering anti-sex moral panics, which in turn are used to build support for censorship. Of all the moral panics that have raged in recent years, the one created by NMP3 has probably been the cleverest and most successful. Targeting the Sun newspaper, which is hated by many left/liberal British people, was a stroke of genius, as it brought on board people who would normally consider themselves too liberal to support a pro-censorship cause. It also tapped into that most potent of all bigotries: snobbery. The “Sun reader” has for many years been the archetypal ignorant working-class person.

I too have always disliked the Sun: for years, it has poured out anti-immigrant, anti-gay and other nasty attitudes. It was blatantly racist until blatant racism went out of fashion at some point in the 1990s. It was a strident supporter of the Thatcherite war on trade unionism, and in 1986 was the focus of one of the great attacks on trade unionism, when Rupert Murdoch suddenly relocated his newspapers to a new location, with a new, non-unionised workforce.

The way to deal with publications one doesn’t like is to boycott them, and encourage others to do the same. In my dislike of everything Murdoch, I’ve never bought the Sun, nor its sister paper the Times, nor have I ever taken a Sky TV subscription. But anyone who values free speech will defend the right of a publisher to distribute whatever content they choose, without censorship. NMP3 have instead taken a directly censorious approach, calling on the Sun to withdraw Page 3, and applauding student unions that have banned the Sun from sale on campuses. Oddly, NMP3 deny being pro-censorship, even though censorship is all they stand for. They show as much disdain for Sun readers, and their right to choose what to buy and read, as they do for the free speech of the publisher. And as for the models’ right to work? This is a right that NMP3 don’t recognise.

NMP3 also claim that their only goal is to close Page 3; that they have no interest in wider anti-sex campaigning and indeed they claim on their site: “We love breasts!”. The dishonesty of this claim was revealed when they attended the Stop Porn Culture conference in March, which played host to anti-sex fundamentalists from around the world, including the British anti-sex worker hate group Object. So although they claim they only want to close Page 3, NMP3 have links with campaigning groups that seek to ban pornography, close down strip clubs, remove lads’ mags from supermarkets, criminalise prostitution, and attack music videos from “sexualised” artists such as Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj (yes, all black artists – surprise!)

The NMP3 people I’ve encountered are all terribly nice: they seem to be the Women’s Institute wing of the anti-sex movement, leaving the nastier attacks on women-who-dare-to-be-sexual to Object and Gail Dines. But for all the politeness, they are building a formidable pro-censorship movement, and a head of steam that can be directed far beyond Page 3.

The arguments made by NMP3 employ a variety of false claims and moral panic techniques that we’ve seen many times before. Although there is no evidence for the nonsensical “sexual images cause men to objectify women” claim, they make it frequently, and then go on (completely dishonestly) to link Page 3 with abuse and violence against women. The NMP3 organisers are no-doubt aware that there are no studies linking Page 3 (or any other sexual imagery) to harm against women, and yet they encourage, and retweet, these claims from their supporters.

The anti-Feminists

Although the NMP3 attacks are couched in the language of women’s rights, the campaign actually creates false “rights” in order to attack real ones. The Women’s Lib movement (which, ironically, created the conditions for sexual freedom that allowed Page 3 to ever come into existence) focused on choice and agency: the right for women to choose what they do with their own bodies and how their bodies are depicted. Models have the right to go naked in front of a camera, and to allow their image to be published. Against this genuine right, NMP3 creates a false right: the right for other women to attack the choices of models as to how and where they are depicted.

Thus, NMP3 (and other groups that attack depictions of female sexuality) tell women that they have the right to censor the depictions of other women’s bodies. NMP3 supporters often say things along the lines of “I have the right to sit on the train without having to see breasts”. But that right doesn’t exist. This abuse of the idea of rights comes from the fascist play-book, and is equivalent to “I have the right to go out without seeing gay people kissing”, “I have the right to live in a street with no black people”, and “I have the right to buy my food in a shop that doesn’t sell halal meat”. These rights are fabricated, and are perversions of liberalism.

Women have the right to control how their own bodies are treated and depicted, NOT the right to control how other women’s bodies are treated and depicted. By spreading the false idea that women have the right to attack the way other women are depicted, NMP3 creates the precedent that (overwhelmingly middle-class) women have the right to suppress the depiction of any sexual imagery featuring women.

Boobs Aren’t News?

With no evidence to present, NMP3 falls back on “but what about the children?” type statements, and silly slogans: Boobs Aren’t News. In the argument-free space of NMP3, this is as near to reasoned discussion as it gets. Sure, boobs aren’t news. Neither are horoscopes, but they also feature in the Sun. Shouldn’t these be withdrawn too, especially since they perpetuate silly superstition? How about travel reports, or recipes, or concert reviews? None of those are news either.

NMP3 claim they seek diversity of female representation: but this already exists. Women are presented in a thousand different manners and roles. Nobody attacks any of them, except one: the sexual woman.

The Oldest Taboo: Suppression of the Sexual Female

The idea that women’s bodies must be hidden away – for their own good – is hardly a new one. This idea appears in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and the Quran, and doubtless other religious texts. Over and over again, throughout history, woman-as-sexual-being has been attacked, and depictions of sexual women have been destroyed.

An exhibition of erotic Roman sculpture that took place last year at the British museum focused heavily on male erotica, and had almost no female erotica. When interviewed, the curator explained that this wasn’t his choice: there was simply a lack of female imagery to choose from. It had probably once existed, but had been smashed in some later, more conservative era.

Later, women who dare to be sexual were branded witches and murdered. Later still, in Victorian times, sexually liberated women were branded nymphomaniacs and hysterics, and locked in asylums.

And European colonisers of Africa brought “Christian morality”, including the idea that breasts were shameful and should be covered. This old European fear of female nudity has never gone away: it’s just continually reinvented, in new ways, with new language: from witch-hunting to objectification, slut-shaming is one of mankind’s oldest instincts.

There are a thousand good reasons not to buy the Sun. Breasts are not one of them.

Letter to Object Regarding Rape Allegations

This is an open letter to Roz Hardie, CEO of the campaign group Object.

Dear Roz,

It was good to meet you on London Live TV last Wednesday, if only briefly, where we discussed this past weekend’s XBIZ EU conference for the adult industry. It was an extra, unexpected pleasure to see you in the Hilton prior to your anti-porn protest on Thursday, and again at your protest outside the Spearmint Rhino strip club on Saturday.

Although we don’t seem to agree on much (you think all expressions of sexuality are evil, I don’t, etc.), I’m contacting you to suggest an alliance in one area where we seem to agree, and where we can work together against one of the great scourges of society: rape.

You see, in all the years I’ve been following Object, I’ve noticed your frequent claims that women in the sex entertainment industries are being raped as a matter of routine. When I debated against your colleague Julia Long at UCL some years ago, she claimed to know of cases where women had been abused on porn sets – although she declined to provide any detail.

You made similar points about sexual coercion in pornography during our TV appearance last week, but again provided no detail. It seems this behaviour isn’t new; the veteran anti-sex campaigner Mary Whitehouse claimed to be in possession of letters from victims of the porn industry, although oddly, she chose not to share these with the authorities.

Object seem to have one core tactic: to shout “rape” in the context of pornography and other sexual entertainment. At one protest I witnessed outside an Internet porn conference, your supporters were shouting about the mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which took place during its long and brutal war; although it remained a mystery to me as to how Internet porn could be held responsible for this, in a country with few roads, let alone broadband connections.

At your protest last Saturday, your supporters were screaming “rapist” at men walking into Spearmint Rhino. There were also women going into the club, and curiously your people called them “losers”. I would have expected that, if you believed women were being raped in Spearmint Rhino, you would be extending an arm of support to them, rather than screaming childish insults.

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. Nobody has been arrested or taken to court. Shouldn’t rapists face the full might of the law? As we know, rape convictions are difficult to get, because it often comes down to one person’s word against another. But you’re claiming that industrial-scale rape is taking place ON VIDEO! Surely, convictions will be easy in these cases?

So here’s my proposal: if, as you have long claimed, Object have evidence of sexual violence associated with the sexual entertainment industries, then let’s approach the police with it. I will help you identify the publishers, producers and performers involved. We recently discovered that we both live in the same London borough – shall we fix a date to meet at Lewisham police station?

As a “feminist human rights organisation”, I’ve no doubt you will leap at the chance of bringing rapists to the attention of the law. If, on the other hand, you are merely using rape accusations as a tool of panic in order to further moralistic, pro-censorship aims, then you are taking the fight against sexual violence backward rather than forward. By labelling random men as rapists, and by referring to consenting sex between adults as rape, you are redefining the concepts of rape and consent to suit a conservative, anti-sex agenda. By harassing women who work in the sex industries, while telling the media that you are “saving” them, you divert attention away from sexual violence and towards the stigmatisation of healthy, adult sexual expression.

A female business owner who witnessed your behaviour on Saturday wrote the following to me:

Object’s attitude towards anyone, whether they are remotely affiliated to the adult industry or directly involved in it is absolutely disgusting. A couple of guys were horrified when they arrived as they had the term ‘Rapist’ shouted at them. It is irresponsible to use such terms so candidly when a number of women and some men even have been subjected to such horrible crime. It is dangerous and potentially damaging to society when people start using such labels so lightly. Most will agree that this is not a rational way of putting across any sort of argument, this is quite simply verbal abuse because our ideals of sexual freedom and freedom of speech are not line with theirs.

I look forward to hearing from you, and helping you ensure that the violent criminals you regularly invoke are brought to justice.

Sincerely,

Jerry Barnett
Founder, Sex & Censorship

 

The War on Sexting, and Other Cases of Creeping Censorship

Outside the world of free speech advocacy, most people take the default position that some censorship is necessary and acceptable; that sensible lines can be drawn to keep out the bad stuff without affecting free expression in general. This approach naively ignores one of the great problems with censorship: that it is a tool of power, and once granted censorship powers, the state will almost certainly extend them in directions that could not have been predicted at the start. Thus, any censorship measure is a danger to all expression, and should be greeted with great scepticism.

Sadly, the British people appear to have lost track of this important point. While free expression is protected by the US Constitution, the UK has no such protection in law, and free expression here – especially sexual expression – has been deeply restricted as a result.

It’s not difficult to get the British masses behind new censorship: simply create a moral panic over harm to “women and children” (note that women are not considered to be autonomous adults in such situations). And nothing is better guaranteed to rouse the mob than child abuse.

So it was that in the 1970s, a moral panic (led by the Queen of Panic herself, Mary Whitehouse) over “child porn” led to the Protection of Children Act – which ostensibly existed to criminalise the creation of child abuse imagery. But the law went far further than criminalising abusive imagery: its final wording instead referred to “indecent imagery” – a subjective, moral idea.

In taking the step from child rape to nudity in general, the state sent a message: not that child abuse is wrong, but that the depiction of nudity is wrong, and so the state has enshrined into law an old British attitude – that nudity and sex are synonymous with each other, and naked bodies are dirty and shameful. The law has often been misused – perhaps most famously in 1995 to arrest the newsreader Julia Somerville, and her partner, who had taken photographs of their daughter in the bath. Many other, less famous people, have been branded child abusers and had their lives ruined for taking similar photographs – a victimless crime that upsets the nudity-hating moral attitudes of the British establishment.

The law is also dangerous in defining anyone under the age of 18 as a child. So in theory, a couple aged 17 who take naked photographs of each other – even for private use – can be branded paedophiles and criminalised.

But this is more than just a theory: the law has now been used against teenagers for taking photographs of themselves. A few weeks ago, a teenage girl received a criminal record for sending a topless photograph of herself to her boyfriend. Her boyfriend too was criminalised for having received the image, and in a separate case, a teenager who sent a nude photograph of himself to friends received a caution.

And so a law that was supposedly introduced to protect abused children has instead been used to attack teenagers for enjoying consensual sex lives. It has also absorbed vast amounts of police and CPS resource that could instead have been directed at identifying and rescuing genuine abuse victims. Meanwhile, as we now know, the law did nothing to protect genuine victims of abuse from men in power.

Such is the nature of creeping censorship: laws passed in response to moral panics rarely do what they were intended to do. More recently, as the British censorship state has grown in reach and power, more draconian laws have come into being, and each one covers a far greater scope than promised by the politicians.

The “extreme porn” law is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Introduced in response to the murder of Jane Longhurst (which was dishonestly linked to BDSM pornography), it was supposed to be aimed at avoiding further such murders. Yet, as the law was drafted, it was broadened to include a number of categories of content, including animal porn, for which the vast majority of prosecutions have taken place. Given the broad definition of “possession”, this means that even receiving an unsolicited image is a criminal offence. Recently, two Essex men were found guilty – under a law supposedly designed to protect women from being murdered – for having received an animal porn video via WhatsApp. Although they had not requested the video, and had attempted to delete it, copies had remained on their phones, and they were forced to plead guilty to sexual offences.

And most recently, the “rape porn” law looks to catch far more people who pose no threat to anybody.  The effect of the law is to criminalise consenting adults who enjoy BDSM porn featuring consenting adults.

In each of these cases, a seemingly good cause – child abuse, murder, rape – has been appropriated by the state in order to brand all sexual expression as wrong, as perverted, as criminal. One wonders where the real “perverts” are: at home, watching porn and snapping nude selfies; or in the censorship state, endlessly blurring lines between consensual and non-consensual activities.

Censorship is not something that can be harmlessly introduced to hide “the bad stuff” and leave “the nice stuff” alone. It is harmful by nature, and corrosive to the freedom of everyone. All sexual behaviour risks falling within the remit of Britain’s increasingly draconian anti-porn laws. The state has signalled its belief that all sexual activity belongs at home, in private, behind closed doors, and in the absence of recording devices. And thus, child abusers will cover their tracks and walk free, while consenting adults are branded sexual predators and harassed into taking their kinks back underground.

Discussion: Censorship of “Sexualised” Music Videos

The BBFC, with its DVD classification business in long-term decline, has lobbied for itself some nice new business, classifying music videos.

The new move was preceded by a neatly-packaged moral panic in 2013 over “sexualised” music videos, with Miley Cyrus singled out for a particularly strong witch-hunt; Cyrus had committed the  sin of transforming, in recent years, from an innocent little girl into a grown, sexual woman, and then proceeded to appear naked  – something that is seen as unpardonable among sexual morality campaigners.

This month, a conference session was held as part of The Great Escape music industry event, to discuss the issues around sexual music videos and censorship; I took part on behalf of Sex & Censorship. You can read a write-up and listen to a recording of the discussion here.