Tag Archives: porn panic

Why I wrote Porn Panic! – a Book About Porn and Fascism

My book Porn Panic!, which was published in August by Zero Books, is an unusual book, and has had strong reviews – from those on both sides of the porn debate. The book charts attacks on pornography – in part from a personal perspective – and then takes a big step back to take a broad look at the state of our society today; and concludes that we’re not in a good place, nor moving in a good direction. This is more than a book about pornography: it’s a book about fascism.

It’s no secret that authoritarians will always target sexual libertines, nor that authoritarian states consistently attempt to suppress the sexual urge. This is a lesson that has been learned repeatedly through history; every spike in sexual freedom has eventually been met with a conservative backlash. The pattern is so marked, and so consistent, that it almost seems burned into our DNA. And of course, it is: sex is such a fundamental part of the human psyche that it plays a hidden role in most of our behaviours. Sex is about far more than either reproduction or pleasure. It forms a vital role in our economic and social life; it is probably the most valuable commodity we as humans trade, and it was certainly the first. Sexual freedom offends, because it threatens so many vested interests.

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So when, as a tech entrepreneur in the mid-90s, I built some of the earliest Internet porn sites, I was uniquely positioned to watch the backlash unfold. Indeed, I fully expected the backlash, and watched with interest. After all, I live in the UK, a country that has gone through more contortions than almost any other to stop its citizens watching smut. Would our prudish authorities simply roll over as the digital network swept away their carefully assembled powers of censorship? Not a chance.

And similarly, the grassroots backlash was to be expected. What took me by surprise was the nature of the backlash. In a country where religion has withered to a point of virtual irrelevance, a Christian campaign for decency would be simply laughed off. Instead, the anti-sex fury came from my tribe, the political left. A conservative strand of feminism, born in the USA in the 1980s, was at the core of the anti-sex reaction. Its first victims were strippers in east London, who fought back as feminists and trade unionists attempted to put them out of well-paid work and kill a niche culture. One of the strippers, who features in Porn Panic!, referred to herself as the “canary in the coalmine”. She understood like few others that a tsunami was building.

From strip clubs, the movement surged forward, attacking sexual expression in all forms, and then expanding to attack free speech in general. It was a movement of the left that embodied all the worst attributes of the old conservative right: it began to attack concepts of racial and sexual equality that had been the outcome of the liberal revolutions of the 1960s. It was inherently anti-science, preferring to create new facts that suited its ideology. This was a new fascism, and its ideas were entering the mainstream.

Porn Panic!, by Jerry Barnett, is published by Zero Book, and available through all good book outlets.

Podcast 10: Porn Panic!

In this episode, the interview tables are turned: I’m interviewed about my book Porn Panic! by publisher Douglas Lain of Zero Books. This was a wide-ranging and enjoyable interview about the book and the political ideas surrounding it.

Audio: Zero Books Interview with Jerry Barnett

My book Porn Panic! is to be published this week, by Zero Books. I porn-panic-zero-bookswas recently interviewed at length about the book by Douglas Lain of Zero Books, and this has now been published at the Zero Books site as a podcast. Douglas is a great interviewer, and I thoroughly enjoyed our lengthy discussion – I hope you will too.

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Please click here to subscribe or listen to the podcast at the Zero Books site

Ofcom’s Internet Power Grab is Finally Underway

Yesterday, the UK government released the result of its consultation into (yet again) protecting children from online pornography. Predictably, the finding was that children DO need even more protection, and so Ofcom must be granted additional powers to censor online content.

This process has been so long and treacle-slow that it’s been clear for many years where it is leading. Stripping away the various convoluted steps that brought us here, one simple fact has always been obvious: Ofcom and the government were always going to act against a free Internet which undermined their powerful censorship controls over the mass media, and especially over sexual content.

So what will the new law – the Digital Economy Bill – say? It cements and the significantly extends the existing AVMS regulations which have been in place since 2010. So, as before, adult video-on-demand sites based in the UK are required to verify the ages of their visitors before revealing adult content to them. Failure to do so can (as before) result in a fine of up to £250,000. This regulation is the reason the UK adult industry has been decimated in the past few years.

Here’s the new stuff:

  1. The law no longer applies to “TV-like” video-on-demand services, but to all content, including still photography. This will close the loophole which a handful of websites have used to evade the regulations.
  2. Apps are to be included as well as websites.
  3. Ofcom will put pressure on payment companies as well as “advertising companies, web hosting services and others” to ensure that “the business models and profits of companies that do not comply with the new regulations can be undermined”. This enables Ofcom to target overseas content that breaches UK regulations.

Note the vagueness in this last point: this could easily include, in future, requiring ISPs to block services. So here is the law that I’ve warned of for some years: one that will allow Ofcom to manage – and close – our digital borders. The great firewall of Britain is coming.

Unless I’ve missed it, I can’t find any definition of “porn” in the report. The consultation hinted that soft content – non-explicit nudity and erotica – may be included, at Ofcom’s discretion.

It’s Not About Porn

Here’s a point I’ve made repeatedly. In my book Porn Panic!, I argue that the war on porn has been merely a symptom of a deeper intolerance to free speech that has long been rising in British society. Ofcom will not, of course, stop at targeting commercial porn sites, or even all sexual content. The British state considers myriad forms of content to be unsuitable for under-18s, and will now grant itself the powers to deal with it.

Brexit

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And finally, a note on Brexit. It is likely that “undermining” (i.e. blocking or forcing to close) a legal, EU-based adult service would breach EU trade regulations. Sadly, should we leave the EU (as looks likely), we lose any legal recourse against this rising state censorship. Here, as in so many other ways, the EU has protected the British people against the excesses of our own government. Just as we will lose the free movement of people across borders, so we are beginning to lose the free transmission of information across borders.

BBC Seeking Young People to Talk About Porn Use

Calling 15-30(ish) year olds! BBC Newsbeat is making a documentary about young people’s experiences with porn. Of course, they will have no problem in finding people who will claim porn, in some way, damaged them. But it’s important that these stories are balanced with positive or simply neutral ones: did porn help you come to terms with your sexuality, your body, or simply enhance your sex life?

If you’re interested, contact the BBC direct. Their message follows:

“BBC Newsbeat, the news service for BBC Radio 1 and 1xtra, are currently developing a documentary on the impacts of pornography on 15 – 30 year olds in the UK. They are looking for real life experiences and by contacting them you are in no way obliged to take part in the final piece; at this stage they are simply looking to talk to people to make sure they are developing a realistic representation of all opinions, not just those opinions from people who are outspoken either way.

If you have an opinion, a story or simply feel like talking about this topic then they’d love to hear from you. You can either call Hannah or Toby on 0203 614 1120 or email hannah.moore01@bbc.co.uk and/or toby.sealey@bbc.co.uk.”

Adam Smith Institute Questions “Extreme Porn” Law

This blog recently published a paper by Nick Cowen on the UK’s extreme porn law. This paper now forms the basis of a briefing from the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), which is available here.

As someone who, until recently, considered myself left-wing, I am ever bewildered and anguished by the fact that the defence of individual liberty, once a cornerstone of the left, is now the preserve of the free-market right: the Adam Smith Institute being a good example. Meanwhile, the left has become increasingly intolerant to free expression in many forms, of which porn is merely the most obvious: I document this strange reversal in political polarities in my book Porn Panic.

The word “extreme” in “extreme porn law” refers to the porn, though may be better used to describe the law. The law is odd for at least two reasons: first that it outlaws the depiction of acts that are popular between consenting couples; second that it targets the consumer rather than the producer.

The first aspect is strange: numerous acts such as whipping and fisting are perfectly legal to do in the privacy of one’s own bedroom. Yet the moment they are recorded, the video becomes illegal to possess.

The second aspect is dangerous: millions of people (including, probably, you) have broken the law and risk being imprisoned and listed as sex offenders. If you have looked at porn without using your browser’s incognito mode, your browser cache will be full of images from the pages you looked at. To merely have an “extreme” image on one’s phone or PC, or stored somewhere in a cloud email or storage account that you own, makes you a possessor of extreme porn. And who knows what constitutes extreme? Nick Cowen does, I do, and possibly a couple of thousand other people in the UK. To create a law that most people will never understand, yet carries heavy penalties, is draconian.

The law originated with a moral panic following the killing of a teacher, Jane Longhurst, by a man who had an interest in BDSM pornography. Clearly, nobody had explained to the government that correlation does not equate to causation: that the fact that a violent person might watch violent porn doesn’t mean that porn causes violence.

The Home Secretary who signed the law into force was Jacqui Smith; yet when I interviewed her, she was unaware of the law’s detail, or of its consequences (over a thousand people a year are now arrested for possessing extreme porn). To find that such a dangerous and unnecessary law could come into being without any serious political opposition or thought was a depressing realisation as to the nature of politics.

Nick’s ASI paper is worth reading; for those short on time, here is its executive summary:

  • The ban on possession of ‘extreme pornography’ was introduced in 2009 and extended in 2015. The law, as drafted, bans depictions of some sex acts that can be conducted safely and consensually between adults, with a specific risk of prosecution posed to LGBT minorities.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service reports more than a thousand offences prosecuted each year, implying significant enforcement costs that could be deployed effectively elsewhere.
  • A significant minority of the British population enjoy sexually aggressive fantasy scenarios but do not pose a specific risk of committing violent or sexual offences.
  • Access to pornography has increased dramatically in recent years, yet social harms imputed to pornography (especially violence against women) have reduced moderately but significantly.
  • While some survey evidence claims a correlation between individual use of pornography and sexual aggression, econometric evidence suggests this is not a causal relationship and that, if anything, increased access to pornography can reduce measurable social harms.
  • The ban itself represents a potential risk to political integrity. Like the ban on homosexuality in much of the 20th century, prohibitions on private sexual conduct can be used to silence, blackmail and corrupt individuals in positions of authority and responsibility.
  • There are better policies for reducing violence against women in the dimensions of criminal justice, education and economic reform.
  • The prevailing free speech doctrine in the United States shows that it is realistically possible to simultaneously tackle damaging forms of expression and maintain strong protections for innocuous forms

Dear New York Times – Letter From a Pornstar

This week, attempts to legally enforce condoms in porn in California were struck down: a great victory for the performers that campaigned against this intrusion into their lives.

In this excellent letter, pornstar Lorelei Lee responds to biased, closed-minded reporting on the issue from the New York Times.

My name is Lorelei Lee and I’m an adult film performer who has worked in the industry for fifteen years. I read your art…

Source: Dear New York Times, — Medium

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.