Pornography is complicated, so let’s talk it over

NSFW: Expect graphic imagery in this post!

As a self-identifying feminist, I am frequently asked by people why I totally hate porn. At this point I like to shock everyone, by announcing that Aha! I actually do not hate porn.

You read that right: I don’t hate porn. In fact, I’m perfectly okay with the fact pornography exists. But, BIG BUT, I’m not so cool with the society in which it exists, and the really awful stuff that happens to porn stars and porn viewers.

So I don’t watch porn – don’t ask me about my favourites, okay?

Why I am okay with porn

Pornography has been around forever and ever, and did I say forever? I mean, the Kamasutra anyone? Totally counts. What about this lovely Roman oil lamp?

It was the longest he'd ever managed...
It was the longest he’d ever managed…

I hear you – you’re more of a Manet/French prossie fan, got ya. Sure, you could argue that those are just pieces of art, and that nudity is just the done thing in art. The same argument could be applied to a lot of things, like erotic novels, or sexual photographs, and porn movies.

Let’s face it, folks have been viewing sexual imagery and getting off on it since forever. Some people would question whether we should, but hey, it happens, and I’m totally cool with it. Do what you will my buddies – take charge of your own sexuality, work out what you do and don’t like, watch/read/stare at some porn.

A tenner to whoever can work out what on Earth is going on here...
A tenner to whoever can work out what on Earth is going on here…

 

You have my blessing – provided you do it ethically and sparingly!

Why I don’t like porn so much

The last thing you might be worried about when watching ‘Mary’ have an OTT threesome with two dudes is about the ethics of it, I get that. But for the sake of Mary and her two male buddies, for the sake of their lifetime of wondrous shagging, please please think of the ethics.

For starters, her two male buddies will not get paid half as much as Mary for their shag-fest. Which sucks, if you’ll pardon the pun. They put just as much effort into it (if not more, considering that they have to manage to keep an erection and have an orgasm on demand, whereas Mary could just fake it), so they should get paid the same amount.

But they don’t. Because the porn industry is designed almost exclusively for hetero men, and rightly or wrongly, the folks in charge assume that hetero men don’t want to watch two blokes. I look forward to the days in which the world isn’t designed exclusively for blokes that just refuse to pay other blokes to screw ladies for their pleasure. THE SACRIFICE, MAN.

Besides, the fact that the industry is pretty much exclusively designed for straight blokes just outright ignores huuuuuuge demographics of potential porn-watchers. Ladies especially are barely catered for, even though they need to get off too. Lesbian porn – pretty much designed for men. “Bisexual” porn – well, that’s just an excuse for a (usually two-chick) threesome in porn land, which I must say isn’t doing my image any favours. It would be super duper nice if women could have some porn that actually reflects and caters to their sexuality, instead of stuff that peddles the myth that female sexuality basically revolves around male pleasure, or that sex should end when the bloke is finished. Maybe something in which the ladies have actual, real orgasms and actual fun? Then maybe guys would get paid more, too, because there would be a greater demand for penises!

OKjcq

Then there’s the problem of desensitization. It’s been well documented that some people just cannot get aroused without porn, because they’ve consumed waaay too much of some seriously hard shit. Now, how much is too much will vary depending on the person, but the risk is still there. Maybe before dropping your trousers and double-clicking, you should take a moment and wonder if you even need to watch Mary having an OTT threesome to get your rocks off. There are other ways, my friends!

I could go on forever – there’s issues of consent and revenge porn, kids accessing it, rape porn and other violent stuff, for example – but I’m supposed to be revising for my exams. Needless to say, we need to take a long, hard look at porn (haha!), and actively seek to reform the industry so that it’s fairer for the people in it, at the very least!

 

Pornography is complicated, so let’s talk it over

Back to the drawing board: Why sex education just isn’t good enough

TW: This post touches on topics around sex and sexuality (e.g. consent and abuse) which might be sensitive for some readers. 

Usually when people are calling for some kind of compulsory teaching of health information, they make reference to sex education. For example, some students at my university started a petition for compulsory lessons on mental health as part of the curriculum. Because if we do it with sex ed., they argue, why not do it with mental health too?

Personally, I have higher hopes for mental health education than that. Not everyone will agree, but I think sex ed. is actually pretty shocking. Not in the sense that they teach sex ed. – right on! – more in what they teach and how they teach it.

The rules

Sex education is the source of continuous debate, which is understandable in a world where people still think sex can be evil. They have arguments about where it should happen, when it should happen, who should teach it, what they should teach, how they should teach it, you name it. So what do they actually have to teach in schools in the UK?

Well, from the key stage one it is compulsory to teach about anatomy, puberty, fertility, and sexual reproduction in state schools. In secondary school, you have to have specific sex education, which has to contain as a minimum information about STIs and HIV/AIDS. Some people would still object to some of these topics being taught in schools. But never fear nay-sayers! You are legally able to teach these within your school ethos. So an ultra religious school that maybe thinks condoms cause HIV could totally say so, provided they state that it’s their belief.

I disagree with that. Kids need to be told facts as well as a variety of beliefs, so they can be fully equipped to make decisions about their own sexual health. Plus it leads to some frankly patchy provision – every school ends up doing something differently.

Coming soon to a school near you: Racial diversity by Donald Sterling
That’s basically like letting Donald Sterling do racial diversity

Everything else? It’s non-statutory. Some schools won’t teach anything extra, and some pupils can be removed from those lessons by parents. Some schools, like those academies that now make up over half our education system, don’t have to teach anything. And literally anyone can teach this stuff. No offence to virgins – you are totally welcome to do as you please with your own body – but I’m not sure they are the best people to tell me about what’s happens to me when getting jiggy, so I’d really like it if they had some training or something!

This is not to say the only thing kids learn is boobs and diseases. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 requires that our little folk also learn about the importance of marriage in relationships and bringing up children. Now, obviously, I have a huge objection right there too. Because getting married has fuck all to do with bringing up kids. You can be an unmarried couple, or two seperated people, bringing up your kids excellently. A lot of the kids that will go through sex ed. will be coming from those families. Are we really going to tell them that their parents totally suck as parents because they broke up?

Meet the winners of Parents of the Year 2014, folks!
Meet the winners of Parents of the Year 2014, folks!

Not to mention that marriage wasn’t legal between same sex couples until March. Which means that for the past 14 years, we have been telling kids that gay people suck at parenting. I think that runs counter to that whole ‘not favouring any sexual orientation’ thing governments keep banging on about!

Sexuality

One of the things they’re supposed to do is give you a basic understanding of sexuality. Now, when I was in school, this was covered almost exclusively by an educational video from decades ago. There were two options presented – you were gay, or you were straight. There was no asexuality, pansexuality, bisexuality, bicuriousity, questioning, and so on. It was a binary view of sexuality, with all the colour sucked straight out.

Which led to me basically relying on my friends, family, and the internet to learn about my sexuality. I was basically led to believe that I was a greedy bitch for years. That sounds so… healthy. I’m not the only one either; I know plenty of asexual people who were completely traumatized growing up, after being led to believe that we are all deeply sexual beings, so they must just be broken or something.

Allow me to say fuck that shit. We need to make sure that every damn school is teaching the broadness and fluidity of sexuality. If anything for the self-esteem of a barrel full of kids!

Contraception

We were fortunate enough to have a nurse come into school to give us all a demonstration on contraception, the first such lesson we had on the subject… which just so happened to take place when I was 15 and half the class had already started boning. Anyway, can you guess what this hour long demonstration was?

Yep. It was an ode to male condoms. She had a huge collection of novelty ones which she systematically showed us, before doing a demonstration of putting a condom on (which we weren’t allowed to do ourselves), and then passing around a book of STIs.

OKjcq

It’s not a big deal; my mum had taken the time to tell me about the pill, and I had heard from a doctor about implants. So I was pretty covered on the heterosexual contraception side. But not everyone is. Not everyone is aware of their ridiculously broad range of options. Certainly the lesbian in me learned nothing about protecting myself from disease – at least not until I looked up types of contraception some time later. And I’m pretty sure no one left that class knowing how to put a johnny on, or where to even get them from. (You can get them from the supermarket, pharmacies and doctors, kids!)

Pornography and masturbation

Porn is a complicated thing, but something that kids increasingly have access to. It’s everywhere. It’s also something the government won’t touch with a barge pole. No sir, that’s not for us thank you!

So then you get kids that are uncertain of sex, learning about it by watching Alotta Vagina having an orgy. That sounds so accurate. It totally doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that if left unchecked would screw up a person’s expectations about sex, or make them feel self-conscious about their body, or cause them to make others self-conscious due to their unrealistic expectations about that person’s body.

Dear girls and boys - shave or don't shave at your own pleasure, not for someone else's!
Dear girls and boys – shave or don’t shave at your own pleasure, not for someone else’s!

Mind fuck.

Then there’s masturbation in general. In school we were always taught that it was okay to masturbate (I went to a secular school, after all)… if you are a boy at least. There was nothing on the subject for girls. People out there genuinely think girls don’t do it. Maybe they don’t have an Ann Summers near by or something…

Relationships

Literally nothing is covered about relationships accept the “look how awesome marriage is!” bit. Kids don’t have to be told what a healthy relationship looks like, how to fix their relationships, alternative options to marriage, different kinds of relationships and so on.

Top tip: This is an UNHEALTHY approach to a relationship.
Top tip: This is an UNHEALTHY approach to a relationship.

 

They don’t get told about domestic abuse either, even though it happens to them. It’s not like the government is blissfully unaware of that fact, since they just changed the definition of domestic abuse so it includes 16 – 17 year olds (I’d like to point out that I was 15 when I was in an abusive relationship, Clegg).

“There are adverts, though!” you might scream. Sure, there are adverts, but those are generally of women being physically abused by men. What about the young men getting abused by young women? What about emotional abuse? How are kids supposed to spot it and be aware something is horrendously wrong if they don’t know about it?

Consent

Yeah this one doesn’t even need explaining. We just don’t teach kids what consent looks like, about peer pressure and sex, or situations in which consent can’t happen. I know it seems like you might instinctively know, but people genuinely don’t. Heaven forbid the first time they learn about consent is from The LAD Bible or Robin Thicke.

Top tip: This is a HEALTHY approach to sex, kids!
Top tip: This is a HEALTHY approach to sex, kids!

Disability

Sex is different for disabled people, but that actually isn’t covered in sex education much at all. In fact, not at all. Even though being able-bodied as a young person doesn’t mean at all you will be able-bodied forever, and despite the fact that you might totally want to bang a person with a disability. Come on, sex ed., be cool already.

If you do want to know about sex with disabilities there’s a really awesome video on it here. Seriously, if you aren’t regularly watching Laci Green and co. you should just kick yourself. You’re missing out.

Fertility Issues

So, in schools they have to cover sexual reproduction. We’ve mentioned that. But yet again they miss out some vital information. Like, for example, what do you do if you struggle to conceive? What if you can’t have children? What if you are in a same sex relationship? Adoption is just one of many options for those situations, but it’s the only one that has been mentioned to me in school. That doesn’t feel right.

Plus, there’s this massive emphasis on sex for children rather than pleasure. A total bummer if you are a person who just doesn’t want kids. Instead of approaching this like everyone is going to have kids because that’s totally what every normal person wants, why don’t we approach having kids more realistically – it’s an option, not a requirement for being a human being.

Can’t the parents do it?

I know some people will be reading this thinking that parents should be the ones teaching kids about all of these things. They should, totally – parents have a responsibility when it comes to sex education too. Yet schools should be teaching a broader version of sex education as well.

I mean, consider this: what if parents don’t know about something that they are expected to teach? If you’re a heterosexual, conservative couple with a pansexual child, for example, what advice do you actually have to give them about same-sex relationships and intercourse? If you’ve had no fertility problems, what can you teach your kid about them? The same goes for porn, and disabilities, and the broad range of relationship types.

Sometimes you have to concede that parents don’t have all the answers. That’s where sex education is supposed to intervene.

"Why is my son spending so much time looking at pens on pen island?"
“Why is my son spending so much time looking at pens on pen island?”

So no, sex ed. is full of gaping holes. It’s letting loads of people down. Let’s fix it soon, please, so that whole swathes of young people don’t have to get their important health information from a dodgy internet source written before broadband by someone’s grandparent. Reliable? I don’t think so…

Back to the drawing board: Why sex education just isn’t good enough

On childhood romances

I happened to notice the daily prompt today, on what attracted people to their significant other. It got me thinking – not about what attracted me to Joe so much (because I don’t have a billion years to talk about how awesome that guy is!), but actually about something I was discussing with my siblings the other day.

We were talking about childhood romances (well, more teenage for me), specifically about how those shape who we end up being, romantically, and why we entered into them. It was an interesting debate, especially since I am renowned for just having the worst relationships in adolescence. Yet, in a messed up way, I wouldn’t undo a single one of those.

But I digress!

My first relationship – at least the first that I remember – was when I was 13, with a guy called John. We’d been friends for a while, and eventually he asked me out. At first my reaction was oh hell no, boys are SO icky! 

Eventually though, I took him up on the offer – because even though I wasn’t really into him that way, I was certain I probably would be, if I gave it a go. I felt pressured into having a boyfriend, in part by my friends, and mostly by the homophobic bullying I’d been receiving. What better way to prove to everyone, even myself, that I was actually heterosexual? (Which you want to be when you’re 13 and being bullied. Trust me!)

Months went past, and the bullying didn’t stop. Neither did my feelings towards my same-sex friend, who I’d developed the hugest crush on. But I did care about John, I did have a soft spot for him. He was my defense against the bullying, for starters; I could tell myself they were wrong while ever I was with him. Plus it was nice to have someone around, for a bit of a cuddle and a chat when things were rough – which was every single day at school. He was a bit of an arse, in retrospect, and he wasn’t ‘me’ at all, but he was at least around when I needed him.

Except that time he cheated on me and we broke up. Then he was on their side, telling the whole school I was totally a lesbian. Thanks, John.

After a while, ‘Ben’ came to fill the friend-shaped hole left by John. We weren’t a couple, we were just good friends – he was there for me at the onset of all my mental health problems, and he did make an effort to understand. That didn’t really work out either, as I’m sure you read in the last post! But at least when he asked me to marry him, I knew two very distinct things: he wasn’t my type, and I wasn’t into marriage. That’s valuable information right there.

I had another boyfriend – we got together just as ‘Ben’ and I had our bust-up – and he was a total jerk. He physically pushed me to get his own way (often into things, which hurt like hell), and put enormous emotional pressure on me. He didn’t last long. I built up the courage and ended it as soon as possible – which taught me that I can be courageous and strong when I want to be, and that I’m not the kind of person to put up with other people’s shit. It also taught me that just about anyone can end up in a bad relationship. Guys like him seem wonderful, but under the surface they are actually abusive. I think that made me a bit more compassionate and understanding with other people.

So then I finally plucked up the courage, and dated the girl I’d liked forever. It was actually pretty amazing! I was completely infatuated, at the time; perhaps we weren’t so infatuated with each other as we were with knowing and accepting who we were. While in the end we were too incompatible to make it, I learnt yet another valuable lesson from the experience. I liked girls, and there was nothing wrong with that.

After *quite* a long time, I met Joe and loved him instantly, and we’ve been together since then. He’s so cool. He’s changed me too – in lots of little awesome ways!

But the point is, I took away some important messages from these life experiences – about who I find romantically attractive, and who I don’t; about what I want out of life, and what I don’t; about who I am and what I’m capable of. The people I dated sucked at the time (can’t really blame some of them, they were young and stupid), but they taught me some valuable stuff about me, and shaped the kind of person I am today to an extent. For that you kind of have to thank them.

On childhood romances