An Internet cafe in Brighton has launched a Soft Porn Night. Trendy or tawdry? By Milly Jenkins
While the rest of the world whips itself into a frenzy about pornography on the Net, Cybar, an Internet cafe in Brighton, is allowing customers to take a quick peek at some of the Web's more lurid attractions. Saturday night at Cybar is Soft Porn Night. Jessica Gould, Cybar's director, says it is intended as "harmless entertainment, a bit of a laugh. It's not for dirty old men in Macs," she adds. "I think they'd be frightened off - it gets quite rowdy here.

"We get about 60 people, mostly a youngish crowd who have come for the DJs and a pre-club drink. They're usually people who haven't used the Internet much before and want to see what all the fuss is about. They look at the sites we've selected - Playboy, Penthouse, Pamela Anderson - the basic tits and bums stuff you get in any corner shop.

"Although we can't really stop people from looking at the ruder sites, you have to be a pretty dedicated pervert to know where they are and generally have to pay for them. Obviously, anything with children or animals is a no-no, but we haven't had any problems with that so far."

Soft Porn Night, Ms Gould says, is not a men-only affair, although on a recent Saturday night there were few women to be seen in the groups huddled round the terminals. No one would admit that they'd come to gawp at naked women. They were all just there for a drink. But there were a few excited conversations going on - "Let's try and get something really sleazy ... Jesus, is that Dannii Minogue?"

Danny Kolasinski, 22, was there with a few friends, observing the screens from a safe distance. "I'm not here to see any porn," he said. "I've got magazines for that. But it is more acceptable to come down here than to go into a shop and feel seedy. Everyone uses the Internet for porn."

According to one computer scientist, he's right. The Internet is more like a red-light district than a global village. Professor Harold Thimbleby of Middlesex University found that 47 per cent of all searches on one search engine were for pornographic material. The top eight most frequently used search words were sex-related. He did his research in 1994 and it is yet to be updated, but as he says: "I'm sure human nature hasn't changed much since."

Until now Internet pornography has mostly been viewed as a problem, not something to cash in on. But Cybar's openness about people's interest in pornography may be part of a new trend. The latest edition of the .net directory is billed as "the ultimate guide to on-line lust".

Darren Phillips, 28, said he had come to Cybar to look at science fiction sites but thought the Soft Porn Night was a "good gimmick".

"Lads can have a few beers and look at some naked girlies. I think pornography on computers is a bit seedy, though I will admit to having a few mags under my bed. Any guy who says he hasn't is a liar. Can you mention that I love my girlfriend very much and am in no way discontented with our relationship?"n

Cybar, 9-12 Middle St, Brighton BN1 1AL (01273 384284)