Why are some people so intent on censoring certain body parts and sexual acts?

Placing restrictions on pornography won't protect children, but a frank and open discussion might

Alice Jones
Friday 05 December 2014 18:45
The offence of possession of an extreme pornographic image was introduced in 2008 and has resulted in more than 5,500 prosecutions, the majority for clips of bestiality. Ministers had predicted that there would be just 30 cases a year
The offence of possession of an extreme pornographic image was introduced in 2008 and has resulted in more than 5,500 prosecutions, the majority for clips of bestiality. Ministers had predicted that there would be just 30 cases a year

It’s been a big week for body parts. In particular those bits, if one must go in for primary school language, that are naughty. The bits that jiggle and wobble and sometimes spurt. There might be a few in this column – nothing gratuitous, naturally.

The main thing to understand is that some naughty bits, apparently, are naughtier than others. But whose bits are on show, and where, very much dictates how much we are expected to be shocked by them. So while it is absolutely fine for an American underwear company to send a platoon of glossy Amazons down a catwalk wearing little more than a wisp of chiffon, a hint of satin and for some reason massive, bejewelled wings, it is not fine for a new mother to breastfeed her 12-week-old daughter at Claridge’s.

Nigel Farage has weighed in to declare the latter act “ostentatious”, but has yet to express an opinion on the former. In other words, the soft-porn lingerie spectacular, peekaboo videos and insane diet tips peddled by Victoria’s Secret and consumed by millions of young, impressionable types and countless older ones who should know better is OK; feeding a newborn, as Lou Burns tried to, amid fresh scones and tea strainers, is not. Bring the lady a modesty shroud.

Meanwhile, the animal rights charity Peta got into trouble this week for its billboard on the dangers of drinking milk. Its slogan, “Some bodily fluids are bad for you. Don’t swallow. Ditch dairy”, was banned within a day for being “too sexual”. And in London, the literati gathered at the In and Out Club to celebrate the smuttiest writing of the year. A giggle-fest of bursting dams, ruby nipples and heavy moaning, the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction was won by Ben Okri for a particularly purple passage in The Age of Magic. “She felt certain now that there was a heaven and that it was here, in her body…”

It’s confusing. One man’s silly smut is another man’s Ofcom complaint. So who decides which body parts and sexual acts are acceptable for public consumption and which are offensive or potentially harmful? It’s impossible to police but that has not stopped the Department for Culture, Sport and Media from trying to parse the public’s private tastes. In the same week that David Cameron attacked Ed Balls for committing an act of “political masosadism” at Prime Minister’s Questions – “It’s sado-masochism!” jeered the House in a chorus to give anyone nightmares – S&M was put on a new government banned list.

On Tuesday, the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 introduced a series of restrictions on the pornography that can be bought and sold in the UK, to safeguard children. As a result, a number of sex acts it considers harmful or life endangering have been banned from paid-for pornography sites. These include – and here’s a list that Chris Morris would have been proud to feature on Brass Eye – spanking, aggressive whipping, strangulation, humiliation and the use of power tools. Who decides how aggressive a certain whipping is is not clear.

The measures have not been welcomed. That female ejaculation is off the menu but the male equivalent is still the main event has been interpreted as lionising male pleasure while implying that female pleasure is shameful. True, but given that so much modern pornography is violently anti-female and that exploitation of women is rife in the industry, this is arguably quite small beer. More pertinently, the arbitrary nature of what’s in and what’s out has wider implications for online freedom. A government that legislates on which sexual acts are morally appropriate and which are not is a frightening thought.

These are valid points, but just so much bluster. As long as there has been printing, there has been pornography. And as long as there has been pornography, there have been those who want it banned. These latest measures do nothing to address the free, non-regulated content that is produced in other countries and is most easily accessed by those without a credit card – like children. It is a worry children are watching pornography. It is also a worry that they play ultra-violent video games. Banning either will not work; frank, open discussion and education might.

It is extraordinary that even as society’s attitudes towards sex have changed radically, thanks in no small part to the internet, the tenor of debate is still couched in Carry On innuendoes or “Ban this filth!” censure. As the porn law debates rumble on, there are the questions of teen pregnancy, rape and consent, and institutional child abuse to consider. Each to his own, but worrying over degrees of aggressive spanking strikes me as rather a waste of time.

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