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Porn, Page 3, and Pressure

May 18, 2014

Porn: the ultimate debate. In this, I would like to include softer forms of nudity like Page 3, which for those unaware, refers to a page in certain tabloid newspapers dedicated in full to pictures of completely bare breasts. The newspaper most identified for this trait happens to be the most popular in the country, The Sun.

The Page 3 debate is an odd one. To start with, those arguing about it sometimes use it as a replacement for a porn debate, even though the two are different beasts. Secondly, the emphatic resistance by some individuals to even discussing it does not match the general apathy felt by everyone else. Of the handful of people I have seen reading The Sun, all self-consciously covered up or skipped past Page 3. So I have my doubts that our society is as enamoured with it as the makers of the paper would have us think.

I am not anti-porn, or nudity. I think it would be difficult, where I live, to find secular men of my generation or the one above who would want a blanket ban on it. This is, I’m sure, because most of us have seen and enjoyed it at some point. I think it’s very important to ask ourselves why so many feminist or almost-feminist men stumble over the porn and nudity debate.

Obviously, judgement is being clouded by our liking for it and perhaps everything that follows is nothing but a justification for something I’ve already decided based on my preferences. But based on my previous life choices, I like to think that if something I liked transpired to be harmful, I could give it up comfortably. Besides which, I’m hardly an avid fan. I think the standard stuff is has the ring of the faintly ridiculous about it.

The first thing to note is that porn isn’t going anywhere. It’s been around forever; it has existed since cavemen moulded naked human forms out of clay, so debating whether or not it should exist is pointless. It will exist as long as people want to see it and as long as people want to make it. Between them, that covers a lot of people. I can understand objections on the basis of overuse, just as I can understand the same in terms of gambling and drugs. There really never has been any evidence that exposure to mild sexual imagery does anybody any harm. The problem, always, is one of degree.

I notice a lot of liberal, female feminists will also err on this debate. They recognise what I have said above as true and they may, themselves, enjoy a touch of porn. About 30% of women do, and that’s an estimate dependent on women telling the truth to their interviewer in a society that still to this day considers that women ought to be less interested in sex than men.

The reason they err, I imagine, is because they, like me, can see no issue in people voluntarily filming themselves having sex, putting it online for free and having it viewed by strangers for the mutual excitement of those filming and those watching. I find it ironic that the internet is blamed for the worst types of porn available to us, when if only the internet had existed at the birth of porn, then this is probably the only form that porn would take. After all, if we were used to getting it for free from willing parties, how could it possibly have become the gigantic monster of an industry it now is?

Sex becomes saleable when it stops being free. It stops being free when it becomes “naughty” or “dirty”, which instantly makes something marketable. The Victorian era, known for being austere, was boom time for porn. The illicit will forever have a hold over us. Our natural interest in sex, versus the varying difficulties obtaining it through the ages, will mean that selling sex is so lucrative I’d be surprised if someone somewhere doesn’t ban porn just to boost the market.

If we had never decided that sex was a naughty thing, it need never have become a specialised industry, available only through accepted channels. We’ve inverted the system absurdly; things that started public became private and are now public again, but ostensibly private; sitting alone in one’s room watching porn may seem private, but its availability gives it a universal audience and a thus a universal effect. Questioning this effect then seems like an invasion of privacy, when actually the practise was never inherently private. Stigma, now gone, made it so. The need for privacy is borne out of a fear of discovery, in times when discovery was socially damaging.

Now we know people have sexual interests which are met by external stimulation and discussing it isn’t taboo. We ought to be living in a very different society, one that accepts that one should expect to be held into account for sexual tastes which may be harmful to others, just as we are held into account for other harmful tastes not protected by the notion of privacy. Had there had been stigma, this might be the case.

Freedom to express sexuality is important and where that freedom is restricted, trouble brews. Societies that can’t think, can’t talk about, can’t look at sex are stripped of their ability to look at it in its entirety and see the problems as they arise. Most people who have studied it conclude that bad sex education boosts teenage pregnancies and the spread of STIs. What is less agreed is the effect it has on relationships, because some people think that the “innocence” of older generations protected their marriages.

I’m all for open sexual discussion and I think that the best way is probably to allow people, in their own time, to see real sex for themselves. It is possible, with the right guidance for the right age. Imagine if sex education classes actually sourced appropriate websites for teenagers to watch sex? It is thought that girls watch porn for educational purposes; if they were directed to other sources, they would bypass the sort of sex we view as “porn” entirely.

I believe that industry is the problem. I take issue with those that suggest that the only way to make sure the porn you watch is safe is to pay for it. I smell conspiracy… It’s people who make porn professionally who want you to pay for it. Their vested interest is not really the rights of the people involved in filming, but rather to make money. It may sound brutal but it has to be true. No business or industry survives in a capitalist society if making money is its secondary aim, so it must be the primary one.

Whenever someone’s primary aim is to make money, it taints and compromises whatever secondary aims they might have. You cannot successfully change the roots of an industry while playing to the rules inside of it. Perhaps the government should introduce a state-funded porn programme, like the NHS. I’m only half joking – that way, at least, it could regulate what kind of stuff we see before a certain age, without making it sound like it wants us all to be chaste before the age of 18, which obviously no one is going to take seriously in this day and age (especially not when the legal age for sex in practice is two years below that). Porn is formulaic as it is, but in the more dangerous sense; because of fashion and markets.

Our ideas about porn are deeply ingrained, with minor changes over time – it didn’t always used to be so… Clean-shaven. But it has, for a long time, been “clean”, stripped of imperfections for the sake of creating a perfect body for our viewing pleasure. At its conception, this was perfectly fair enough. When you make a business, you create products or services that are most in line with what customers or clients want and you go the extra mile to beat your competitors. In the world of porn, that means bigger, smoother, more evenly toned.

We are tuned to look for the most beautiful people and we are naturally drawn to it. Sex does sell. It’s no wonder porn has been taken to its logical extreme, whereby everyone you see in a conventional porn video or picture will be carefully constructed from ear to toenail. I don’t really want to get into the question of whether or not the constructed are being exploited by their employers and fans. That is for them to decide in their own sweet time.

However, I am interested in whether or not these images damage the public, making us even more afraid of imperfections – and thus, variety – than nature has decreed. We have the power to shake off a good proportion of what nature, that naughty creature, has bestowed on us. After all, we do live a man-made world of bricks and motor, finicky etiquette and finely tuned ethics. Yet, whatever causes pleasure is something we understandably avoid questioning unless we are given good reason. I argue that the reason is self-evident from the increasing amount of porn addiction worldwide, the lowering of the average age at which children are exposed to hard porn, the effect it has on their views of sex and gender, and the level of sexual dysfunction in porn-heavy places like Japan.

There is an interesting question in the distinction between “real” and “fake”. Photo trickery and digital editing, some argue, create a false view of bodies. It may well be true. But again, if we are bound to seek out the most flawless, then if only digital editing had come about sooner: models could have bypassed extreme cosmetic surgery and bad diets, eating disorders and punishing exercise routines all in the name of perfection. In addition, if we knew than all porn was constructed in this way and that the “real” person behind these processes was more like us in body shape, might we not have a different experience or pornographic images?

Coming back to Japan, I often wonder what effect hentai porn has on the people there. Hentai, as we call it here (it just means “pervert” in Japanese), is that type of comic-book-style illustrated porn that has gained popularity here as well as there. It is entirely constructed and can be made quite as clean, or disgusting, as is desired without being exploitative, as it involves no models – the characters in it barely look human, and are frequently depicted doing things which are impossible. Or illegal.

Arguably, it could prevent the actual abuse of certain groups for the pleasure of others, as it is all conceptual and fills a hole in people with dark desires. Another problem this might solve is the dangerous side effects of celebrity obsession. Becoming obsessed with fictional characters, while bad for you, obviously cannot be bad for your object of desire because they do not exist.

On the other side, there may be merit to the argument that indulging in fantasies creates dependence. I think that every one of us has an undiscovered vice, something which we may never try in our lives that, if we did try it, we would really like. In fact, there must be several, but I am talking about one on the dodgy side: a sexual kink or dangerous adrenaline rush. In the former case, illustrated and internet porn opens up an a whole world once unavailable to create dependencies which would once have gone undiscovered.

Judging by addictions as they currently stand, the worse in the eyes of society, he greater the draw and dependency, leaving addicts vulnerable to the worst types of porn available and illegal for good reason. Would they stick to non-exploitative, illustrated types? There would need to be a strong ethic to keep those thoughts in check. Arguably, that would be easier if we lived in a society that could freely discuss sexuality, porn and addiction without stigma. Incidentally, those of you who think sex isn’t stigmatised in places like Japan, with its flourishing porn industry, are wrong. There’s still plenty of prejudice and stigma all over the world. Not least, I imagine, because of gender differences.

I’m aware that to some this might seem like a man’s debate. If 70% of women don’t look at porn regularly, the hold it has over them is considerably lesser. If one were to start considering the frankly insurmountable and fruitless task of banning porn, the first thing one has to consider is that doing so is really only against male interests. This debate, then, is alienating for the very people who should be engaging in it.

Yet, just because it seems to be a debate for men, since it affects men directly, women must be a part of it because it greatly effects them indirectly. If feminism was typically in the male consciousness, as it should be, this would be less necessary, but the sad fact is that it isn’t. The feminist argument is a simple one, perhaps too simple: porn makes men see women as sexual objects.

While I do not wholly disagree, my main problem with this argument is that people have yet to answer sufficiently my question of why this should be the case. Porn makes men objectify women – but why? The majority of one’s interactions with women will be at work, in the street, on public transport, and on television with clothes firmly on. I would argue that it is not the occasional and intentional foray into a visual projection of sexual fantasy that contributes most to the relentless sexualisation of women and the inevitable objectification that comes with it, but the drip-drip effect of every day life.

Think of it this way. If breasts are advertised to you as sexual, they become sexual. The same was true of ankles once upon a time, though that “advertising” was social more than commercial. When people complain that breasts are used to sell cars and aftershave and beer, they are describing it incorrectly. A mother breastfeeding her baby would look highly out of place in a car advert. It’s a pre-established template of sexual imagery that is used to sell the cars.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, we drool when we see the car because we drool when we see the woman, but we have to be taught to drool when we see the woman first. Clearly, not any old woman will do, because women are everywhere. First, it has to be established that this is a symbol for sex. Porn can do that, but not the porn that involves two clean people rutting away in uncomfortable positions. Instead, the kind of porn that involves a topless woman staring into a camera inviting you to stare amorously at her breasts: Page 3.

From there, she can pull a certain “seductive” expression. I don’t know where that expression comes from and it seems to get more and more exaggerated, the way that hentai porn gets exaggerated as milder forms become less effective. Competition and markets, again, create extremes. Page 3 may be all fish lips and peculiar standing positions, but once in a zone where such a thing is established as standard in glamour modelling, it is free to get steadily more extreme, unchecked. It happens so incrementally, we don’t notice it.

In the beginning, there may have been such thing as a seductive look, considerably subtler, then exaggerated for the camera. It is heavily put on now, but is supposed to mirror something which we would recognise as sexual in the first place. Obviously, there has to be a biological element. No amount of lipstick will make drainpipes sexually attractive. Some people think the Mona Lisa looks a bit seductive, but because it’s a portrait with a level of accuracy and artistry, its subtle enough that such a thing is in doubt. When advertising (Page 3 advertises The Sun), subtlety isn’t affordable as the cue might be missed and become ineffectual.

Hence, models’ expressions are moulded unmistakably in the seductive style, with stares that should burn out the camera lens. Once one such image is made, it can be used over and over, with added bulging flesh, exaggerated in the same way for the same reason. It can then be used in an different contexts for different purposes with an different results. I’m not sure why the illusion is so effective when we know it’s an illusion, but clearly it is; many more people will buy something they associate with someone attractive.

Remember, you can make a template out of a template. Playboy Magazine made the template for lad’s mags, which made the template for Page 3 targeted at the same audience. These make the template for car and beer adverts, moving on to underwear adverts and everything down to glasses, which I can attest do not indicate that you are up for a good shag. If anything, they mean you’re busy reading something and might be annoyed if someone rudely came on to you mid-sentence.

Before we know where we are, we are surrounded by sexual imagery and it becomes normal, the way that people should look. Once you reach a certain age, you may realise what a crock of shit this is, but it requires a level of sex and body education, either practical or via the internet. If your education is clinically stripped porn, you will learn nothing. It it is horrible violent porn, you’ll learn things you were better off not knowing. Young people are vulnerable, both to the internet and to their everyday surroundings.

But if you go to the internet at an age (and mental age) where you have a level of awareness about what you can see versus what you need to see, you can use it to deconstruct what has been taught to you by adverts. The internet can contribute to a problem, it can solve a problem, it can worsen a problem. But it has never yet started a problem, because every problem comes from human nature. Worse, every problem that comes from human nature is hailed as being some kind of sacred thing, that ought not be interfered with. We all want to only ever see attractive things, so why shouldn’t we? We all want to be able to pass judgement on other people, so why shouldn’t we?

Sometimes, a total myth will work its way into the public consciousness. People of all genders will insist, with a determination bordering on manic, that women are Just Not Interested In That Sort Of Thing. Thanks to the growing (though by no means complete) sexual liberation movement, it has not been difficult to find swathes of women who emphatically disagree. Interest in sex is obvious from the sales of erotica. Interest in bodies is obvious from internet comments on the naked torsos of various men in the public eye. You would have to be resolutely blind and deaf still to claim that women are Just Not Interested In That Sort Of Thing, when they repeatedly say (and show) that they are.

The reality of the situation is that those who think women are Just Not Interested In That Sort Of Thing are saying one of two things: either that they personally, as a woman, are Just Not Interested In That Sort Of Thing (the truthfulness of this statement accepted, we can assume that time and socialisation have an effect on sexuality, since few my age say this) or that they would rather that women in general were Just Not Interested In That Sort Of Thing.

Why might one prefer this? As a heterosexual women’s sexual likes are not the same as heterosexual man’s, that means that there is a conflict on interest. Many a man has said he “doesn’t want to see that”, referring to the genitals of another man, without considering that the very same may be true for heterosexual women seeing naked women. Instead, these women are called “prudes”. And perhaps they are, but by no means more than their male equivalents.

It is a systemic ranking of male attraction over female attraction and it pervades everywhere. Women buy into it as much as men; the women who claim to be Just Not Interested In That Sort Of Thing may be of the type that think that a male body is inherently unappealing to look at. This thought is mirrored across all sections of society; hetero men will claim that men cannot be alluring or intentionally sexy, as they will just look ridiculous. Hetero women will claim that women’s bodies are “naturally more attractive” than men’s.

This can only be subjective, and yet it is a subjectivity that crosses many gender and cultural boundaries. The fact that women accept this as fact can only be called patriarchal bargaining – women are happy to accept that they are more attractive than men, because it means they are thought of as attractive, something the vast majority of us desire, so they overlook the flip side of this assumption: that women are, by their nature, sexual only in the object sense, and men only in the subject sense; men’s sexuality is a transmitter, women’s a receiver. Thus, women’s sexuality is seen to depend on men’s, not to exist itself or have its own independent value.

I believe that this is nothing but socialisation. In a society where consumerism is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, it makes sense to us that life beyond money is still made up of cheques and balances, consumers and objects of desire. In our social life, the people we desire play the part of goods, so if women are more desirable than men, then by default women are goods and men are consumers.

Some arguers for women’s rights establish women as consumers as well, but that doesn’t mean that they stop being goods. If it became so, we fear there would be nothing left to buy – since men, as the alpha consumers with their many “appetites”, cannot be made into goods.

Judging that men are not naturally attractive is a trap. It may seem like female empowerment, or flattery, to say that women have the monopoly on attractiveness as a feature of their identity, but what it actually does is make women sexual goddesses by default. Then, anyone who is reckoned not to meet this ideal has failed to meet their life’s objective. They will then hear no end of it from the body police, who (however subconsciously) think it’s a woman’s duty not to offend the eyes that stray in her direction by being too ugly.

There is a wider social implication beyond that of body shaming and has been going on longer. It is the prioritisation of hetero male attraction that otherises different types of attraction and consequently causes them to become viewed as “wrong”. This includes gay male attraction and is a contributing factor to the continuation of homophobia, but it also includes hetero female attraction, which is ranked as being of lesser importance and less socially relevant to the species as a whole.

We should not underestimate the marginalising affect this has. It is broadcast across our media by well-trained experts in entertainment, who are determined to give us what we expect to see and what we want to see (regardless of how socially irresponsible our wants are), thus regurgitating the ideals of yesterday for a new generation and causing the same problems.

Though, times have changed. Now we have popular erotica and people who whinge about it. Those that object to Fifty Shades of Grey on the grounds that it’s is so-much-worse-than-Page-3 are missing a key distinction between public and private. I know full well that Fifty Shades of Grey is erotica, but I have never read it because I know it isn’t my kind of thing, so it’s easy to avoid. I don’t know what the woman opposite me on the train is “seeing” in her mind’s eye, and I don’t care, that’s her concern.

I suppose I care about the inaccurate depictions of S&M which are apparently a feature of the book, but I also doubt the influence of Fifty Shades to make any gigantic negative changes to our collective psyche. It may, like other books of its type, be contributing to a destructive idea of relationships but that makes it a bad book, not a bad book to read on the train. I can’t take too seriously people who claim to be agitated by it, since its so unobtrusive.

Page 3 isn’t about the personal contract between buyer and model, as viewers may think. The fact that it’s visible means it has a wide range of effects. I don’t want to live in a society that thinks sexuality is something to be ashamed of, but when people are so public about it, it does rather suggest that they are either oblivious to or don’t give a damn about the effect their hobby has has on other people, which is, at best, highly inconsiderate.

I see no reason to object to anyone taking whatever pleasure they like if it genuinely isn’t affecting anyone else, but I do wonder about the mind that desires such a thing in a public place, on a train on the way to work in morning rush hour. When I’m on my way to work, the last thing I want is to be inconveniently aroused. It makes me think that the whole idea is much more concept than desire, that Page 3 exists, not because men desire it, but because The Sun and publications like it are for men, and thus feel contractually bound to prove it in some way. Odd – you’d think not purposefully alienating women might lead to a greater readership. After all, it prints the kind of guff that is the bread and butter of dreadful celebrity magazines targeted at women.

Be aware that when I say “affecting anyone else” I don’t mean people who simply dislike seeing That Sort of Thing. Public displays of affection may be nauseating but to ban them would put us in league with some of the least permissive societies on earth. I don’t much like smooching in public, but I consider that to be my problem. It’s harmless. As is nudity, and I think the law about indecent exposure in this country is about as ridiculous as laws get, transparent pandering to needlessly conservative and antiquated ideas which have the effect of making breastfeeding and peeing taboo. When laws make necessary biological functions taboo, they have failed miserably.

All actions must be examined with their intent in relation to their effect. There was no malice in the construction of Page 3 or associated media. But while you can be fair in the context of time and conclude that someone’s intentions were not bad, that does not mean you ignore the unintended negative consequences. We shouldn’t tolerate laws against nudity that penalise biological functions. We should tolerate erotica on the train that has not yet proved problematic. We should not tolerate pictures in a newspaper which contribute to a long drawn-out onslaught on body image.

There are some women, feminists sometimes, who will say that the problem with something like Page 3 is the inequality of it. They argue that if page 2 or 4 was a picture of a half naked man, in order to appeal to the tastes of hetero women, all would be well. Far be it from me to suggest that women, too, are subject to a great deal of privilege in some circles, but this line of thinking seems strongly to suggest it: it is the “Me too,” concept of fairness, the idea that equality can be attained not by eliminating bad practice, but by allowing everyone to indulge in it equally.

I would say it is the feature of a privileged society, one with relative rather than absolute poverty, which thinks that any difference in available commodity indicates a more deep-seated inequality than the the reasoning behind the existence of the commodity itself. When shops are overwhelmingly stacked with female beauty products, the question is not “How can we extend this to men, as well?” unless you are in the beauty business. That extension does nothing except create the illusion of recaptured equality, rather than examining the issue at its base. The real question is “Why does this exist in the first place?”

I can see, at least, that the sexualisation of one group of people more than another is problematic. Depending on the size of the group, it becomes all too easy to fetishise; it is natural and perhaps preferable that people should be attracted to other races outside one’s own, but if that group is under-represented in other walks of life then the association of that race with sex can become more steadily ingrained. It might seem that representation of any kind is better than none at all, but that is a mistake; equality is not a concept that can be applied in the same way to different groups of people across different mediums. There needs to be a balance, representative of society itself.

Women are under-represented in most mediums except porn, boosting the amount of time we spend observing women in sexual situations. It may seem strange to suggest women are fetishised – strange because we think of women as being inherently sexual, so the idea that you can fetishise them sounds absurd. It would be like suggesting you can fetishise sex itself. This tells us a lot about the way we see women.

Chasing faux equality has led to the increasing sexualisation, not of men in general, but men of a specific type, as has been true of the sexualisation of women, favouring the well-endowed or the exceptionally youthful. Just today, I saw a shopping bag featuring an attractive young man staring into the camera with Twilight eyes, complete with defined abs and thorax muscles, wearing swimming trunks very low slung – perhaps a quarter of an inch above the base of his penis – with his thumb tucked into the shorts close to his crotch, along the groove where a male’s thighs meet his abdomen. A sexual image, by anyone’s estimate.

Whatever aforementioned women-sometimes-feminists might otherwise suggest, this sexualisation has been occurring in the fashion and music industries since about half a decade before I was born. In the mid-80s, homo-eroticism in music videos was all the rage and young men were groomed into these “boy bands” that are appeal to the tastes of hetero teenage girls, and men of any sexuality.

Male interest in observing fine examples of male bodies is by no means a recent phenomenon. Everyone will have seen the Ancient Greek statues. The interest in the physical form of one’s own sex is usually for the purpose of comparison, and is arguably a good chunk of the reason why semi-naked images of women persist; not purely because men are interested, which would not be strongly marketable enough in a society where women make up the vast majority of consumers, but because women are also interested. Indeed, the increase in male sexual imagery seems to coincide more with an increase of male consumerism, suggesting that contrary to hypotheses that it is mainly sexual interest that drives sexual imagery, comparison is the stronger force.

It is important to note that this interest, while natural, is not necessarily healthy. Comparison often leads to the assessment that one is inferior, or in some way unusual, and thus worse. The more beautiful, symmetrical and uniform the comparative objects, the greater the inferiority complex of the viewer. I am in no doubt that people with a greater sense of inadequacy are by far the worst offenders of body shaming. This is distinct from actual appearance, since self-image is reliant on a great deal more than one’s alignment with mass perception of conventional attractiveness.

We will all have known people who were overweight, or underweight, obsessed with judging the weight of others, but we will also have known people with no particular issues in this regard who vocalise a constant stream of body judgements of themselves and others in the same breath. It may seem counter-intuitive – you might think that someone who feels negatively about themselves considers other people better than them by comparison. But projection of one’s own feelings and insecurities is nonetheless common.

If uniform images of human bodies create insecurity, and insecurity breeds unpleasantness, it stands to reason that we should be very careful the extent to which we show images of human beauty and even more careful what form it takes, regardless of the sex of the person depicted. Not all of us have the capacity, or the desire, to evaluate our own perceptions of others and the negative effect it is having on our ability to accept the variation of human physicality as positive.

It is not a problem that sits firmly within one gender, as it would seem that body judgements cross boundaries at will; a man who is preoccupied with his image will be preoccupied with the appearance of other men, but also women. As a society, we have developed the toxic concept of “(S)he’s out of your league.”

This shallow assessment of compatibility leads us to be narcissistic and preening, to become convinced that attaining desirability entitles us to the ultimate prize: a beautiful sexual partner. Thus, people who fall short of this are unworthy of our care and deserving of our judgement. It seems as though we greatly resent people who are not attractive to us existing in our outer sphere.

It is a difficult obsession to tackle and best dealt with by deconstructing self-obsession and destructive vanity. People who have too much time for themselves have little time for other people and will only make time for people who they are something they aspire towards. If your aspiration is built on appearance only, of course, you will become shallow.

This is something that we inflict on very young children. Coming back to that shopping bag I mentioned earlier – it was being carried by a nine-year-old girl. It’s unlikely that she had much say in the matter. When you buy an item from a shop with a strong sense of branding and fashion, the bag the cashier automatically gives you will sometimes be inappropriate for children. Few people make a fuss, either fearing they will be considered prudish or else completely desensitised to the phenomenon.

We are very misled on the true definition of prudishness. Prudishness described a gut reaction of revulsion when faced with nudity or the mildest of sexual imagery. It it not the reasoned concern of an adult for the welfare of children, and the effect that sexual imagery has on their psyche. The internet is usually blamed for exposing kids to the worst of our sexual culture and I will readily concede that it makes available, and popular, highly questionable forms of sexual expression, revolving around constant humiliation and subjugation, particularly of women.

But the culture of increased sexualisation did not start with and is not purely perpetuated by the internet. The internet is infinitely more avoidable than shops on the high street, as while children may (and should) be restricted in their use of personal computers and smart phones, they cannot avoid going outside. To focus on the graphic nature of the sex or nudity found on the internet is, to some extent, a distraction. I can’t see that there is any great harm in exposing children of 8 or 9 to “graphic” but non-sexual nudity, provided it is representative.

This was my major issue with the “No more Page 3” campaign video, which ignored this rather more complex concept and focused on the “Oh no, the child knows that breasts exist, whatever shall we do!” angle. Breasts including nipples are functional items, as are flaccid penises. Vulva are more intimate and less exposed, but still important to show in all their variety at some point in a child or teenager’s development, as every person desires education on their own bodies and will need representational images in order to understand themselves and the usage of their anatomy.

This is not unhealthy or wrong, nor should it be painted as such. Indeed, the separation of nudity from sexuality may greatly improve relations particularly between the sexes, who currently consider that to observe someone’s “private” parts automatically creates some sort of sexual connection. When “private” includes the merest sliver of visible flesh on a woman’s chest, that assumption can quickly unravel into sexual harassment as the lines between what is appropriate and inappropriate become blurred. It would be much harder, in a de-clothed society, to have such a breach, as absence of clothes would be the status quo and thus difficult to interpret erroneously as a sexual advance.

Sexual imagery, however non-graphic (i.e., not containing any significant degree of nudity) has the opposite effect. It makes sexual objects and situations out of ones which are usually not; swimming trunks, bras, shopping, drinking coffee – you name it, it’s been sexualised for marketing purposes. It should be considered that concepts such as the “Women Who Eat On Tubes” tumblr account are born out of the sexualisation and fetishisation of ordinary things.

Displacement of sexual interest is a fascinating concept and specifically human, greatly encouraged by capitalism; if you put a beautiful person in a lacy thong, you can make people who are attracted to the person attracted to the thong. If the thong becomes the object of sexual desire, it is worth more to people. It is like buying sex, but more cheaply. The back-hand effect of this system is reliance on objects, images and concepts for sexual pleasure, limiting enjoyment of variety and reality, and the sexualisation of anyone who engages in any of the activities depicted as sexual which are not inherently so.

What I encounter, in opposition to my views on Page 3, is a wilful misinterpretation of what is being said. I don’t object to “tits in the newspaper”. That’s besides the point. National Geographic has been posting pictures of uneven, lopsided and *shock* sagging breasts for a while now, because that is the way they appear when left to the winds of nature and the sands of time. And I’ll bet there are people, perhaps without access to porn and thoroughly unused to nudity, who beat off to National Geographic too. If there were no perfect bodies, would the world stop fapping? Nope.

This is the point that sums up my argument. It isn’t a problem with “tits in the newspaper” as a visual. It’s a problem with a concept; the idea that certain things must look the same in order to be aesthetically pleasing. This is where erotic art and nudes part drastically from Page 3, as they are by all accounts a celebration of that variety. I’ll admit that it is difficult to argue, without proof, that not displaying this variety in the public domain, or purposefully hiding it behind that small minority of people whose body types are fit for glamour, is bad for us.

However, even if this effect isn’t proven, it doesn’t mean we should sit around idly and wait until it is. I suppose I simply don’t understand why we would risk potentially risk widespread social and sexual dysfunction for the sake of something as pointless, stupid and unnecessary as “tits in the newspaper”. The argument for freedom of expression is particularly flimsy. There are more important things than one’s right to say and do whatever the fuck one likes, and consequences be damned. That is a cause for concern in itself; the idea that we could develop a culture so complacent that it would use one human right as nothing more than a lazy excuse to continue violating others, like the right to be free from other people’s constant and unfettered judgement.

Page 3 is an easy target. Tits in the newspaper are big, bright and brazen. Hard to miss. Like with other social issues, their lack of subtlety makes them the obvious choice for an attack, but Page 3 is part of a wider concept that is expressed elsewhere just as virulently. If I could take down every single blog, column and Twitter feed that snidely suggested that such-and-such-a-person should do such-and-such-a-thing in order to improve their body and make it more appealing for some random bunch of strangers, or the constant cries about how X-types of people really shouldn’t wear Y item of clothing because it makes them look Z negative adjective, I would do it in a heartbeat. Not simply because it’s boring, but because the problem stems from the same place; casual body judgements which make it harder for all of us to just live.

In a way, this subtler beast is the greater problem, because it is harder to argue against. Just as with porn, we think of a blog as being a space that is ostensibly private, like a garden which belongs to you but can be seen by others. Thus, if someone tries to tell you what to write on it, the obvious response is to say “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.” We think of our actions as if they exist in a vacuum, forgetting that the internet is a public place and the accumulation of the same ideas all under one Google search create a very powerful manipulation indeed. Not everyone takes this into account and gives a measured approach. Some think opinions are protected by God himself for the sake of freedom of speech.

If we do avoid these blogs and columns, we condemn ourselves to a like of hermitage and then are chastised for it. The argument becomes about technology and access and overuse, which while points worth bearing in mind in the porn debate, are an utter distraction when discussing which views should be regarded and which should not. We all know we can find racism on the internet with a bit of digging and we are surprisingly untroubled by this, many of us considering that fact nothing more than an amusing side effect of having the world’s information at one’s fingertips.

But you needn’t dig for body shaming. It is there in the face of everyone, including in newspapers where opinion writers, often very sober people, are writing about something so far removed from the trivial discussions of what a person looks like, you wonder what mischievous imp grabbed their hand at the time of writing and led them down that peculiar tangent. I fear it might be a misguided attempt to be funny or fashionable. Like with everything offensive, it tends to work for a good proportion of the population, arguably, everybody bar a few who hasn’t been on the receiving end of the jibe.

The columns, unlike Page 3, are protected. They are protected by misguided notions insultingly misbranded as feminism; the idea that, if you are a woman, you should be able to say whatever you like because anyone who tries to stop you is being oppressive. In theory, this is an iron-cast protection against women being shut up for no good reason while making perfectly valid points. In practise, this idea seems to protect women who have no one’s interests at heart.

Everyone has seen those odious celebrity gossip pieces, but these are hardly the only offenders. There are tonnes of other articles about a range of things by a range of people that manage to let loose a passing reference to love handles, bingo wings and all manner of other curious terms for body formations that aren’t worth observing, let alone working into prose. Who complains? No one. It’s becoming the prerogative of female journalists (to use the term loosely) to have a pop at people for looking too thin, too fat, too anything-in-between.

That isn’t a new idea. For too long have we thought of women as the gossipers who can’t stop judging people based on trivial things. It’s like we need it to be the case, or it damages our sense of equilibrium. Why else should it occur? There may once have been some evolutionary incentive to making other people sound worse compared to oneself in order to look better and become seen as more desirable, but we have departed from the need to follow this pattern, as with many other patterns. We must just like bitchiness, until we’re on the receiving end, either directly or indirectly through the way it affects society.

This all might stem from an antiquated view of women and our steadily androgenising society may be starting to accept also the body judgements of gay or meterosexual men, provided such as thing can be taken as “advice”. Otherwise it tends, rightly I think, to be called misogynistic. Under the guise of giving advice, women can get off scott free when they talk about women in sneering terms, but it can only be this idea of women’s freedom of speech that means we accept also a range of body judgements about men made by women. The justification is that it’s feminism.

But it isn’t. It’s “girl power”, a tragically 90s concept which leaves its malodorous trace on all sorts of media. Let’s be clear. Women’s freedom of expression is not akin to women’s liberation. Saying what you want about yourself and your own experiences is a valid form expression. Saying what you want about other people’s publicly available thoughts is also valid.

Saying what you like about anyone regardless of what they’ve said in the public eye for a cheap laugh with similarly cheap people, at the expense of that person’s liberty to go about their business without being insulted, is not any valid form of expression and is certainly not liberation. I won’t even say that its negative impact is only in effect when women rail on other women, because as I’ve mentioned before, the constant wittering about penis size preference is equally tiresome and lowering for all involved.

Body image, particularly female body image and the misuse and abuse of it, is not purely men’s responsibility and concern. The more obvious forms are recognised as existing for the pleasure of men, up to a point – though I would hardly call women’s gossip magazines subtle. The truth is that everyone buys into mediums that express the same ideas. Ending Page 3 in The Sun, while a good start, is exactly that – just the beginning.

On a process this long, it would be incomplete only to suggest a long term solution, whereby many taps must be turned off one by one before the overflowing pool of cultural mistakes can start to slowly drain. There needs to be a short and medium term solution, and my suggestion is personal responsibility. What makes people working in sex industries think that sex of a certain kind sells? The fact that it does, on a mass scale. Whatever sells on a mass scale suffers from problems of industry pressure, and whatever is factory produced for a mass market must be made cheap and thus invariably exploits someone.

No one needs porn, they like it. Like all vices, it can be taken in moderation by most people. Moderation is the enemy of vice industries who work on the assumption of mass market. Maybe, just maybe, moderation would kill off bad practice and certain types of porn which have become too popular. And if bad porn can’t be replaced with nothing, there’s always naked selfies and amateur porn sites – though be careful around those, because sometimes they pretend to be amateur when they’re not, because apparently wanting your porn to look like two actual people having sex is a niche kink and can thus be sold.

We underestimate the extent to which we are susceptible to subliminal messages, both intentional and unintentional, fed to us every day. I see no reason why viewing sexual imagery should be problematic in itself, but bombardment of one set of specific ideas can skew your view of reality in ways beyond your control and understanding. Rather than suggest that people avoid sexual imagery entirely, I advise that interested parties exercise due caution and self-awareness, including making conscious decisions to change in-grained habits, and check and challenge perceptions as they develop.


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