It's Everywhere: Just Don't Talk about It; for Thousands of Ever Younger People, Hard-Core Pornography on the Internet Is Becoming Their Introduction to Sexual Expression. Yet the Sudden Ubiquity of Porn Is Hardly Ever Discussed Publicly. Johann Hari on a Dangerous Silence
Hari, Johann, New Statesman (1996)
In just one generation, the land of the stiff upper lip has become the land of the permanent stiffy. Only a few decades ago, Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin would lament the unavailability of porn in their letters to each other, and share the odd dull nude photograph. Today, a tide of bodily fluids leaks into every e-mail inbox; nobody is more than a click away from "Hard-Core Fuck Action!!!" and "Barely Legal Bitches Free Click Here". The most-watched film in Britain last year was not the latest Lord of the Rings or Harry Potterflick. No: the winner by a spurt was the stolen home movie in which the former Blue Peter presenter John Leslie has sex with Abi Titmuss--downloaded by six million of us. The language of net porn--"twinks", "bears", "bitches"--can be heard in every pub, playground and post-office queue.
Even the most frigid Brit can spot the sexual differences. The mainstreaming of hard-core porn is now splashing on to Britain's high streets and into town centres. Vibrators are sold in Boots, the spiritual home of middling Middle England. The obscenity laws lie lifeless on the statute book. British sexual exhibitionism pokes forward from Ibiza to the nation's 200 dogging sites. (If you don't know what dogging means, it is, like every other sexual act on earth, just a Google away.)
Yet there is still one lingering leftover from our Puritan past: the sudden ubiquity of porn has barely been discussed in public. Only 20 years ago, there was a public ruckus--sparked by Clare Short--about page-three girls. Today, anyone can see those same girls being (to use the language of the web) spit-roasted and gang-banged. Yet if your only sources of information were the press, TV shows and Hansard, you would have no idea.
The release of a Hollvwood biopic of Alfred Kinsey, the sex researcher whose writings shocked 1940s and 1950s America, helps us to realise how far we have come (and, indeed, cum). Kinsey's agenda was simple and brave: to eradicate sexual shame and melt sexual taboos. His own life was littered with the victims of Judaeo-Christian sexual repression. Kinsey's father was a bullying, violently repressed bigot, in part because he was brutally punished for masturbating when he was an adolescent. As a grown man and the first serious modern student of human sexuality, Kinsey spent his life documenting the guilt and samizdat sex of his time. He discovered a world of married couples who knew nothing but the missionary position; of grown women who did not know where their clitoris was, or that it even existed; of gay people who despised their own sexual urges. But today--thanks largely to the web--we are beginning to live in the world Kinsey sought. It is a place where no sexual act remains in the shadows and where--as one of his students puts it in the film--"fucking is nothing more than friction and harmless fun".
Yet the few people who have tried to discuss this new age of porn are stuck with a batch of sterile, rote-learned positions that have not evolved since the early 1970s. This triumvirate can be dubbed the Christian Puritans, the Feminist Puritans and the Libertines.
Leslee J Unruh is the poster girl for the Christian anti-porn mullahs. She is the sassy, aggressive leader of America's Abstinence Clearinghouse, an evangelical group that has been leading pickets of Kinsey across the US.
"Kinsey should be looked upon in the history books as Hitler, as Saddam Hussein," she explained last month, adding that internet porn is "turning America into Sodom and Gomorrah". This voice has become louder and clearer since George W Bush's "moral values" re-election, and it has its British representatives in Melanie Phillips and the Daily Mail.
By contrast, the Feminist Puritans--still epitomised by the dungaree-wearing radical Andrea Dworkin--recoil not at the "filth" of porn but at its misogyny. They describe it as "a way of sexually enslaving women", a system of "male truth" that is "forced on women and wrecks their lives". …