‘Mums Make Porn’ is a Channel 4 documentary about a group of mothers who make a short porn film. Emma, the lead on this project, describes mainstream porn as “horrible. Gruesome” and her intention is to create a ‘new wave’ of porn.
The result is a 14-minute film that Emma’s 20-year-old daughter was happy to watch alongside her mum, dad, and grandmother, with her boyfriend and friends in attendance.
There is some acknowledgement of the realities of the porn industry:
“The darker realities of the sex industry are never mentioned – in the first episode of the series at least. Emma says that they met one actress who had performed so much that she was physically injured, and that some of the films she saw were so gruesome she could barely kiss her husband goodnight. There was a point when the group thought that instead of making a porn film they should be campaigning to have it banned. “But that’s a huge step,” Emma says. “We were just four middle-aged hormonal females. But absolutely it needs to be policed. Everyone needs to get involved, from the government to mums and even those working in the porn industry. […] Back home they started to interview potential cast members. The first question was: “What sort of porn do you like to watch?” Most of the actors, Emma says, didn’t like a lot of what they saw, or indeed a lot of what they were doing.”
What is the actual purpose of this 14-minute porno, apart from making a small group of middle-class women feel good about themselves?
Could it work as ‘sex education’? But education in what? If its purpose is to educate about consent, why do you then need to see real sex acts? Does it include stopping and starting again, or giving up for the night? (at 14 minutes, I doubt it.)
Is it supposed to be an education in technique? The mention of male performance anxiety suggests so, but then who gets to set the standard?
Is it commercially viable? Is it going to ‘disrupt’ the porn industry? Of course not. The fact that it is being put up online for free (on Erika Lust’s website – more on her later), suggests that making it commercially viable was not a part of the plan (making it even more a middle-class vanity project, working-class women don’t have the time or resources to make porn for free, instead, they get ‘sex work’ pushed on them as something they ‘need’).
There is no meaningful definition of ‘feminist’ when it comes to porn, only ‘a woman made it’ and/or ‘a woman gets off on it’; which means all porn is ‘feminist’, including the most extreme acts of violence, bestiality, and child sex abuse images, because somewhere there is a woman who will get off to that.
Pandora Blake, a self-styled ‘feminism pornographer’ produces only sado-masochistic porn centred around corporal punishment, and even Emma “is impressed by a couple of fetishists she watches making a naughty little video” while another mother is interested in “’beauty’, ‘tastefulness’ and large penises”, so there is no standard (sex products sold to women always claim higher production values, and always sport a bigger price tag).
The Guardian published an article last year titled ‘The Pleasure Revolution’, some of it was interesting, like the need to correctly describe, and normalise, female genitalia, and sex toys that aren’t objectifying and aimed at men; and some of it was ridiculous, like politics lecturer Reba Maybury, who has a side-gig as ‘political dominatrix’ ‘Mistress Rebecca’, who only dominates white, right-wing men, in order to ‘shift the power balance between the sexes’ (which is laughable, of course, she is being paid by these men for this ‘service’, she is still doing what they want, and outside that BDSM bubble, these men will carry on exactly as before). The article also links to a supposedly ‘feminist’ website, called ‘frolic me’, at the bottom of the website’s front page (click on image to enlarge) is a list of ‘erotic’ films and stories available on the site, including “voyeur catches a couple having a sexy rough fuck’, ‘BDSM erotic story of a submissive girl and her daddy’, and ‘forbidden seduction of a young horny stepson’. There is no meaningful definition of ‘feminist’ porn.
The idea of ‘ethical porn’ is equally meaningless. Mainstream porn uses ‘exit interviews’ (filmed statements where the female porn performers say that they consented to everything that just happened to them); as recent cases of abuse in the US porn industry show, these are faked in order for the woman to get paid, and there are plenty of other accounts of abuse and abusive conditions on porn sets. Any genuine policing of porn sets would make porn production impossible.
The pornographer Erika Lust is name-checked approvingly by the Mums, but this is Gail Dines’ description of one of her porn shoots (from ‘Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On’):
Lust’s rather bizarre idea of a compelling “erotic” movie for women was to portray a woman pianist living out her fantasy of playing the piano naked while being “pleasured.” So Lust finds Monica, a woman who is both a pianist and willing to play out this fantasy, concocted by Lust. The problem is that Monica is new to porn and lacks any experience, while Lust hires a mainstream male porn performer, resulting in the usual degrading porn sex – pounding penetration and hair pulling included. Monica finishes the scene in obvious pain and traumatized, looking like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. But remember, this is a “feminist” porn film, so Lust, acting all sisterly, gives Monica a big hug and a glass of water to make her feel better. And then asks her to fake an orgasm for the final scene. So much for authentic female sexuality!
It was stomach churning to watch Lust manipulate and cajole Monica into making this film, and lying through her teeth as she explained that she is doing something different from the boys. Despite all the talk about aesthetic value and women’s sexuality, HGWTO is just a clever piece of ideological propaganda. Lust, just like the boys, is making money from sexually exploiting women; unlike the boys, she wraps herself in a feminist flag as a way to differentiate her brand in a glutted market. In Lust’s world, sisterhood is powerful because it provides cover to pimp out women in the name of feminism.
What projects like ‘Mums Make Porn’ miss is that even ‘better’ porn still objectifies and commodifies sexuality, and also ignores the addictive nature of porn, requiring more, and more extreme, images. It also makes the common, mainstream, assumption that men are simply consuming ‘bad’ porn by mistake, because there isn’t any ‘good’ porn available (a similar apology is made for male sexual violence, that poor men simply don’t understand when they are raping someone). If ‘good’ porn were commercially viable, it would already exist, and higher production value porn already exists.
This porn film will do nothing to challenge the mainstream porn industry, and it is no substitute for compulsory, age-appropriate, sex and relationships education, including education on consent, and the porn industry.
“I was 12 when I watched my first gang bang scene,” says 24-year-old Neelam Tailor. “I was pretty shocked. You know, you go from watching romantic films as a kid, where people are in love, and sex is all nice and sanitised, to watching…” She trails off with a small shrug.
Between the ages of 11 and 16, Neelam watched porn most days. She’d go up to her childhood bedroom – KT Tunstall posters and pictures of friends tacked to the wall, books and revision notes strewn on the floor – close the door and spend “anything from 10 minutes to an hour” scrolling through porn sites. “I don’t think my parents ever knew,” she says. She quickly got over that initial shock. “I think porn desensitises you. I definitely got to a point where I wasn’t shocked by much, really – and then you see more violent things and the other stuff becomes just normal.”
She wasn’t alone. A 2016 study suggests that around 53% of 11 to 16-year-olds have seen explicit material online. For Neelam, it started with a simple curiosity about sex. “I think I just saw it in films and wanted to know more. Maybe I had a high libido, or I was just hitting puberty, I don’t know, but I started searching for mainstream films that had a lot of sex in them.” She soon graduated, though, onto more explicit material. “I’d heard about porn at school, but I went to an all-girls school and it was always seen as ‘something boys do’. It piqued my curiosity but it also made me feel a lot of shame, like I was doing something unnatural, that normal girls wouldn’t.”
As Neelam became more well-versed in the kinds of videos that were available, she began to develop certain tastes. “I’d seek out porn where the woman is submissive, perhaps coerced, maybe even looking like she was forced into the act. Or I’d look for older men and younger girls. I don’t know why, but at such a young age, like 13, I don’t believe I had really developed my own sexual preferences – I feel like they were massively influenced by what I saw.”
25-year-old Sarah* reports similar experiences. “I started watching porn from the age of 13 or 14; at least twice a week, if not more. It just felt like I was satisfying a need. I remember how quickly I got desensitised to it – 10 men and one woman, orgies that were basically a writhing mass of bodies, women being slapped or otherwise humiliated – and I was accessing all this before I had even had sex. I still watch it, though not as much, but I do think that after using it regularly for more than 10 years, I now find it difficult to orgasm without some higher level of stimulation, like a vibrator. Or more porn.”
A lot has been written on the subject of men and excessive porn use, by news outlets and scientists. In 2016, Angela Gregory, a psychosexual therapist working within the NHS, told the BBC that easy-to-access porn had led to an increase in the numbers of men being referred for treatment of erectile dysfunction. An educational charity’s analysis suggested that, while porn accounted for around 2 to 5% of impotence cases in the early 2000s – when broadband was just taking off in the UK – it is now blamed for around 30% of cases. And it’s not all about bodily function: researchers in the US claimed that men who were exposed to porn at a young age were more likely to agree with statements that asserted male dominance, such as “things tend to be better when men are in charge”.
Some 94% of the 11 to 16-year-olds who’ve accessed pornographic material have done so by the age of 14, and that figure includes male and female teens. When I began researching this article, I expected to find less information about the impact of porn on women, because on average fewer women watch porn – as shown by the user data of a well-known porn site – but I didn’t expect to find close to nothing. I’m privileged […] and yet, I couldn’t find any research that reflected my lived experience – so was I the only one? I started by looking for others like me, who consumed mainstream porn, to see whether it had had any effect on them.
In a recent study of 1,000 18 to 25-year-olds, conducted for BBC Three, 47% of women have watched porn in the last month and 14% of the women surveyed felt that at some point, they might have been addicted to porn. And yet, over the months and weeks, expert after expert kept giving me the same response: women just don’t use porn compulsively. Or if they do, it doesn’t affect them very much… and yet, the women that I spoke to were telling a different story.
Neelam stopped watching porn when she was 16, precisely because of the physical impact it was having. “I got my first boyfriend and realised that I basically couldn’t get aroused by actual sex. I think porn is a completely unnatural level of stimulation, particularly if you’ve got 10 tabs open – what human partner can replicate that? Noticing the physical difference when I was watching porn vs when I was having actual sex… I got really fearful. I was like, ‘Am I going to have to go to the toilet and watch porn before I have sex just so that I get properly aroused?’” She stopped watching from that point on. “I don’t think I could say I was ‘addicted’ because I just stopped and never wanted to start again.”
American author Erica Garza, now 36, was 12 years old when she began to watch ‘softcore’ porn on late night TV. It was 1994 and the internet was still in its infancy. “I developed scoliosis and had to wear a back brace to school,” she explains. “I was bullied and felt isolated, and used pornography and masturbation as a way to escape and feel good.”
In 2014 she wrote an article in Salon magazine about her decision to seek treatment for sex addiction. She writes: “Usually gang bangs were a sure bet to getting off, but not this time. I kept searching, clicking through endless galleries of flesh, waiting to be impressed. Finally I found it. One that gave me that body-tingling, heart-racing, sweat-inducing rush of excitement. It was an older clip, late ’90s, but it was perfect. More than 500 men. ‘The Houston 500 stars the buxom blonde Houston, born Kimberly Halsom, taking on a reportedly 620 men in an uninterrupted frenzy hosted by Ron Jeremy’… I got off once, then twice, then three times, and saved it for later use. But after I’d put my computer away, I felt something different than the usual post-orgasm glow. I felt sick. Guilty. Too aware.”
“It impacted me in a lot of ways,” Erica tells me. “It made me attracted to certain sorts of sexual scenarios that I might not have otherwise considered. Like being treated roughly in bed, being talked to in a demeaning way. I also watched lots of scenes where the men were a lot older than the women, and so I came to expect and desire aggressive behaviour from men. It also made me think about what kind of body I should have. I became obsessed with removing all of my body hair because that’s what I saw on the screen.”
Over the years Neelam has also questioned how much her early exposure to porn has formed her sexual desires. “Slowly, through seeing how women of colour were treated in porn, I started internalising the idea that I’m something people are ‘into’, a fetish, rather than an individual woman. I also sought out the power dynamics I’d witness – like, after so many years watching older guys and younger girls, when I was 17, 18, 19, I started actively trying to date older guys. I don’t know whether that’s a coincidence. I will never know which came first – whether I had some innate tastes, or whether the porn created them.”
It’s a question many women that I speak to ask themselves, and one that I’ve often wondered about. When I was younger, I had this idea that when it came to sex, I should be completely passive – that sex was something that should be done to me. Was that passivity always there, or did I learn it from porn?
In a 2010 analysis of more than 300 porn scenes, 88% were found to include physical aggression, with the study explaining that most of the perpetrators were male, their targets female, and the latter’s most common response to aggression was to show pleasure or respond neutrally. Other, similar studies have been inconclusive about the effect aggressive porn has on men – some found the link between porn consumption and violence to be minor. But there is even less information about how it might affect women. “Either way, I think schools should be more proactive in educating children about sex,” says Neelam. “I think sex and porn is still treated as a taboo in schools but it’s either the schools educate them or porn does. And I don’t believe anyone, especially a young girl, should get their sexual education from porn.”
A myth has arisen, [Kirsten Swinth] argues, which says that second-wave feminism fought for women to “have it all” – family, motherhood, career, money, prestige, success – and then seeks to blame feminists for their failure to make this happen. This myth suggests, in some iterations, that feminists accepted a flawed, patriarchal image of corporate success and pursued it, failing to critique or challenge the problems inherent in the structures of patriarchy, capitalism and racism on which it was based.
Alternately, it suggests that elite feminists hijacked the movement and failed to understand or fight for the needs of poor, racialized, colonized, and otherwise marginalized women. In yet other iterations, it argues that “feminists overpromised”, and are therefore the ones to blame for the failure of society to make good on those promises. The result of these (mis)interpretations of feminist history is that today feminists find themselves under attack on the one side from a powerful and retrenched conservative patriarchy, and on the other from would-be progressives who have uncritically accepted the myth that feminism is to blame for its failure to achieve all of its aims.
While anti-feminist conservatives have always been around, the splintering of progressive thought is a more recent phenomenon. When progressives adopt an ahistorical critique of feminism, they risking aiding and abetting its subversion. They also risk reinventing the wheel: trying to set what they think is a new agenda while failing to learn from feminism’s long history in fighting for the exact same goals. In so doing, they risk repeating the struggles and often the failures of second-wave feminism, instead of building on feminists’ rich efforts to reinvent society.
In contrast to this myth of the blame-worthy feminist, Swinth argues that post-WWII feminism engaged in a broad and creative effort not simply to tap into the privileges of elite white men, but rather to reinvent and rebuild society in a deeply radical way. Feminists undertook imaginative efforts to restructure family relationships; to redefine masculinity; to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth across lines of race and class; to support women’s rights to choose either to have children or to not have children, and facilitate the family structures and supports that women in either scenario needed to achieve their dreams.
No, feminist movements have not been perfect — and no one is suggesting that. Liberal feminists have sometimes capitulated on radical demands; white feminists have sometimes failed to stand up for women of colour; the anti-sexist men’s movement inadvertently spawned the virulent sexism of today’s “men’s rights” activism. Tremendous achievements have sometimes slipped from the movement’s grasp as a result of division and compromise. But Swinth’s point is that the history of post-WWII feminism is far more complex than today’s pundits make it out to be, and that we accept reductionist sloganeering at the risk of losing important lessons from our past.
One of the trademark responses of anti-feminists, Swinth observes, has been to co-opt the language of feminism in an effort to subvert public perception of feminist goals. Anti-feminists sought to brand themselves as defenders of “family”, much to the outrage of feminists, who rightly pointed out that they were the ones truly concerned with the well-being of America’s diversity of families: poor families, non-white families, immigrant families, single-parent families. What “pro-family” conservatives really seek is to retrench the primacy of the male breadwinner model; one in which white men have primacy of place and in which women essentially exist as household slaves.
Likewise, it was conservative forces that leapt on feminism’s so-called failure to enable women to “have it all”. They presented it as a structural contradiction within feminism – as though feminists had promised an unrealistic goal – while masking their own role in opposing equality-seeking projects. Women can have it all – it’s just that they’ve been stymied in this goal by the conservative forces that fear or oppose equality, and which successfully marshalled political opposition to equity-seeking initiatives.
Swinth’s main goal is to remind us of the variety and creativity of feminist activism in the ’60s and ’70s. Her book is a dense compendium of organizations, policies and struggles: a voluminous reference worthy of mining by researchers and activists alike. Her study is divided into three key areas in which feminists sought to redefine identity (self, fatherhood, and partners) and five key areas in which they sought to restructure social and work relationships (housework, care work, childcare, maternity, and flextime). Under each of these categories she examines American feminists’ movement goals and organizing efforts through the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a historical survey, crammed full of dates, organizations, bills and people. But it achieves the goal of depicting a rich and varied movement, full of difference, diversity, and idealism.
Swinth is attentive to the tensions and alliances between liberal, middle-class and poor women, and also between white women and women of colour. In fact, it is her thorough excavation of those tensions and alliances that really succeeds in reinforcing her argument that post-WWII ‘second-wave’ feminism was a more complex, diverse and idealistic movement than it is often portrayed as today. That’s not to ignore the proper concerns of contemporary equity-seeking activists about its shortcomings, but to warn against the simplistic and often ahistorical reductionism with which second-wave feminism is often dismissed and derided. Just as socialism is witnessing a renewed surge in the political sphere, so the goals of second-wave feminism continue to percolate in the social and policy sphere, and there’s much to learn from a rich movement history which is all-too-often glossed over.
From the origin of marriage contracts to the Women’s Strike for Equality; from the near achievement of a Guaranteed Income to the fight for pregnant women and mothers’ right to work; the historical sweep of Swinth’s survey is impressive and enlightening. But it is in her main goal – reminding us that second-wave feminists weren’t fighting merely for improved policies but to restructure and transform society and social relations between the powerful and the oppressed, the privileged and the marginalized – that Swinth’s book achieves its most impressive moments. Most importantly, Swinth reminds us that the purpose of learning (and re-learning) this history is not simply academic; it is to equip us with the tools to pick up a struggle which for many seems to have stalled.
“Second-wave feminism changed how Americans think and act so dramatically that we can almost no longer conceive how profoundly the movement transformed our society,” she writes, in conclusion.
“And it was not that feminists overpromised: their comprehensive conception of reorganized family and work lives carried wide appeal and elicited broad support. Rather, feminism’s opponents clawed back. They successfully resisted the legislative, legal, and workplace changes the movement’s champions sought. Their rhetorical triumph in distorting the movement’s goals has buried the breathtaking scope of the feminist dream. It is time to recover that vision, and to tell the world what having it all truly means.”
QotD: “Their journey takes them into the dark underbelly of the scene, where they hear tales of human trafficking, forced drug taking and violence.”
A couple writhe naked on the sand while the waves break gently behind them.
A jogger runs past and he does not bat an eyelid at the sex scene playing out yards away.
The “lovers” are in fact porn stars, and they are filming on a beach in Spain — fast becoming the adult movie capital of the world.
While passers-by in the UK would be shocked, producer Thierry Kemaco — renowned in the industry for his outdoor films — explains: “In Spain, the people watch and when you finish, they applaud.”
This liberal attitude may be less surprising to a younger generation brought up on a sex-rich diet of TV’s Love Island and online porn.
But there is still plenty to shock six young Brits who travelled to Spain to explore the booming sex industry for BBC3 documentary Porn Laid Bare.
Their journey takes them into the dark underbelly of the scene, where they hear tales of human trafficking, forced drug taking and violence.
They are also on set to witness the nerves of a young Russian girl when she realises she is expected to have sex with 20 men.
The Brit group, who were chosen for their varying attitudes towards porn, include freelance journalist Neelam Tailor, 24, porn star super fan Ryan Scarborough, 28, student Anna Adams, 23, and the youngest of the group Cameron Dale, 21.
Not one of them comes away unchanged by what they witness.
The film is directed by Rob Diesel, who also stars in it. He says he went to Spain from his native Sweden because “they’re more liberal here”.
The website he is making the film for had 7.6billion visits last year and turned over £6.9million.
Rob says: “It’s a multi-billion-pound industry in Spain.
“They respect you as an artist. It’s a job here, it’s not like, ‘Look at the freaky guy there who’s doing porn’.
“There’s so many myths in porn still. You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with and the artists I work with all have contracts.”
But the Brits are left horrified when they later watch footage of Rob pulling a woman along by her hair in what is known as a “public disgrace” video.
Neelam says: “I felt like I’d been lied to. He’d talked so much about respect and choice and then we saw him doing the other side.
“When we confronted him, his argument was that people are into it.
“But I completely disagree with him and he has to think about the message he’s putting out into the world. For me, it’s always about the bigger picture.”
Neelam was just 12 when she first watched porn and says she would then view it “most days”.
She stopped aged 16 after noticing she struggled to become aroused when having sex.
Neelam, who is in a long-term relationship, says: “I realised this is the effect it can have so I stopped watching porn because real intimacy is so much more important to me.”
A third of young people surveyed say they’ve had riskier sex due to porn, while a quarter have felt pressured by a partner to do pornographic acts.
Roughly four in ten say porn has made them more concerned about how their genitals look, and one in five claim it made them consider plastic surgery.
Yet over half of those surveyed agreed that performing in porn is a good way to make money, and over a quarter would like to perform in porn themselves.
In Barcelona, they meet Ismael López Fauste, a porn magazine journalist turned police informant. He decided to leave the industry after witnessing “human trafficking, drugs, lots of violence and a lot of prostitution”.
Ismael tells them: “The point where I got out was when some of the girls overdosed on the set because they gave them drugs. I thought, ‘OK, I am a part of this’. This is just one of the stories.”
After writing a book exposing how some women are exploited, he says more came forward to tell their story.
But he adds: “Then the threats began because they wanted me to stop writing. They wanted me to delete everything.”
Asked who threatened him, Ismael replies: “The producers.”
He adds: “I want you to hear someone who was inside the industry. She was going to be with you but in the last few days she got threatened.”
The woman agrees to speak to the group over the phone. A former porn actress, she says: “In some scenes I was made to take drugs and if I didn’t I would be sent home without the money.”
She adds that she tried to report it to the police “but they aren’t bothered” and that she has failed to get the videos deleted.
The emotional interview leaves student Anna, from London, in tears.
She says: “It’s just really quite hard to know that it’s going on.”
A visit to a Madrid studio, run by director Torbe, the so-called king of Spanish porn, also leaves her shaken.
He tells them: “I find girls who don’t know anything about anything.
“Ninety-five per cent of the girls who come here are new, so I teach them, especially young girls.”
When the TV pals visit he is a filming a group sex session involving one woman and several men.
The star is a 19-year-old Russian girl who, the group are told, will earn just over £2,500.
She is wearing a red eye mask and her hair is in pigtails.
Her appearance is enough to prompt Anna to demand Torbe — under investigation for allegedly distributing child pornography — to show them proof of the girl’s age.
After seeing a copy of the her ID, Anna is satisfied but remarks: “She’s just turned 19.”
Filming is further delayed because the young actress — who reveals she has only been in the job a week — is so nervous.
As the 20 men, who wear masks to hide their identities, wait around on set, the Brits discover that the Russian girl had been expecting half that number.
Let’s pause here to take a look at the numbers, since porn-apologists make claims like, the women in porn make “a million a year”. Porn is usually paid by the sex act, £2,500 ÷ 20 = £125 per sex act, assuming there is only one sex act per man on set, so the £2,500 is actually a rip-off. There is no way anyone could do this kind of filming every day; women only last “six months to three years, tops” in the porn industry, and one analysis found that almost half of the women in the US porn industry did only one or two films before quitting.
When Anna, who stopped watching porn because she felt it did not fit with her feminist views, confronts Torbe, he says it is because they are shooting “two scenes” today.
When filming does finally start, Anna leaves the set in tears.
Speaking outside, she says: “I’m really concerned for her safety. I feel scared for us to leave because I don’t know what’s going to happen when we are not there.”
In the studio, Ryan has to comfort a tearful Cameron, who says: “It is the worst thing I’ve seen.”
Ryan adds: “It just doesn’t look fun. After a week, how do you know how comfortable you feel sleeping with this amount of men? It’s not the environment for a 19-year-old.”
The government will next week confirm the launch date for a UK-wide age block on online pornography as privacy campaigners continue to raise concerns about how websites and age verification companies will use the data they collect.
The plan for implementing the long-delayed age block, which has been beset by technical difficulties, is expected to be announced alongside the government’s other proposals for tackling online content harmful to children, although it could be several months before the system is fully up and running.
The age block will require commercial pornography sites to show that they are taking sufficient steps to verify their users are over 18, such as by uploading a passport or driving licence or by visiting a newsagent to buy a pass only available to adults. Websites which fail to comply risk substantial fines or having their websites banned by all British internet service providers.
Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, said he remained concerned about the prospect of a major data leak as a result of people handing over their personal identification: “It might lead to people being outed. It could also be you’re a teacher with an unusual sexual preference and your pupils get to know that as a result of a leak. It won’t get you sacked for viewing something legal but it could destroy your reputation.”
“Politicians don’t understand that data about their porn preferences might end up in the hands of journalists or others.”
Killock, whose organisation campaigns against state intervention online, said he was particularly worried about the role played by a single company called MindGeek, which owns the vast majority of major pornography sites such as PornHub, and has founded its own age verification company called AgeID: “The problem is you’re giving all your data to the pornographic equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg: ‘This is what I like, this is who I am, and these are all of the sites I’ve visited’.”
AgeID has previously said it believes there is a market of up to 25 millions Britons for its age verification system, suggesting it believes around half of British adults will want to access online pornography through its service.
Its system will require individuals to create an account with their email and password and then upload a passport or driving licence, which will be verified by a third party. If they do not feel comfortable doing this, they can present themselves in person with appropriate ID at a newsagent to buy a so-called “porn pass” for £4.99 per device, with the owner of the shop verifying the age of the purchaser.
James Clark, the director of communications at AgeID, said its method of storing the login and password of verified users meant that “at no point does AgeID have a database of email addresses”, citing external audits of his company’s processes.
“AgeID does not store any personal data input by users during the age verification process, such as name, address, phone number, date of birth. As we do not collect such data, it cannot be leaked, marketed to, or used in any way.”
He claimed that while AgeID could not be used to link viewing data to an individual’s identity, rival age verification companies “may not be so robust” and could be prone to leaks.
QotD: “Puberty blockers exacerbated gender dysphoria. Yet the study has been used to justify rolling out this drug regime to several hundred children aged under 16.”
An Oxford University professor has accused the NHS’s only specialised clinic for transgender children of suppressing negative results while undertaking experimental treatment on adolescents.
Dr Michael Biggs, an associate professor at Oxford’s Department of Sociology claims the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) has been giving puberty blocking hormones to children, without robust evidence as to the long-term effects.
It comes after the governor of the clinic based in London with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust resigned last month in protest at its “blinkered” response to doctors who had raised the alarm about “woefully inadequate” care. There is also another centre in Leeds.
Declaring the trial a success, the clinic has continued to treat over a thousand children with the hormones but Dr Biggs’ research suggests that after a year of treatment “a significant increase” was found in patients who had been born female self-reporting to staff that they “deliberately try to hurt or kill myself”.
Parents also reported “a significant increase in behavioural and emotional problems” and a “significant decrease in physical wellbeing” in children born female, he claims. According to his research, there was no positive impact on “the experience of gender dysphoria”, the diagnosis given to those who are described as feeling intensely uncomfortable with their biological sex.
Parents did report their children suffering less “internalising behavioural problems”, however.
Dr Biggs said: “Puberty blockers exacerbated gender dysphoria. Yet the study has been used to justify rolling out this drug regime to several hundred children aged under 16.”
His findings are derived from a 2015 report to the directors of the Trust and an abstract from a presentation to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health in 2015 by Dr Polly Carmichael, the director of GIDS – based on the first 44 children to have been treated.
Full results of the trial remain unpublished.
In announcing the study in 2011, the Trust said treatment with the hormones – known as Gonadatropin-Releasing Hormone agonists or GnRHa – was reversible. Yet a Freedom of Information request to the NHS Health Research Authority showed the study’s own research protocol stated: “It is not clear what the long-term effects of early suppression may be on bone development, height, sex organ development and body shape and their reversibility if treatment is stopped during pubertal development”. In an interview with the Guardian in 2015, Dr Carmichael admitted: “Nothing is completely reversible.”
By acting on the pituitary gland, the drugs prevent the release of chemical signals which stimulate the production of estrogen and testosterone, halting the changes of puberty caused by these sex hormones.
In a four-year period, 61 children were recruited, with puberty blockers administered to 50 aged between 10 and 16. By 2017, 800 patients under the age of 18 had been enrolled on the trial, including 230 under 14, according to the professor’s research published on the website of Transgender Trend, an organisation that campaigns for policies regarding children who identify as transgender to be based on scientific and clinical evidence. According to the BBC, 300 prescriptions were issued last year.
Before 2010, the clinic prescribed blockers to over 16s only. But Dr Biggs claims the clinic’s caution was opposed by Mermaids, a charity that supports children who identify as trans and their families and the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES), whose purpose is to improve the lives of trans and gender non-conforming people.