The first dom who abused me (the first dom I had, who groomed me at 16) was a well respected member of the BDSM community. Locally, and across the state. Other members of the community – most who knew I was a minor – told me he was a good guy, a good dom, an exemplar of BDSM ‘values’. He was renowned across the state of New York.
When he was tired of abusing me, he gifted me to other upstanding members of the BDSM community.
When I moved, I was given to a dom of the BDSM community in my new state.
Don’t let them hide behind the idea of community; the idea that the community polices itself and protects subs. Just like the real cops, they only protect the abusive assholes.
They knew. They all knew. They knew when a dom violated safe words. They knew when he hurt a sub. They knew when he pushed past a sub’s limits. They knew about the grooming. They knew about the abuse. They knew about the rape. The community fucking knew. They just didn’t care.
The testimonials are devastating, yet they keep coming — 50,000 teenagers have posted on Everyone’s Invited since it was launched two summers ago.
Thirteen-year-old girls forced to smile as they are choked by a line of boys in the school lavatories, 15-year-olds watching nude pictures of themselves being shared at parties and projected on the walls, desperate tales of children too terrified to tell adults about the culture of harassment, assault and sexual humiliation that they are enduring in the playground. The authors remain anonymous but the sense of pain is overwhelming. The most recent starts: “I was 12 when I was raped. I had forgotten my homework . . .”
Soma Sara, 23, set up Everyone’s Invited after facing years of humiliation and degradation at the hands of boys while a schoolgirl and student in London. She has now written a book of the same name to make sense of the “torrent of tears” she has witnessed since her Instagram campaign highlighting sexual abuse went viral and schools were forced to conduct inquiries. The quietly spoken, poised graduate is not an obvious Generation Z influencer: she disappeared for months from the news after I interviewed her last year, tries to avoid social media in favour of novels and prefers cafés to clubs.
I meet her in Notting Hill, west London, reeling from her Everyone’s Invited book launch the night before when her old English teacher came to congratulate her. Sara writes beautifully about porn, pick-up culture and surviving the abuse that permeated her childhood and thrived in dark corners as adults obsessed about exam results and bedtimes.
“It’s been harrowing reading the testimonies,” she admits. “It’s psychological, it’s physical, like a friend telling you every few minutes about being raped. I underestimated how much of a toll it would take on my life. I was getting burnt out but it was so moving and emotional to see young people having the strength to share something so intimate and to be so heartbreakingly honest that I felt I had to keep going. I never imagined it would explode on this scale.”
What Sara did not expect was the backlash from mothers of sons, worried that their boys were being stigmatised and might be wrongly challenged over their actions. “I had to learn how to be empathetic enough to understand their fear. The instinctive thing to do is to try and absolve responsibility and protect their children. My book tries to explain that we are all responsible for this rape culture and need to work together to change it. I want to bridge the generational gap and help parents and teachers understand the modern sexual landscape, the rise of social media and online pornography and how it has dramatically changed the way the young live.”
The second of three sisters, Sara was raised by a single father, an American who works in sustainable energy. Her Chinese mother is a writer. The impetus for Everyone’s Invited partly came from Sara’s realisation that she did not want her much younger sister to face the same problems she had as a teenager. “I see even now with my little sister how society has got its tentacles wrapped round her so young. She is told she is pretty and pink and perfect, there is an expectation of behaviour because she is a girl.”
Meanwhile boys, she says, are increasingly being manipulated by toxic alpha-male influencers, promoting a masculinity “that is about domination and suppression and hurting and belittling women and competing and winning”. She is referring to men such as Andrew Tate, recently banned from Facebook and TikTok for his glorification of rape culture and abuse of women. “The older generation have no idea how toxic he is.”
Parents and teachers, she warns, should be worried. “We are in a moment when we need to be really reaching out and helping boys because they are vulnerable to radicalisation, essentially. This is hateful, anti-feminist ideology and boys deserve better, they should be able to talk openly about their mental health, to be emotional and share their vulnerability.
“The masculinity now being promoted is all very aggressive and febrile and about making money and taming women. You have to be this rock of a man who is dominating and objectifying and oppressing women rather than befriending them.” The gap between the generations, she feels, is wider than for years. “Young people genuinely are online all day. They’ll spend eight hours scrolling, it’s such a different way to live from their parents. Their on- and offline personas have become entangled.”
But it is porn that worries her most. “It’s the biggest mountain we have to tackle. Porn is the wallpaper that framed our lives.” One young author recently wrote about how when she was 12 she saw a woman being involved in a sex act with a frozen fish online. Sara says, “It’s far more extreme now, it’s about suppression and objectification and much of the time lacks consent. All young people have seen online porn. It’s transforming and rewiring boys’ brains to normalise sexual violence and sanction rape culture. How can a 30-minute PHSE class challenge that?” Her friends, now in their twenties, are questioning why they were allowed access to such extreme content. “It’s harmed many relationships and the distribution of power. A 14-year-old boy shouldn’t think it’s normal for a girl to cry when she’s having sex.”
Why can’t girls just say “no” when their male peers try to coerce them into abusive behaviour? “Boys would say you’re being a prude or selfish or frigid if you don’t do this. Girls don’t want to get a reputation for being boring or vanilla and adults weren’t telling us what was normal and acceptable. It would have been transformative for my age group if the older generation of women had said, ‘You deserve to prioritise your sexual pleasure too, you should be able to explore your sexuality in a safe way’.”
Instead, she says, talk about sex has remained taboo. “When you are very young and someone asks you to have anal sex it’s too awkward to ask an adult if that’s right, you probably haven’t even spoken to your parents or teachers about kissing. My generation felt so isolated with no one to talk to about these issues. It was peer-on-peer normalisation setting the standards and no adult said — that’s not OK, that’s not what we are doing in real life.”
Casual sex, she says, was the default. “Of course, there were some teens having normal long-term relationships but there was this huge pick-up thing and casual sex was normal.” Sara worries about the blurring between consensual and non-consensual sex. “Our testimonies show that boys will jump to do abusive stuff without asking because they think it is normal.’’
In her book, Soma examines the myriad pressures on her generation of women. “Social media has added another male gaze online with TikTok and Instagram and unrealistic standards of beauty, women getting Botox and liposuction. When you are young you want to feel admired. Getting likes feels empowering but it hasn’t given us any more control.”
Digital sex is real sex, Sara says, for a generation living online. “If you judge and shame young girls for sending nude pics you are creating an even more isolating system, the world is seen as hostile rather than helpful.
“We had so many testimonies of 11-year-olds being forced by older boys to share nudes and then suspended when the boys have shared them round. The abuse was seen as the girls’ fault, they were the sluts. But they are children and need protecting, not punishing.” Sara adds that as a teenager she also faced racism. “It’s like another layer of dehumanisation. Look at the porn categories: Latina, ebony, Asian babe. It’s fetishising racism.”
Sometimes parents and teachers say to boys: “Imagine if it’s your sister or mother, you wouldn’t behave that way, would you?” Sara particularly dislikes this form of explanation in sex lessons. “You shouldn’t need to say that girls are human beings — they don’t belong to anyone.”
Politicians, Sara feels, must take children’s concerns seriously. “They are more interested in what is woke among the young rather than what is actually affecting them and they aren’t acting as role models. Having 56 MPs in parliament who have been accused of assault and another who was done for watching porn at work sends out a message to my generation that this kind of behaviour is OK even when you reach the top.”
Her generation, she says, is not weak or “weirdly woke”. “Generation Z are facing huge stress and insecurity: house prices, a looming recession, inflation and then climate change, whether to have children, it feels quite bleak. The issues that are prioritised aren’t ones that matter most to us. When I go round schools, I see 16-year-olds who are so thoughtful and interesting about abuse online and power imbalances, yet the adults aren’t discussing it with them. Sex education should be as important as maths lessons.”
Sara says the pressure has eased slightly now she is in her twenties. “I think the death of Sarah Everard last year showed my generation that you aren’t safe at any age. It’s second nature for my girlfriends and me now to put our keys between our knuckles, walk fast down a street late at night, check our drinks, and say ‘Text me when you get home’. There is implied violence in all that. But I get less hassle now then as a teenager in school uniform.”
There must be a way of the sexes co-existing harmoniously in the 21st century. “I think we need to help boys and men and communicate with them and let them know how we feel and what reaction they are provoking.
“That’s why I have written Everyone’s Invited, to help men as well as women, boys and girls and parents, we all need to have this sex conversation together.”
Women in the UK are suffering injuries and other health problems as a result of the growing popularity of anal sex among straight couples, two NHS surgeons have warned.
The consequences include incontinence and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as pain and bleeding because they have experienced bodily trauma while engaging in the practice, the doctors write in an article in the British Medical Journal.
Tabitha Gana and Lesley Hunt also argued that doctors’ reluctance to discuss the risks associated with anal sex was leading to women being harmed by the practice and letting down a generation of women who are not aware of the potential problems.
In the journal, they said “anal intercourse is considered a risky sexual behaviour because of its association with alcohol, drug use and multiple sex partners”.
However, “within popular culture it has moved from the world of pornography to mainstream media” and TV shows including Sex and the City and Fleabag may have contributed to the trend by making it seem “racy and daring”.
However, women who engage in anal sex are at greater risk from it than men. “Increased rates of faecal incontinence and anal sphincter injury have been reported in women who have anal intercourse,” the report said.
“Women are at a higher risk of incontinence than men because of their different anatomy and the effects of hormones, pregnancy and childbirth on the pelvic floor.
“Women have less robust anal sphincters and lower anal canal pressures than men, and damage caused by anal penetration is therefore more consequential.
“The pain and bleeding women report after anal sex is indicative of trauma, and risks may be increased if anal sex is coerced,” they said.
National Survey of Sexual Attitudes research undertaken in Britain has found that the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds engaging in heterosexual anal intercourse has risen from 12.5% to 28.5% over recent decades. Similarly, in the US 30% to 45% of both sexes have experienced it.
“It is no longer considered an extreme behaviour but increasingly portrayed as a prized and pleasurable experience,” wrote Hunt, a surgeon in Sheffield, and Gana, a trainee colorectal surgeon in Yorkshire.
Many doctors, though, especially GPs and hospital doctors, are reluctant to talk to women about the risks involved, partly because they do not want to seem judgmental or homophobic, they add.
“However, with such a high proportion of young women now having anal sex, failure to discuss it when they present with anorectal symptoms exposes women to missed diagnoses, futile treatments and further harm arising from a lack of medical advice,” the surgeons said.
NHS patient information about the risks of anal sex is incomplete because it only cites STIs, and makes “no mention of anal trauma, incontinence or the psychological aftermath of the coercion young women report in relation to this activity”.
Health professionals’ disinclination to discuss the practice openly with patients “may be failing a generation of young women, who are unaware of the risks”.
Claudia Estcourt, a professor of sexual health and HIV and member of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), backed the surgeons’ call for doctors to talk openly about anal sex.
“BASHH strongly supports the call for careful, non-judgmental inquiry about anal sex in the context of women with anal symptoms,” she said.
“Within sexual health services, women are routinely asked about the types of sex they have so that comprehensive assessment of likely cause of symptoms, investigations needed and management can be made.
“We find that by explaining why we are asking these questions, asking them in sensitive, non-judgmental ways and giving patients time to answer, are all key to providing the best care.
“We are highly skilled in assessment of women with possible sexually caused anal trauma, whether through consensual or non-consensual sex, and would encourage women with concerns to contact their local sexual health clinic or sexual assault service as appropriate.”
Providers of sex education in schools are teaching children that prostitution is a “rewarding job” and failed to advise a 14-year-old girl having sex with a 16-year-old boy that it was illegal.
Outside organisations teaching children about sex also promote “kinks” such as being locked in a cage, flogged, caned, beaten and slapped in the face, The Times has found.
One organisation encouraged pupils to demonstrate where they like to touch themselves sexually, in a practise criticised as “sex abuse” by campaigners.
Another provider, an LGBT+ youth charity called the Proud Trust, produces resources asking children aged seven to 11 whether they are “planet boy, planet girl, planet non-binary”.
Last night campaigners said that “inclusiveness is overriding child safeguarding” and that the materials were “bordering on illegal”.
This week Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner, revealed that she would review sex education being taught in schools after Miriam Cates, an MP, was contacted by a parent whose nine-year-old child came home “shaking” and “white as a sheet because they’d been taught in detail about rape”.
Relationship and sex education (RSE) became compulsory in English secondary schools in 2020, with many contracting out the teaching. Since then an industry has sprung up of providers who produce resources and go into schools to teach sex education and gender issues.
Staff do not need education or child development qualifications and there is no professional register or regulation of their curriculum.
One organisation, Bish, is an online guide to sex and relationships for children aged over 14. It is written by Justin Hancock, who teaches sex education in schools and provides teacher training on sex education.
The website features a question from a 14-year-old girl having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old male. She states that she is worried about becoming pregnant because they are not using contraception and are using the “withdrawal” method. In his response Hancock, who describes himself as a freelance sex and relationships educator, said that “your risks of pregnancy are very, very low”, a statement described as “dangerously reckless” by campaigners. He also failed to mention that the relationship was illegal and advised using lubricant during anal sex.
In another post on the site, a reader wrote to say that she felt “dirty” after being coerced into having sex for money. Hancock replied: “There are many many people doing sex work who do enjoy what they do — even if they don’t necessarily enjoy the sex. It can be a really difficult job but many people find it rewarding — just like other jobs.
“This is especially true if sex workers mainly have good clients, which I don’t think you do. If you did want to continue, maybe you could get better clients?”
In a post about “kink”, Bish links to a blog that provides a list of sexual activities including using manacles and irons, whips, swinging and beating.
In a post about masturbation, parents are told: “If your kid is having trouble understanding this, or you want to explain how to touch themselves, you could get hold of some Play-Doh or plasticine and make a model of what someone’s genitals might look like. They could practice touching the models gently in a similar way to how they may touch their own.”
The Safe Schools Alliance said: “Telling children to practise masturbating on a plasticine model is child sexual abuse.”
Bish claims that more than 100,000 young people a month learn about sex from its website. The site was funded by Durex but the condom brand withdrew its sponsorship. It is not clear why. The website is now funded by donations from the public and schools pay Hancock for resource packs that he provides. Hancock says on his website that he has taught “a broad variety of RSE topics in state and independent schools”.
A full day of teaching costs £500 a day for local authority schools, £550 for academy schools and £600 for fee-paying schools.
Hancock says that his website “is not designed for classroom RSE teaching”, and that teachers should visit his training site for resources, which can be bought on his online shop.
In 2019 the government announced that schools would be given access to a £6 million RSE training and support package so that teachers in England could provide new classes on issues such as healthy relationships, safe sex and consent. Last month the website Vice reported that only £3.2 million had been taken up by schools.
A survey by the Sex Education Forum of children aged 16 and 17 last year found that 35 per cent rated the quality of their school’s RSE provision as “good” or “very good” — down six percentage points from the previous year. This was attributed to many of the basics not being covered.
The Proud Trust produced a range of resources called Alien Nation that asked primary schoolchildren aged seven to 11 whether they felt closest to “planet boy, planet girl, planet non-binary”.
It also asks: “Which planet were you sent to as a baby” and “What would your ideal planet be like?”. Its website states that the resource was funded by Cheshire West and Chester council. The charity Educate & Celebrate, founded by Elly Barnes, a teacher, promoted a book called Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity?, which tells the story of Kit, a 12-year-old girl who is being medically transitioned to live as a boy.
Resources on their website include lesson plans for children aged seven to 11 that suggest pupils “create a gender neutral character” that they can share with the rest of the class.
Teachers should encourage them to “refrain from saying he or she” and “introduce gender neutral pronouns and language, eg They, Zie and Mx”. The group says that its methods have been adopted by “hundreds of schools”.
Last month Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, a former director of public prosecutions, said that providers were preventing parents from viewing teaching resources, citing commercial confidentiality.
Tanya Carter, spokeswoman for Safe Schools Alliance and an early years practitioner, said: “We are very much in favour of sex education but it should be for the benefit of children — learning about rights, how to protect themselves, and how to get help if someone is abusing them. It should not be about promoting prostitution and abuse to already vulnerable children.
“We don’t think Bish or Justin Hancock should be anywhere near children because he clearly doesn’t understand child protection. It’s completely indefensible what he’s been promoting to children and some of it is verging on a criminal offence.”
Hancock declined to comment. The other providers did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokeswoman for Cheshire West and Chester council said: “The Alien Nation book aimed to support teachers and schools to explain gender identity and gender variance. Lesson plans were created by the Proud Trust to accompany the book, which could be used by schools if they wished.
“The council will always take on board comments and will share these with the Proud Trust in relation to the Alien Nation book. The support pack is not available on the council’s website.”
A mother was reported to social services after she objected to the way her children were being taught about sex and gender at school (Charlotte Wace writes).
The woman said that she wanted her six daughters, four of whom are foster children, “to know they have [a] right to safe spaces based on biological sex and equality in sport”. She wrote to the school after being told that two of the girls, aged 12 and 13, were due to have lessons on sex and gender, and asked to see material used in the lessons in advance.
It amounted to “indoctrination”, she claimed in her letter, and she asked the school to add “some scientific balance”.
She was summoned to a meeting with social workers, an educational adviser and the member of school staff who had alerted the authorities. It was decided that a social worker would speak to the mother. The social worker summarised that they, along with other social workers, held “no concerns” relating to the mother’s care of the children and that no further action was required.
The woman has started legal action against the teacher who made the complaint and is suing for defamation.
The school has declined to comment.
Most parents approach children’s questions about sex with careful thought. We know that our period chat, puberty Q&A, our bleakly vital guidance on sexting and porn won’t just affect their present happiness and bodily ease, but future relationships too. We entrust schools to make up for our shortfalls or embarrassment, to further our conversations with sensitivity and fact.
We’d expect RSHE (relationships, sex and health education) lessons to be conducted by trained teachers, schooled in biology, alert to pornified and misleading internet content. We’d hope our kids learn not just where babies come from but that sexuality is diverse, that sex isn’t just about problems, like STIs and abortion, but a source of joy.
Instead your child may be taught by the School of Sexuality Education which asked kids to Google then draw masturbating animals. Or the Proud Trust, whose dice game asks 13-year-olds to speculate how various body parts and objects will pleasure their anus. Or Diversity Role Models, which promoted the message beloved of paedophiles: “Love has no age limit.”
Because any organisation can now teach RSHE, including activist groups with political agendas. Staff don’t need education or child development qualifications. There is no professional register or regulation of their curriculum. The Department for Education (DfE) says it is a school’s responsibility to oversee lesson content but many don’t have time, often entrusting outside speakers to address classes with no teacher present. And if parents demand to see teaching resources, groups often cite copyright law and refuse.
RSHE teaching, as Miriam Cates, a Tory MP and former biology teacher, noted in her Westminster Hall debate on Thursday, is “a wild west”. Indeed it is a deregulated, privatised, quintessentially Conservative mess.
The government’s response to criticism about inadequate sex education was to make it mandatory from September 2020 for both primary and secondary pupils. The DfE advocates a “programme tailored to the age and the physical and emotional maturity of the pupils”. But instead of providing funds to recruit or train RSHE specialists, it left schools often to outsource lessons to groups, some newly formed to win these lucrative contracts. Since then many parents have voiced concerns. First at the inappropriately sexualised content of lessons for young children: 11-year-olds asked to work out from a list if they are straight, gay or bisexual; ten-year-olds told to discuss masturbation in pairs. Compelling pre-pubescent children to talk about explicit material with adults transgresses their natural shyness and is a safeguarding red flag.
Many groups brand themselves “sex positive”, a confusing term which doesn’t mean “relationships are great” but that no sexual practice is off-limits and the sex industry, specifically pornography, is wholly liberating. BISH Training’s website entry on “rough sex” dismisses the notion that online porn is responsible for a rise in choking, hair-pulling and spitting as “annoying”. Although 60 British women have died of strangulation during sex, BISH simply tells young people to go slow “at first”.
Reading RSHE groups’ online material, and most is hidden from public scrutiny, none addresses the fact that boys and girls are fed different sexual scripts from increasingly violent mainstream porn. Those being choked, violently penetrated in multiple orifices are rarely male. Yet there is no feminist critique or much focus on female pleasure.
Such teaching is supposed to uphold the 2010 Equality Act in which sex is a protected characteristic, yet much of it blurs biology. The Sex Education Forum divides us into “menstruaters” and “non-menstruaters”. Just Like Us states that sex can be changed. Amaze suggests boys who wear nail varnish and girls who like weightlifting could be trans.
Researching my report on the Tavistock child gender service, I spoke with parents of girls on the autistic spectrum who’d always felt like misfits but after listening to outside speakers at school assemblies or RSHE classes now believed they were boys. Gender ideology, with no basis in science or fact, is being pushed in schools, as Cates says, “with religious fervour”.
In its carelessness and cheap-skatery, the government has enabled teaching that is well out of step with public opinion. More In Common polling of 5,000 people found that while 64 per cent of us are happy for schools to teach that some children have two dads or mums, only 31 per cent believe primary schools should teach about trans identity. Parents know it is confusing, unscientific and predicated upon gender stereotypes.
The government’s present hands-off policy also leaves schools vulnerable when challenged by homophobic religious groups, as in Birmingham when extreme Islamists stirred up parents to oppose teaching about gay parents. Head teachers then said they’d have welcomed more prescriptive government guidance so parents could hold elected politicians, not individual schools, to account.
At Thursday’s debate, the chastened schools minister Robin Walker noted that parents should have ready access to all RSHE teaching materials and said the equality and human rights commission is working out guidance on how gender identity should be taught in schools. Such lessons must include evidence of social contagion, the harms of puberty blockers, warning about irreversible treatment and the experience of a growing number of “detransitioners”.
But the government needs to go further, with a register of outside groups and close monitoring of misleading materials. It should also teach critical thinking, so children can evaluate the porn-suffused culture in which they live. There’s no point parents putting such care into how we teach children about sex if the government gives none at all.
Just read a Guardian piece on “50 years of Deep Throat’. The thinly veiled sneeriness at feminist critiques is predictable but what also gets to me is the pretentiousness. Like you’re not just a prude but a cultural ignoramus if you’re insufficiently appreciative.
It reminded me of the section in [Louise Perry’s] The Case Against the Sexual Revolution on ‘The Sadeian Woman’ – the urge to mystify and render edgy an ultimately unsophisticated exploitation that isn’t really new.
“You just don’t get it because you miss the broader cultural, political and intellectual context” is another of those Emperor’s New Clothes coercive narratives. No one wants to look stupid so it’s easy to scare people off stating the obvious about a glaringly obvious film.
(I remember this pressure – never EVER be the idiot who states the obvious – very vividly from being an arts postgrad in the late 90s, and it’s really dangerous when what you’ve decided to be an authority on is pornography and/or violence against women).
Part of the reason that Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of girls and women fascinates is that he belonged to such a remote, rarefied world. Private jets, princes, billionaires, the daughter of a media magnate to act as his madam. For those who would like to believe that the powerful and wealthy exist in a state of ultimate corruption, here is ample material.
But the truth is that beyond the vulgar surface glitz and the celebrity names, grooming and trafficking is always only grooming and trafficking. Always only rape. Swap Mar-a-Lago for a care home. Swap the Lolita Express for a minicab rank. Swap the private island for a grey industrial estate. The differences are superficial. The underlying exploitation of female bodies is much the same.
It starts when the exploiter finds a person he can exploit. Sometimes, that means someone who’s already been abused: Virginia Giuffre, the Epstein victim who is currently pursuing a civil suit against Prince Andrew, has said she’d gone through “so much abuse already” before she met Epstein. Sometimes the vulnerability is love. Sammy Woodhouse, one of the victims of the Rotherham grooming scandal, believed that the man in his twenties who started raping her when she was 14 was her boyfriend.
Power is fundamental to all sexual abuse. Epstein’s power was most obvious in his money and connections, but it was also inherent to his sex. For the abusers of Woodhouse and all the other girls like her—the ones in Rotherham and Rochdale, the ones we know about and the ones we don’t—power consisted simply in being male. Their victims, being girls, were of no value. The police would look right at them in the passenger seat of an adult man’s car and ask no questions.
The fact that men as a whole have more power than women as a whole is the most unfashionable intersection. On the left, it is easy to talk about race, about sexuality, about gender identity. Sometimes, social class is even brought into the picture. But if sex is brought into the picture at all, it’s usually done dismissively. What about Maxwell? (Well, what about Maxwell? There have always been female pimps, acting for men and against other women and girls.)
White women as a group are discussed in terms of their privilege—so-called “Karens,” up to their necks in complicity. The oppression of black women can be acknowledged, but only in terms of their race, and often as a means of undermining “white feminism.” The injunction to remember that sex is not the only axis of oppression is applied to mean that, in effect, sex is not a real axis of oppression at all.
By the time one has worked through the liturgy of all the ways a woman might have advantages over a man, any sense that women might share a common social vulnerability has long been dissolved. This has depressing consequences for almost every aspect of politics regarding women’s lives, but it has a particularly egregious effect when it comes to the discussion of sexual exploitation.
Without an understanding of men’s power in general over women in general, it becomes impossible to make sense of an Epstein, a Rotherham, a Rochdale. It is impossible to make any sense of the sex industry as a whole: it simply becomes a baffling patchwork of people (who happen to be mostly female) providing services (which happen to be sexual) to other people (who happen to be almost exclusively male). No structural forces here, just arbitrary and individual choice.
That’s if the buyers are brought into the discussion at all. Usually, conversations about the sale of sex are conversations about the people—the women—who sell it. The men simply melt away into the background, undiscussed, unmentioned, too unremarkable to draw comment; a strange, faceless inevitability. The vast majority of research on prostitution focuses on the prostituted rather than the punters.
Perhaps that’s because most research into prostitution starts from the ideological position that “sex work is work,” and so examining the character of the men who drive the industry would be an obstacle to normalising it, as the researchers want to. Buyers are not the only sources of harm against women in prostitution, but they are a significant one: the UK 2020 Femicide Census recorded the killings of 32 women involved in prostitution, 18 of whom were killed by clients. Research into men who buy sex has found they score highly for sexual aggression, and (unsurprisingly) lowly on empathy for women in prostitution.
We don’t know whether the act begets the attitude or the attitude begets the act, but it seems plausible that the influence runs both ways. What’s interesting, though, is that when such a man is brought into public view—a man like Epstein, who used girls and young women, and passed them around his friends, if not for direct financial gain then for social advantage—he is seen, rightly, with revulsion.
To exploit another person for your own pleasure is a grotesque thing to do, and a thing that can only happen under a terrible mismatch of power. We can talk about a woman’s “choice” to sell sex, but it is a choice that can be made only when a man decides to buy it. Epstein was not extraordinary. He was any pimp and any punter, and his wrongs are the wrongs of the entire trade in women.
I wanna preface this by saying that this isn’t a “callout”, a guilt trip, an accusation or a declaration of my own virtue – i’m simply looking to draw attention to something i’ve noticed and offer my own thoughts. I’m open to discussion as long as it’s civilised.
I’ve noticed a lot of gay men acknowledging how the porn industry harms women, with particular relation to its association with sex trafficking, child porn and sexual violence (you can read about this here), however these same gay men will then make references to watching gay porn themselves.
Obviously there are no women in gay porn, so why is this a problem? I promise i’m not just trying to burst a bubble here, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. Almost all online porn platforms are owned by the same company, called Mindgeek. Pornhub, Youporn, Redtube, Mydirtyhobby, Xtube and more all make up part of a gigantic conglomeration founded by a man called Fabian Thylmann. This corporation also owns several porn movie production companies including Brazzers, Digital Playground, Men.com, Reality Kings, Sean Cody, and WhyNotBi.com.
When a gay man consumes gay porn on these platforms, he directly funds the exact same company that profits from the abuse, trafficking and rape of women and children. That 10 second ad before the video starts, the one that gay men joke about shielding their eyes from because it’s full of naked women, literally puts money in their pocket. It goes without saying that the women in the ad could be victims too. Opposing the porn industry’s brutal treatment of women is meaningless if you’re also paying their ad revenue.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there – even when avoiding the platforms above. Evidence shows that the porn industry really doesn’t treat gay men that much better than women. Gay porn actors are dropping dead at an alarming rate and their average age is just 25. Suicide and drug use are major factors in this statistic, as is premature heart failure from steroid use. Gay porn also pays an average yearly salary of $24000, with the expectation that actors supplement their income with prostitution. Men in central europe are being trafficked and raped on camera, and this makes up a significant part of the Czech Republic’s renowned gay porn industry. At least half of gay porn actors are heterosexual but shoot gay scenes because they make more money than in straight porn – this, as much as the actors make light of it, is rape. Former gay porn stars have commented on the prevalence of the PTSD “thousand yard stare” among their coworkers. I once personally met a former gay porn actor who had the thousand yard stare – he was also addicted to meth and told me he quit porn after his guts literally started falling out of his ass. Talking of which, bottoms are subjected to slaps, punches and homophobic/misogynistic slurs on camera. If you’ve watched literally any gay porn you’ll have seen this. Why is this violence ok?
Gay teens also use porn as a form of sex education because their sex ed classes don’t cover what they need to know, so this violent subjugation of bottoms forms the basis of their education about gay sexuality. Double penetration, fisting and even just rough sex are dangerous for bottoms in the long term, but this is what young boys are learning to call normal. It’s important for gay men to know the nature of the industry they support when they consume porn.
It’s also important to remember that porn consumption is just as harmful to gay men as it is to straight male consumers (another link to the masterpost if you don’t feel like scrolling up) with respect to brain damage, mental health issues, violent thoughts/behaviour and addiction. And personally, as someone who used sex to validate myself in my early 20s and ended up sleeping with over 100 men in my lifetime as a result, i can testify to this: the more porn you watch, the worse at sex you are. I could always tell when a guy watched too much porn because he would be totally unwilling to collaborate with me during sex – either we did exactly what he wanted (which was usually a re-enactment of a porn video) or he wasn’t interested. A lot of these guys wanted to fuck in positions which would look great on camera, but are actually just kinda awkward in real life. Sometimes they’d boss me about like a movie director, dictating my every move. Generally speaking, they were a lot more critical and less satisfied with both my body and their own. One just straight up spat in my mouth without even asking me if i was into it first. Porn can and will make you terrible in bed. I could send these guys into orbit with a mediocre blowjob because they’d never even been with somebody that prioritised tangible pleasure and sensation over porn re-enactment before.
If you’re a gay man who opposes the porn industry but still consumes gay porn, or you’ve read this post and would like to quit, then there’s plenty of other options. Find real people. Connect with other gay men in your local community. Go on a date and fuck if there’s chemistry. Read gay erotica. Buy some toys if you get bored of “just” jerking off, although there’s a lot to be said for having a long, self-indulgent reconnection with your own body after spending so much time on porn sites looking at someone else’s. Whatever you do, please don’t continue supporting this industry – especially if you already hate what it does to women (and the men in your own community.)
It’s not really fair to judge a book by its cover, but why does a book called Women on Top of the World: What Women Think About When They’re Having Sex have to come in various shades of Mattel pink, inside and out? Is this subliminally to suggest to any man picking it up that it really isn’t for him? If so, that would be a great shame because this is a book that really should be pressed into the hands of a generation of young men who have learnt everything they wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask from porn.
Women, I suspect, will find the testimonies of the 51 respondents from around the world, selected by Lucy-Anne Holmes (a writer who among other things was responsible for the campaign against Page 3 girls in The Sun and is now training to be a “sacred sexual priestess”), rather depressing. Indeed, if any woman out there is feeling that she has been missing out on a dalliance during lockdown, she would be well advised to avoid this book, because an alarmingly high proportion of the women interviewed are not having any fun in bed at all.
Take Melanie, 19, from the UK, who thought sex was going to be “spectacular . . . but I had no idea how awkward it would actually be”. Or Vi, 25, from India (“I used to think pain was a part of sex”), or Rose, 25, from the US (“I’ve never had an orgasm with a man in my entire life”), or Lisa, 29, from Austria, who echoes many of the interviewees when she says: “I have been with too many men who have watched too much porn, and I used to go ahead with what I thought they liked to do, rather than saying to them, ‘If you do that again, I might throw up.’”
The really tragic theme in this book is how many of the women in it have been scarred by sexual abuse. Usually it has happened in childhood at the hands of an uncle, a family friend, a brother — Zaye, 36, from Malaysia, starts her chapter saying that her guy friends call her a nympho, but then says that the reason she is so sexually active is that she was abused by her brother from the ages of 7 to 12. Generally the more sexually active the interviewee, the more likely it is that she will admit to some history of abuse. There is no introduction to this book, so we don’t know on what basis Holmes selected her subjects, or indeed how she went about questioning them, but even if this sample is possibly skewed towards women who have been abused, it is hard to read the book without feeling not arousal but anger.
Of course, during sex not all women are thinking about whether they have left the gas on; some, especially those who are not heterosexuals, seem to be enjoying themselves just fine. Maria-Libra, 26, from the Philippines, says: “When I was with a guy, I didn’t really experience the highest level of climax I am experiencing now. I feel like with guys it was average, but now (with a woman) it’s so much better.”
Jennifer, 39, US/UK and a trans woman, says that since her testosterone levels have been suppressed with hormones she has “much less sex, but when I do, it’s a really special experience; it takes longer and is sensitive and emotional. I don’t really miss the way I used to have sex.”
The women in this book come from all over the world, but it doesn’t matter whether you are from Iran, Lebanon or Tanzania, everyone wants more kissing and cuddling. Nobody complains about too much foreplay, except for Ling Ling, 38, from China, who “doesn’t like snogging. You see it in the movies, but I don’t understand why they do it . . . I’ve said this to my husband; he hates me saying it and I feel like a terrible person, but kissing is like a tumble dryer going around and around.”
Ling Ling, though, is really the exception — another reason why this would be an ideal Valentine’s present for a man. Even Grace, a 26-year-old sex worker from Australia who enjoys her work, really wants to find someone she can “connect with on a physical and emotional level”. But escort work is better than casual sex. “I didn’t make any money and I didn’t fall in love, what’s the point?”
The most touching story comes from Wambui, 32, from Kenya, who underwent FGM in 2000 and was told: “You no longer have a clitoris now you’re a woman.” She was abused as a teenager, attempted suicide and then married a man who died three months after their wedding, and her first thought was: “Phew, I don’t have to have sex any more.” But after restorative surgery and counselling she feels “like it was a rebirth, an instant shift; like my sexuality was handed back to me in an envelope.”
Holmes has done an admirable job of including women of every sexual preference; there are women who masturbate with 200 other people, women who cuckold over the internet, mothers who find it difficult to be a mother and a lover, tantric sex practitioners, and pensioners who use Tinder but worry about their knees on the kitchen floor. Generally, the older they are the more confident — Vivian, 70, from the US, says: “I thought the idea was to be in love, now I just want what I want when I want it.” Sadly, there are too many in this book just waiting for it to be over.