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.
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.
Younger people in France are having trouble understanding what was in the heads of their elders in the 1970s and 1980s. An outpouring of sad stories from women and men is giving the impression that in the heady free-for-all in the aftermath of the 1968 student revolt the Paris chattering classes, to put it mildly, turned a blind eye to sex with children and even incest.
Last week Richard Berry, 70, a long-admired film actor, became the latest star to fall after his daughter Coline Berry, an actress, reported him to prosecutors and went public with sordid allegations. He had made her play sexual games with him and his wife of the time, Jeane Manson, an American singer, when she was a little girl in the 1980s, she said.
Her claims, laid out in detail in Le Monde and other media along with his denials, hit the news while the older members of the Paris power establishment were still reeling from the bombshell that landed last month with La Familia Grande.
The book by Camille Kouchner, 46, a law professor and daughter of Dr Bernard Kouchner, a former cabinet minister, accused her stepfather Olivier Duhamel, 70, a top public intellectual and broadcaster, of sexually abusing her twin brother in the late 1980s when he was 13 and 14. Duhamel, an informal adviser to President Macron and head of the governors of Sciences Po, the university of the political and media elite, resigned all his posts, including his role as host of a popular radio programme, and is now an outcast. He has made no public comment and prosecutors have opened an inquiry.
Recent tell-all accounts, which in three cases have become bestselling books, have toppled celebrities of the intellectual and artsy left, prompted criminal inquiries and triggered a political resignation. Kouchner’s allegations, deemed to constitute incest as well as a paedophile crime in French law, have prompted an outpouring on social media by thousands of people under the #MeTooInceste hashtag. The torrent of trauma from victims of abuse by family members contrasts with the widespread distaste over “Anglo-Saxon” puritanism that greeted the American Me Too trend in France two years ago.
Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron have stepped into the storm. The president, who was born in 1977, has promised to change the law on incest and sex with minors (at present, a child is only deemed to be the victim of rape if the act is the consequence of “violence, threat, constraint or surprise” and the burden is on the victim to show there was no consent). They have each praised the women and men who have unburdened themselves after decades of silence.
The public shaming of 1980s abusers began in 2016 when Flavie Flament, a television and radio presenter, published La Consolation, a book recounting her rape as a 13-year-old by David Hamilton, the British photographer. Hamilton, 83, who was famous for gauzy erotic portraits of teenage girls, denied the claims as well as those of three other women. Two weeks later, he took his life in his Paris flat.
The great “libération de la parole” among the Paris elite got under way a year ago when Vanessa Springora, 48, the head of the publishing house Éditions Julliard, recounted in searing detail how she was groomed as a young teenager in the 1980s by Gabriel Matzneff, a fashionable novelist who was in his early fifties at the time. Her bestseller, Le Consentement (Consent) served as a challenge to the tolerance that the high Paris thinking classes had long applied to criminal sexual behaviour in their midst.
What is striking is the complicity that parents could show towards their children’s predators. Kouchner, whose father was founder of the Médecins Sans Frontières charity and a heavyweight in the humanitarian world, describes the idyllic summers at her mother and stepfather’s villa at Sanary on the Mediterranean coast.
Sex was in constant talk and there were risqué games in those hedonistic times, Kouchner writes. Duhamel and her mother, Évelyne Pisier, a feminist law lecturer who had once had a long affair with Fidel Castro, hid little from the children, who saw the adults frolicking naked at the pool. “At Sanary, certain parents and children kissed on the lips. My stepfather hit on the wives of his chums’ mates,” she writes. “The chums went for the nannies. The young men were given to the older women.”
Her mother, who once told her teenage daughter that “f***ing is our freedom”, took Duhamel’s side when she told her of her brother’s alleged abuse at his stepfather’s hands in 2010. Pisier’s film star sister Marie-France Pisier, however, tried to expose him then by spreading word among the Left Bank power set. A year later Marie-France, a muse of François Truffaut, the 1960s nouvelle vague film director, drowned in her Mediterranean swimming pool in a presumed suicide.
Berry’s daughter describes a similar atmosphere of decadence at weekends in her father’s home in 1980s Paris. Springora writes of her mother’s acquiescence and hint of pride in her seduction by Matzneff, a writer who won prizes with his books in praise of sex with under-age girls and boys.
If you were not around Paris at the time these tales expose just how blasé France had become to sexual liberty of the worst kind. If you were there, as I was, it is hard to justify the attitudes of the era. In 1984, for example, Serge Gainsbourg, the louche songsmith beloved of the Left Bank, reached No 2 in the pop charts with Lemon Incest. The hit was a duet with Charlotte, his then 13-year-old daughter with Jane Birkin, sung to the tune of Chopin’s Tristesse Étude. “Naive like a painting by Henri Rousseau/ Your kisses are so sweet,” the father sang. We thought Gainsbourg was being his usual naughty self, but found the song charming.
It now seems almost unbelievable to recall the noisy campaign to legalise sex with children from 13 upwards that was supported by feminists and philosophers alike. Luminaries put their names to petitions and articles in Le Monde and Libération in favour of what they depicted as a noble cause. Signatories of a 1977 petition included Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir and Jacques Derrida. There were also signatories who are still prominent, including Bernard Kouchner, now 81. Also there was Jack Lang, now 81, a former Socialist Party culture minister and present head of the Institut du Monde Arabe. Lang disowned his past views last week. “It was unacceptable,” he said. “It was after 1968 and we were carried along by a libertarian wave.”
Others have fallen foul of the stock-taking over the baby boomer excesses. Élisabeth Guigou, a friend of the Duhamels and a former Socialist Party justice minister, resigned from her new post as chairwoman of a state commission on incest. Although a friend of the Duhamels, she said she had known nothing about his alleged abuse of Camille Kouchner’s brother. Antoine Kouchner, who is now a Paris university astrophysics professor, approved of his sister’s book and last month pressed charges against their stepfather, although the statute of limitations renders his alleged acts exempt from prosecution.
While veterans of the era are on the defensive, not all have disowned the past. Alain Finkielkraut, 71, a celebrity philosopher and essayist, was sacked from his commentator’s slot at LCI news television for taking Duhamel’s side and suggesting that the teenage stepson may have been complicit. “Was there consent? How old was he when it started? Could there have been a form of reciprocity?” Finkielkraut wondered.
His words prompted outrage. Adrien Taquet, the minister for children and the family, tweeted: “In what world are you living? Are you really talking about consent between an adolescent and a member of his family?”
Some baby boomer thinkers are confronting their era’s dark side. Luc Ferry, 70, a conservative philosopher who served as President Chirac’s education minister two decades ago, is blaming his contemporaries. “People had forgotten that 1968 thinking promoted paedophilia,” he wrote in Le Figaro. “Every adult had the right, even the duty, they argued, to awaken the sexuality that the bourgeoisie was hiding.”
Unlike others who claim to have known nothing, Ferry said that had been aware for some time of the incest claim by Duhamel’s stepdaughter. Also in the know was Frédéric Mion, the director of Sciences Po, who has acknowledged failing to take action and has come under pressure to resign.
The flood of allegations and the attendant disgrace when they involve public figures are largely seen as healthy. One in ten people in France has been victim of incest, according to a survey.
Argument is raging over the promised reforms. Some MPs want an end to the statute of limitations for child sex crimes. This was extended in 2018 from 20 to 30 years from the plaintiff’s 18th birthday.
The focus is on purging an archaic notion of consent. A Paris region court recently reduced a charge against a 28-year-old man on the grounds that an 11-year-old girl had agreed to sex.
A bill soon to come before parliament will criminalise all sexual relations with a minor under 13 years. The governing party, La République en Marche, now aims to raise that to 15, which is the French age of sexual consent. Some experts are warning against excess, pointing out that many teenagers are sexually active from 13 or 14 and that a blanket law could land teenage boys in the dock for paedophile rape. A law defining an age difference between alleged victim and abuser would be better, they say. In Britain it is an offence for anyone to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 16, but prosecutions are rare when there is little difference in age.
The French senate is also aiming to create a separate crime of incest, which at present is only an aggravating factor in the offence of sex with a minor under 15.
Addressing the victims of incest and child sex abuse after the Duhamel scandal erupted, President Macron said that the national awakening meant that shame had changed sides. “The silence erected by criminals and cowardice has shattered . . . thanks to the courage of a sister who could no longer keep quiet,” he said. “These words, these cries, nobody can ignore them any longer. I just want to tell you: we are here. We are listening to you. We believe you. And you will never be alone again.”
QotD: “In fact, ‘vanilla’ readers may come away from reading these stories with a diminished regard for BDSM practice, given the levels of neuroticism, selfishness and vanity that the various characters display”
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” thought one of the editors of this new anthology at the outset of her project, if a collection of highbrow stories on BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism and masochism) “could live together in one book, in the kind of book that could sit on artists’ residencies’ library shelves?” Well, wonderful or not, that dream has now been realised, and the result is this volume, containing 15 stories by an assortment of eminent writers — all contributors to some of the most prestigious literary magazines in the world.
The stories are intended as an antidote to a popular culture that typically represents BDSM practice as either pathological or ridiculous, and kinky people as either “stock villains or exaggerated figures of fun”. In an act of rebellion against these stereotypes, the reader of this volume is encouraged to “take kink seriously”, recognising it as a “complex, psychologically rich act of communication . . . as one of the tools we use to make sense of our lives.”
It is something of a surprise, therefore, to find the content of the stories to be so very stereotypical. We have former Catholic schoolgirls with a torturously repressed desire to be whipped, dominatrixes with shiny leather boots and severe haircuts, and gay men drawn towards acting out traumatic childhood experiences of homophobia.
A wealthy man — a gallery curator, of course! — finds within himself an intense desire to dominate women, and when his poor wife won’t accept being handcuffed, he sets off to find himself a mistress who is willing to go around in public wearing a stainless-steel collar. We are, I think, supposed to see this man as a progressive maverick, given his taste for putting on “exhibits on poverty and homeless”, despite the objections of his gallery’s board. But, to me, he sounds very much like both a “stock villain” and an “exaggerated figure of fun”.
Despite the authors’ best efforts to represent kink as deliciously naughty, the experience of reading this anthology is rather monotonous. Although there are small variations in narrative detail, the erotic details are much the same in every story: spit licked off shoes, bruised buttocks, leather paraphernalia, and so on, and so on.
In the final story, the iconic writer and filmmaker Chris Kraus comments perceptively on the repetitive nature of BDSM: “There is no experimental theater in sadomasochism. That’s why I like it. Character is completely preordained and circumscribed. You’re only either top or bottom. There isn’t any room for innovation in these roles. It’s a bit like what Ezra Pound imagined the Noh drama of Japan to be: a paradox in which originality is attained only through compliance with tradition.”
To Kraus, then, a lack of “innovation” is the point. But, to more “vanilla” readers, the allure may well be hard to understand.
In fact, “vanilla” readers may come away from reading these stories with a diminished regard for BDSM practice, given the levels of neuroticism, selfishness and vanity that the various characters display. A common theme across many of these stories is not adventurousness or creativity, but rather affluent boredom, as characters attempt to plug a feeling of general dissatisfaction with a brief erotic thrill.
Knife play, choking and rough sex have found a home on FreakTok, but the line between sex positivity and sexual violence is becoming blurred.
“When he claims he’s freaky but won’t drag a knife across your skin… it’s funny how people have become pussies all of a sudden”.
Welcome to #freaktok, one of the darker corners in TikTok’s labyrinth maze of subcultures and alternative communities. Where #thriftflipping clothes or #astralprojecting into an alternative dimension doesn’t cut it, users instead like to brag about rejecting ‘normal’ sex.
And it doesn’t seem to be niche. At the time of writing, #Freak has over 1.2 billion views. #ChokeMe has 45.3 million. While a lot of this content is innocent, it is easy to find far more sinister videos. One, of a girl encouraging her reluctant boyfriend to choke her, has 1.1 million views. Another, of a user mocking viewers for being quote-unquote vanilla has 78,000 likes.
“Vanilla is the new frigid,” says 19-year-old Lily from Buckinghamshire. After leaving a comment on a video of a boy mocking his girlfriend for not being into choking, Lily came under fire. “I wrote something like ‘not wanting to be choked doesn’t mean you’re boring’ and I ended up being called out for it,” she says. “People kept saying that I didn’t know how to have a good time and that I obviously wasn’t comfortable with my sexuality.”
As a result, Lily began to question her own preferences. “I started wondering whether this was what sex-positive people did and that maybe I just didn’t understand what ‘good’ sex looked like,” she says. “I found myself defending my own preferences because people weren’t open to the idea that I actually liked ‘normal’ sex.” In the end, Lily deleted her comment because the replies were becoming increasingly personal.
17-year-old Mina from Arkansas had a similar experience. After sharing another user’s TikTok referring to the problem of glamorising rough sex, Mina was met with accusations of kink-shaming; calling her a prude and a snowflake. “There were a lot of negative responses,” she says, but none of them were a huge surprise, with her peers now deeming choking and strangulation as being more acceptable than vanilla sex. “I’ve seen people I know push themselves to seem like they enjoy really extreme things just to be part of the in-crowd. The type of sex you have has become this huge competition,” she says.
For Fiona MacKenzie, founder of campaign group We Can’t Consent To This — a group formed in response to the increasing violence exhibited against women during sex — the trend is worrying. “Young people are being told that everyone is doing this,” she says. The social pressure means that women in their teens and twenties now are being told that not enjoying being slapped or choked is abnormal. “It’s a default expectation now.”
In the process of shaming people, the boundaries between consensual sex and sexual violence risk being blurred. “People’s negative experiences are being diminished because people dismiss them as simply having vanilla preferences,” Fiona says. Lily agrees, arguing that the difference between being empowered to have the sex you want and being the victim of violence is ignored. “Somebody even messaged me saying that ‘women deserve to be hurt’.”
Alarmingly, videos that glorify sexual violence are also extremely popular on TikTok. There’s videos romanticising domestic abuse, the ‘psychotic boyfriend’ trope and even the ‘things girls want but won’t ask for’. Last summer TikTok was forced to remove some content under the #365days hashtag after users used it to display bruises obtained during sex or footage of grabbing their partners by the throat.
Given that a recent survey of UK women between 18-39 found that 38% have experienced unwanted spitting, choking or slapping during consensual sex, it is concerning that the normalisation of these behaviours is being confused with consent. With uses of the “rough sex defence” in homicide cases increasing 90% in a decade, it is clear that we need to address how sexual violence is increasingly being mistaken with sexual liberation.
Dr Gail Dines, President of Culture Reframed — an organisation that addresses the effects of hypersexualised media on young people — blames porn for the problem. “Pornography is the biggest form of sex education,” she says. And with 88% of the most-watched porn scenes containing acts of physical aggression against a woman, there’s nothing to tell young people that this is not the norm. Mina agrees. “People are watching porn and are becoming desensitised to anything ‘normal’ before they have experienced sex themselves,” she says.