The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Tag: Time Magazine (page 1 of 1)

Broadband Sodomy

The crusade against ‘fapping’ is eerily reminiscent of the anti-masturbation movements of the 19th century says Mark Simpson

(Originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph 29 April, 2016)

Those annoying porn ‘pop-ups’ are impossible to avoid these days. Especially when browsing serious newspapers. PORN HORROR! headlines zoom repeatedly into our sightlines, warning us that pornography is ‘addictive’ (despite an inconvenient lack of evidence), ‘ruins relationships’ and ‘rewires men’s brains’, turning them into sex zombie automatons.

Whether or not it’s addictive for people who watch it, porn certainly seems to light up the reward centres of the commentariat brain. Panics about porn are a habit that just keeps increasing alarmingly.

The UK Government itself is currently in the sweaty grip of this hysteria. With David Cameron’s controversial (and somewhat porous) ISP porn filters only recently installed, MPs are now turning their attention to the popularity of anal sex in online pornography. A recent consultation paper published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport pondered restricting access as a way of reducing the numbers of people wanting to try the back bottom instead of the front one.

“More young people are engaging in anal intercourse than ever before,” reads the paper, solemnly. “While the increase in anal sex cannot be attributed directly to pornography consumption, it does feature in a large percentage of mainstream pornography (for example, one content analysis found it featured in 56pc of sex scenes).”

The paper’s assumptions – as with all porn panics – appear to be entirely heterosexual: so much so that it doesn’t even bother to explicitly state them, even when talking about anal sex. Instead they just cite research which suggests that anal sex “is often not seen as a pleasurable activity for young women”.

In other words, the Government’s anxiety seems to be that straight porn is encouraging straight people to engage in ‘gay sex’.

It’s easy to forget, but just a couple of generations ago any sexual contact between two men, including of course anal sex – the sex act that male homosexuality symbolises for many – was completely illegal in the UK. It wasn’t until the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 that it became partially decriminalised in England and Wales (Scotland followed suit in 1980; Northern Ireland in 1982).

As late as 1986, the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (who also famously introduced the first anti ‘gay propaganda’ law, Section 28) demanded a mention of anal sex be deleted from a government Aids education leaflet.

Many at the time saw Aids as a divine punishment for the ‘sin of Sodom’. And the ‘deep-seated’ resistance to ‘sodomy’ is of course religious in origin. But it’s important to note that the religious and legal definition of ‘sodomy’ is not restricted to anal sex – it is essentially any non-procreative naughtiness, whatever the shape of the genitals involved.

Hence all same-sex sexual contact is sodomy – but so is hetero oral sex, for example. For monotheism, the point of sex is to make more uptight monotheists.

And here’s the rub. ‘Straight’ porn today is basically broadband sodomy – non-procreative sex acts piped into people’s hands for them to commit non-procreative sex acts over.

Current porn panics represent a digital-age, socially-concerned update of warnings about the terrible fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Nowhere is this clearer than in the US, where (thanks to the First Amendment) most of our porn, and also most of our panics about it, come from. America is a complicated, conflicted country founded by Puritans, constituted by libertarians and built by salesmen.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling in 2003 that anti-sodomy laws violate the constitutional right to privacy, several US states still have them on their statutes. One such state is Utah, which just announced porn to be a ‘public health emergency’ – five years after it was revealed to have the highest percentage of online porn subscribers in the US.

Indeed, one of the front runners for the Republican Presidential nomination race, Ted Cruz, tried in 2004 to defend a Texas law banning the sale and promotion of dildos and artificial vaginas on the basis that “there is no right to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship”. He failed, but it just goes to show that the right to stimulate your own genitals isn’t to be taken for granted.

Nor is onanism necessarily a fundamentalist obsession. The mighty Time magazine recently devoted its front cover to a warning about a supposed emasculating epidemic as a result of of online masturbation: ‘Porn and The Threat to Virility,’ read the terrifying headline on the feature story.

America, we were warned, faced an epidemic of impotence amongst young men caused by porn and ‘fapping’, slang for masturbation, coined on Reddit’s comment boards. (The sensationalist ‘science’ of this story and many other porn panics, including ‘addiction’ and ‘misogyny’ moralising, was nicely diced and sliced by Joanne Bagshaw at Psychology Today.)

The crusade against ‘fapping’ is eerily reminiscent of the anti-masturbation movements of the 19th century, when male ‘self-abuse’ was widely-seen by respectable right-thinking people on both sides of the Atlantic – and also medical science – as a scourge that led to impotence, weakness, effeminacy, insanity, and the collapse of the nation.

That great American medical man, salesman and devout Seventh Day Adventist Dr John Harvey Kellogg, was one of the most famous foes of the ‘solitary vice’. His bland cornflakes were supposed to save you from it – like porn today, an exciting diet was thought to lead to over-stimulation. Other, even more unsavoury ‘cures’ included phenol dripped onto the clitoris and circumcision without anaesthetic.

Male circumcision eventually became dominant in the US – c. 81pc today – in part because of its perceived inhibition of masturbation. Though it seems to have been about as effective as corn flakes at getting men to stop ‘fapping’.

Likewise, today’s panics about online onanism are usually based on a cherished, quasi-religious ideal of ‘natural’ and ‘normal sex’. But instead of procreation, they often assume the ‘purpose’ of sex and sexual desire to be (hetero) ‘love and intimacy’ – and cast porn as the satanic lubricant of the fappers’ sins.

The US’s ‘foremost relationship expert’ Dr John Gottman praised Time’s anti-porn crusade in a doom-laden ‘Open Letter on Porn’ which labels it a “serious threat to couple intimacy and relationships” and talks a lot about ‘normal sex’. Again, as in most porn panic texts, including the Time piece and the UK Government consultation papers, the presumption is entirely heterosexual. Same sex relationships don’t exist.

There’s a very good reason for this. As gay therapist Joe Kort points out in this breezy, plain-talking riposte to Dr Gottman and the way discussions on porn as a ‘public health crisis’ and ‘addiction’ always exclude same sexuality relationships, the vast majority of gay and lesbian couples simply don’t have a problem with porn. It’s not rewiring their brains; it’s not destroying their relationships.

How can this be when porn is such a ‘serious threat to couple intimacy and relationships’ – along with the nation’s hard-ons?

Kort thinks it’s because same sex couples are less likely to believe that their loving relationship should forever satisfy the need for outside sexual stimulus for both partners – and less likely to hide their interest in porn. To that I would add that same sex couples probably have less investment in the notion of ‘normal sex’ than most hetero ones – usually having had to overcome social and religious stigma attached to their ‘abnormal’, ‘unnatural’, ‘sodomitic’ sexuality.

To put it bluntly: perhaps when you get over shame about sex there’s sweet FA to panic about.

The Celebrity Sex Lives of Rats

Men brought up with women are less sexy

Announced the headline in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, the UK's last daily broadsheet.  A headline which has, unsurprisingly, helped to make it the second most popular story on their website.  A headline which provokes a number of intriguing questions.  Questions such as: Men brought up with women are less sexy than... what?  Men brought up with wolves?  Or, men who attended Eton?
The Daily Telegraph’s Science Correspondent helpfully elaborates:

‘Having a large number of female siblings makes men no less heterosexual but their mannerisms and body language may be seen as less butch than those who have been brought up amid the rough and tumble of a male dominated household.’

‘Researchers discovered the ratio of male and females within a family growing up together can influence the sexual behaviour, rather than the sexuality, of a boy who is outnumbered.’

Now, I'll resist the temptation to say something about that image of a man being ‘outnumbered’ by women for the moment. Because the most important thing to note here is that it isn’t until the fourth paragraph in this news item about ‘how men brought up with women are less sexy’ that we discover the psychobiologists aren’t talking about men and women.
They’re talking about rats.  They did some experiments on rodents.  The ‘men and women’ and ‘boys and girls’ the Telegraph article has told us about so categorically are male and female vermin.  The ‘households’ are rat litters.  The ‘butchness’ and ‘rough and tumble’ discussed is ratty.  The ‘heterosexuality’ discussed is rat rutting.

‘Male rats were taken from their mothers and redistributed in litters in which there was either more female pups or more male pups, or equally mixed.’

‘When it came to mating, the male rats brought up in a litter of mainly sisters, spent less time mating than those brought up among male rats or in an equally divided litter.’

In other words, even if we re-wrote the Telegraph headline to, say ‘Male rats brought up with female rats are less sexy’ it would still be inaccurate.  The headline should probably read: ‘Male rats brought up with more females than males get less sex.’ Though this would give the sub-editor a heart-attack.  Worse, it would mean that the piece had no chance of getting into the Telegraph’s ‘Most Read’ chart.
Apparently the number of mountings were lower, in part because:

‘…they were not being invited to do so by the females who signal their availability by wiggling their ears or ‘dart hopping’ – an established rodent come on!’

Which is nice.  But it’s only right at the end of this news story about how men brought up with women are less sexy that you get this statement from one of the psychobiologists in question, actually talking about humans – rather than, you know, rats:

‘And what applies to rats may have implications for humans too, he added.’

Hang on. What’s this wussy, pussy-footing MAY have IMPLICATIONS?  Was he brought up in a litter where he was outnumbered by women or something?  We already know exactly what it means for humans because the Daily Telegraph told us in the headline and the first three paragraphs.  But the psychobiologist just can’t grow a pair.  Instead he offers us this woolly, hopelessly girly statement:

“It tells you that families are important – how many brothers and sisters you have, and the interaction among those individuals.”  Families are particularly important in shaping personalities, he says. The environment where you were raised “doesn’t determine personality, but it helps to shape it.”

Now this isn’t exactly earth-shattering.  But even this statement is based here on unsubstantiated and somewhat dubious extrapolation from rat behaviour to humans.  Rats, for example, have litters of about ten pups that take five weeks to reach sexual maturity, while humans tend to only drop one at a time which take fourteen years or more to develop.  And female humans are generally less likely to wiggle their ears when they feel flirty.
But the general conclusion here would probably be that environment, even in the case of rats, whose behaviour was thought to be decided by genes and pre-natal endocrinology, is more important than was thought. 
Mind you, The Daily Telegraph’s wildly anthropomorphizing reporting is a model of objectivity and accuracy compared to Time Magazine, which seems to lose its mind over the same story, giving it this bizarre title:

‘Why You’re Gay: A New Study Shows Why Boy Rats Like Other Boy Rats’

Er, no it doesn’t.  (And nor does it talk about ‘boy-rats’, whatever they are.)  But there’s no stopping Time:

‘Here’s the news: boy rats who have more sisters are less reliable heterosexuals than boy rats who have fewer sisters. That’s not to say having a sister makes you gay, but the boy rats with lots of sisters were significantly less interested than other boy rats in mounting girl rats.’

‘...less reliable heterosexuals’.  Whatever that phrase means, it isn’t in the abstract or the press release. Nor is there any discussion of male rats mounting one another.  It seems that the reasoning here is that if a male rat mounts female rats less often than other male rats then he must be, y’know, gay.  Which is an interesting insight into notions of compulsory heterosexuality at Time, but not so much into the sex lives of rats.
In fact, and this is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the study – which neither the Daily Telegraph nor Time reported – the male rats raised in ‘female dominant’ litters turned out to have just as many insertions and ejaculations with females as the other males. As the abstract tells us:

…the number of intromissions and ejaculations did not differ across groups, which suggests that males from female-biased litters mate as efficiently as males raised in other sex ratios, but do not require as many mounts to do so.

In other words, if you really want to anthropomorphize, the headline should read:

‘Men brought up with women better at getting it in’

But these wacky scientific fairy tales in Time and The Daily Telegraph are not completely without merit.  Both are really excellent examples of why you should treat any 'sexy' report about the ‘discoveries’ of psychobiology in regard to human behaviour very, very sceptically indeed, always bearing in mind that:
a) They’re probably talking about rats 
And
b) You need to multiply the dubiousness of extrapolating rat research to human behaviour by the increasing need of scientific research to get publicity these days – and then again by the rampant projections of the media itself and its need to make an already souped-up story ‘interesting’ and ‘familiar’ to their readers.