The New York Times’ editorial board has told Americans “Don’t Look Away” from drawings of torture inflicted on a detainee by American agents after 9/11. Its editorial referred to methods “devised to break down prisoners through pain, panic, brainwashing and other barbaric and illegal tools”. In documents about the detention and treatment of another detainee at Guantanamo the CIA acknowledged that the forceful, sexualised torture techniques it employed were used for the purpose of behaviour control.
The CIA, informed by decades of research which would never be approved by a university ethics committee, is prepared to admit what those who defend similar activities as “modern sexual practices” will not.
Porn sites in America and elsewhere compete in routinely depicting acts of sexualised violence, humiliation and degradation against women without arousing the same level of horror and outrage that is rightly directed at the CIA and government agents in many other countries around the world.
Expressions of fear and shock are a deliberate feature of many depictions of sex in online porn. In the porn world, sex is painful, penetration forceful and it generates expressions of shock. Violent, forceful, degrading acts cause no physical or psychological damage in the fantasy that is porn world, even as the deaths from drug misuse and suicide mount up among performers whose vulnerability was part of the person specification for their role.
The representation of violence as sex filters down to intimate encounters between men and women around the world from these edited representations which conceal friction burns and serious injuries and manipulate bodies for better camera angles irrespective of the limitations of female anatomy and physiology. Men aroused by the fear on the faces of women during sex mistake relief at escaping from the Russian roulette of strangulation, suffocation, severe beatings and internal injuries, for female arousal. Believe me, the CIA knows better.
As a prostitute and in the several years of involvement with BDSM that led up to my entry into the sex trade, I experienced almost every practice inflicted by the CIA at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Men paid me to be a crash test dummy so that they could claim superior knowledge of “modern sexual practices” when seeking to inflict similar punishment on their female partners.
Elizabeth Stanko’s illuminating exploratory study “Assault on Men, Masculinity and Male Victimization”, published in 1993, showed the routine occurrence of physical violence in the lives of many men at the hands of other men, with victims regarding assaults as worthy of reporting only if some unfairness had been involved, rather than because the infliction of violence might itself be considered unacceptable. Online porn normalises this view of sexualised violence against women, particularly women in prostitution.
Articles in the media on prostitution, invariably accompanied by leg shots of women in stockings or tights and the use of the term “escorting”, maintain an illusion which is more than a generation out of date. A young African woman I met through the adult website I was on lamented that, although she described herself as an “escort”, no clients ever wanted simply to take her out to dinner and spend an evening in her company. Such was the misrepresentation that had been made to her about the nature of prostitution.
A very successful 1960s Playboy Playmate within my circle of acquaintance was introduced by Hugh Hefner to several men who were legends of stage and screen in that era. All these international lotharios wanted then was sex in the missionary position. This world, unrecognisable now, was the one the woman who expected to be the dinner companion of a successful man thought she was entering.
I frequently had clients ask me to meet women they had brought to the UK from developing countries so that I could “break them in” by introducing them to BDSM submissive practices and show them what was expected of wives and girlfriends in the West. I was not to mention how I had met their male partner, nor point out that the substantial sum we would have exchanged would amply demonstrate how far these practices were from any understanding of “sex” among the wider female population. Reader, I did not take this up.
Men versed in porn likewise seek to “break in” young women using psychological manipulation, peer pressure and the threat of embarrassing a woman with the labels “prude” if she resists or “slut” if she doesn’t. The expressions “Pushing your boundaries”, “increasing your pain threshold” and “I know what I’m doing” are textbook grooming.
When sex education advice aimed at young teenagers published by Warwickshire County Council claimed that many women found fisting “liberating” I was curious about what evidence there was for this, given the risks it poses to adult women. It can cause very serious injuries, (bone fractures in two women I knew in the industry) and inflammation is frequently a consequence. It is routinely depicted in porn as a forceful, repetitive act because this is more arousing for the male viewer. This greatly increases the risk of injury. It would attract a substantial premium from a prostitute in the UK who was able to choose which services they provide. There were very few on the adult website I was on who were prepared to choose it.
The fees women in prostitution charge, and the practices they charge more for or won’t do governed as they are to some extent by supply and demand, indicate more about whether these practices are commonplace than a man on social media defending a dangerous and violent sexual activity by claiming that a girlfriend who is strangely silent herself enjoyed it.
Warwickshire County Council’s sex education advice to young teenagers also seemed to underplay the sexual health risks associated with anal sex if it is followed by vaginal sex without using a fresh condom (a practice rarely observed by adult men) and its advocacy of the exchange of bodily fluids by mouth.
It’s worth asking where limits on the exchange of bodily fluids in the interests of “sex positivity” will end. A significant number of my clients had preferences for defecating, urinating or spitting on women or in having women retch and vomit on them after forceful oral sex. These interests had been sparked by porn they had watched online. They also travelled frequently and were much more representative of the social and media elite than the BDSM/“My Fair Lady” grooming fantasy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” would suggest.
I visited a private clinic to ask about vaccination against diseases like cholera because facultative virulence is oblivious to threats of “kink-shaming”. The nurse I spoke to wasn’t aware of the extent to which practices involving bodily fluids were being culturally transmitted across the world through the vector of online porn.
I recently saw a tweet from a man defending strangulation who commented that “All sex is good”. That begs the question what “sex” is and what distinguishes it from violence and humiliation. International human rights organisations, the UN, organisations promoting decriminalisation and “sex experts” clearly have a definition in their own minds for the purposes of making claims about what “sex work” is, even if they won’t articulate it.
Do practices qualifying as “sex” include violent acts condemned as torture in the context of the activities of the US Government post-9/11? Do they include spreading highly infectious bacteria and viruses when the World Health Organisation recognises the global threat to populations resulting from the resistance of microbial bacteria to antibiotics?
Don’t look away.