The UK government has expressed its concern at the increasing number of “young people engaging in anal intercourse” which is seen as “risky”, “unrealistic” and “harmful”.
Sexual health campaigners slam the report as a “unhelpful” and if implemented likely to cause “an increase in risky behaviour”.
The Government’s concerns were cited in a consultation paper Child Safety Online: Age Verification for Pornography.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which commissioned the consultation in order to better understand why young people access pornographic material online, also considered an expert review in relation to evidence of harm caused by exposure to pornography. The report looked at distress, the impact on relationships, the effect on brain development and the “normalisation of behaviours depicted in porn”.
The Department is headed by John Whittingdale who voted against Marriage Equality, saying it would “cause distress to many,” and has consistently voted against LGBTI equality. He is also received media attention of late after a revelation he has been enjoying a relationship with a dominitarix sex worker.
In relation to porn and anal sex, the document highlights “unrealistic attitudes” and the objectification of women but also places an unusually significant emphasis on anal sex – which it suggests is being tried by more young people potentially as a result of their having viewed pornography.
The report reads: “There is also a question about the effect of pornography on ‘unwanted sex’– for instance more young people are engaging in anal intercourse than ever before despite research which suggests that it is often not seen as a pleasurable activity for young women. 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 56% of sex scenes).”
The document certainly suggests an apparent increase in people trying anal sex is an “unwelcome development”. However, whether this increase is genuine, or simply the product of more people being honest about their sexual activities, is open to debate.
The consultation report also suggests that restricting access to pornography could have a “positive effect” in reducing the numbers of young people engaging in anal sex.
While the report is primarily dealing with recognised problems relating to how young people access pornography in the internet age, the section on “evidence of harm”, and it’s singling out of anal sex as risky behaviour, is reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s attempts to block public health warnings and AIDS education as “it could do immense harm if young teenagers were to read it“.
Consideration of how education could be used to challenge such “risky” sexual behaviour and to inform young people of the “unrealistic” nature of pornography does not appear to have loomed large in the minds of the report’s writers.
Instead, the proposals put forward include “a new regulatory framework, underpinned by civil sanctions” and “the establishment of a new requirement in law for commercial providers to have in place robust age verification controls for online pornographic content in the UK.
Leading human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was critical of the report, telling KaleidoScot: “Denouncing anal sex as ‘risky’, ‘unrealistic’ and ‘harmful’ is both ill-informed and bigoted. It is an implicit attack on gay and bisexual men. It fails to acknowledge that anal sex can be safe, realistic and immensely pleasurable for both partners. Instead of condemnation, the government should ensure that sex and relationship lessons advise young people how to have anal sex safely and with mutual consent and fulfilment.
“David Cameron’s shame is that he refuses to make sex and relationship education mandatory in all schools and inclusive of LGBTI issues.”
A safer sex education campaigner from Scotland who wished to remain anonymous told KaleidoScot: “This implicit linking of anal sex to HIV infection, labelling it ‘risky’, ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unwelcome’ does nothing to help education or safer sex strategies in youth. Frankly it sounds to me almost like the report wants to use the moral laden word of ‘sodomy’ but instead replaces it with ‘anal’.
“If such recommendations are to be implemented in the already rather patchy guidelines for sex education in schools, or censorship, it will likely to perpetuate further stigma which looks as if it was plucked from the AIDS hysteria of the 80s and 90s. We know that stigma is more likely to cause an increase in risky behaviour than a decrease. When youth feel they can talk about their sexuality openly we should engage rather than pass outdated prejudice which does more harm than good.”