A David and Goliath battle involving a billion-dollar pornography website

Laila Mickelwait’s Takedown describes in fascinating and often distressing detail both why Pornhub, the Canadian-owned internet pornography video-sharing website, needs to be destroyed and how this might be achieved. It’s not the story of a movement against the porn industry, like the one I have been involved with for decades, but more a woman’s lone, Erin Brockovich-like crusade to shut down a major distributor. The book relates how, through investigative journalism, Mickelwait discovered that one of the world’s biggest websites was knowingly profiting from sex trafficking, and reveals her subsequent fight to hold Pornhub accountable for its distribution and monetisation of child sexual abuse and rape. She is the founder

Caught in a Venus flytrap: Red Pyramid, by Vladimir Sorokin, reviewed

Interest in Vladimir Sorokin’s works in translation tends to focus on their extremism and dystopia – trademarks of his fantastically-rendered observations of the Soviet Union and contemporary Russia under an infinite bureaucracy. Less emphasis is placed on the empathy that elevates the stories from violence and a pre-occupation with bodily fluids to a discomforting sense of familiarity. In his introduction to Red Pyramid, Will Self writesthat Sorokin’s detractors accuse him of peddling pornography. But its relevance is without question. If reality is said to be stranger than fiction, Sorokin’s fiction goes further, to make the point that the pornographic, as he writes it, is a way of bearing witness to

Beyoncé and the pornification of pop

Beyoncé Knowles has always been sexy: naturally and consciously so. But her sexiness – those astonishing bottom-swooshing dance moves; the gleaming, undulating chest; the ever-changing, lustrous locks – sat alongside a moral substance that grew as her career progressed. She weighed in on politics, raising $4 million for Barack Obama and singing at his first inaugural ball. She weighed in on sexual morality, telling women in one of her most iconic songs that their man ought to, if he was to be taken seriously, ‘put a ring on it’. She is a committed Christian, having grown up in a Methodist household and frequently spoken of her faith. And she is

Why should advocating sexual restraint be ridiculed?

Louise Perry is on a mission: ‘It wasn’t enough just to point out the problems with our new sexual culture,’ she declares at the start of her punchy first book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution. So she offers advice as well to the young women she believes have been ‘utterly failed by liberal feminism’. That’s because contemporary sexual mores have exposed them to risks, the most serious of which are linked to some men’s propensity for violence. Women, Perry argues, have in recent decades been conditioned to repress their desire for attachment. They have learned instead to behave in ways more typical of men, with their greater (on average)

Hands free

Eight years ago, I had an erotic epiphany. It was around midnight: I had sex on the brain and porn on my laptop. Suddenly, everything felt wrong and a wave of sadness washed over me. I felt like some sleazy man from a Michel Houellebecq novel. I no longer wanted to be that kind of man. So I made a solemn vow to abstain for at least 60 days. Back then, I thought I was the only man in the world who had taken such a vow. (And in case you’re wondering, I lasted 45 days that first time and now remain free of porn.) Little did I know then

The Tories push on with their porn crackdown

This afternoon the government announced the official launch date for its age-verification scheme for online pornography. As of 15th July, X-rated websites (or at least some of them) will have a three-month grace period to ensure that all UK visitors are over 18. If they fail to do so, the government will block them from UK servers entirely.   This so called ‘porn block’ has been in the works for some time. It’s been dogged by criticism, with everyone from online privacy campaigners (who fear the potential repercussions of creating a giant database of porn-viewers) to LGBT campaigners (who say it disproportionately affects minority groups) calling for it to be

The Spectator Podcast: life after May and the Victorian women who explored

This week, Theresa May finally promised to leave – but only after her Brexit deal passes. Anticipation of her departure has already triggered a leadership race within the Conservative party – who will take after her, and what does Brexit and the country look like after May leaves? On the podcast, Katy Balls talks to James Forsyth and former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan. Despite Brexit, the government’s domestic agenda tries to rumble on. A long-planned and long-delayed plan to use technology to place age restrictions on watching pornography is due to come in imminently. Ostensibly, the goal is to prevent under-18s from accessing it, but Robert Jackman reports in this

Virtuous vice

It hasn’t always been easy being a progressive-minded man who prides himself on his sensitivity to issues of race, gender, feminism and sexual exploitation — and still gets to walk on the wild side. Political principles tend to get in the way of politically incorrect passions. You like to watch porn, but as a good feminist man you know that porn exploits women. You like to take cocaine, but it exploits poor Latin American farmers and enriches corrupt drug cartels. And maybe you have a secret passion for prostitutes, but you hate the idea that you’re paying for sex with some underage Albanian who’s been trafficked for your gratification. No

Sex education now means whatever schools want it to mean

I’ve never shied away from discussing sex with my children and they’ve always been precocious enough to ask probing questions, usually in public. So when the letter came home from school announcing sex education classes for my then ten-year-old, I was relaxed. And when I later asked him, ‘Did you learn anything you didn’t already know?’, I expected a bored ‘no’. In fact, he said, ‘Yes. Oral sex and masturbation.’ Clearly sex education has moved on since I was at school. Schools have traditionally covered reproduction in science lessons and, since the 1960s, sex education as a discrete subject has dealt with contraception, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. David

Toys for us

It’s hard not to love a book that starts with its author fearing a police sting while flogging sex toys at a hen party in Texas. The year is 2004 and Hallie Lieberman is attending grad school in Austin and supporting her studies by working as a home party organiser for Forbidden Fruit, local purveyor of marital aids: ‘Christy is rattling off her order: a jelly vibrator, a cock ring, a bottle of Eros lubricant.’ Just one snag; devices that are intended ‘primarily for stimulation of the human genital organs’ are deemed illegal in the state of Texas. They’re illegal to this day in Louisiana. So Lieberman has been trained

If Damian Green lied I don’t blame him

I first viewed pornography at the age of 12, when a school friend showed me a magazine called, I think, Razzle. The centrefold was a naked lady with what appeared to be a large and potentially ferocious rodent between her legs — a coypu, perhaps, or a capybara. I had never seen anything like that before. ‘Look at that flunge!’ my friend enthused. I had never heard the word before, either — I think it was a kind of portmanteau of ‘clunge’ and ‘flange’, both words with which I was familiar. ‘I bet your gimmer hasn’t got one like that,’ he added, spitefully. Gimmer is rural Teesside slang for a

Diary – 16 November 2017

Long letter from the High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School, addressing me as ‘Dear Old Paulina’ (I thought we were never ‘Old Paulinas’, merely ‘Paulinas’ till the bitter end, but I will let the solecism pass). It informs me that fellow former pupils have been in touch to report sexual abuse when I was there ‘between the 1970s and the 1990s’. The letter invites #metoo to name and shame teachers — who must be well into their dotage if not dead — while insisting that the numera una assoluta girls’ school in the world is now a sterile, predator-free zone. The letter is spattered with every compulsory clunky current

Angel and demon

Read cover to cover, a book of essays gives you the person behind it: their voice, the trend of their thinking, their tastes and the nature of their engagement with the world. So, here are two, one from each end of the human spectrum. Think of Milton’s Archangel Raphael, intellectually wide-ranging, lucid, informative and fair, and you have Francis Spufford. Think of his darkly glittering Satan — vivid, passionate, partisan and fatally persuasive — and you have Martin Amis. Read these books together and you have, in essay terms, a Miltonic whole. These are collections of what might be called ‘pre-loved’ pieces, not originally designed to cohere, so they have

Barometer | 20 July 2017

Smash the orange Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said the government’s Brexit plans could ‘fall apart like a chocolate orange’. But the point of a chocolate orange is that it doesn’t fall apart easily at all. Launched by Terry’s of York in 1932, many of its TV adverts have emphasised this theme: 1978 ‘Tap it and unwrap it’ — yokel shown tapping it lightly against tree trunk. 1998 ‘Whack and unwrap’ — man shown thumping it against a wall. 2010 ‘Smash it to pieces, love it to bits’ — several people struggle to break the orange, including a secretary with a phone and man who whacks it

Back to basics | 30 March 2017

Tim Parks is a writer of some very fine books indeed, which makes it even more of a shame that his most recent novel is flat, grim and (like its narrator) interesting only to itself. His main theme is adultery, a subject he explored in his wonderful novel Europa (1997), in the short story collection Talking About It (2005), and in the thoughtful essays of Adultery and Other Diversions (1998). But in recent years he has become the laureate of a certain kind of seedy, middle-aged infidelity, and In Extremis is single-minded to the point of obsession: anorak and dirty mac in one. The problem might be that he is

According to Luke

This is an odd one, not least because it claims to be a novel, which it isn’t. Emmanuel Carrère, writer and film-maker, looks back on an earlier self when, as a young man, he had a phase of being a devout Catholic, going to Mass daily, making his confession, the whole caboodle. He decides to marry his girlfriend, who is called Anne. We do not hear much about her. He later marries Hélène Devynck. Like the ‘real’ Carrère, the narrator has a house on the island of Patmos, where much of this book was written — appropriately, since it is a (sort of) commentary on the New Testament. As Carrère

Low life | 6 October 2016

The first and only time I went to a meeting of Sex Addicts Anonymous, this chap stood up and gave a blow-by-blow account of his sexual history. He had started life as a heterosexual, he said, and became hopelessly addicted to pornography and prostitutes. Then he decided to give gay sex a try and soon became addicted to encounters with multiple partners in public parks. I forget how many times he said he was having it off every day, but it was heroic. He was out there day and night in all seasons and in all weathers and would go without lunch and dinner. In winter, he said, he was

Love for sale

The premise of Kat Banyard’s Pimp State is a familiar one: sex work — a phrase the author rejects as pure euphemism — is formalised sexual exploitation, synonymous with sexual abuse and therefore both ‘a cause and a consequence of inequality between men and women’. It follows, then, that if you’re in favour of gender equality, or simply a decent human being who disapproves of sexual violence, you must oppose the sale of any and all variations of sex. If you’re not part of the solution — well, you know the rest. You don’t have to be especially interested in feminism to have heard this before. For centuries, institutions, social

Tragedy trumped by porn

Big fuss about Cleansed at the Dorfman. Talk of nauseous punters rushing for the gangways may have perversely delighted the show’s creators but I’m firmly with the exiteers. This is barely a play and more a thin, vicious pantomime with an Isis-video aesthetic. The minuscule plot follows Grace (Michelle Terry) as she visits a prison hospital to receive news of a tortured relative. She’s immediately roped in as a victim and we’re treated to a sequence of gougings, knifings, electrocutions, rectal penetrations and tongue extractions which are bizarrely interspersed with scenes of lustful romance. Alex Eales’s design stands out. The duck-egg blue paint of the smashed-up hospital peels away to

Porn and video games: more hysteria about ‘rewiring brains’

Here we go again. What effect do you think watching porn and video games have on young men? Yup, they rewire the brain. It’s such a clumsy metaphor – the brain isn’t ‘wired’ in any meaningful sense – that you’d think psychologists and neuroscientists would run a mile from it. Unless, of course they’re Baroness Greenfield, who is a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. She was director of the Royal Institution until her post was abolished in 2010, ‘amid claims that there was almost no other way to get rid of her’ (thank you, Wikipedia). Susan Greenfield’s evidence-light claims about the neurological dangers of digital technology have exposed her to much mockery