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Why is the UK government trying to ban images of anal sex?

Why is the UK government trying to ban images of anal sex?

How many sexual partners have you had?

Not again! The ink on the uninformed and, so far, ill-fated Psychoactive Substances Bill is barely dry and the UK government is already plotting the next legislative disaster destined, inevitably, to place it on a collision course with the UK’s LGBTI community. The target this time? Anal sex!

Because, yes. Yet another consultation on the question of Child Safety Online comes up with the following:

‘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).’

Of course, we are only at the consultation stage, although the deadline for formal submissions of evidence closed earlier this week. However, those of us who are old hands at the lobbying game are all too aware that consultations are rarely the open-ended exercises in free-wheeling empirical inquiry that Ministers and civil servants pretend they are.

If there’s a paragraph in the consultation about anal sex, then somewhere behind the scenes lies a twinkling: some bright spark with ideas about how this activity needs to be regulated and, almost certainly, a clause or two to be inserted in future legislation to make it so.

No doubt, if pressed, government would be mightily indignant at any suggestion that the target of this thinking was what gay guys and, let’s face it, lesbians too, get up to in private. The ‘evidence’ for the paper’s assertion comes from one single paper, a qualitative study carried out in 2014, based on interviews with 130 men and women aged 16-18.

This work focused on evidence that anal hetero sex appeared to be on the increase and was ‘painful, risky and coercive, particularly for women’. That is an important point, which women do raise does in respect of everyday relationships.

So perhaps government has a point? Not according to the paper which clearly states both that ‘the ‘pornography’ explanation seems partial at best’, and that ‘evidence about the influence of pornography on anal practices is thin’.

This, though, is basis enough for the consultation’s claim that there is ‘a question about the effect of pornography on ‘unwanted sex’ – in much the same way, presumably, as lurid stories about our Prime Minister’s alleged intimate relations with deceased members of the pig family might raise questions about ‘the effect of going to Eton on unnatural sexual practices’.

More to the point is the other much stronger conclusion, that anal sex between men and women ‘is usually absent from mainstream sexuality education’ and most tellingly:

‘In England, where this study was located, discussions of pleasure, pain, consent and coercion are included in good sexuality education but such education remains isolated, ad hoc and non-compulsory.’

But do not expect a consultation on including anal sex as a topic in mainstream sex education any time soon: because in February of this year, presumably at about the same time as civil servants were dotting the last i, crossing the last t on this one, David Cameron himself, self-appointed defender of children online, was putting the kaibosh on any possibility of compulsory sex education in the UK.

No consultation required.

We have been here before. Not just the Psychoactive Substances Bill, passed earlier this year, and instantly shunted off into legislative purdah because, after ignoring expert advice that it was unworkable, it turned out to be actually unworkable. Questions were asked then, in parliament, as to what thought had been given to the impact of banning poppers on the gay community.

But pretty much every piece of supposedly gender neutral legislation governing sex and sexuality ever has, over the years, been turned disproportionately against those who do not conform to the hetero norm.

The Spanner case – the legal landmark ruling that established that there was no right to engage in consenting BDSM in the UK – was brought by a notoriously anti-homosexual Chief Constable against a group of gay men. Yet less than five years later, a judge declared that consensual branding, within the confines of a heterosexual marriage, was not a matter that needed to disturb the courts (R V Wilson).

In 2012, despite prosecutions for obscenity being at an all time low, police and prosecutors found time to drag Michael Peacock, the owner of a gay escort business before the courts for publishing obscene (gay) material. He was acquitted.

Later that year, it was the turn of Simon Walsh, a prominent gay barrister and possible candidate for mayoral office in the City of London. He was prosecuted for possession of extreme porn, after police raided his home and found images of activity he had engaged in with other men at a party.

In 2013, the infamous ‘twink trial’ led to one defendant spending almost a year living in fear of being prosecuted for possession of child abuse images – despite the fact that very early in the process he had provided the authorities with documentary evidence that all models featured in those images were over 18. Coincidence, surely, that this was gay porn.

In other words, forget why laws get passed: the clear and depressing reality is that the different, the non-normative, the gay is disproportionately policed, disproportionately targeted – and no matter what soft words the government bring to the party is going to see gay men, gay film, gay porn far more likely to find themselves in legal hot water in future.

Its wrong. Its not rational. Its hypocritical.

It needs to stop. Now.