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On why we need stricter controls on literature

David Cameron must take action on the tidal wave of filth that is flooding our homes and polluting our children’s minds. I’m talking, of course, about books.

Look at them, sat there on the shelf, looking innocent. Some of them might be educational and useful but if my nephew (an actual child, for the love of Christ) entered my house and asked to borrow a book, there’s a fairly strong possibility that he might stumble across something that would warp his tiny mind.

I had a quick look on my bookshelf and found quite a lot there that warrants inspection:

“’What if I gave you a spanking?’ she teased, still fingering my pussy as she used her free hand to hitch my skirt up around my waist and smack my pert, round rump.”

To be fair, that’s in a book called ‘Sex & Submission – 20 erotic stories.’ That sits right up on the high shelf so that children can’t get to it. But dammit – can I trust myself not to leave it lying around on a coffee table or even (because it’s not that great) in the recycling bin?

“And quick as a shot, holding me with my back turned to him and my breeches pulled down, he sets to frigging and rattling himself, presses against me, and spurts his fuck upon my beshitted behind, the while driving his tongue into my mouth.”

That’s not suitable for children, right? It’s from the longest nightmare I’ve ever read – 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. Unfortunately, it’s also a literary classic, and I’d bet cash money that a 16-year-old would have little trouble buying it from a bookshop right now.

As I head deeper into my shelves, I discover more descriptions of the sexual act.

“I stretched him out on my bed and lowered myself on to him but within seconds his hips were arching upwards and his face was contorted…”

That one’s by Marian Keyes – the Mystery of Mercy Close. I’d never have thought it of her – she seems so nice. In my ‘horror’ section I find myself having to bin most of the Stephen Kings, which is a shame because I loved them when I was fourteen, and even livened up a year 10 English essay with the quote “he spat semen onto the bedspread in a convulsion” (from Cujo, if you’re interested).

Stephen’s gone now, though. What’s next? Ah, this looks pretty sexual:

“They make entry sex look dead easy in films – one person gets in between the legs of the other and easily slides into them – but it’s not as easy as it looks. If you’re doing it for the first time then it’s a good idea to masturbate each other for a bit first. You could also insert a wet finger inside your partner.”

Sex, again, but here is a sex book written specifically for young teens (Sex Explained by Bish, it’s excellent) – it’s not porn, it’s educational and supportive and encouraging and all the things that an excellent sexual education should be. But if we’re just looking for sex books, it’s probably going to end up with the Marquis.

Here’s something from a book I wrote with my own fair hands:

“I shouldn’t have prayed for a dribble, really, because eventually a dribble came out. A tiny, less-than-thimbleful of piss trickled slowly onto his waiting face, and he grinned.
‘Is that it?’
I wanted the ground to open up, swallow me, and then send vengeful demons out to punch him in his smug, not-quite-piss-covered face.”

There’s even a bit in it later about threesomes. I sicken me, I really do.

How do we solve a problem like a desire for erotic material?

The only solution for this is strong and immediate action from the government: ask everyone whether they have any disgusting books that might need to be hidden behind lock and key, and provide those who admit to such filth with lockable bookshelvcs.

Mandatory training for book shop staff, charity shop staff and those people who sit at the desks in hostels with a ‘free book exchange’ shelf. Scour every bookshop for signs of depravity, and insist on those books being placed high out of reach. This will serve the dual purpose of making them hard for children to obtain while also making those adults who enjoy ‘that sort of thing’ have to work a bit harder to get at it.

When you say ‘porn’…?

I cannot bear the thought of someone stumbling across this blog having utterly misplaced their sense of irony, nuance or context, so here’s what I’m saying:

  • At no point has anyone successfully defined ‘porn’, or what exact material Cameron’s proposed block will affect.
  • Even if we can draw a distinct and clear line between ‘porn’ and ‘not porn’, it’ll be impossible to make sure a filter gets it right every time.
  • Porn is not just found on the internet.

It’s in bookshops, on TV, in magazines, in films, stored in our mobile phones, video cameras and above all in our heads. Porn can be disgusting, uplifting, beautiful and scuzzy.

To claim that porn is ‘bad’ is like claiming that food is ‘delicious’. Let’s not let people get away with trying to ban an entire genre of stuff on the flimsy basis that a bit of it is nasty.

Think of the children

I implore you all to think of the children. Not just the little ones you have now but the grown-up ones you’ll have in ten, twenty years time. At the beginning of the current porn furore David Cameron issued a statement that said:

“The safety of our children is at stake – nothing matters more than that.”

Well, that sounds like a nice platitude. But I think our children’s liberty matters too. Don’t get me wrong – we should do everything reasonably possible to keep children safe, but we also need to be aware of the impact that some of our actions have on their liberties and personal freedoms.

Because one day those children will grow up. And just as we want to bequeath them a world in which the environment isn’t fucked, in which the NHS hasn’t been sold off, and in which they have a welfare state to support them should they fall on tough times, likewise we want them to have free and open access to the internet.

Given how much love our society claims to have for children, it’s odd that we rarely give them credit for having opinions, needs, and intelligence of their own. Children aren’t just passive information-hoovers, sucking up what we feed them and no more. They are not all victims-in-waiting. They don’t sit around until the age of 18 waiting for us to tell them what to think and say. They are miniature versions of humans, with their own thoughts, desires, needs and opinions.

And when they grow up they won’t thank us for having taken a red pen to half of the internet.


  • H says:

    I read your web blog often, as much from a desire for entertainment (and allow me to say with great conviction, that you do entertain well), as from a sincere hope that some of your know-how and brilliant inventiveness will rub off on me.

    I’m an American. My mother is British, she married my dad when he was stationed in Great Britain for the US Air Force. I was recently lucky enough to spend 9 weeks traveling about the UK, having the best time of my life. I’ve given serious thought to eventually immigrate to the UK.

    When I read the first article on the idea that the government had a responsibility to protect the children, it was- well, it was frustrating. I’m what I guess is called a Libertarian out here in the US. I’m not sure what equivalency there is in the political range of the UK, but it boils down to this.

    Morally I believe that it is women and children first. The survival of the species is the key goal. Any law that is made for ‘moral’ reasons that is not directly related to the survival of women and children, seems a bit off.

    I do not see how passing into being what is basically a nationwide censorship allows for the survival of the species. This law means that the technology is in place to allow for the easy creation of a ‘List’. Not that a list is inherently bad. Shopping lists are wonderful things. But a shopping list of ‘people with questionable behaviour’ that is easily referred to not only the police, but any person who works with a telecommunications company is abhorrent to my tender sensibilities. The next time a violent crime is committed against a child and they’re looking for a perpetrator how long will it be before they refer to their list, and start canvassing the list of ‘local perverts’ for their predator?

    It makes me wonder, is it the same in the UK as it is here in the US? Do the parents expect the State, the school and the Television to raise their children into good human beings? In the US I see parents shirking their responsibilities, avoiding teaching their children not just through words, but through good examples, to be good, responsible people.

    As you said, children are not just animals that we feed and clothe until they turn 18, at which point they become fully capable adults. How is it that we live in a world where we expect children to become adults, but we refuse to treat them as such. Education is the key to all of this. Not just in school, but at home. Teaching your children what is and is not acceptable, showing by example.

    I just wanted to say that you’ve got a brilliant blog, and I enjoy reading it. I think that you brought up great points, and I wanted to let you know that as a cousin from across the pond, I support you. I think you’ve got the right idea, and I empathize with the situation your country is in.

    Since you had so many great quotes, I figured I would leave you with one of my favorites.

    “When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, “This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,” the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything — you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.” -R.A. Heinlein

    • Girl on the net says:

      That’s an excellent quote! And thank you for being nice about me – delighted that you like the blog.

      Your question about parents is a good one – as a general rule parents don’t expect too much state intervention in social issues (although others might disagree with me – this is just my view!), and there’s usually fairly big outcries when the state tries to do certain things. People saying “nanny state!” if the government implements measures to reduce obesity, etc. However, when it comes to children we’re usually more comfortable with state intervention, and I think it’s always much easier to make an argument based around the protection of children or vulnerable people and people are happier to allow rights to be eroded if there’s a decent case that it’ll protect a large group. As I said to the gentleman below, though, I don’t actually think that this law will do anything to protect children.

      I think I probably disagree with your overarching morals (i.e. survival of the species), but I certainly agree with the principle that education is the key – in almost all situations increased education will benefit society as a whole. There are certainly instances where we need more than just education, and educating parents (around free blocking software, and the need for parental supervision *alongside* filters that they’ve selected and controlled) certainly won’t prevent any child ever seeing porn, but I think it’ll certainly be a much better way to protect children than implementing a universal block.

      The point you make about the list of opted-in people is interesting too – I know loads of people are concerned about this, and that it’ll be used by police, etc. I think the only way we can realistically prevent this from happening is for as many people to opt in to the list as possible – if 90% of the population is on it, it’ll be irrelevant as a piece of data about you (“So he opted in to porn, so what? Everyone does). My worry would be if it’s a very low percentage of people, in which case being ‘on the list’ becomes an unusual and potentially suspicious thing to be. *shudder*

  • Daniel Dunne says:

    Can you explain why the proposals are unworkable ?

    • Girl on the net says:

      Sure thing. There are a few reasons, and I’m sure others could give more, but essentially:

      – No one has yet actually defined what counts as porn. So a ‘porn filter’ will never be fit for purpose – it might be able to filter out a video of a certain sexual act, but not a text description of that same act. Who decides what sort of porn it filters, and how do they decide this? No one has specified it. The reason they haven’t is because it involves drawing a line in the sand, and we will never be able to agree where that line is.
      – Even if we could draw a line in the sand and agree that, say, a picture of a woman fingering herself is soft-core enough to be OK (or a picture of a lady with her baps out, as one gets on The Sun’s page 3), not all of these pictures will be picked up by the filter. Unless you have an army of humans constantly moderating content and sending updated lists of blocks to the ISPs on an hourly (or every minute?) basis, you will never guarantee that all of the porn will be blocked.
      – People can get around ISP blocks very *very* easily. Just search ‘pirate bay proxy’ – I’m not sure who you’re with for internet but my ISP has blocked The Pirate Bay. And yet, the site is easily accessible through a proxy.

      A final point, which sort of fits with all of the above is – what happens when the filter does fail (as it inevitably will sometimes?). So, a child surfing the internet with no parental supervision (because they incorrectly assume that the government’s magic block will save their child from being exposed to horrifying stuff) stumbles across a shocking image: who takes responsibility for that? The government? The ISP? Because in my view supervision of children should be done primarily by parents – ISPs already provide free software for parents to help filter stuff (although they’re very careful to point out that it cannot possibly catch everything and supervision is still required) but if they are compelled by the government to implement wider blocks, and parents as a result leave their very young children surfing any old thing on the internet because they believe they’re safe – who is liable when something goes wrong? Just throwing it in because I think it’s a really interesting question, and something that needs to be answered before we start implementing a system that is 100% guaranteed to fail on an incredibly regular basis.

      • Daniel Dunne says:

        Well, I worked for an ISP, and I can tell you it is technically feasible to block whatever they like, and to restrict most forms of bypass besides the most advanced cracker stuff.

        As regards categorizing porn, there are already a few large databases which make a pretty good stab at defining it and sub-categorising it, based on a mix of human review and automated algorithims. And false positives can be alerted to those services and removed.

        I’m not worried about my 10 year old niece coming across some mildly erotic lingerie catalogue, but I would be concerned if she came across some hard bdsm or quadruple penetration – or whatever it is we have reached now. I’m all for adults having access to whatever they like, as long as between consenting adults.

        This is just a nudge to enable the children of non-savvy parents to get a default level of protection from the type of content which was instantly accessible when you and I were that age.

        It is the very same principle as alcohol. Alcohol is great, but we should not allow 10 year olds to walk into tescos and buy vodka.

        Children are little people alright, but they are not mature enough to make all their own decisions.

        It’s a bit of policy aimed at the public good of protecting children. If you don’t want it, or your children have reached an age of maturity where they can be left to their own devices, or you want to supervise your children yourself, then just …opt out.
        But by opposing the whole system you are remove the default protection from the children of parents who don’t know or don’t care about the issue. The issue being kids viewing content which is not age apprporiate to them. If you dont’ recognize that this is an issue, you need to get out more.

        • Girl on the net says:

          OK, firstly we need to address the issue of whether I think kids should view porn, because you seem to be implying that’s exactly what I think. I don’t.

          Here’s where we agree: young children should not be able to view pornography.

          Here’s where we disagree: David Cameron’s proposals for a universal porn filter, which people have to opt out of, is an acceptable way to achieve this. I am convinced that it isn’t. I don’t disagree with you because I want kids to see porn – I disagree that this will have any positive impact on child protection. I think it will have a net negative impact and, for all of the reasons I’ve explained above, will be unsuccessful in actually blocking porn.

          You say you used to work for an ISP and that they can block ‘whatever they like’. Does this include specific content shared across peer to peer networks or downloaded from bittorrent sites? Does it genuinely include all porn? If so, why does Virgin Media (the first ISP that came to mind) include disclaimers on its page on parental control software? i.e. “This service is not a substitute for parental supervision.” And why, as I mentioned in my post, have they been unsuccessful in blocking any of the proxy sites that give access to illegally copyrighted material (i.e. Pirate Bay)?

          Your point about alcohol isn’t really relevant. To make it actually comparable, it would be the equivalent of the government making everyone lock their alcohol in a special cupboard, then asking them to opt-out if they didn’t have children and therefore didn’t want a special cupboard. Forgetting, of course, that kids might be perfectly capable of picking locks/going to someone’s house who doesn’t have a cupboard, etc. Thus lulling the parents into a false sense of security that ‘my kid can’t drink because I keep all my booze locked away’.

          I’m pretty sure that we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this, as it sounds like you’re incredibly keen on the idea of the block. However, I want to reiterate my point: I am not saying this because I don’t think protecting children is important. On the contrary, I think it is important, and therefore it’s vital that any action we take to protect children is one that is *actually effective*. You say that: “It’s a bit of policy aimed at the public good of protecting children”. I admire the aim – I’m not some sort of mad porn enthusiast who wants to force porn on everyone. However, while the aim may be valid, it will not work. And in not working it will be more dangerous, because it will provide parents with a false sense of security about the internet.

  • Daniel Dunne says:

    That should be *not instantly accessible when we were that age*

  • Daniel Dunne says:

    To answer on the techinical side, yes, the technology is there to block access to the type of easy-to-find proxies that the average teenager is going to use, and the most commonly used peer-to-peer systems. Let’s remember this is to stop inadvertent access of inappropriate material – not children going to huge lengths to seek out specific content.

    On the point about the disclaimers. A default block is better than no supervision, that is the scenario it is proposed for. Parents should ideally supervise their kids on the net. We both know the ideal is not always the case.

    I’m sure you think Cameron is an authoritarian toff – I’m not in the UK so don’t have to live under conservative policies. But like Nick Cohen, I think the principle here is sound. Even if there are technical issues left to solve, the principle is sound. Although I do hate to be on the same side as the Daily Mail.

    On alcohol, you wouldn’t let your kids go to bed with a bottle of whisky under their pillow. But routinely kids go to bed with access to the entire web, unsupervised by parents who don’t know any better.
    You think educating parents is the practical solution. Like driver education is the solution to road safety – but we still need seat belts.
    Now, enough serious stuff – thanks for taking the time to engage (not trying to have the last word, but need to go and have fun, feel free to come back at me !). Peace and best wishes.

  • Absolutely brilliant post . . . had me giggling AND nodding in agreement with every paragraph.
    It is such an emotive issue isn’t it. And, as with so many things, (not JUST this issue), I wish there were easy and simple answers and compromises.
    But this is wonderfully put . . . and I hope it reaches far and wide.
    Xxx – K

  • Lee says:

    Thusfar, we’re missing something else more subtle here.

    Teaching young people to, OMG the horror, judge for themselves.

    Look, while I accept that we should, of course, stop innocent stumbles into the stuff covered by, we need to balance that with the idea that :

    1) Adults have a right to free choice, within legal boundaries.
    2) Sexuality is a core part of human existence, and has a massive scope in its grey scale of encompassed behaviours
    3) getting what you think settled in your own mind is as valid and important as other people’s thoughts
    4) Even grownups struggle with this stuff, as we balance a lot of factors around sexual behaviour that influence our choices and act in *dynamic conflict*
    5) It’s not right for this choice to be bounded for you by faceless non-accountable organisations
    6) it’s also not right that you should be obliged to say what your choice is by opting out of an on-by-default mechanism, creating an abusable watch list.

    Which all goes way beyond choosing to look for tittilating material to spice up a good wank. ;-)

  • mrfloppy says:

    Without getting in to the ethics of censorship gotn makes (because she’s obviously nailed it). Those techy people here claiming isps are able to block, even in theory, are simply wrong. And will forever be unless we reinvent the internet. VPNs are not blockable – they are indistinguishable from TCP traffic. And these days any kid can get set up with very little tech skills. Piracy isnt just still possible, its at an all time high. Highly funded corporate and political attempts to block it have failed massively. Despite all the hype about encryption, tor, spying, privacy and everything else around the snowden revelations and controlling the public online, the biggest problem for govnt and your children’s security (if you buy their line that it is possible to have safe filters) is VPNs. Even the great firewall of China is now little more than satirical joke amongst young Chinese with internet access. A quick read around and within 10 minutes you can access any site in the world that’s currently blocked by your ISP. Thats true if you live in Beijing or Tehran or Tumbridge Wells. too. Of course it doesn’t hide your identity. That’s a different topic. But gotn is spot on. Filters will 100% fail no matter how or why or if we can define porn. Always. And forever. Be in no doubt.

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