What a curate's egg is this, by Tim Samuels:
I used to think porn was tremendously good fun. The adolescent thrill of sneaking a copy of Fiesta home inside the Manchester Evening News. Crowding around a PC at university as a smutty picture revealed itself pixel by pixel. Even the equine VHS shown during my first job at GQ gave everyone a good, if not queasy, lads-mag laugh.
Any anti-porn voices felt like killjoy whines echoing from the outskirts of Greenham Common. By the time I'd left the lads-mag cocoon, porn was almost part of the mainstream furniture. But the proliferation of free and utterly hardcore websites visited by kids in their global droves did spark an interest in investigating the industry.
The moment porn truly stopped being fun came in a remote Ghanaian village – mud huts, barefoot kids, no electricity. The BBC series I was making about the impact of porn had led me via LA to Ghana. One of the unforeseen consequences of globalisation is the shocking effect that western porn is having in parts of the developing world.
The village has no electricity, but that doesn't stop a generator from being wheeled in, turning a mud hut into an impromptu porn cinema – and turning some young men into rapists, with villagers relating chilling stories of assaults taking place straight after the film's end. In the nearest city, other young men are buying bootlegs copies of the almost always condom-free LA-made porn – copying directly what they see and contracting HIV. The head of the country's Aids commission says porn risks destroying all the achievements they've made. It's a timebomb, he says.
The concerns aren't theoretical – I met young fathers with HIV whose only sex education came from LA, women living in the villages subject to post-screening abuse, and even a shy teenage virgin who has written to a porn outfit in California asking to star in their films (his return address was care of the local church in Accra).
The porn producers aren't deliberately pushing their products into Africa. But the tide of black market DVDs on sale at street markets and hardcore clips viewable at internet cafes is almost unstoppable. Surely this multibillion-dollar industry needs to take some responsibility for the human costs?
Since the only sex education some people in places such as Ghana are getting is via porn films, there is a decent argument for the porn industry to produce more films where performers use condoms. In LA, where the majority of the world's porn is still shot, only one company routinely makes such films. The condom-only policy adopted following an industry HIV outbreak five years ago lasted just months.
If the ambition is to put more condom-using porn into circulation, which will then more likely end up in those street markets or cafes, some serious multinationals could throw their corporate weight behind this. Hotel chains – among the biggest broadcasters of adult material – have not used their immense clout to insist on greater condom use – much to the dismay of the porn-star STD-testing clinic in LA.
Mobile phone firms are also surreptitiously making jaw-dropping amounts of money from showing adult content on their handsets. Could their ideas of corporate responsibility take on a latex dimension? Might it actually be that ridiculous for the porn industry itself to adopt a spot of corporate responsibility? These are, after all, major businesses replete with HR departments and plush offices nestling next to mainstream film companies. Bankroll sex safe campaigns, harness the allure of their top stars, maybe even make bespoke films for the developing world which educate as well as titillate. Doing nothing, and leaving western porn to march untrammelled into Africa and other places, is a deeply unattractive prospect.
Certain people might consider applying some journalistic or scientific objectivity to the question of where in Africa the condom use relentlessly promoted by Western NGOs and compliant governments has ever arrested, never mind reversed, the rate of HIV infection. There is nowhere.
However, such a reversal is under way in Uganda, where the government's message is the same as the Catholic Church's: "Change Your Behaviour". Huge numbers of condoms have been distributed in Botswana, and the result has been for President Festus Mogae to declare, "Abstain or die".
Who, exactly, is incapable of fidelity within a monogamous marriage and abstinence outside such a marriage? Women? Black people? Poor people? Developing-world people? Or just poor black women in the developing world?
Samuels, who very obviously does have the interests of Africans at heart, nevertheless seems to think a grown African man looking at pornography is comparable to an adolescent Mancunian boy doing so. He would never address that man as "Boy", yet he is doing something no different.
How about, shall we say, an adult argument against pornography? It degrades men precisely as men. The amount that you pay to view it (or accept was paid for it at some point, since money is always involved somewhere, even in putting it onto the Internet), or to go with a prostitute, or to visit a lap-dancing club, or to do anything else of that nature, is the monetary value that you thereby place of your maleness; on all the anatomical, physiological, psychological, social and cultural consequences of the Y chromosome in every cell of your body, and thus on that chromosome itself, which is your unbreakable link to your father, and to his father, and on back to Adam or whatever you want to call him.
Whereas that link, the irreducible core of your identity, is in fact priceless.