Thursday 9 March 2023

The Dark Side of Fantasy

Showing signs of realising that there is nothing less conservative than capitalism, Laura Dodsworth writes:

Have you thought about sex with a family member?

Apologies for the shocking opener. However, if you ever look at online pornography — and, at the last count, half of the country does — you will know that incest videos are standard fare these days.

My research for this article took me to the world’s biggest online pornography website, Pornhub. 11 out of the first 16 videos on the home page featured sex with step moms, step daughters and step siblings. Whilst the performers are not supposed to be actual blood relations, the “step” qualification is obviously designed to skirt illegality and push one of the greatest taboos. Perhaps it’s even supposed to normalise it.

I’ve thought about pornography quite a lot. It is part of the background to my “Bare Reality” series of books and the Channel 4 documentary 100 Vaginas. I was acquainted with porn quite early, because my father was a sex addict, and he had cupboards full of magazines and videos. Porn has changed since then, and not just because it’s freely available on the web. It’s become a lot more “nasty” in both senses.

Continuing with modern day porn tastes, the next most common theme on Pornhub’s home page was teenage girls — often in combination with brutal language. The girls are confirmed as 18+ (in brackets), although frequently look younger and are deliberately styled so. They are labelled “bitches” and “sluts”. One is a “thick teen” and another a “submissive teen ruthlessly pounded like a sex doll”. Another is “used like a whore”. (The reasons behind wanting to produce a social documentary art series to counter the pernicious effects of pornography are definitely flooding back.)

Why is an article in The Critic subjecting you to descriptions of online porn? Recently, it will have been impossible to miss the attention directed at Andrew Tate. In August 2022 he was banished from social media platforms for alleged misogyny. Earlier, in 2016, a video which showed him hitting a woman with a belt led to his expulsion from TV reality show Big Brother. (Both Tate and his girlfriend claimed it was part of their repertoire of consensual sex.) Most recently, following allegations of sexual assault, exploitation and trafficking, he languishes in a Romanian cell, awaiting a trial date.

Whilst commentators of all sorts have decried Tate, there is silence on the pornographised culture which bred him.

Schools are formally warning teenage boys to stop watching Tate. My sons and their friends tell me about sermons delivered by prim teachers who have never actually watched his videos. Criticising toxic masculinity to boys who have flocked to Tate because they are fed up with being told masculinity is toxic will not have the desired effect.

Journalists leapt as one to attack Tate. In one example, a headline in men’s magazine GQ read, “How Andrew Tate built an army of lonely, angry men”. The article asked “why so many young men are taken in by it”, asserting a man could only find Tate aspirational if he was not “particularly clever, funny, informed or attractive”. This is bizarrely out of touch and dismissive of the young men who like him.

White Ribbon, a charity that wants to end male violence against women, asked for TikTok to remove Tate videos from its platform. “Men and boys regularly watching and listening to negative presentations of masculinity may begin to adopt these attitudes and behaviours, believing that they are acting as the ‘ideal man’,” the charity told MailOnline. “Sexist and derogatory comments exist on the same spectrum as controlling behaviour and physical and sexual violence, which creates environments where men go on to murder women.” TikTok complied in this case, but — depending on your definition — misogyny is still to be found on the platform.

Let me be clear: I am no defender of Tate. I have never liked his sexism, and it has provoked long conversations with my sons. Yet they do like his pro-fitness, anti-drugs, pro-success messages — and with those I have very little argument. For all his braggadocio — and criminality if investigations are fruitful — Tate has entranced legions of young men who admire his strength, worldly success, confidence and pro-men messaging.

I wondered after he was de-platformed for misogyny whether social media companies were actually getting their houses in order — or whether the journalists who despise his misogyny might take a harder look at the online environment. They did not.

Tate is sexist, but his comments don’t touch the sides of the misogyny that the internet and social media are awash with. Dick pics and rude messages still land in women’s inboxes. Anger and threats of violence are directed at “TERFs” on social media. The mainstream porn sites — some of the most popular on the Internet — have descended into Bosch-like depictions of fantastical, gruesome and tortuous sex.

These days one is supposed to be “sex-positive”. It is not at all fashionable to list what’s wrong with porn. Aside from promoting incest and “barely-legal” teens, what’s the issue?

Tate’s light BDSM video might not be your cup of tea, or mine, but it wasn’t illegal, and there were no charges or convictions. Pornhub’s BDSM section is replete with slapping, demeaning language, whipping and worse. Why is a video between two people designed for private use worse than thousands upon thousands of more explicit and violent acts meant for others to watch?

Tate is alleged to have trafficked women and used the “loverboy” method to persuade women into webcam work. If this is true, I hope he is severely punished. Still, it would be naive in the extreme to think that some of the “stars” of online pornography have not been loverboyed, coerced and trafficked. Mindgeek, Pornhub’s parent company, has been the target of numerous lawsuits over child pornography and non-consensual sex videos on the platform. Pornhub thrives on user-generated content, and it claims to have strict verification in place, to ensure that participants are willing and legal. So how was a 15 year old girl, who was missing for a year, found topless, naked, being sexually assaulted and raped in multiple videos on Pornhub and Modelhub? This is not an isolated case.

Andrew Tate was briefly the most googled man on the planet — but he can’t compete with porn. According to an Ofcom survey, 50 per cent of all men in the UK and 16 per cent of women watch porn. The BBC reported on these figures in an article which was entirely positive, noting that lockdown had been good for the porn industry.

According to Yougov, over a third of men watch porn every week, and 13 per cent do every day or most days. Penetration is higher in the younger age groups. 25 per cent of 18–29 year olds watch it every day, 25 per cent one to three times per week, and only 4 per cent watch it less than once a month. What about boys younger than 18? Pornhub won’t tell you that kids are using the site for obvious reasons. Yougov won’t ask, and neither will Ofcom. It’s not ethical to even put the idea of porn into the heads of children and minors.

The most popularly searched for game on Pornhub is Fortnite. (The top video du jour is “Fortnite Helsie Sucking Black Dick For The First Time”.) The age recommendation for Fortnite is 12 and above, yet 26 per cent of pre-teens in the US play Fortnite. I think this might offer enough breadcrumbs to point to children and teens illicitly using online porn and being exposed to incestuous sex, violence, pejoratives, weird cartoon sex and all the paraphilias you can imagine.

I asked White Ribbon if it campaigns against online pornography. To be fair, it has spoken out about the harms of men viewing porn in public, but it couldn’t tell me about any general campaigning against porn that is viewed in private. Is this the crux of the matter? More than half the country has a porn habit. Presumably at least some of the journalists, teachers and social media spokespeople are publicly condemning Tate, whilst bathing in the iPhone glow of porn at home. If a Quran-carrying webcam entrepreneur is a massive hypocrite, so are some of his critics.

Andrew Tate could only become a hero for young men who occupy a world that is already highly pornographised, misogynistic and materialistic. It’s astonishing that Tate inspired such ire for his sexism, by the same commentators who do not critically assess our culture’s bizarre tolerance of sexual exploitation, harms, paraphilias and trafficking. These are all related to online pornography in its different guises. Porn matches and beats Tate’s sexism, exploitation and alleged trafficking. It also causes sexual dysfunction, leads to relationship problems, marriage breakdowns and potentially encourages compulsive use, as the “no fap” movement attests.

I used to think that I didn’t mind what people got up to in the privacy of their bedrooms as long as it was legal. The problem is that what they get up to is now broadcast onto millions of screens in bedrooms, offices, buses, you name it, around the world. The danger is that the evil attributed to one individual is widely tolerated by platforms that deliver the same goods to millions. It’s tolerated by over half of this country.


  1. The Conservatives 1997 manifesto proclaimed:” We are the only party that can cut taxes because we are the only party which is serious about controlling public spending. “

    Liz Truss failed on the former because she forgot the necessity of the latter.