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Why Does TV Always Get Prudes to Present Shows About Porn?

It's like getting some cat lovers to judge a dog show.

Collage by Sam Taylor. Photo by Alex de Mora. Make up by Rhea Le Riche using MAC.

Jameela Jamil didn’t eat salad for 12 years because she watched a porno when she was 15 that featured a woman doing something "explicit" with a cucumber. I’m going to take a wild guess here that the cucumber went up that woman’s vagina. To be honest, Jameela’s reaction – recalled in BBC Three documentary Porn: What’s the Harm? last week – seems pretty extreme; if I took that approach to every porno I’ve ever watched I'd never be able to eat carrots, whipped cream or semen, and that would be a nightmare. 

While Jameela has “adult friends” who use porn (which, thank Christ, she “doesn’t have a problem with”), she doesn’t know much about porn herself, so sets out to find some. In doing so, she becomes quite possibly the first person in the world to search for online porn by actually typing “Porn” into Google. It felt a bit like an investigation into porn on a Blue Peter special.

She’s immediately disgusted, which makes you wonder just what it is she’s looking at, because I just searched porn on Google images and found pictures of men putting their penises inside women’s vaginas. What exactly is degrading about that? If parents don’t want their kids to see that sort of thing they should put porn filters on and take their phones off them till they’re 16. Sorry kids, I’d hate me for suggesting that too, but it needs saying and no one bothered to say it in the documentary.

I’m not surprised that Jameela was surprised by her porn search, but I am surprised that she was asked to front a documentary about porn. This is in no way a personal attack on her – she seems like a lovely girl and I've seen her do fine work on other TV shows – but the idea of prudes judging porn doesn't make a lot of sense; it's like cat lovers judging dog shows. Which meant that, at best, the show felt like a guide for parents into an unknown world of horror.

That said, when she visited the Internet Watch Foundation – an organisation that monitors the internet for images or videos of child abuse – and got upset by the awful but important work they do, I teared up with her. Her doc also raises some important points, like the fact we need better sex ed in schools. We see teenagers learning that vulvas come in all different shapes and sizes and that’s good, because porn really can give us unrealistic ideas of what natural human bodies look like.

Of course, it also definitely had its problems. When it got to the part where Jameela told us how surprised she was that the lovely former porn star she just spoke to (who seems completely fine, by the way) wasn’t the “fierce, sassy dominatrix” she’d been expecting, I started to get seriously pissed off. Even more so when she stood outside the woman’s house and just blatantly calls her delusional. “There’s something about her that’s not completely there – she’s lovely, she’s adorable, but she’s just, like, in a fantasy world of thinking that it’s OK,” she said.

Across the board, I’m sick of seeing journalists and presenters do patronising, superficial "investigations" into subjects that they profess to know nothing about.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? These docs are always biased, superficial and never, ever based on science or any of that shit. As Nichi Hodgson of the Ethical Porn Partnership points out: “Docs like this completely ignore clinical and academic research, such as the EU Kids online survey, the biggest of its kind in Europe, which shows that porn isn't actually affecting our kids as seriously as the media would have us believe. EU kids online interviewed more than 22,000 people aged nine to 16 across Europe. 57 percent said they felt porn had positively impacted their lives, and just 1 percent negatively.”

Of course, findings like this often get overlooked for less robust market research-style studies, commissioned by TV producers to back up their starting assumptions.

Jameela after searching for porn (Grab via)

Nichi compares Porn: What’s the Harm? to Martin Daubney’s Porn On the Brain, which aired on Channel 4 last year: “Both presenters sit down at their computers at the beginning and express shock at content – an immediate moral judgement being made. They then proceed to interview a bevvy of young people who confirm one or two already held conceptions: a) under-18s are completely blasé about the porn they've seen and come out with comments we should find shocking, b) under-18s that are a little bit – naturally – upset, confused, having their eyes opened to adult sexuality, in some cases prematurely. But then, we all have to learn eventually; don't most of us have a loss of innocence memory from our childhoods? And c) there are the kids who trot out the right-on, anti-porn feminist line, e.g: 'It'll teach us to treat women like that, and we shouldn't.'”

All the research, Nichi points out – including this 2005 consultation by Ofcom – says that the most important factors influencing a child's attitude to sex are lessons learned at home and in sex education.
 
Some other people who are annoyed at the patronising way porn is dealt with in the mainstream media are the ones who run BadSexMediaBingo.com. They gave Porn On the Brain lots of "bingo points" because it featured lots of tired shock doc tropes like:

–  Porn rewires your brain.
–  Sex science = brain scans and lab coats.
–  All porn is bad (or good) – 1970s and 80s porn was presented as entirely fun and light-hearted, and current internet porn as all dangerous and bad.
–  Sex addiction is real.
–  Complex topic oversimplified.
–  Kink is weird, strange or dangerous – lots of referring to anything other than images of naked women as NOT NORMAL.
–  "Sex ed not good enough" – complaining, not doing.
–  Zomg! Teens! Internet! Sexualisation! STI rates!

In the comments, sex researcher Dr Meg Barker quotes Paula Hall, who worked on Porn on the Brain, and who defends it but – according to Barker – admits that, “Regrettably, ‘balanced’ programmes are unlikely to get the viewing figures and hence the advertisers. Television is a fading market as the internet grows, in terms of money, and so schedules become fiercer.”

Poor old telly. Prostituting itself out to big business. It’s not just silly old telly that gets all jumbled up, though, says the Telegraph’s resident agony auntt, Dr Petra Boynton: “It’s also rife among politicians, NGOs, charities, teaching unions, healthcare staff and specialists. It’s a mix of moral panic, scaremongering, point scoring and, in the case of the media, wanting to shift copy. Plus, the fact that many people can’t design surveys well and don’t see any need to do so.”

Okay, but why does all this even matter? “It means important issues about our youth health and wellbeing may be missed while we aim to create a shocking headline or more ratings for a TV show,” she says. Expert shade, that. And you know she’s right.
 
Porno docs are interesting and, sometimes, entertaining – maybe even thought provoking. I wouldn’t take them as educational tools, though, and I recommend googling “female ejaculation” if you’re bored and have time to kill (like you've never done that anyway). Or – so long as you can confirm you are legally old enough according to the laws and customs of your region – go watch some dirty hot cucumber porn. 

@ParisLees

Previously – My Love for the Naked McDonald's Rampage Woman