Chapter 9 : Home : Chapter 11
Chapter 10: Children in Erotica and Pornography
Child pornography and child prostitution are matters which provoke an even greater sense of outrage, if that is possible, than child-adult sexual relations as such, and with some good reason.
Whereas a paedophilic relationship may depend for its existence simply on sexual and emotional ties between the child and adult involved, both pornography and prostitution appear to have their primary raison d'κtre in the pursuit of money.
Sometimes the child makes money on his own account, sometimes it finds its way into the hands of parents, almost always porn producers are motivated by profit. Either way, people feel that the performance of sexual acts for money, rather than for sexual pleasure alone, or as part of a loving relationship, is bound to be degrading and exploitative.
I don't think this is universally true. As NBC journalist Robin Lloyd has pointed out, boys who gravitate towards hustling frequently enjoy it. He cites a prominent counsellor of young gays in Los Angeles:
'Now it might be that even if we had the intake centres where we could rehabilitate the boy, he would say to us: "Go to hell, man. I like peddling my ass." 1
Richi McDougall, a former boy hustler himself, endorsed this viewpoint at a recent conference on man-boy love held in Boston, Massachusetts:
'For most youth, it's the only way to get exposed, the only way to get sex with men ... I knew I was a homosexual at nine years old, I knew what I wanted, but the only way I knew how to get it was to go to the theatre and ask for money. Maybe that's hustling, but it was very fulfilling it served its purpose.'2
Such a boy may have been degraded and exploited in some people's eyes, but not, apparently, in his own: an important point if you share the view that children have a right to their own opinions and one which gives proper emphasis to the at least partly subjective nature of such notions as 'degradation' and 'exploitation'.
What really matters is that the involvement of money can result in children submitting to sex acts with which they are unhappy, or being forced into them by parents and others who want to cash in. Exploitation of this sort is essentially a problem associated with poverty, such as that in Victorian England and many parts of the Third World today.
The answer accordingly lies more in the elimination of poverty than in law enforcement. But it should also be realized that prostitution is to a great extent rooted in sexual restriction, not in sexual freedom: as Engels said, the price paid by Victorian society for its official code of strict monogamy was that prostitution flourished alongside it. By the same token, a sexually free society has less need of prostitution: given the choice, people generally seek relationships in which they are wanted for themselves, not for their money.
But it is the child pornography issue, rather than child prostitution, which has been the focus of recent attention, in both Britain and the United States. Naturally, the media, ever interested in the most lurid and negative aspects of sexuality, always assume the worst, and are aided and abetted by campaigners such as Dr Judianne Densen-Gerber in the United States, and Mrs Mary Whitehouse in Britain.
A front-page lead story in the Chicago Tribune of 15 May, 1977 is not untypical. Under the headline 'CHILD PORNOGRAPHY: SICKNESS FOR SALE, appears the following adjective-littered introduction to a story which covered over four column feet, and was itself just the first part of a four part series:
'The smiling, no-longer innocent faces of little children look up from the pages of more than 260 pornographic magazines sold in America children engaged in almost every known sexual perversion.
'The book racks in America's smut shops contain volumes that advise child molesters how to pick up children from school playgrounds; tell parents how to have incest with their children; and describe the joys of sexual gratification that comes from beating the young.
'For sale also are horror movies such as Hollywood never conceived. The horror is in the celluloid portrayal of children from three to about fifteen years participating in a variety of sexual perversions with adults and each other.'
Predictably, Dr Densen-Gerber is quoted, saying of the children involved:
'They are destroyed by these experiences. They are emotionally and spiritually murdered.'
We are not told why the children are smiling in the pornographic pictures, and the possibility that some of the children involved may have been relaxed and enjoying themselves is not explored. Nor are we told that references to the 'sexual gratification that comes from beating the young' appear from time to time in magazines of the Forum type in not nearly so sinister a context as might be supposed from the Tribune's reference: in the context, for instance, of a 'problem' letter to the Editor from a reader who finds he has sadistic inclinations and wants to avoid giving them free rein rather than the other way about.
It is in any case more than a little ironic that the anti-pornographers should be the ones to express anxiety on this score: the more God-fearing among them usually make no bones about beating the fear of God into their own children, and commend the use of corporal punishment in schools. Nor should we forget Stoller's point, that those who feel sexual gratification from beating are merely re-enacting past traumas which tend to result from such factors as parents beating children caught in sexual transgressions.
The value-loading of so many of the words and phrases deployed in the Tribune report, and others of its kind, is so blatant that only in a subject which provokes such intense irrationality as sex would it be possible to get away with it. 'No longer innocent faces', for instance. Would the Tribune have us believe that children are non-sexual beings until 'corrupted'? What do they mean by innocence, except enforced ignorance of sex? And what about the references to 'smut shops' and 'perversion' both of which represent ideas so uncompromisingly anti-sexual that they preclude any serious thought about the topic.
Dr Densen-Gerber caps everything else for sheer idiocy by her reference to 'spiritual murder', a phrase so totally emotional in content that when we try to find meaning beyond the emotion we are left with nothing: a literally incorporeal nothing. For how can one conduct an inquest on a spirit? What does she mean by 'spirit'? If Dr Densen-Gerber were talking about psychological damage, which could be discerned in such factors as emotional upset, or the inability in later years to be able to enjoy an adult sex life, then all well and good. But too often the media allow campaigners like Densen-Gerber to get away with nonsense like talk of 'spiritual murder'.
Reports such as this one appeared in newspapers throughout the United States in 1977, so that an unstoppable head of steam was built up for political action, and an anti child pornography measure was duly legislated. The political knock-on effect was felt in Britain soon after, perhaps (regrettably) given some impetus in August and September of that year by the intensive publicity given to PIE and paedophilia generally. The Daily Mirror had the dubious distinction of being first in the field with the British brand of hysteria, and effectively their decision to publish opened the floodgates. From then on the entire national press jumped on the bandwagon, particularly in the opening months of 1978, when Conservative MP Cyril Townsend launched a Private Member's Bill on the subject.
What everyone overlooked in the outrage of the moment, so far as legislation appropriate to the United Kingdom was concerned, was that
(a) there was already in existence a sufficient body of law to deal with child pornography, if it were felt to be necessary; and
(b) there was no evidence to suggest not a scrap that so-called 'hard core' child porn was being produced in Great Britain.
The Home Office knew this. Hence their allegedly 'complacent' attitude. Faced with the massive numerical strength of Mary Whitehouse's campaign in support of the Bill (over a million signatures were raised in a petition presented to Parliament), however, the Government found themselves obliged to cooperate with the Bill's passage through Parliament. It was eventually passed unopposed, with virtually no discussion of its contents in the House of Commons.
So what are the issues that so require elaborate and extended contemplation? Isn't the evil of child pornography totally self-evident? What I shall try to indicate in what follows is that I share the widespread concern that children are in fact being exploited in the making of child pornography in several countries (though certainly not on any scale in Great Britain), and I shall suggest a way in which this can be avoided without falling prey to the pitfalls of censorship (not on grounds of sexual content, at any rate) and obeisance to the anti-sexual lobby. Note that I say children may be exploited in the making of pornography, not that the making of pornography is itself necessarily evil or exploitative. There is, I believe, a vast difference between these two positions, which I shall try to demonstrate.
First of all, we need another word. 'Pornography', like 'fornication', is a term heavily laden with overtones of shame and degradation. There may indeed be a place for such a word, if we want to talk about depictions or descriptions of sex which is itself in some way shameful or degrading (such as the rape scene from the film Straw Dogs, or sexist representations which cast women as the mere playthings of men), but we need a positive word as well, to describe the joyous or beautiful representation of the human body and happy sexual acts and we have such a word: 'erotica'.
The question of when a representation is degrading and when it is beautiful is of course massively subjective; but we cannot possibly move towards a society with a healthily guilt-free attitude towards sex if we continue to insist on defining all representations of sexuality as degrading rather than beautiful. Nor should the depiction of nude children, or children engaging in pleasurable sexual acts, necessarily call for the use of the word 'pornography' rather than 'erotica'. We have already discussed the devastating consequences of taking a negative attitude to the sexual development of children: joyous erotica featuring children can be beneficial in contributing to a more positive, healthy attitude.
Having made this distinction, the words 'soft core' and 'hard core' become redundant. These terms are used by the police, and others whose job it is to distinguish not between 'erotica' and 'pornography', not between good and bad representations of sex, but between degrees of badness usually between what is legally permissible (just about) and what is not. This distinction between, for instance, showing a non-erect penis (soft core) and an erect one (hard core) is a dimension of concern only for those who feel there is something intrinsically 'worse' about overtly depicted eroticism than, say, mere nudity, i.e. for those who start with a shame-faced attitude to sex.
In considering the merits of erotica, we need to separate out a few of the chief objections to it, and to child erotica in particular. For the purposes of this discussion there are two main categories of objections:
(a) those that concern themselves with the effects, if any, on the consumer (Is the person who buys erotica going to be 'depraved and corrupted'? Is it more likely that after seeing it he will commit sex offences?); and
(b) those that concern themselves with the effects on the producers, particularly with those who actually take part in the sex acts depicted.
Traditionally, arguments against erotica have been directed towards the effect on the consumer. Only recently, with the discovery of child erotica, has emphasis shifted to the production side. As it happens, the change of emphasis is justified: undoubtedly the strongest arguments against child erotica relate to the effects on the children involved in its production. However, it is worth bearing in mind that for the most part those who in the past have been most vocal against erotica Lord Longford is a good example found themselves up against all sorts of evidential difficulties in trying to work out a clear case for clamping down on erotica, purely on the basis of arguments related to the consumer; one senses that many of the 'antis' were all but leaping around with glee to find that the involvement of children had given them a new angle, a new set of arguments.
There is still plenty of life in consumer-based arguments, despite the fact that trying to prove whether a book, or magazine, or whatever, tends to 'deprave and corrupt' has become a long-running legal farce. Trial after trial of books since the passing of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 in Britain has shown that it cannot be easily established, at least to a jury's satisfaction, what effect erotic literature is likely to have on people, in any 'moral' sense.
Even if it could be established that 'obscene' material tended to undermine existing standards of sexual morality (which in my view would be a beneficial thing, not a bad one), one would not be left with much of an argument against erotica. After all, there is a widespread acceptance of the idea that it is not the business of the law to enforce moral standards. An individual's morals are his own concern, not the concern of the state.
A more serious argument for the intervention of the law would exist if it could be shown that exposure to sexual material tended to increase the consumer's likelihood to commit sex crimes. Scientific approaches to the effects of erotica have been addressed both specifically to this question and to other defined behavioural effects (including measurable changes in social and moral attitudes). Much of the work has been poor in quality, including a number of the studies undertaken for the massive and much-vaunted American Presidential Commission Report of 1970.
One recent addition to the canon, Eysenck and Nias's Sex, Violence and the Media makes a more valuable contribution. This work has done much to clarify the issues, by making sensible distinctions regarding the type of erotica in question and the disposition of the viewer. Unlike the American Commission, which adopted a 'permissive' approach on the basis that they could find no proof for any dangerous effects of erotica, Eysenck and Nias adopted the firm conclusion that both violent representations and certain types of pornography (here I use the word advisedly) do have deleterious effects.
But they also agree that what they call good pornography (erotica) is harmless and can even be used profitably in therapy. My experience disposes me to agree with their main conclusion, regardless of the fact that Eysenck and Nias have been hailed in some quarters as intellectual saviours of the censorship lobby.
Having said this, I should point out that in the one country Denmark where the level of sex crimes has been minutely analysed since the abolition of all censorship, there has been an actual fall in some reported sex offences, including 'child molesting'.3 It is only fair to add that the figures are hotly disputed on a number of grounds, but on any interpretation of the evidence to date it is hard to believe that the Danes are being turned into a nation of sex maniacs.
On what basis, then, do Eysenck and Nias make a distinction between 'good' and 'bad' pornography? The answer is, essentially, on the same basis as I distinguish between 'pornography' and 'erotica': material is only bad if it is degrading, if it encourages hostility to the object of sexual attention.
They cite Fanny Hill as their 'good' example:
'Fanny Hill is perhaps as erotic a book as one could wish to read; it contains detailed descriptions of sexual intercourse in a great variety of positions, pre- and extra-marital sex, promiscuity and "unnatural" sexual behaviours. Yet the tone is one of enjoyment, women are not degraded by the men they consort with, and there is no violence to destroy this sense of good humour and enjoyment.'
If the book were to be filmed, they say,
'We know of no evidence that such a presentation would do harm, and indeed there is evidence ... that the effect on attitudes towards the other sex might be positive.'
By contrast, many commercially available films are not of this wholesome type:
'Even when they do not overtly depict scenes of violence and degradation of women at the hands of men, such as rape, beatings and subordination, the tone is consistently anti-feminist, with women only serving to act as sexual slaves to men, being made use of, and ultimately being deprived of their right to a sexual climax in the majority of such films, the portrayal ends with the men spraying their semen over the faces and breasts of the women .... The intention would seem to be simply to degrade women, and it is noteworthy that in many cases of rape the men involved either act in the same manner, or else urinate all over the women involved ....'
'The amount of overt sex in such films may not differ in any way from that shown in our hypothetical Fanny Hill film; what is important in marking the difference is the context, which is pro-love, pro-sex, and pro-women, in the one case, but anti-women, anti-love, and even anti-sex (in the sense of gentle, pleasant, co-operative sex) in the other.'4
As I see it, providing one accepts the premise that children's sexuality is not in itself to be discouraged, exactly the same conclusions are applicable to child erotica and pornography: gentle, pleasant, cooperative depictions of children in sex encourage a gentle, pleasant, cooperative attitude in the viewer. Nasty depictions would encourage the opposite response, especially among those whose personality, for whatever reason, disposes them to a 'nasty' approach to sexual expression.
One consumer-based argument against sexual depictions, which ultimately has implications for children who take part in them, is that they create a demand for ever 'stronger' material. It is claimed that those who start out by masturbating to 'soft' material inevitably find after a while that their response to it diminishes, and in the search for a more effective 'kick' they gravitate towards something more potent.
An article in The Guardian 5 drew attention to this theory in 1977 and made much of its alarming implications:
'Judith Reisman, a media researcher from Ohio, traced how saturation with straightforward female stimulus like The Sun's page three leads slowly but inevitably to the need for, and acceptance of, such things as paedophilia and incest and sexual violence. An acceptance not just among minorities, but among the general population .... Judith Reisman says "media conditioning into paedophilia and incest" is now leading, according to her researches, into child sadism.'
Reisman, according to The Guardian, emphasizes the role of the mass media in making new kicks acceptable: where magazines like Forum lead, in carrying articles which suggest that activities like incest may he acceptable, big-circulation glossies like Playboy and Penthouse follow, and so on down the line. From where I stand, having been 'exposed' in the News of the World and elsewhere, I cannot say I have noticed the 'mass media' going soft on paedophilia! Nevertheless, there is a serious point here, which was taken up in the same article by Dr Michael Apter, senior lecturer in psychology at Cardill University:
'The progression to sadism from other forms of titillation is explicable, says Michael Apter, by the theory of "new kicks" but it may have a more sinister element. Breaking a serious taboo in a sexual context leads to feelings of anxiety and guilt as well as to high arousal. But guilt and anxiety are inhibiting and can also turn to violence. To permit yourself to perform or imagine a "bad" action against someone it is necessary to create the feelings to match the action which can be a feeling of hostility.'
My immediate reaction? The 'anxiety and guilt' would not arise if only we had the courage to scrap needless taboos! The article continues:
'The guilt involved in participating in taboo acts can turn into hate a hate Ms Reisman says is abundantly evident in current hard and less hard core pornography. One of her examples shows a woman with a mutilated breast, another a torture scene, both in generally available not forbidden mags .... Films are emerging from South America of women sexually assaulted, mutilated and finally butchered .... Ms Reisman feels child sex could go the same way.'
Strong stuff. As the perils of porn involve, in Ms Reisman's view, the general population, not just those with a particular psychological disposition, no doubt everyone reading this will be asking themselves how far their own response to erotica substantiates the theory. Has exposure to mild erotica (in the newspapers and elsewhere) in fact led you to seek after slightly stronger stuff? Do you think you would ever develop an appetite for violent depictions? After all, to have any validity this avowedly very general theory must apply not just to other people, to deviants, but to oneself.
Personally, I feel that one part of the theory is correct, but that the major hypothesis is wildly wrong. It is important, in my view, that the half truth should not be allowed to give a spurious credibility to the whole thing.
Firstly, the half truth. I know that my own response to erotica, and that of a numbers of paedophile acquaintances, is indeed subject to the Law of Diminishing Kicks. Whereas at one time, when they first became available to me, pictures of (merely) nude boys were a powerful stimulus to masturbation, the response gradually wore off; after this, only 'stronger' pictures, showing boys engaged in masturbation, or fellatio with other boys, were capable of reproducing a comparably powerful masturbation stimulus to that which I had felt on my first exposure to nudes. Even the response to these stronger pictures diminished slightly with familiarity, but another new stimulus pictures showing anal intercourse with boys revived the response. Interestingly enough, I have never felt any urge to practise anal intercourse, actively or passively, and erotica has not turned me on to it as something to do myself.
I have no idea what other new depiction, if any, would turn me on, but I am quite sure it would not involve violence. How can I be sure, you may ask? Well, I have seen sadomasochistic material involving adults, and I find it very much of a turn-off rather than a turn-on, compared to other types of adult erotica, some of which do produce a mild positive response in me. I have no reason to suppose the pattern would be very different in relation to sadomasochistic material featuring children: if anything, it would be even more of a turn-off, because I would experience resistance to it at a moral level.
There remains the question of whether some people are likely to be corrupted towards violence. After all, there does appear to he a market for specifically violent pornography and, echoing the Guardian article quoted above, I know that this does extend to violence against children: I have never seen photos or films of children which depict overtly non-consensual, sadistic sex acts, but I have seen short stories included in photo mags, in which the appeal is distinctly sadistic, with children offered as the pain-suffering fantasy object. My own response to these stories, incidentally, has not been one of arousal. I have only attempted to read one example of the genre 'attempted' being the operative word.
Which brings us to what in my view is the great weakness of the Law of Diminishing Kicks. The simple Reisman formulation would have us believe that a nude on page three of The Sun leads on to more sexually explicit photographs, and so on in a continuous unbroken line to incest, paedophilia and ultimately child sadism. The underlying assumption is that, given total freedom from socially reinforced taboos, this freedom being wrought by the apparently all-powerful agency of 'porn', everyone is going to want to try out every conceivable form of bizarre behaviour. Everyone, it is felt, has lurking somewhere deep and repressed in his psyche a desire, if not for paedophilia as such, then at least for incest and violent sexuality.
It would take a bold and foolish person to deny the possibility that such repressed feelings are widespread, and that in these circumstances both pornography and erotica could act as a powerful agency in the breaking down of resistance to such feelings. At the same time, there are a number of other factors to be taken into account.
Firstly, it seems unlikely that pornography/erotica can induce people to turn on to any sexual stimulation, simply by their mere exposure to it. People are not going to become paedophiles simply by being exposed to paedophilic erotica. Nor are they going to respond to violent pornography unless they already have some penchant for violence. Homosexuals can be exposed to any amount of 'straight' heterosexual erotica without it having the slightest appeal to them. It certainly doesn't turn them on to 'straight' sex. Similarly, 'straights' who are exposed to homosexual erotica have generally been left cold.
This being the case, it would appear far too pessimistic to assume that whole populations are going to be led by pornography/erotica to every kind of depravity. What we have to consider instead is particular kinds of material and particular kinds of customers. Let's forget for the moment about erotica which arguably encourages incest or paedophilia (neither of which are bad in themselves), and concentrate on the one thing we are all agreed is undesirable: the tendency of certain sexual responses to be linked to violence. In this regard, I would propose a refined version of the Reisman model. I would suggest that the seeking of ever bigger kicks does happen, but that this tendency is channelled in quite different directions according to the consumer's original, predetermined inclinations. This is a proposition with which I think Eysenck and Nias would agree.
What ought to be of concern, then, is the progression followed by those who do have an interest in violence and sex as an expression of hostility. By this I mean not necessarily those who would happily and guiltlessly call themselves 'sadomasochists', many of whom are not turned on by violence of a non-consensual nature, but those who, whether for sexual or other reasons, are attracted to what is best described as cruelty and hate. Some such people may have a specifically sexual orientation towards adult men, or women, or possibly even towards children, but it is their inclination towards violence which primarily concerns us, not the particular sexes or ages of the victims whom they may choose. If there is to be a censor at all and I think there should be it is this area which should be subject to his attentions.
Thirdly, just as pornography can be defined as bad, in terms of the direction in which it may encourage the consumer to go, so erotica may be defined as good for the same reasons it can encourage people to explore good, worthwhile forms of sexual behaviour, which in the present climate of society they are too taboo-ridden and hung-up to investigate, or indeed of which they may be completely ignorant. Erotica, in other words, can play a positive role in the sexual revolution: if you think there is nothing wrong with incest, or with paedophilia, for instance, and if at the same time you believe people should be free to 'do their thing', then what could be more liberating and subversive than representations of people freely doing 'their thing'?
I would say that erotica has had a powerful influence on my own attitudes: an influence almost as powerful and revolutionary as the impact on me of Ford and Beach, and Kinsey. As I indicated in my opening chapter, I could never quite bring myself to believe, having been brought up in a severely anti-sexual family, that some children might be interested in sex. I learnt about their sexuality intellectually, through the writings of the sex researchers, but only through erotica did I come to see the possibility that it was real, not just an intellectual exaggeration: until I actually saw a picture of a five-year-old boy with an erection, I did not believe it could happen to such a young child. Nor could I believe that children of that age could have intercourse with each other, until I saw photographic evidence with my own eyes. And of course, having seen photographs of adults engaged in sexual acts with children, in which the children definitely appeared to have been enjoying the experience, I was sustained by a hope that one day I might do such things myself.
This does not mean I have been tempted, after viewing erotica, to go out into the street and descend on the first child I met, with predatory intent. The reaction is much more subtle than that. More ideological. It operates with me more on the level of defining what is possible in an acceptable relationship, rather than acting in terms of encouragement to do something at any one time though it might have made me slightly less inhibited in talking to children about sexual matters.
Viewed in this way, as a means of educating people about sexuality, as a means of breaking barriers of guilt, the objections raised by Michael Apter seem to disappear. Erotica can make people feel good about incest and so on, whereas previously they may only have felt guilty.
To envisage erotica as a tool in the sexual revolution may seem odd to those feminists and others who see it as an agency for the reinforcement of existing social roles and states of oppression, and as a blatant expression of profiteering capitalism. It may even seem a slightly old-fashioned view, echoing the anti-censorship, liberal tide of the 1960s. Indeed, the anti-porn, and in fact anti-erotic, element in feminism is now a major component in its radical thinking.
As an antidote, it is worth noting that not all radicals, even among feminists, are anti-erotica. The following is from an interview Germaine Greer, the celebrated and controversial feminist, gave with the American magazine Evergreen in 1971:
Claudia: You are an editor of the European pornzine SUCK a rather unusual position for one of Britain's leading feminists. In America, I couldn't conceive of a leading Women's Liberationist sitting on the editorial committee of a pornsheet. Do you see a conflict between your feminist ideals and your involvement with SUCK?
Germaine: I see no conflict at all. SUCK is not a pornzine in the American sense of the word. SUCK, as a matter of fact is no more the equivalent of SCREW than I am the equivalent of Al Goldstein [editor of SCREW]. SCREW is a sadistic paper. Its emphasis is completely masculine and it treats female flesh like it was so much butcher meat. It's completely unerotic very American. It makes me puke. SUCK, on the other hand, is a completely different kettle of fish. The keynote of SUCK is that sexual relationships should be open and unpossessive. We are anti-possession, anti-conquest, and anti-demanding of the sexual object, be it male or female. We are pro-pleasure.
In an editorial for SUCK itself, Germaine Greer wrote:
'Our cause is sexual liberation. Our tactic the defiance of censorship. Thus expressed, our aims are political, for the patterns of sexual interrelationship are created by and in turn support the other social structures. The approved sexual relationship in all Western societies is exclusive, possessive, colonizing, exploitary; sex is recognized as intimately connected with violence, for the power of the one over the other must be enforced and enforceable. Butch rules bitch, pimp rules whore, man rules wife, queer rules queen. Like the most insidious tyrannies, it is spoken of as a natural law, nature red in tooth and claw.
This organization, which is as clear and universal as if it were indeed the expression of an irrefragable law, has as its central pole pain instead of pleasure. The pain of sexual frustration, of repressed tenderness, of denied curiosity, of isolation in the ego, of greed, suppressed rebellion, of hatred poisoning all love and generosity permeates our sexuality. What we love we destroy.
Censorship is the outward and continuing expression of this distortion of the human erotic faculty. It is the one public point at which we can join battle with what enslaves us. Defiance of censorship is an emblem of the removal of the swaddling bands that have deformed our sexual personalities and it is our faith that they must be removed absolutely as a first prerequisite of freedom and new growth ....'6
I have explored in another chapter the relationships between sex and power as they affect paedophilic relationships; any consideration of children in erotica has to take into account these factors, from the point of view of those involved in the consumption of erotica (the paedophiles) and in its production (especially the children taking part).
Considering first of all the consumer of child erotica, one is faced with what appears to be a problem, one which feminists have pointed out in relation to adult erotica too, that of 'objectification'.
The starting point of much feminist thinking is that society is sexist. The men and women within it are taught and expected to behave differently in all matters, especially the sexual, and men are given the power to exploit women economically, emotionally and sexually. 'Pornography', they point out, caters almost entirely to men. It reinforces the male-dominated view of sexuality which sees men as aggressive and active in sex and women as passive, willing victims.
Susan Brownmiller 7 claims that women are disgusted and offended by 'porn' not because they are sexually backward or conservative but because of 'the gut knowledge that we and our bodies are being stripped, exposed and contorted for the purpose of ridicule to bolster that "masculine esteem" which gets its kick and sense of power from viewing females as anonymous, panting playthings, adult toys, dehumanised objects to be used, abused, broken and discarded.'
Brownmiller links this to rape, and says that instead of 'porn' being a safety valve, it in fact encourages men to rape or use women whom they have learned are not 'real'. Men who masturbate to sexist images of women are 'objectifying', and thereby oppressing, all women. Thus instead of challenging existing notions of sexuality, 'porn' reinforces a traditional outlook. Says Brownmiller:
'Hard-core pornography is not a celebration of sexual freedom, it is a cynical exploitation of female sexual activity thronging the device of making all such activity, and consequently all females, "dirty".'
I share the sense of offence that she so clearly feels when she talks of women as objects 'to be used, abused, broken and discarded'. On the other hand, it does not follow as a matter of logical necessity that because a woman may be represented in a passive sexual role that this makes her a 'victim'.
Such a view proceeds from a fundamentally anti-sexual (or at least anti-heterosexual) outlook, in which it is assumed that a woman could not find pleasure in such a role. Her remarks also ignore the possibility that erotica sometimes represents women in a sexually active role: as she has studied the subject, I imagine she must have seen magazines and films in which the woman, physically 'on top', fucks the man, so to speak. Such material is not uncommon and is surely worthy of remark.
I do not doubt that some sexual representations make a specific appeal to men's esteem in the way that she suggests; it is arguable that representing women as 'bunnies' is a deliberate form of ridicule and humiliation, though this I would not entirely accept: such a view presupposes a particular attitude in the mind of the beholder, and individuals of varying temperament and cultural background can be expected to take a variety of attitudes. The mere image of a woman reclining passively and nakedly provides no evidence of either the intent or successful effect of ridiculing the person depicted, or her sex.
In fact, all the more emotive parts of Brownmiller's argument the supposed wish to make females 'dirty', the alleged purpose of ridicule, the desire to see women 'abused, broken and discarded' relate not to sexual representation specifically, but to the way Brownmiller believes (the 'gut knowledge') that men think about women. She ignores the possibility that many men may have quite different feelings than those which she infers.
In other words, there is nothing intrinsic in sexual representations of women which bolsters 'bad' attitudes in men: no one would argue that Rubens' classical female nudes, by depicting women as naked, and passive, were in themselves degrading to women. If they did, one could ask the further question, 'Were Michaelangelo's nude men degrading to the male sex?' Presumably not. What matters is the societal context in which the representation takes place, not the representation itself.
Some research even appears to indicate that males who have a discernibly 'calloused and exploitive orientation toward females' may become less 'sex-calloused' after exposure to erotic films. In a study of 256 college males, Mosher found that over half of them had used exploitative techniques in an attempt to gain intercourse; these techniques included professing love (presumably insincerely) and use of physical force, alcohol or sexual materials to increase the probability of sexual intercourse. In a second study, he found that the 'sex-calloused' attitudes of these males to women decreased, rather than increased, for a sustained period of at least two weeks after viewing erotic films.8
I would, however, agree with Brownmiller that pornography and erotica alike share one undeniable quality: they both tend to 'objectify'. The person depicted in the erotic image is not 'real', is seen in a sexual dimension only, and is therefore capable of being considered only as an object of sexual attraction, not as a whole person. This is not a problem one can attribute to the mind of the consumer: it is inherent in the sheer fact of encapsulating just one aspect of a person in a photographic or cinematic image.
Writing in Gay Left, Gregg Blachford had some useful things to say about objectification:
'.... In our specialized society we objectify people all the time. When we purchase goods, we make the sales clerk into an object to satisfy our needs. ... What is objectionable is not objectification itself but the power that exists in one person (the male) to determine the nature of the sexual and emotional relationship and retain control over it: in the family (husband/wife); in the advertising business (ad-man/nude women uses to sell products) on the streets where men feel justified in whistling at women or even raping them ....' 9
This perception about our society's constant objectification of people is worth expanding, because it is not widely realized that the symbolic value, or 'meaning' of the 'object' in question, to the one who objectifies, is not necessarily impoverished or degraded in relation to the full human reality of the 'object'. In this regard, the field of non-erotic photography is worth examination: the teenager who sticks up posters of her or his favourite rock stars on the bedroom wall is to some extent objectifying them.
They become at once less, and more, than their real selves. Less, in the sense that their full humanity can never be revealed by a mere poster; they are reduced, by the functional apparatus with which they are surrounded microphones, guitars, etc. to the level of mere symbols of a generalized notion of excitement; and yet they become more, in so far as the particular star on the wall is a glamour figure, the subject of adulation as well as looking at his image, the youngsters who buy the posters read long articles in the pop music press giving biographical details about the particular star's music, love life, personality.
The same applies to the boy who puts up a picture of his favourite football team. The picture thus represented is not 'real': all the good, or extravagant, or flamboyant or even downright bad and nasty (as with Sid Vicious and other 'punk' figures) aspects of a person are played up, at the expense of a reality which probably includes a good deal of the merely ordinary.
Does this matter? Is it an indication that the youngster who owns the poster is exploiting and degrading the rock star? Or does the rock star exploit the youngster? And what about the widower who keeps a photo of his dear, departed wife on the mantelpiece? To him the image is invested with all sorts of memories of a real, living person: one whose full personality he probably knew in intimate detail. No objectification here, one would think.
In addition, Brownmiller's critique is founded on the proposition that men are always in control, and that part of this control expresses itself in a cynical and deliberate degradation of women in pornography. While this regrettably may be true to some extent, it is worth noting that the male who most needs erotica is the one who is sexually deprived, and not in control at all. It is the adolescent who is denied the opportunity for sex; it is the man who is shy and lacks an ability to form intimate personal relationships; it is the old, the ugly and the disabled. They are people who would like to know women as full human beings, but are deprived of the opportunity for the necessary contacts. They are people who yearn for personal contact: for erotic contact, certainly, but for emotional and social contact too.
This longing for personal contact applies perhaps even more among paedophile consumers of child erotica. Their state of deprivation from 'real' children is of course legally enforced, so far as the erotic element of a potential relationship is concerned. The law-abiding teacher, or youth worker, or 'uncle', may be allowed to know live children up to a point but only if his interaction with them is 'innocent', in a way that is just as unreal, just as denying of life and personality as any tendency erotica may have towards 'objectification'.
Feminists and other critics of child erotica really need to know a little more about how paedophiles think and fantasize about children. For my own part (and this is a feeling shared by many paedophile friends), I turn on most towards erotica in which the children, far from being mere passive objects of sexual attention, are themselves clearly sexually aroused, active participants in whatever act is depicted; paedophile erotica, involving both girls and boys is in fact largely of this nature. As for the fact that the images are merely erotic, this is a reflection not of the paedophile's one-track mind, but of the limitations of the medium. I would like to see better paedophilic erotica feature-length films, say, shown at public cinemas, complete with the usual elements of feature films: plot, characterization, portrayal of emotion, and so on.
Some high-quality child erotica has been produced, though not by those who are so vocal in their denunciation of lesser-quality material. A good example is a book published in America called Show Me!, described by the publishers 10 as a picture book of sex for children and their parents. It contains a great many large photos of children and adolescents engaged in various sexual activities, supported by a text which briefly raises a variety of subjects, including anatomical variation, circumcision, masturbation, childbirth, nursing and sexual intercourse. In other words, it is a sort of sex-education primer.
Dr Larry Constantine, an assistant professor at Tufts University, who works on attachment to Boston State Hospital as a family counsellor, wrote a serious review of the book for the journal Family Coordinator, expressing the view that it was 'a beautiful book that breaks ground by its totally explicit photographs of children and adolescents in a variety of sexual activities.' The text, he felt, was less good, being characterized by out-of-date Freudian references and sexist bias. Yet on balance he still felt the book was valuable. Why? In a nutshell because it offers a warm, positive view of eroticism. He wrote:
'The reviewer's daughter, who at the age of six was able to point out the flaws in the book, said "It turns me on!" It is regrettable that children's exposure to erotic love is through the distortions and deceptions of adult media. Television, for example, offers a sour brew of sex with violence fermented by adult hang-ups which demand that TV sex tempt and tease while ever maintaining a taint of comedy or contempt. It would be nice if kids had access to their own erotic literature graphic, direct, explicit, natural, sensual, unconflicted ....' 11
Of course, even positive erotica like Show Me! comes under attack from the anti-sexual lobby: this very book was featured in a picture in The Times of 8 February, 1978, immediately before the second reading of the Child Protection Bill. Holding it up for the photographer as an example of the iniquitous material that had to be stamped out was American anti-porn campaigner Judianne Densen-Gerber.
Feminists might also like to note that even if adult women are alienated from erotic imagery, the same cannot necessarily he said for female children, if Constantine's daughter is anyone to go by! Constantine rightly points out elsewhere 12 that there are no adequate research studies on the effect of erotica on children, though I would agree with him when he says:
'[I]n the final analysis it still reduces, like the question of exposure to violence, to personal views on the intrinsic goodness or evil of sex. A case can be made out that too little of a healthy, erotic nature is accessible to children, not too much. The poor quality, dehumanizing character and paraphilial emphasis that are the hallmarks of contemporary pornography are by-products of its socially marginal and only quasi-legitimate status. Were sex sufficiently acceptable so that healthy and affectionate but erotic portrayals of human sexuality became an integral part of children's literature and television, likelihood of interest in, exposure to, or negative effects from poorer pornography would be reduced.'
Public attention, however, has been swinging away from the adult or child consumer of erotica. The emphasis is now on the child's role in the production side. This is hardly surprising in view of the fact that in Western society childhood sexuality per se is denied and suppressed, and that all sexual activity is felt to be a private experience, rather than something which should be open for the whole world to share in. If one accepts these points as fundamental, it becomes self-evident that child 'porn' must be wrong, that it must he harmful to the child who takes part.
If, on the other hand, we proceed from a positive view of child sexuality, and even believe that sex between adults and children can be a positive thing, we have to ask ourselves whether allowing sexual acts to be photographed or filmed introduces any new elements, either harmfully or beneficially. Should we, for instance, regard sex as an intrinsically private act? Is the experience between two (or three, or four?) people in some way debased if others are allowed to witness it through photographic images? At a more practical level, does the camera in the bedroom introduce a harmful commercial element to sex, in the same way that prostitution does? Does it mean that children are liable to be exploited and harmed? What type of harm can we expect, if any? Can we quantify it by some sort of research?
The topic of child erotica is a very new one in the public consciousness. For this reason there has been inadequate time for resources to be devoted into research on it, and in any case few would think this necessary, any more than they would think it necessary to research the harm done to a victim by knife attacks. Nevertheless, one needs something more positive to go on than the notion of 'spiritual murder'.
Reports, particularly from the United States, suggest that at least some of the children involved come to a terrible end: that they are abused and exploited, sexually and in other ways. The Daily Mirror, in its exposι in 1977, referred to events in Los Angeles, where allegedly 'plastic bags have been discovered on garbage heaps containing the dismembered bodies of eighteen young mutilated children ... many of them suspected of having been used in pornography'. They also mentioned a film allegedly made in Houston, Texas, which supposedly showed 'a child being murdered in a shocking sexual rite'. 13
Other stories have suggested that there is widespread trafficking in children, a white-slave trade; children bribed, bullied, kidnapped or sold by their parents in Mexico are said to have been used for pornography in California, and even as far east as Massachusetts. Attempts have been made to tackle the problem by introducing laws to prevent boys being passed across state lines within the US (there is already long-standing legislation concerning girls).
That herding children around like animals, and slaughtering them in like manner, is exploitation of the worst kind hardly needs stating. One is also entitled to draw the inference that those in charge of such operations are unlikely to be sensitive as to whether the sexual activity the children are required to engage in for the pictures and films is something they want to do: one can safely imagine that in these circumstances they are forced into it.
Child pornography is now said to be a multi-million dollar business in the United States. 14 If this is true then it will inevitably have attracted the most ruthless people imaginable, who would think nothing of brutalizing and murdering children for money. Yet such studies as there have been of the business indicate that not all the material is produced by ruthless gangster types, even in the United States, where the worst abuses have been reported. Robin Lloyd 15 reports that much of the material is produced by amateurs, who are themselves paedophiles: the photographs show their own little girl- and boy-friends, whom they may love dearly and be very proud of. The amateurs simply take the photos and sell them to the professionals who publish the mags and do the distribution. These pictures may well show children engaged in sexual activities which they are thoroughly enjoying.
As a customer as a purchaser of child erotica (at least, until the Child Protection Act) I have tried to buy material in which the children appear to he enjoying themselves, but for the most part it is impossible to tell with certainty what the 'actors' are thinking and feeling.
Smiling faces are much in evidence, though something more akin to scowls may be encountered, if the camera catches the tense, concentrated pleasure of orgasm. Magazine pictures, and films too, often feature children sexually active with each other, with no adult involved, as though the camera were merely recording spontaneous childhood sexiness which would have been going on even if no film were being made. These are children, we are invited to suppose, who are perfectly happy to fellate and masturbate each other, and to have coitus, with a carefree disregard for their being under public scrutiny.
How much of this is real, how much a counterfeit designed to ease the buyer's conscience, it is hard to say, and only by talking to the particular children involved in each case could one be sure of the truth. I should add that I have met and spoken to some children who have been featured in erotica, and have fairly detailed knowledge, from reliable sources, of the personal circumstances and dispositions of others: in these cases, the photographer has been an 'enthusiastic amateur' and the children have definitely enjoyed their 'work'.
My guess is that there is a complete spectrum of ways in which children relate to the erotic photographs and films in which they appear, from total coercion to appear, to total involvement with the sexual partner in question (though that of course does not necessarily mean total enthusiasm for performing sexual acts for public consumption). Possibly there is a comparable spectrum in economic terms: total exploitation at one end (when all the reward for taking part goes to the producer or distributor), to something like total fairness at the other end (I know one producer of child erotica who, until he was caught, gave all the cash he earned from selling pictures, to the children themselves).
Consumers of child erotica, like myself, try to distinguish degrees of goodness and badness in different examples of it, but those who legislate for the welfare of children have no use for such after-the-event judgements. They must try to prevent exploitation from taking place, and on the face of it this objective would best be served by banning all child erotica.
Such a solution would have implications (indeed, does have implications) far beyond the immediate problem, however: it is no accident that those in the forefront of the campaign against child erotica are also predominantly anti-gay, anti-heterosex-before-marriage, anti what they derisively call 'permissive' attitudes generally. They are people who in a wider context believe in an authoritarian society, in which Church and State between them call all the shots, in which dissidence of all sorts is severely punished. They are the people who, in their anxiety to promote the 'moral' welfare of others, overlook the misery, the frustration, and the violence engendered by sexual ignorance and repression. For they feel that people, especially children, must be kept sexually ignorant and repressed to free them from the 'corrupting' effect of their own feelings.
I believe there is an alternative way forward, as indicated by Larry Constantine.16 He has this to say about participants in child erotica:
'Were the rights claims of children in this area vigorously defended, pornography using children would undoubtedly continue, but its production could be made more accessible to policing. Children who did not wish to participate could be better protected from exploitation at the hands of parents and other adults, just as child actors are protected by the scrutiny made possible by an open legal industry in which rights to participate are also recognized. The extremes of exploitation, kidnapping, rape and other excesses of the pornographer using children now are products of the illegality and marginality of the enterprise. True concern for children would prefer to see some children participating willingly in pornography under able-to-be-monitored conditions than to have other's brutally exploited because of their status as runaways or mere chattels of their parents.'
Constantine talks about the benefits of a legal industry. I would go further and suggest that part of the reason for the exploitation of children is not only the industry's present illegality, but also its profitability, albeit that the latter is to some extent dependent on the former.
As well as monitoring the industry, why not take the profit incentive out of it?
Why not have Government-sponsored erotica, produced and distributed at rates which would undercut illicit material?
Via the Arts Council, say, it would be possible to create bursaries for artists working in the field of erotica, including child erotica, thus encouraging the emergence of really first-rate non-commercial material. The National Secular Society has in this regard made the sensible, and perfectly feasible, suggestion that child labour laws could be invoked, like those that prevent the exploitation of child labour in factories and other places of employment.17
In a monitored, and legitimate erotica industry, it would be possible to enforce a minimum wage, and children capable of acting, as well as of an elementary erotic response, might become valued stars in a whole new genre of film, which has its present nearest equivalent in the Tatum O'Neal/Jodie Foster/Brooke Shields phenomenon.
There is no harm in honestly recognizing that sex undertaken for erotica has elements of performance built into it which make it comparable with the other performing arts. It is not necessary to pretend that the only 'good' erotica is that in which the participants are simply being themselves.
Erotica may be good if it comes over to the audience as an erotically charged performance, even though the actors may not really be erotically charged: just as a Shakespearian love scene between Romeo and Juliet can be very moving and effective even though the actor and actress involved are not in reality in love. Such a Shakespearian performance is in itself insincere; in a sense, all fictional drama is a lie. But it does not matter. The 'insincere' love scene does not debase love.
Neither does an 'insincere' sex scene debase sex: all that matters is that the participants in it are happy to take part, and are properly rewarded for doing so. In a sense, the best erotica, which I would like to see made (and which does not yet exist) will be more 'insincere' than the cheap, rather crude stuff that is turned out now: there will be more dialogue, more plot, more acting.
One problem of children in erotica which does affect them more than adults, arguably, is that of blackmail. The boy who is carefree enough at the age of twelve or thirteen to take part in erotic films always faces the possibility that ten years later his attitude will have changed. He may have married. The thought of his wife finding out might be enough to make him part with money to a blackmailer. It's an argument which could be raised as an objection to all sex between children and adults, though the presence of a celluloid record is an additional factor in the case of erotica.
Like so many other sexual 'problems', this one boils down to the necessity of getting rid of guilt. What we have to encourage is a society in which shame does not attach to involvement in any consensual sexual behaviour: and one of the fastest, most powerful agencies for the transformation of our thinking towards a less guilty view of sex is via the medium of erotica itself.
Ch 10 - Notes and References
1. Lloyd, op. cit., p. 178. ^
2. Reported in Dan Tsang, 'Men and boys', Gayweek, Vol. 3, No. 103, 1979, p. 8. ^
3. According to Kutschinsky, quoted in Eysenck and Nias, op. cit., p. 121. ^
4. Eysenck and Nias, op. cit., pp. 258-9. ^
5. Lynn Owen, 'Taboo or not taboo?', The Guardian, 16 September, 1977, p. 11. ^
6. From Claudia Dreifus, 'Freeing women's sexuality: an interview with Germaine Greer', Evergreen. Vol. 15, No. 93, October 1971, quoted in Jeanne Pasle-Green and Jim Haynes, Hello, I Love You!, Almonde, Paris, 1975, pp. 39-40; editorial in Suck No. 5, ibid, pp. 147-8. ^
7. Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, Secker and Warburg, London, 1975. ^
8. See the American Presidential Commission, Report on Pornography and Obscenity, American Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1970, p. 240. ^
9. Gregg Blachford, 'Looking at pornography: erotica and the socialist morality', Gay Left, No. 6, summer 1978, pp. 16-20. ^
10. W. McBride and H. Fleischhauer-Hardt, Show Me! A Picture Book of Sex for Children and Parents, St Martins Press, New York, 1975. ^
11. The Family Coordinator, Vol. 26, 1977, pp. 99-100. ^
12. L. Constantine, 'The sexual rights of children: implications of a radical perspective', in Larry L. Constantine and Floyd M. Martinson (eds), Children and Sex: New Findings, New Perspectives, Little, Brown, Boston, 1980. ^
13. Daily Mirror, 5 September, 1977. ^
14. The anti-porn campaigners are given to exaggerating the money involved, however, aided and abetted by the news media who have an interest in coming up with sensational figures. See p. 249 regarding the accuracy of the Chicago Tribune exposι. ^ [NOTE: Use the following link to access the reference, then manually return to this footnote by searching for See p. 249 (without quotes) LINK= 1 ]
15. Lloyd, op. cit., Chapters 7 and 8. ^
16. Constantine, 'The sexual rights of children ...', op. cit. ^
17. National Secular Society, 'Evidence to the Williams Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship' reprinted in The Freethinker, Vol. 98, No. 5, 1978, pp. 67-78. ^
Chapter 9 : Home : Chapter 11