The writing has been on the wall for some time. Sex has become a commodity and is suffering the fate of all commodities which is devaluation on the one hand and fragmentation into weirder and weirder varieties on the other – rather like yoghurt. Two media events at the end of March, illustrate this development. The first was a surprisingly kindly BBC Radio 4 retrospective on Hugh Hefner, and the other was the collapse of the Daily and Sunday Sport newspapers and of course The News of the World.
Playboy magazine was properly remembered as a classy assault on American puritanical prurience. Not only did it publicly and graphically demonstrate that nice girls certainly did, but it produced literate and radical arguments for sexual liberalism. Once society had become convinced of this view, it lost interest in the intellectual debate and became careless of how nice the girls were so long as they had their legs open. This made things more competitive for Hugh and ultimately relegated his magazine and his clubs to a backwater of cultural history. Sex became a matter of split beavers and very rapidly of beavers split by all sorts of beaver-splitting devices, many of them wielded by men. A good time was being had by all.
David Sullivan’s Sport has to be seen as the Viz comic of the smut business. Launched in an era when the term ‘pin-up’ had long become archaic and been replaced as a descriptor of equal ambivalence by the title ‘porn-star’, Sport took the gender joke public. Viz’s ‘Fat Slags’ were there, in the form of big breasted, bootylicious nymphs gagging to experience whatever the readership desired in their randy dreams. The nature of these was suggested by the sex-phone adverts which presumably paid for a great deal of the paper’s costs. Under the estimable Tony Livesey the editorial almost justified the sleaze. Its stories were wonderfully bizarre – famously the ‘bus on moon’ and the Versace murder ‘Shoots You Sir’ headline. But what it did do was to make plain what all journalists – especially from the red-tops know – which is that in the absence of facts, make it up. And if possible make it as salacious as possible. In the Sport’s case the clever bit was also to make it funny.
Technology is the surfboard of cultural evolution. The Playboy ethos sort of continued in the perennial American dream of physical and economic perfection. Its erotic successors and (largely Californian) avatars in the digital universe of the internet and DVD created a product that might be called ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Sex’. Britain’s redtops early on, and subsequently TV programmes such as Eurotrash tended to stick with an earthier, more culturally realist and almost Chaucerian or Rabelaisian approach. The Wife of Bath would have eaten Paris Hilton for breakfast.
Unsurprisingly, the growing candour of our sexual zeitgeist had led women to believe that they could play too. Of course, many or maybe most women had always liked to play. Now, populist female interpretation of feminism – led like all movements by intellectuals and exploited by commerce, meant that they could increasingly indulge a total ‘in-yer-face’ expression of what ‘girldom’ meant. First manifestations in the 1960s led to taking tops off at pop festivals. Later it resulted in TV ads for tampons and products that dealt with related forms of leakage from a part of their anatomy that hitherto had been secret and treated with a mixture of reverence, fear and lust.
Curiously, the progress of female self-expression and women’s freedom to have their sexuality recognised became lock-stepped with the way in which its imagery became truly and basically sexualised. Liberating the vagina also helped release porn from its confinement on the naughty step. Thongs and bikini lines reinforced the crotch as a display area. The focal obsession of porn – that is to say the emphasis on women’s (shaven) groins – was implicit and explicit in every image from the struts of catwalks to the preoccupation of paparazzi with how high up the inner thigh the camera could get as celebrity babes exited from a limo. The reductio ad absurdum of 21st Century sexual mores and the apotheosis of the ‘fuck-me’ shoe is undoubtedly the sight of fat girls in Nottingham town centre legs akimbo and drunk as sailors, who if not vomiting while sprawled over a bollard are trying to hit a policeman as they struggle to stand upright. If they didn’t have silly short skirts on, they would lose much of their media appeal.
You have to wonder really about the erotic value of such situations. Assuming these girls do get fucked (with or without the shoes), what will they remember, if anything? Even more interesting is the question of quite how much pleasure might have been derived by the man who so abused the trust she presumably placed in him. These scenarios make a decent case for porn films and the role they play as a viable option in sexual release. At least the movies present a set of paid actors who generally look quite attractive and even if the men seem a tad stern, the girls are usually lively enough and make a showing of enjoyment.
The longstanding feminist case against porn has been that it renders women as objects and sex as exploitative and merely transactional – unlike the entire female style industry? This may be so, especially in the post 1970s manifestation with its harder and more knowing edge. However, it has not become so simply through the grubby immorality of men. Rather, that the discourse about sex seems to have turned sour. As with all rebellions, the feminist search for gender justice, having won the argument has begun a mopping up operation. That most of the sisters have been having a great time strutting their stuff as exemplified in ‘here come the girls’ ads or by fucking footballers and keeping the Australian wine business afloat must be an embarrassment to right thinking females.
After a period of quiescence, radical feminism regrouped under New Labour. Rape as a political weapon, sex trafficking and pay inequality have been conflated to stoke outrage at male ghastliness. Problems of female oppression in Islamic states have created some ambivalence. This is partly due to the usual lefty nonsense of not wanting to offend anyone – except men and Tories of course – and especially folk from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds because, well, you know. There is also the conundrum of some perfectly articulate Muslim women defending the Burq’ua because it protects them from lecherous male scrutiny. This is a tough call for the hard line feminist who supposes all men are obsessed with her arse but hasn’t hitherto supposed they fancy her face too.
The hacks satirised in the Private Eye ‘Polly Filla’ column have no truck with men, who are deemed entirely useless. To judge from their columns, life at home for their male partners must be hell. Even if they are pretending, the anti-man propaganda is relentless. When not whining about their pay these women are complaining about lack of domestic ‘support’. Meantime, their political spokespeople sustain a constant campaign to portray men as the source of all society’s ills. No wonder then that the Census is expected to show that single parents (read: mothers) will outnumber the traditional mum, dad and 2(.4) kids some time very soon. Nor is it surprising that the term ‘making love’ has become risible and has been replaced by the simple term ‘having sex’.
The zeitgeist is such that even local TV news reports can show any fat, dim single mother of six living on benefits whose son has just killed his girlfriend in a stolen car crash as deserving of sympathy. Being dim is not her fault we think. But she doesn’t seem retarded. Yet the idea that she could at least avoid the babies even if not the calories escapes our commentators. And lest you think this is sexist, the commentaries totally omit query of the male parent: which clearly demonstrates that the incontinence and irresponsibility of men is taken as unremarkable.
Evidently for our opinion forming feminists, sex is increasingly a regrettable necessity best satisfied by a suitable implement which might include a clean and presentable male, but not on a permanent basis. They are almost certainly winning the argument as the social statistics for marriage and divorce, household composition and sadly, sexual and domestic violence suggest. The growth of violence may or may not be real. It may be predicated on greater willingness of women to complain, or of the more sensitive criteria for what constitutes ‘violence’ (shouting counts) or a misreading of the data. It may be all of these. It may even be that men – who are bears of little brain – have become addled by the conundrum of women’s apparent sexual liberality and contempt for their gender opposites and so (however impermissibly) lash out.
No one of any sensibility would suggest that the sexes should engage on other than free and equal terms. To be sure, biology and its associated social consequences have dealt a hand that we (men, western liberals, irreligious) continue to try and make work fairly. The problem is that ‘Feminism’ continues to promote hostility to men as a gender, and implicitly the idea of sex as a form of male oppression. We men are a bit saddened and baffled by this. It has always been difficult to know what women like – mothers only ever provided a very partial clue. In general it was about hugs and clean pants and being disappointed if you were naughty. Later on we learned that being a bit heroic (and a little dangerous) and nice to animals and sending flowers was good.
During the 1970s we became aware that there were women who thought men were very bad and that sex was about invasion of their very personal spaces and male oppression. This was easy to shrug off since all the women one knew seemed to like sex – including that Australian woman – and in any case people like Andrea Dworkin were ugly and apparently lesbian. As the twentieth century drew on, the issues changed subtly. We were made to understand that not washing up and leaving the loo seat up really pissed girls off: unlike girls leaving knickers on the floor and tampons floating in the pan which was merely feminine carelessness. Also, it seemed that girls were smarter than boys, got more GCSEs and were perfectly happy to carry a vibrator in their handbags.
TV series such as Men Behaving Badly developed the idea that men are essentially prats. This has long been a foundation of comedy, but largely because men have tended to do the comedy and have little fear of self-mockery. To be fair, female comedians show signs of becoming equally adept at sending up their own gender and of laughing at the human condition albeit from inside a female brain. It is from the pens and mouths of the chattering feminist classes – largely located in politics and left of centre journalism that sex as we know meets its death by a thousand increasing rebuffs.
To begin with gay men (love you darlings) began to monopolise what affection and regard women had for blokes with balls. Gays made it feel that they liked chatting to women but without the not so hidden agenda of wanting to get them into bed. They also knew a lot about fashion. Interestingly, the predilection of gays for buggery and its association with AIDs didn’t bother women. This is probably because they knew they were not likely to be the object of an advance from that quarter. Even more curiously, the long standing gay movement PR campaign for acceptance rode through the AIDS plague fears and established anal sex as an accepted and on occasion preferably pleasurable variant of intercourse for everyone. With oral sex long secured as the normative, almost ‘not really sex’ form of gratification (hey Bill, nice one), sodomy has taken on the role of the little game everyone plays, or wants to but doesn’t tell about.
Last but not least men have become feminised. Notwithstanding the sterling efforts of computer games to cast men as total killing machines and Lynx advertising to suggest that women lust after even weedy boys, the general tone of male fragrance and fashion product marketing is androgynous at best. Cross-dressing has left the panto and become almost de rigueur for rugby club nights out. Much of this acceptance has been due to Eddie Izzard, and who shall blame him.
For perfectly good or understandable reasons conventional sexual rules and boundaries have become blurred. All of us can be anything we want. Boys are cute, girls are butch. BDSM is mainstream thanks to Cynthia Payne, punk and the fashion business. In consequence, what is scathingly called ‘vanilla’ sex has become devalued. That said, the feminist now has two sticks with which to beat (yes, yes, go on), the male species. First, we are jolly boring in bed. Second we are a bunch of perverts who can only get our rocks off if some oppressed or charitable woman is willing to submit to our lusts or perform unspeakable obscenities on our sad and pathetic bodies. All of which leads any regular guy to become nervous and lose confidence.
Back in the humdrum world of what used to be guilt-free heterosexual pleasures, men have always liked seeing women naked – and if possible with their legs open. The Chauvet cave discoveries demonstrate this was true 35,000 years ago. Women once appeared to recognise this and used their attributes accordingly and to great effect. This gave rise to Samson and Delilah and Anthony and Cleopatra amongst others. Much later we could infer that they also derived moderate (though not overwhelming) interest and amusement from male nakedness. This led to male strippers and ‘The Chippendales’.
Women have never seemed to offer a clearly documented view on their specific sensual response to erotic stimuli or their true physical gratifications. That is, they have never controlled the cultural media by which their fantasies, perceptions and physical experiences might be expressed. Nor have they shown much interest in so doing. Men’s idea was always that women’s sexual desire was more conditioned by imagination and the implicit than the vulgarly overt. Pornography has always represented the male wish-list. We mere men can only surmise women’s sexual imagination from a close reading of female subtexts in conversation and observation of their erotic conduct. But are the sales of Mills and Boon or the behaviour of girls outside a Manchester nightclub a reliable guide and can we trust the women with whom we feel intimate to tell us the truth? Their willingness to array themselves in an aesthetic style that attracts us, or shows them to advantage out there in the street is entirely a socio-biological instinct and may (note: may) well not represent their real lusts.
Extreme feminism (and it drives much of the agenda for our political elites and their cohorts) argues that this is all dross and that female power is absolutely about the covert management of male desire and the denial of its fulfilment. The queen passes in the street, her outriders keeping back the drones and workers. A chosen few may compete for favour. Actually, for many feminists there is only the dream of revenge for oppression (the operating default accusation) and the achievement of male subservience. Sensual gratification may come from a suitable slave. Insemination can come from a hypodermic if reproduction is required: until women can self-create their own means of impregnation.
All this is very discouraging for happy blokes and jolly girls. We think we have escaped from Harriet Harman and Jacqui Smith and their ilk – mercifully quiet post-election and with no evident Tory female activists. We haven’t been let off however. Sex is the bad thing in our society. Somehow, trying hard to please mummy and approving gay marriage has not made male approval ratings grow. We are the perverts, paedophiles, rapists and consumers of pornography. We import sex slaves and kill unfaithful girlfriends. Well yes, we do all that in the same way all Germans are Jew killers or all Jews are bankers and all Tories are capitalist bastards and all Muslims cut off girls’ clitorises. And good grief, they are all men too.
The consequence has been to make too much of our sexual discourse overly self-conscious. We all know how diffident our relations with children have had to become. Offices are minefields of potential lawsuit. Out there in the street, the girls are still, surprisingly, not wearing burqu’as. Rather, if not rat-arsed – and even then, they are telling us to go fuck ourselves. Meantime some of us persevere and earn money and bring up the kids with some woman or other for whom we feel love and to whom we try to be kind – though probably not with a columnist with whom it would be very difficult and probably not very rewarding.
So when, of an evening, you approach your female partner it is not simply with lusty appreciation and a shared abandonment. Instead, your head is stuffed with worries about whether you are doing the right thing right. It is also concerned about the possibility that she is only doing this from a sense of if not duty, then the absence of a decent excuse, which is even more dispiriting. There’s a headache pill advert that plays to the problem/solution ploy. In this case it’s the woman’s bedtime headache excuse and he has the remedial pills. The close suggests ‘nice try but no cigar’. It is a very clever piece of work. Then again we all have our own wish-list of stuff that could be done if only she or we had whatever it took to ask, offer or agree to try but which is now even further off the radar of possibility.
Sex – and in particular, sexual differentiation – has always been the most profound focus of human sensual experience, matched only by food. It conditions the relations between men and women. It has been exploited by a dominant gender and subverted by religions. It remains the source of much of humanity’s passions and pleasures. Our diffidence or embarrassment, as much as our fascination is influenced by the culture in which we live. Currently we are in a world where at every level liberty is confused with libertarianism and self-control with suppression. This is not a great environment for sexual enjoyment. Added to which, in Western Society, to be ‘normal’ is to be either dull or perverted and to be a man is both.
Orwell’s 1984 looms but in a form he could never have imagined. The Feminist State Cultural Thought Police demand that we submit not to their sense of shared humanity, but to their hunger for challenges to their aesthetic perceptions and urge to compensate for their so-regrettable conventional upbringing. That is to say, they are seriously screwed up women who will for whatever reason make a mess out of you. Rather than admit that they would just like a good fuck with a man who has a stiff cock, they have conspired to admit anything into ‘sex-speak’ normalcy. All forms of sexual conjunction and fulfilment including oranges and bondage, gay marriage and hey, trans-gender stuff are now treated as commonplace. Not only should trans-gender folk be ‘recognised’ but it seems they can actually have babies even if they are men (who used to be women). Of course they should, but why should you or I care and want to watch it?
Time was, it was fun to go and buy a pair of pretty knickers and a bottle of Chanel from a smart store for the girl in your life. After that, stuff happened and there you both were with a Toyota and four grandchildren. The thing is that our feministas and the pornographers they hate the most are allies. Together they will kill sex: the one through dislike and hatred of men, the other through devaluation. This sad alliance of extremes can only accomplish what all such bastardisations do. They corrupt and they probably have, in media terms. It will be up to us to keep sex alive on a human scale. Go fuck, people – with love and however pleases you both, so long as it does.
Bruno Phillips’s book, The Main Point: The Life and Work of a Porno Film Maker, is available now at Amazon.