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British Ministry: Young Brits Are Having a Lot of Unhealthy Anal Sex

The British government wants to censor anal sex videos online. But is that the solution to safer sex?

British Prime Minister David Cameron listens to a final speech by former Foreign Secretary William Hague before he resigns as a Member of Parliament on day one of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham in central England on September 28, 2014.  British Prime Minister David Cameron is bidding to rally his Conservatives for victory at next year's general election at their annual conference, with the party reeling from a defection and a sex scandal.AFP PHOTO/CARL COURT        (Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister David Cameron listens to a final speech by former Foreign Secretary William Hague before he resigns as a Member of Parliament on day one of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham in central England on September 28, 2014. British Prime Minister David Cameron is bidding to rally his Conservatives for victory at next year's general election at their annual conference, with the party reeling from a defection and a sex scandal.AFP PHOTO/CARL COURT (Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

The British government has spent decades worrying about sex — and anal sex in particular. In England and Wales, homosexual anal sex for men aged 21 and over wasn’t decriminalized until 1967 (and until then it was legally referred to as “buggery”).

In 2014, the British Parliament amended a communications bill with the aim of, effectively, banning an entire list of sex acts from British-produced pornography, including physical or verbal abuse, spanking, strangulation, face-sitting, and fisting — the last three of which were deemed “life-endangering.”

On Tuesday, British newspaper the Independent reported that London is now concerned that young people are participating in anal sex at record high rates, in part because they’re inspired by the violent pornography they watch online.

The British Department for Culture, Media, and Sport released a consultation document earlier this year outlining concerns that “more young people are engaging in anal intercourse than ever before despite research which suggests that it is often not seen as a pleasurable activity for young women.”

Jaclyn Friedman, a feminist activist and author of two books on healthy sex, including Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Empowerment and a World Without Rape, told Foreign Policy she doesn’t think she’s “ever seen a modern government weighing in on a particular sex act.”

Although Friedman has “seen research that suggests that young women are being pressured by young men to have anal sex in ways that are not pleasurable for them,” she said the problem doesn’t lie only in the readily available and often violent free pornography available on the Internet — but in a basic lack of thorough sex education. 

The official consultation document released by the British government says, “Many people worry that young people will come to expect their real life sexual experiences to mirror what they or their peers see in pornography, which often features ambiguous depictions of consent, submissive female stereotypes and unrealistic scenarios.”

Friedman said that’s a real concern but that there is also a relatively simple solution to that: Instead of marginalizing a group of people who may actually enjoy a certain sex act by labeling it taboo, shameful, and not pleasurable, governments should be working toward inclusive sex education for students at a young age. And part of that curriculum should include what she calls “porn literacy,” which would sensitize age-appropriate groups to understand that what they are seeing in pornography is not always a reasonable representation of sex in real life. “Porn is terrible sex ed,” Friedman said. “It’s unrealistic.”

The British government has already struck a deal with Internet providers to block certain adult content unless a customer specifically requests to be allowed access to it — a move intended to prevent young Internet users from surfing the web for porn.

The government suggested in its consultation document that reducing access to pornography could reduce inspiration for anal sex in young populations. And Friedman agreed that “a lot of the most easily accessed porn out there is misogynist and not terribly good for you in some basic sense.”

But she said totally restricting it is also not a reasonable option and that educating viewing populations to understand what they’re seeing is the most well-rounded way to address concerns about unhealthy or nonconsensual sex.

“All porn is not created equal,” she said. “Anal sex can be pleasurable for women if it’s done on equal terms with women.… Women don’t like anal sex when men don’t care about them as human beings.”

Photo credit: CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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