From Nigel Farage on breastfeeding to Victoria's Secret: Ban this filth... but it won't help to protect our children
It's been a big few days for body parts. In particular those bits, if one must go in for primary school language, that are naughty. There might be a few in this column - nothing gratuitous, naturally. The main thing to understand is that some naughty bits, apparently, are naughtier than others.
But whose bits are on show, and where, very much dictates how much we are expected to be shocked by them. So while it is absolutely fine for an American underwear company to send a platoon of glossy Amazons down a catwalk wearing little more than a wisp of chiffon, a hint of satin and for some reason massive, bejewelled wings, it is not fine for a new mother to breastfeed her 12-week-old daughter at Claridge's.
Nigel Farage has weighed in to declare the latter act "ostentatious", but has yet to express an opinion on the former. In other words, the soft-porn lingerie spectacular, peekaboo videos and insane diet tips peddled by Victoria's Secret and consumed by millions of young, impressionable types and older ones who should know better is OK; feeding a newborn, as Lou Burns tried to, amid fresh scones and tea strainers, is not. Bring the lady a modesty shroud.
Meanwhile, the animal rights charity Peta got into trouble for its billboard on the dangers of drinking milk. Its slogan 'Some bodily fluids are bad for you. Don't swallow. Ditch dairy', was banned within a day for being "too sexual". And in London, the literati gathered at the In And Out Club to celebrate the smuttiest writing of the year. A giggle-fest of bursting dams and heavy moaning, the Literary Review Bad Sex In Fiction was won by Ben Okri for a particularly purple passage in The Age of Magic. "She felt certain now that there was a heaven and that it was here, in her body…"
It's confusing. One man's silly smut is another man's Ofcom complaint. So who decides which body parts and sexual acts are acceptable for public consumption and which are offensive or potentially harmful? It's impossible to police but that has not stopped the Department for Culture, Sport and Media trying to parse the public's private tastes. In the same week that David Cameron attacked Ed Balls for committing an act of "political masosadism" at Prime Minister's Questions - "It's sado-masochism!" jeered the House in a chorus to give anyone nightmares - S&M was put on a new Government banned list.
Last Tuesday the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 introduced a series of restrictions on the pornography that can be bought and sold in the UK, to safeguard children. As a result, a number of sex acts it considers harmful or life endangering have been banned from paid-for pornography sites. These include spanking, aggressive whipping, strangulation, humiliation and the use of power tools.
The measures have not been welcomed. Plus, the arbitrary nature of what's in and what's out has wider implications for online freedom. A Government that legislates on which sexual acts are morally appropriate and which are not is a frightening thought.
These are valid points, but just so much bluster. As long as there has been printing, there has been pornography. And as long as there has been pornography, there have been those who want it banned. These latest measures do nothing to address the free, non-regulated content produced in other countries and is most easily accessed by those without a credit card - like children. It is a worry children are watching pornography. It is also a worry that they play ultra-violent video games. Banning either will not work; frank, open discussion and education might.
It is extraordinary that even as society's attitudes towards sex have changed radically, thanks in no small part to the internet, the tenor of debate is still couched in Carry On innuendoes or "Ban this filth!" censure. As the porn law debates rumble on, there are the questions of teen pregnancy, rape and consent, and institutional child abuse to consider. Each to his own, but worrying over degrees of aggressive spanking strikes me as rather a waste of time.