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How normalising kink harms us all

Kink, in and of itself, can be just a bit of harmless fun but when it’s commercialised, commodified, and reinforces misogynist ideas, it is dangerous and harmful, says Wendy Cockcroft.

Kink is just a bit of harmless fun until someone gets seriously hurt—or killed. Why is it socially acceptable?

That kinks of various kinds are becoming more visible in our society is due to a number of factors that include the normalisation of porn, structural misogyny, and the escape of queer theory from university social and gender studies courses to mainstream political and social discourse. These in turn have caused real, quantifiable harms to people’s health, to their relationships, to society, and to the economy as the consequences kick in.

Let’s take a closer look at these factors, then consider solutions that we can implement.

The problem with porn

The ubiquity of porn and the reach of the internet has ensured an ever-flowing stream of recorded violent, dehumanising sexual abuses of mostly women and girls. Many studies have been done and articles written of the effects this has on the people involved as well as the people who watch it. What’s troubling is that little is being done to combat it; recent efforts have only addressed people’s access rather than their motivations. Unsurprisingly, addressing a demand-side issue by attacking the supply side via filters, etc., backfired

The explosion of queer theory in academia has made matters worse by questioning the need to preserve a child’s innocence in the first place, so now we’re seeing RSE (relationships and sex education) materials with references to felching and sex dice games for kids to play. Yes indeed, they were (and possibly still are) teaching kink in schools to pubescent kids as a normal, healthy part of life and living. Should appropriate education with an emphasis on relationships and health and safety not be more important than sexualising kids? The September 2018 “Relationships and Sex Education: The Way Forward” report from the Lords and Commons Family and Child Protection Group’s answer is an emphatic “yes.”

Everyone agrees there is a crisis in child welfare. Despite all efforts, the UK still has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Western Europe; rates of mental illness are rapidly increasing; children as young as 5 are reportedly accessing pornography; figures for child sexual abuse show that one third of attacks are committed by other children; rates of STIs amongst young people are at epidemic level; and according to a report by the BMJ, self-harm amongst children under the age of twelve and early mid-teen girls have more than doubled in the past six years. On top of that, the BMJ also claims that suicide rates in the United Kingdom among adolescents aged 15-19 years have increased from 3.2 to 5.4 per 100000 between the period 2010 and 2015.

Transgender Trend produced a report last year, Inclusive Relationships and Sex Education in Schools (RSE): Statutory Guidance and External Providers, in which it stated:

…we have taken a look at some of the guidance that is being offered to schools by lobby/activist/political groups to support the new RSE curriculum. Some of the content of these programmes misrepresents the Equality Act, removes the rights of girls to privacy and safety and uses as their basis queer theory which is inappropriate for schools.

In other words, little had changed. The reason for this is that the lobby groups pushing queer theory-based educational material to schools keep doing so until they are challenged and ousted. The recent guidance on RSE as issued by the Government in September last year is just that: guidance. There’s no statutory obligation to implement it and I’ve got anecdotal evidence from worried mothers that they don’t, including one who told me her daughter had just been in a lesson in which girls were described as “people with a uterus” while boys were referred to as “boys.”

Anyone who cares about appropriate education must therefore be vigilant. Stonewall’s recent effort, their School and College Champion Awards scheme, was robustly opposed by women working with Baroness Nicholson, who wrote to local councillors, school commissioners, and local education authorities to remind them that Stonewall is a threat to child safeguarding, which they certainly are when they encourage children to become sexualised by teaching or promoting the teaching of age-inappropriate subjects, including gender identity. The page is still up on its website, so we need to keep checking what is being taught in our schools.

The problem with porn is not just that children exposed to it become sexualised before they are physically or emotionally ready to engage in sexual relationships. Porn is known to affect interpersonal relationships, create unrealistic images and ideals of physical perfection, and to normalise extreme behaviours. Vanilla-shaming is now a thing. It’s the new “you’re frigid,” aimed mostly at breaking down the personal sexual boundaries of women and girls. It’s why women and girls are being coerced into degrading sexual practices that leave them with permanent injuries and put them on a path to an early death. It’s also why misogyny is being reinforced in our society instead of being broken down and left behind as a relic of the past.

Structural misogyny

As feminist writer Andrea Dworkin put it in her book, Woman Hating,

…a deep, ingrained prejudice against women informs aspects of society from legislation to cohabitation.

It’s hard to argue that she was wrong when women organising anything that’s just for biological women are considered hateful bigots for doing so. It takes a fair amount of brass in one’s neck to call a group of people organising in their own interests exclusionary while condoning and encouraging female-exclusionary language in official health messages and commercial advertising. In the Western hemisphere this is becoming more common. It’s structural when it’s embedded in the fabric of public and commercial institutions—and they put out misogynist nonsense such as calling women “people who bleed” and “birthing parents,” then defend it.

It is structural misogyny that allows an “I just snapped” defence for strangling a woman, then acquits the killer of murder. It is structural misogyny to allow and encourage the proliferation of abusive porn, then teach children that the practices therein are normal and healthy. It is structural misogyny to deny that cancel culture exists and is a problem when Selina Todd needs a bodyguard on campus, dismissing this with “Well she shouldn’t be a transphobe, then.” It is structural misogyny that a “rough sex” defence exists when a woman is abused and murdered. And it is definitely, unarguably structural misogyny to put the feelings of a male person (however he identifies) before the safety and wellbeing of women in prison.

Where kink is concerned, misogyny is in the driving seat. Even mild kink such as sub/dom reinforces harmful patriarchal stereotypes in which either a woman is abused or plays the role of an abuser. In situations where a male sub is being smacked or whipped, etc., he is very much in control; the fun stops when he wants it to stop. For women, this is rarely the case. When men are being humiliated it’s usually role play. When it’s a woman, it’s for real. They are spat on, slapped, and strangled as a matter of course, as if it doesn’t occur to the men who do this that it’s a horrible thing to do to another human being. They’d never treat their mates like that, so why do it to us? Because, as Andrea Dworkin pointed out, we are despised. This explains the prevalence of porn in which injured women in need of medical intervention are presented as sexual delicacies to be savoured. Pre-internet, such notions were confined to niche magazines in specialist retail outlets. Now they’re not just ubiquitous online, mass acceptance has sent it mainstream, and it’s on t-shirts and other merchandize. There’s a petition up asking Etsy to stop selling child porn dolls and incest-themed products. That a mainstream online store can sell such things while banning “I Love JKR” items tends to stick in one’s craw. Don’t get me started on the violent, threatening slogans on their anti-TERF products.

The normalisation of kink is mainly due to structural misogyny. In a society that would not tolerate the routine dismissal and abuse of women, it would never have taken hold. As it is,  once a particular kink goes mainstream, it is no longer kink, so the acts become more outrageous and harmful, and women pay the price. Think about it; a decade or so ago, anal sex was a kink. Now that it’s mainstream, rosebud is a kink. When having sex in a prolapsed anus is normalised, what comes next? Incest is a kink too. Should websites that promote it be presented to schools as suggested reading? The evidence that exposure to porn harms children is in, so why does WEN Wales’s teachers International Women’s Day toolkit link to incest porn? Children are being pushed into carrying out extreme sex acts and they sometimes end up being hospitalised as a result. This is grooming. The question we must ask here is who are those primary and secondary school teachers who allegedly put the toolkit together and why in the world did they think that posting links to cam girls and incest porn was going to challenge gender stereotypes & sexism? Remember, this was to celebrate International Women’s Day. When Safe Schools Alliance called them out for disregarding safeguarding, they were ignored.

The fact that kink is so popular these days is beginning to hurt the people it was meant to be inclusive of. 

Unfortunately, one must acknowledge that the queer and kinky delights of sex positivity cannot and do not play out within a vacuum. Kink, like queerness, undeniably attracts both the gaze and interest of individuals who wish to utilise, exploit or even abuse the sexuality of others to manufacture their own pleasure.

…The reduction of trans narratives to a sum of their anatomical parts and, crucially, the supposedly freakish and taboo nature of those parts, disempowers transgender individuals both in the bedroom and in the wider community.  

The “sex work is work” community disagrees; performers such as trans man Buck Angel celebrate kink porn as a valid way to make a living but uninvolved trans and queer persons are suffering as a result of trans people being put on display as an online sex sideshow. Needless to say, these performers trivialise and deny the harms of porn and lash out at anyone who says otherwise. 

The role of Queer Theory

The lightning speed at which regressive stereotyping has become normalised and relabelled progressive would not have been possible without Queer Theory having been so widely accepted in the first place. According to the Illinois Library,

Queer theory’s origin is hard to clearly define, since it came from multiple critical and cultural contexts, including feminism, post-structuralist theory, radical movements of people of color, the gay and lesbian movements, AIDS activism, many sexual subcultural practices such as sadomasochism, and postcolonialism.  

Since “Heteronormativity is a form of power and control that applies pressure to both straight and gay individuals, through institutional arrangements and accepted social norms,” Queer theorists see it as their duty to disrupt key concepts of normalcy “in hopes that this will destroy difference as well as inequality.” So if you ever believed that liberal progressives are all about making weird things normal, you’re right; they consider it a duty to do so. They also believe you can create your own reality by acting it out, ergo a woman is whoever they say they are. While Queer Theory began in gender and post-structuralist studies it has expanded to include other aspects of academia to the point where educated individuals will tell you to your face that the penis, with all that it means to have one, is a social construct. So if it’s just a social construct, having one out in the open in the ladies’ changing rooms or shown to kids in action as part of a sex education class is perfectly acceptable. Since these people are steeped in LGBTQ+ culture, it should not surprise us that they normalise kink in their own circles and that this means normalising porn use—and all the abuse that goes with it. When both of these intersect with misogyny, it’s a disaster waiting to happen and everything they touch turns into a giant mess that the rest of us are obliged to clean up while they walk away washing their hands of all involvement.

The harms that all of this is doing to our societies here in the Western Hemisphere, along with the concomitant damage to the economy as a result is incalculable. First of all we have young girls being hospitalised with sexual injuries at horrendous rates, then we have men getting away with murdering women and girls using “rough sex” as a defence, then we have young women and girls fleeing womanhood in droves to get away from the stochastic terrorism of the toxic environment in which they live. This often results in them being sterilised due to the effects of taking testosterone or having their uteri electively removed as part of the transition process. We are losing an entire generation to this and some of them are already regretting it. Those who have lost their reproductive systems are now prematurely menopausal and will need medication for life. Meanwhile, pointing this out gets us into trouble as people fall for this lunacy. 

If Queer theorists are duty-bound to destroy difference and inequality, do they ever bother to find out if their efforts are bearing fruit and, if so, what kind? The answer is in Robyn Ryle’s latest piece for Newsweek: 

In a world that is increasingly gender integrated and where the strict roles laid out for men and women are loosening, sports remain one of the last strongholds for the cult of gender differences. Preventing transgender and intersex women from competing has nothing to do with fairness, but with the ways in which their inclusion calls into question the meaningfulness of gender as a category in the first place.

Sports aren’t fair in all these ways, but there are more important values than fairness at stake in the debates about transgender and intersex athletes—values like equality, teamwork, access and inclusion.

The trouble with Queer Theory is that they see difference itself as inequality while we have noticed that differences beget inequality. Pretending that they don’t exist doesn’t stop them from existing. Added to kink and the normalisation of porn, it’s an unfolding disaster for women and girls because they’re so busy trying to normalise it that they haven’t bothered to interrogate porn, kink, or Queer Theory themselves to find out what inequalities and differences exist therein and how to deal with them. What those of us not blinkered by this ridiculous ideology can see plainly and clearly is that while differences cannot be erased, inequality can, and that can only be achieved by recognising what the differences are and how to best compensate for those that give any group an advantage over another. In the case of women’s sports, it means keeping male people out, however they might feel about it.

What can we do about this?

A culture of “no debate” is endemic among the woke but that should not stop us from having it anyway, particularly with our representatives. Whether they are woke or not, when they’re up for re-election they are vulnerable and they need to be reminded of that. They also need us to get in touch with them to remind them that they represent us. Mine is useless but she knows how I feel about this since I like to keep in touch with her, particularly when I’m contacting other people about these issues. 

Talking about how “don’t kink-shame” is a thing now and explaining why kink-shaming is a reasonable thing to do in light of the harms it is causing raises awareness and may well bring about some conversations in the households of people who read our comments even if they don’t reply to them. These ideas only gain traction in our society if we allow them to; push-back is vital to encourage society to change in beneficial ways. Reading, writing, and sharing blog posts is another important way of helping to counter the ubiquity of kink. 

We also need to have a national conversation about porn and misogyny. Kink, in and of itself, can be just a bit of harmless fun but when it’s commercialised, commodified, and reinforces misogynist ideas, it is dangerous and harmful. We need to talk about that and be vigilant about what is being taught to kids in schools and in the media. If we don’t, women and girls will continue to suffer at an exponential rate and nothing will be done to turn the tide.

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Wendy Cockcroft

Wendy Cockcroft is a freelance writer with a background in creative writing and a passion for politics. She has written political pieces for Techdirt, Falkvinge on Infopolicy, and The Pirate Party UK.

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