So, here’s a thing I’ve been thinking about. I listened to Jon Ronson’s podcast The Butterfly Effect on my slow, cold, knee-stiffening runs around the park: the series where he delves into the free porn phenomenon of the last 15 years. The whole thing was kicked off by an incident in a hotel lobby where Ronson meets a porn star for an interview (dressed in an undeniably porn starry way, it would seem) and he can’t help but notice how disgusted the hotel staff are by her very presence.
This is, of course, a ridiculous double standard, because more people watch porn than anything else on the web. Fine to consume regularly from the comfort of your little laptop – free and furtive, infinitely variable and instantly gratifying, immediately forgotten – but the industry and its people are socially verboten, crass, worthless, shameful and disposable. So, Ronson goes out to dig a little deeper at this conflict, looking at where and why the proliferation of free porn began, by whom, and then looks at the far reaching consequences of it – how it has made an impact on lots of people, on culture, and health. And it is all horrible. HORRIBLE. As a mother of five sons, these bits gall me the most – Ronson cites (US) stats claiming erectile dysfunction has gone up 1000% and teen pregnancies are down, not through compaigns promoting abstinence or safe sex but because heavy users of porn are beginning to be unable to have sex normally anymore. Even the guys making the movies find the naked porn actress splayed out next to them does nothing to sustain an erection – Ronson notes how they quickly flick to their phones during breaks for some digital variety of screwing to get their penises back on track.
Apparently the kids will see their first bit of online porn at age 11, and I think that’s conservative. So what do you do with all this, except to talk openly about what online porn is, and why it isn’t real, and why it is important to be safe online, as well as using every opportunity to bang on about your own values and morals and try to scare them a little bit?
FAMILY VIEWING OF THE ENTIRE SIX SEASONS OF DAWSON’S CREEK, OF COURSE!
That, my friends, is totally the answer. Because Dawson and his really badly dressed pals are OBSESSED by sex, but also by notions of love, romance, kissing, fidelity, honesty, courtship, reputations, fantasy, the pressure to go too fast, the agony of waiting. It is tortuous and teenage but also imparts exactly the right kind of reverence to sexuality that the free porn thing entirely deconstructs. There is a weight to it all. Imbued with longing, desire and precocious painful discourse, the whole show is like a bad, beautiful poem to the innocent exploration of sex.
Kissing, for example. Dawson is eaten up by the concept of a perfect first kiss. It is endlessly debated until Dawson finally goes to his father to ask how it is done. The Dad gets all misty-eyed (a Hasselhoff-esque big brute of man called Mitch – ha! – who looks exactly like the kind of guy who graces a Mills & Boon cover, all biceps and massive veiny phallic neck) and goes on a long story about his first kiss shared with Dawson’s mum. He finally says something hilarious to poor, confused Dawson about ‘letting your bottom lip dance’. It’s so awful but so great. I tried to let my bottom lip dance with Mark to test out the theory but it was like having a nervous tic, because my dancing is more of the frantic type – and made our intimate moment unsexy and confusing. It wasn’t the greatest advice, but I get the sentiment.
The show is 20 years old and it really shows – Pacey’s brother gets lots of frankly offensive shit about how he might be gay, and there is a lot made of Joey’s sister who is unmarried and having a baby with a black guy. We are (were, I supposed) to be a bit shocked by this, but the shocking thing now is that any of this was even worthy of a storyline. So the political context is something we’ve been having a lot of discussions about, trying to get the kids to see that even 20 years ago things like being black or gay was a big, shameful deal and that the show did nothing to challenge this, but instead embraced a very narrow, dated and arguably harmful worldview. I think these are important discussions to have, alongside dancing bottom lips and the merits of billowing pirate shirts under linen vests and tight little leather necklaces and plum lipliner. What’s more, Joey’s mom jeans look quite cool purely by accident, Jen has the worst blowdries ever and the music sets me off on a nostalgic fugue state. BUY IT OFF AMAZON PRIME RIGHT NOW!
So that’s sex ed. over and done with. My other potentially insane thing I did was to buy Noah, our quirky, emotionally intelligent but workshy non-reader Stephen King’s IT. Because it is scary and horrible, but it is also the book that I devoured when I was about 12. I loved it, loved being scared by it, and for the first time ever that kid is sitting down in a quiet place to be willingly sutured into a story – one that plays out in his head and imagination rather than another feckin’ screen. He is the least anxious of the kids, never once mentioning being scared of anything, robust in his self belief and confidence and just kind of sashays into the world like he owns it. So I told him to stop reading it is if was too scary, or if it upset him, but I think he’s going to be ok. I know I loved dark, unsettling books like Flowers In The Attic, The Clan Of The Cave Bear (ok, I liked that one for the neanderthal bonking), all the Stephen Kings and S.E Hinton’s stuff right about his age, and there is the theory that when you are safe and secure IRL, there is some psychological gain by testing out the waters of terror. So….am I right here, or is this just terrible, terrible parenting?
Here are some pictures to distract you from answering.
I wrote the cover article for Quintessentially magazine all about that extremely handsome man Tommy Clarke on the front. Just LOOK!
This is my bio and my photograph. I thought it was charming and funny but it does look like my Deliverance brothers photobombed me fresh from buggering the tourists:
Here are my children watching TV half-dressed in facemasks and sunhats:
Otis and the dog:
Me in a new, open-backed, reduced-to-26-quid dress that does odd things to the shape of my boobs. I bought it though it is entirely questionable. I wore it last night to Palomar and I looked a little Krystle Carrington, I think: