Gender and identity at Archbishop’s Holgate School, York

It is always great to have a whole day to work with students, so I was really excited to go up robin-thicke-blurred-lines_13to York and to the Archbishop’s Holgate School. We started with a whole year assembly on gender and gender identity. We talked about sexuality and gender stereotypes using Disney as a prime example. For too long Disney films have produced one dimensional women who rely on men to save them and men whose job it is to go around beating baddies, it was great to be able answer questions about what the difference is between transexuals and transvestites (thanks to Eddie Izzard for support!)

I had had the next two sessions with a group of female students who were really engaged. We lookesnoop-dogg-snoop-dogg-who-is-snoop-dogg-feat-snoop-dogg-snoop-doggy-dogg-songs-by-snoop-dogg-snoop-dogg-music-new-snoop-doggd at relationship progression – from holding hands to having a baby and everything in between. The students got to choose their own relationship progression and discuss it with friends.  We looked at consent and role-played saying no and then the students thought up some great ways to say no pressure from other people. Finally we looked at women in the media – looking at the male gaze and then using that to think about when people post pictures of themselves online.

With the lads we looked at sexual name calling – what do words like ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’ really mean? Why do we use them? We examined the issue of sexual bullying and harassment in the workplace and the consequences it has to your career.  We talked about consent like with the female students and then finally examined porn and the impact it might have on how we feel about our bodies and our sex lives.

It was great to have good long sessions with these young people as it can take a long time to get them to open up around sensitive issues. Thanks for having me Holgate!

Porn! At King Alfred School, London

I was excpornited to go to King Alfred school and discuss pornography and sexting. I held an assembly on the issue, which was a bit tricky, but the students were very receptive and we ended up having a good chat.

We examined what porn is, why we might watch it and how we can compare sex in pornography to sex in real life. I tried to make it as unjudgemental as possible –  I don’t think you can engage young people in issues like this by telling them something is wrong.  We did examine some stories of ex adult movie actors who talked about their struggles and we also talked about orgasms in pornography and how real they were.

The issue of sexting is more black and white – there are many laws that prohibit the sending of sexual images to other people. Releasing pictures of yourself naked can be a minefield and very few young people (or adults!) are prepared for the consequences if these pictures make there way on to the internet which they very often do.

All in all, a fascinating morning!



Should Christians teach young people about porn?

sex ed comic 2Like most adults in the UK my school sex education was rudimentary. By law, the science curriculum must cover puberty and reproduction and then in secondary school give information about HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. I was one of the lucky ones who had a dedicated sex and relationship education class with the brave Mrs Stickland who taught us 13 and 14 year-olds about sex, contraception and consent. Outside of the national curriculum, schools can offer as much or as little as they want but most choose not to and, scarily, 26% of secondary school pupils report getting no sex and relationship education (SRE) at all. Which leaves young people desperate to know more but unable to access reliable sources. A staggering 80% of young people get their sex education from elsewhere…their friends, TV and increasingly pornography.

So what is anyone doing about it? Well an old friend of mine, Sarah, and her husband Matt run a programme in schools in Bury St Edmunds called The Love Life Project. They have been running these workshops for years and I have been promising to come for just as long, so this summer I went back to school…

In terms of my faith, I fall somewhere near agnostic, though has never stopped Sarah and I being friends. I respect people with faith but as a feminist I have found some aspects of religion problematic for women’s rights. The role of the Catholic church in the HIV/AIDs epidemic in Africa, the picketing of abortion clinics by Christian groups and the emphasis by the religious on abstinence though its efficacy is widely questioned has left me wondering what role, if any, religion should have in sex education. So it’s fair to say I approached these two days with a little trepidation.

But my fears were totally unfounded. Sarah and Matt have designed the programme to have minimal faith content. They actively don’t proselytise and apart from discussing the non-religious benefits of abstinence there was no even vaguely Christian content. What their course does have is some great activities that got the young people talking and thinking about sex and relationships. What’s more, as a husband and wife team they come prepared to be totally honest about their love lives, giving examples to the young people of where they made mistakes and what they would do differently.

They warmed up with a discussion of the non-religious reasons for abstinence which got the young people thinking about all sorts of issues. They covered STI transmissions, consent (using this really cool description) and a frank discussion about porn. The truth is, no one is talking to young people about porn. Schools, for fear of seeming to endorse it, tend to ignore the subject totally. But when The LoveLife Project surveyed 13-14 years olds across the Bury St Edmunds they found that 90% of boys cited porn as the most influential factor in their sex education.

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‘I have been approached to do porn but I just say no’

Samantha ‘Sammy’ Braddy, glamour model turned make-up artist talks to school friend Polly Trenow about plastic surgery, porn and the impact of glamour modelling on young women.

How did you get into glamour modelling?

I was a student studying fashion and I was spotted in a nightclub in London. I wouldn’t go topless with the first agency…I didn’t really want to. But my second agent said I could become a page three model.

I told my parents that I wouldn’t. I’m quite shy and I was just scared. I didn’t want to shame my family… but Mum said, “you can if you want to”, so I’ve been doing it since. My Nan’s got all my pictures! I went to her kitchen the other day and she’s got my calendar up, I thought, “right…this is weird!”

I was quite flattered at first and thought I might not have the chance again. But it is nice to see yourself in a magazine! The best bit is going to interesting places for shoots and working with the other girls. You have trips abroad and share a villa with five girls of a similar age, it’s like a holiday!

How long have you been doing it?

I did modelling for three years then on took other work – you have a lot of spare time and I was getting bored. I have never known what I wanted to do but I studied to do hair and makeup and do that now.

What reaction have you had to your career choice?

My parents are really proud. My close friends don’t pay any attention to it. I have some gay friends who think it’s hilarious to introduce me as a model, but I think they do it for attention – it’s a nightmare! I have never had anyone say anything bad to me…they probably say it behind my back!

You say you were shy, have you found aspects of this career liberating?

Definitely. It’s like the Gok Wan thing [the TV show] – How to Look Good Naked – it does give you confidence.

Parts of modelling can make you feel worse. The first agency told me to change my hair and to get my teeth whitened – I never did! I was also told to lose weight which definitely feeds on your insecurities. But then there are other times when you think ‘I look really good there!’

Being told to change is really horrible. I cried when they said it and then I went on Weight Watchers and the gym…they were probably right! With glamour [modelling] they don’t want you to be stick thin – it’s all about the boobs so if you lose weight your boobs go! You need to stay in the middle.

You got told this when you did Page Three?

Yes, but I worked for The Star not The Sun! There is a rivalry between the Sun and the Star, you’re not allowed to do them both. Though it’s more to do with the papers than us [models]. We don’t care!

How do you manage that?

It’s not a problem for me. At one stage I was probably partying and eating too much pizza. But with fashion models it’s completely different. When you’re [doing a shoot] with Nuts there is loads of food, but if you do a fashion event they eat half a cracker!

Do you ever get recognised?

Sometimes. I’ve been on the train and someone has opened up the paper I’m in which is a bit embarrassing but I change my hair every five minutes. Sometimes in Sainsburys blokes shout stuff at me, like “wayyyy get your tits out!” but that’s probably something you need to accept.

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“Porn is an obsession with female pleasure” says woman porn director

Anna Span (real name Anna Arrowsmith) is an English pornographic film director who speaks widely about sex, pornography and feminism.

I interviewed her on behalf of Women’s Views on News and reproduced the interview here.

You said your moment of inspiration came when you realised you weren’t angry about the existence of the porn industry but were  jealous that men’s sexuality was catered for. What did you feel was lacking for women?

That was 1988 so everything was lacking for women in this country!

You didn’t even have the Chippendales – although I actually wrote my dissertation at St Martin’s about how the Chippendales aren’t what women want – and [women] didn’t have porn magazines.

I remember [British actress] Margi Clarke bringing out a programme about sexuality on television and it was very soft.

But regardless of whether people agree with the sex industry I believe the female libido is worth catering for.

Currently companies are spending money in order to make [porn] for women because there is a market out there.

Without that appreciation of the market there is a disavowing of the female libido and this perpetuates the idea that we’re in [sex solely] for the love, which I find quite insulting really.

What was your first experience of porn?

The first thing I ever saw was, ironically, some images in a gutter when I was 11, walking home from school. There was a woman in leopard skin clothing and of course as school girls we went crazy!

Later I think I stumbled across some copies of the [UK tabloid the Daily] Sport that my brother had in his room. But the first time I used porn was when I was with my boyfriend at the time.

And that was when you started to form the idea that you didn’t think women’s sexuality was being catered for in pornography?

Yes, I didn’t know anything about pornography. It was exciting, I enjoyed it and I certainly didn’t do it because I wanted to please the boyfriend.

When I was 22 I bought “Women on Top” by Nancy Friday and I think that was very key. It’s a book about women’s fantasies and there was absolutely everything in there, it helped me accept my sexual being, it was very useful to me.

I think it also helped me realise that I was bisexual. I don’t know when I owned up to myself about that. There wasn’t a “coming out” – it sort of gradually dawned on me that i fancied women as well.

Did these experiences feed into your desire to make porn for women?

For me, like a lot of people, making porn was a kind of naughty dream job that I would have liked to do in a parallel life.

I got into [London art college] St Martin’s when I was 24 and I started to think about making porn. In my final year at college I wrote my dissertation – “Towards a New Pornography” – on porn and I made a sex film.

My first film was quite experimental, although the blokes couldn’t get it up, but there were also people peeing etc so it wasn’t soft!

Do you think you been driven by having a greater interest in sex than the average person?

I don’t know. How do you compare? They say that men think about sex every seven seconds. Well, I think about sex a lot and I enjoy it, I still do.

There is no history of abuse in my life and if you met my family you’d wonder how they spawned me because they’re very middle class and very average. We’re certainly not a sexually overt family.

When I read Women on Top there were women admitting to having sexual imaginations from when they were very young and I did too. But I developed a guilt about this imagination in my teenage years.

Do you judge your films to be successful if you find them arousing? 

Yes, to a certain extent. With porn it’s like catching a live dance, a performance, and you have to film it as well as you can, so it’s always a matter of compromise.

It’s not like mainstream cinema where you can map out everything in advance and you can get actors with acting skills. How it goes on the day is how good the film will be so there is a lot of chance involved.

You just have to get very good at managing the last minute things when people don’t turn and up and you have to recast etc.

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Will Russia’s restrictions on abortion boost their population?

Earlier this month the Russian government passed controversial legislation to limit women’s access to abortion.

With a rapidly declining population and the highest abortion rate in the world, the Russian authorities have placed a cap on abortions at 12 weeks and imposed waiting periods, ultrasounds and counselling on those seeking abortion.

But is this the right way to do it?

Whatever your stance on abortion, few believe a high level of abortion is a good thing. Some argue that the easier it is for a woman to get an abortion, the more likely they are to do so, but is this true?

Russia has an alarmingly high abortion rate (73/1000 births) yet it has virtually the same access to abortion as the Netherlands, which has one of the lowest rates in the world (10.4/1000).

If ease of access to abortion will increase the rate of abortion, then why the disparity?

The difference in the abortion rates of Russia and the Netherlands can be explained partly by national attitudes to contraception.

For decades abortion in Russia was almost easier to come by than contraception, with choices being limited to thick standard issue condoms or unreliable IUDs.

Yet as soon as contraception became more widely available abortion rates dropped quickly, falling by 61% between 1988 and 2001 as contraceptive use rose by 74%.

Conversely, the Netherlands have had an open attitude to contraception for decades. Publicly funded family planning, widely available contraception and concerted efforts to tackle to unwanted teenage pregnancies preceded abortion and contributed to their low termination rate.

To some it seems logical that restricting access to abortion would reduce its prevalence, but evidence from other countries suggests otherwise.

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Feminism and porn, what’s missing from the debate?

Journalist Tanya Gold addressed the thorny issue of porn and feminism in Stylist magazine last month, observing that “consensual sex, consensually on camera, for the pleasure of consensual viewers, should be in the same box as all other consensual sex acts”.

In mainstream porn, however, Gold ventures “violent misogyny is everywhere”. Her answer? Feminist porn.

I’ll get back to feminist porn later because what interested me most was not what she wrote as much as the readers’ comments.

Far from the troll-style hate comments you’d expect following an article by a woman (a feminist at that), her respondents identified some of the grey areas in porn that feminist debate may have overlooked.

Take amateur porn, for instance. Damien asked: “Are you completely over-looking that the most popular and fastest-growing style of porn is homemade? It’s two people expressing their own sexual desire however they see fit.”

Damien’s point is a good one – amateur porn is largely absent from discussions about porn and feminism. This homemade genre appears to offer what mainstream porn lacks: diversity, affection, respect and the odd female orgasm.

Real couples enjoying themselves is a rare thing in mainstream porn but amateur is choc full of it. Equally, though, many of these novice “productions” are inspired by Hollywood and are predominantly from the male point of view.

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Young women not simply victims of raunch culture

I’m delighted to announce my blog has been published as part of for AWID’s Young Feminist Wire Blogathon. Below is the full article, you can read other submissions here.

Whether we agree with it or not attitudes to sex are changing across the globe. This is particularly true in the UK where we are seeing more sex in the media and the internet has brought all sorts of pornography to the bedrooms of millions of people.

I am part of the online generation whose adolescence was influenced by these societal changes. At the same time, I grew up with a mother who was vocal about gender equality issues and planted seeds of feminism in me from a young age.

There are lots of young women in the UK who are concerned about our changing society and the impact that it has on women. This has been shown by the Slut Walks movement which spread though the UK like wildfire showing that young women were not happy to accept blame for harassment or violence they experience.

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