Youth Sexualities Durham


I had a brilliant day on Friday (19th October) at the BSA Youth Sexualities Conference. A big thank you to all who organised the day especially Dr Mark McCormack. I delivered a paper myself (which I blog about here) and felt it was a friendly and productive atmosphere. I learned a lot and look forward to the next event. It would great to meet some twitter friends in the flesh too.

The highlight for me was the keynote by Professor Clarissa Smith (see also here) Young People and Porn.

Professor Smith asserted that the fear surrounding porn thwarts progress into researching and understanding it. She used the example of Channel 4 Churnalism Porn on the Brain which we laughed throughout at the ludicrousness of it, but it is scary and horrifying that such shows, such articles, engrave themselves into the debate forever and become zombie case studies and statistics that just won’t die.

“They are all at risk”. The affective role of fear.

Dr Smith compares to sex panics surrounding porn to the masturbation panics of late 19th century. I thought this was very interesting, and it reminded me of conversations I have had online with Justin O’Hearn. These panics are not new! But we have moved on from thinking masturbation makes you blind, to the material you use will rot your brain. That the outside threat will soil and destroy innocent pure young people.

Smith differentiates sex panics from moral panics by stating sexual panics are a buzz that never go away, they are there all the time. They may shift shape, they may be reframed, but they are always there. I think this is very interesting in relation to the example that we don’t hear about sex addiction so much now, it is framed as trauma. Young kids being traumatised by seeing ‘obscene’ images. The outside force breaking the boundaries of middle class respectability and safety. Porn as a symptom and cause of ‘bad sexuality’.

Interestingly, Smith notes how girls resurface in the ‘sexualization’ debate. Whereas the dangers of porn addiction focused on young males, sexualization places the young (white, middle class) girl as a site of purity that will be damaged by ‘the porn’ TM.. Young people are pathologized as unable to ‘handle’ or escape porn.

Of course Smith’s work tells a very different story, and I look forward to reading much more. Smith gave the fascinating example from her research that children were using porn as a measure of disgust. 10-15 second clips of ‘disgusting’ porn such as animal clips are shared unsolicited via facebook, and it is not for sexual purposes at all, but to scare, disgust and provoke a reaction. Smith argues that we should be talking about strategies for kids to be able to avoid what they don’t like.

I also highly recommend Dr Danielle Egan’s Becoming Sexual: A Critical Appraisal of the Sexualization of Girls which I used whilst researching my paper.

To hear such a highly regarded academic who talks logically is always a relief and gives me more enthusiasm for my own work. I am already sick to death of common-sense assumptions and discourses that dominate discussions of the sex industries. Today this wasn’t helped by walking into university and noticing this:


I find it very problematic how such groups and activities are becoming common place on university campuses, yet I see no posters or groups supporting sex worker services/ unions/ projects.

I spoke with Clarissa after her paper to thank her, saying that I am sick of ‘objectification’ ‘sexualisation’ and ‘pornification’ being used so frequently, with little to no critical thought. Anything one disagrees with can be silenced with ‘objectification’.

I have written the following pieces on my blog relating to Lose the Lads’ Mags and No More Page 3 issues.

I support the right to support such causes, but it frightens me the evangelical fervour with which such campaigns/ideologies are followed, and the venom that is unleashed on those who dare to ask questions. I also oppose any line of reasoning that continually cites that Lilith Project study despite the fact it has been proven to be incorrect. It would like me quoting that Newquay experienced a decline in rapes after lap dancing club opened and claiming they were related. Rape fell in Newquay by 50 percent after a lap-dancing venue opened. All the current campaigns claim that images of women, or the presence of sexual entertainment venues cause violence against women.

When I was researching lap-dancing I would be faced with adamant claims that ‘lap-dancing clubs cause rape’. I would like to believe that it is a genuine misunderstanding about causal relationships, but the cynical and critical side of me knows that various individuals and groups are making these claims deliberately. If you say something causes rape, or causes domestic abuse, or causes child abuse, you will get yourself a willing following. I think these debates are necessary but I would love to see some research that doesn’t operate on a series of sex panics and moral panics. I would respect that and keenly read it.

But of course this depends on who has the power to frame. Swansea University Student’s Union has banned pole fitness (read a great article about it here) but allows this. It brings us back to the classed elements of the No More Page 3 and Lose the Lads’ Mags campaigns.

A middle-class hobby of Burlesque is ok… but a dangerous working-class pursuit of pole fitness is too much. GQ or Vogue, ok. But Loaded and Nuts, definitely not.

One of the main problems I see is that the female body becomes the site of danger contagion and pollution. I discuss this in my paper ‘Slut-shaming: The Anxiety of Excess’ which I delivered at the Youth Sexualities conference, the idea that a female body causes harm against itself. And as I concluded in that paper that far from policing sexualisation we are instead policing girls, I argue the same here. We are policing women, their bodies and their choices.