Bad Sex Media Bingo does Sex Box

Reblogged from

We reckon that Channel 4’s Sex Box only ticked 7 out of 24 on Bad Sex Media Bingo, better than the previous Monday’s Porn on the Brain which got 13.

There is a Storify of all our live tweeting of the show here.

The show was pretty good on diversity (sexuality, race, disability, body shape, age) although it would have been good to see all the people given equal time and perhaps some older couples and some solos or threesomes. We were also unsure about the format of getting people to have sex in a box!

There was also some good stuff on communication. We liked the idea that asking ‘what are you into?’ should become a habit. Also there was some questioning of the focus on ‘penetrative’ sex with one panelist suggesting we should remove the ‘fore’ and just focus on ‘play’.

However, there was a lot of emphasis that people need to have sex to be happy, and bisexuality was invisible with all the talk about ‘gay sex/relationships’ and ‘heterosexual sex/relationships’. Several times ‘did you have sex?’ meant penetration, and once the person who didn’t orgasm was regarded as not having had sex at all!


Bad sex media bingo!

Over the last week I’ve been working with a group of colleagues from Sense about Sex to put together this bingo card – and accompanying website.

bad sex media bingo draft 2

We’re currently seeing a flood of programmes and related articles about sex and pornography, such as Porn on the Brain and Sex Box, as well as the sex advice columns which have become a regular feature in most national newspapers and magazines.

Those of us who work as sex researchers, sex therapists and sex educators, are aware of the vast differences in quality between the different radio and TV shows, and features, on the topic of sex. Many of them are not well grounded in the evidence around sex, relationships and sexual media. Also they often perpetuate problematic ideas about sex which we then hear from the clients and young people who we work with as counsellors or trainers.

For these reasons we decided to put together a bingo card of all the worst common messages that we see in media reporting of sex. We figured that, if people used the card, it might help them to think about the merits of the information and evidence they were viewing and reading about, as well as challenging some of the particularly common myths about sex.

For each square on the card we’ve also provided explanations about why these messages, or kinds of information, are a problem, what impact they can have on people, and how media might report these things in better ways.

Our hope is that this information will be useful to media producers and editors when producing future materials. It will help them to avoid common traps, and to produce more innovative, useful and ethical pieces.

So many of these programmes and articles focus on complaining about other media (porn, fashion, online sex ed, etc.) and perpetuating panic and anxiety about sex. Instead we would like to see media taking a positive role in providing inclusive, well-researched, thoughtful and balanced, education about sex.

You can join the Bad Sex Media Bingo event on Facebook here and follow our twitter @badsexbingo, #badsexbingo


Storify of Gender & Sexuality in the Pub – Female Gaze Pornography

People might be interested in this Storify of the talk that happened last night by Pandora Blake on the Female Gaze in Pornography. Much discussion of the idea of the predominant male gaze, what women are looking for in pornography, why they might not engage with it, feminist pornography and more.

Link is here.


Porn again

After my last post about the debates around the new Porn Studies journal I wanted to add a further comment on the subject. Writing that post got me thinking about why I consider pornography to be an interesting and useful arena of study.

Studying Sex Advice

Personally I haven’t conducted much research directly on pornography, other than a study on slash fiction some years back. However, I am currently involved in a project with Rosalind Gill and Laura Harvey analysing various forms of sex advice (TV shows, problem pages, self-help books, sex education websites, and the like).

The reason that I am particularly interested in this genre is because the advice that is given tells us a great deal about people’s understandings and assumptions about sex. If we look at the most mainstream sex advice – the self-help books that publishers are happy to take on, or the particularly common kinds of magazine articles that we see again and again – we find out what is considered to be sex in the current time and place in which we are living: who is assumed to be involved, what practices they engage in, what is seen as desirable or ‘good’ sex and what is not, and so on. Also, if we look across the diversity of sex advice – including self-help books aimed at various sexual communities, and websites designed to be particularly ethical, feminist, or ‘sex-positive’ – we see what other possibilities are available, and also what the limits seem to be on possible understandings, and where the boundaries are drawn around sex.

Read more of this post

Studying pornography

Recently pornography has been in the news again with arguments that murders and other crimes can be linked to pornography (later amended in this article to ‘violent pornography’) and that access to pornography should be more tightly controlled.

Such issues are also a major point of argument in the academic world. Recently I found that I’ve been listed – among other academics – in a rather negative article in Psychology Today magazine which argues against the new journal, Porn Studies. I was very happy to be invited onto the editorial board of this journal so I thought I would write a few words in response to the criticisms that have been leveled against it, which also relate to some of the wider debates that are going on in relation to pornography.


Arguments Against Porn Studies

The arguments against the journal come from a combination of academics (mostly psychologists and feminist academics) who, themselves, research and write about pornography from the perspective that it causes harm. One group of academics petitioned Routledge, the publishers of Porn Studies, because they felt that the journal took a ‘pro-porn’ perspective and was therefore unbalanced. Generally this group are critical of pornography for perpetuating and reproducing the objectification and oppression of women through common representations of women’s bodies as objects for men’s sexual gratification and of sex where women are fairly passive and the focus is on men’s pleasure. The author of the Psychology Today article makes a similar argument about lack of balance, but with particular concerns around the potential individual harms of pornography such as addiction and negative impacts on the developing brains of young people viewing pornography.

Given that there have not yet been any issues of the new journal, these arguments were made on the basis of the members of the editorial board which, critics thought, were weighted in favour of those who were pro-pornography.

Moving Away From Polarisation

I have written previously about the tendency of debates in areas such as pornography to become polarised into ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ stances, and we see that happening here: academics position themselves as ‘anti’ pornography and assume that this journal must therefore be ‘pro’ pornography because of the lack of academics with whom they are familiar on the editorial board. The argument seems to be that if you are not for us you must be against us.

In contrast, I see the journal as doing something very important in moving beyond such polarisations and in attempting to bring together work about pornography from across all disciplines and from a variety of perspectives, thus refusing the idea that there are only two possible positions.

Read more of this post

Centrefold documentary

Another amazing documentary out now, and this time you can view the whole thing online. The Centrefold film deals with labiaplasty (a form of genital cosmetic surgery) including many people’s experiences who have been through the operation. It raises important questions about our relationships with our bodies and with standards of attractiveness and sex.

Watch the documentary here.

Need for better sex and relationship education

An interesting article in The Telegraph today calls for better PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) education to cover sex and relationships.

Research presented at the Institute of Education Sexualisation of Culture conference – which I co-organised – by Maree Crabbe and David Corlett found that young people turn to pornography for sex education because schools don’t cover the positive aspects of sex and intimacy.

Like Alan McKee, whose work I have discussed here before, Crabbe and Corlett conclude that what is needed is better PSHE on aspects of sex and relationships which recognise that young people will be viewing pornography, rather than the abstinence models that have recently been suggested. They are also in favour of teaching critical thinking so that young people can better evaluate the representations that they see of sex in porn, given that they are likely to be accessing it.

Personally, I’d like to see sex and relationship education that covers the following:

  • The diversity of sexual identities and practices, rather than putting one forward as the norm (including teaching critical readings of the kinds of sex which are most available in mainstream media and porn).
  • How to tune in to your own desires and lack of desires.
  • How to communicate these and the importance of consent.

Porn: Giving people ideas?

This month I attended the Sex, Health, Media event in London where a bunch of academics, health-workers, educators and activists met to discuss ways of improving education about sexual health, particularly in relation to media portrayals of sex.

There were many excellent presentations during the day, but here I will focus on one which particularly caught my imagination: Alan McKee‘s talk about the potentials of pornography.

Analysing the concerns that are frequently raised about the dangers of pornography, Alan reported that academics, politicians, parents and professionals frequently voice the anxiety that porn will ‘give people ideas’, particularly young people. His provocative question was whether this is necessarily such a bad thing.

Read more of this post

Making sense of the sexualisation debates

Also appears on the Onscenity website.

I’ve been getting involved with events and projects about sexualisation for some time now. I thought it was important for someone, like me, who writes about sexuality and who works with clients who are struggling with issues around sex, to be informed about what seems to be the big story about sex at the moment.

I’ve read lots of book chapters and papers, and watched many presentations, on the topic, and what is most striking to me are the complexities of the debate, and the feelings which run so high whenever we are talking about it. This is my attempt to give a simple overview of how I understand it, and to say where I’ve got to with it at this point.

Read more of this post