The Positive Power of Porn

I use the internet every day. I use it to search for the answers to random questions that come to mind, to get the news, watch films and television.

Yesterday I was searching for design ideas for the new apartment in Kiev Sasha’s father has given us as a present. Over the next few months, it needs to be fitted out. It is a new build and is now just 4 walls in a pretty development. We need to make fundamental decisions such as where do we want walls, do we want an open plan kitchen together with design questions around fittings and colour schemes.

With my absence, this has been put on Sasha and she is doing a tremendous job while I offer little more than encouragement from a distance. What I can do, however, is send her examples of what I think is good design which she can then share with the designer.

To be honest they may not necessarily be good design but examples of the way I would like our apartment to be. Modern, stylish and yet still cosy for those cold winter Ukrainian nights.

These were the focus of yesterday’s internet searches.

Luxury modern apartment design yielded appropriate pictures, even if they were 100 times larger than ours. However, as soon as my search precision waivered porn started to appear with images of naked women, legs akimbo although, to be honest, decorating some very smart apartments.

I am not a puritan and I am not complaining other than yesterday it was frustrating. For once this wasn’t what I wanted. Kitchens, showers, bathrooms and sensuous bedrooms were my focus, but it did prompt another question.

All the photos were of women. There was not a man in sight. There were no naked couples enjoying each other while pointing out the intricate design on the architrave. If simple searches brought back porn images then there must be a demand. And this is where my inquisitiveness kicked in and the question I asked was, who is watching porn?

Pornhub is one of the largest of all porn sites and recently they gave us some of their porn demand statistics.

  • In 2017 alone, Pornhub got 28.5 billion visits. That’s almost 1,000 visits a second, or 78.1 million a day.
  • Enough porn was watched in 2016 on this one website that all the data would fill 194 million USB sticks. If you put the USB sticks end to end, they’d wrap all the way around the moon.
  • In 2016, 91,980,225,000 videos were watched on Pornhub. That’s 12.5 videos for every person on the planet.
  • Also, more than 4,599,000,000 hours of porn were watched on the site in just one year. That’s equal to 5,246 centuries.

That is on just the one site, Pornhub. I have repeated those because they are mind-boggling large.

Unlike Alexandra, my psychologist co-author in Ukraine, it is not for me to try and interpret this admittedly single sourced, data. What I can say, however, is that there is a lot of porn hypocrisy. On the one hand, society condemns porn while still watching it. A British Government Minister recently had to resign because porn was found on, admittedly, his work computer. Those Pornhub statistics suggest that you would be lucky to find a computer without porn links.

But still, I hadn’t explained why the images being shown to me were of women.

In a study in 2006, 68% of those who consumed porn online were men while women only made up 13.6%. However, times are changing. Now, 76% of 18 to 30-year-old American women report that they watch porn at least once a month. Women are now just as likely to be watching porn as a man.

I offer no comment other than to say that the survey running on the book site shows that women are now equally open to fantasies and so therefore porn. It has always been assumed that women’s porn was softer, gentler and more loving.

Feminists argue that porn degrades women. That is probably true but porn is one of the few industries that has a male gender pay gap. Surveys suggest that female porn actors have more self-esteem than the rest of the population, and again from the analytics released by Pornhub women are 113% more likely to search the term hardcore than men. They are also over 105% more likely to seek out genres of porn like gangbang and rough sex.

Porn is like alcohol. In moderation, it is fine for adults, can have positive benefits but in excess, it is a negative and far from benign influence.

Openness and acceptance will allow a meaningful discussion. It will allow us to address porn addiction. Couples will see the possible positive impact that porn can have in a relationship. Porn will be discussed without embarrassment, and then most importantly we can talk about its impact on children.

It is perverse that the political mess over the last two weeks that has surrounded Amber Rudd, The British Home Secretary, has taken the spotlight off another failure of British policy.  This weekend, the end of April 2018, was supposed to be one when access to any porn site was controlled by positive age verification.

It won’t enough just to tick an age verification box. Probably credit card details will be required and if you are underage then access is banned. There was a lot of blah blah when it was announced. Digital economy minister Matt Hancock said it would mean the UK having the “most robust internet child protection measures of any country in the world”. We would be there this weekend if the introduction hadn’t been delayed until at least the end of 2018.

Porn is pervasive and it has opened the discussion of sex and sexuality.

English rugby player, James Haskell has been talking to the Daily Star about his forthcoming wedding to Chloe Madeley. I was impressed by her openness. ‘I’m a really sexual person,‘ she told The Daily Star. ‘If I had a partner who didn’t want to have a very sexual relationship then that would be a problem for me.’

She continued: ‘It is massive for James. One of the reasons we stuck together in the early days before we totally committed was because we were so compatible. Our sex is continually changing as our relationship grows, so it stays interesting.’ 

When Sasha is interviewed before our wedding I hope she is as open and says something very similar and maybe even adds that when we were apart occasionally we shared porn. She wouldn’t be lying.

Let the Children Live

I spent much of Easter with Lucinda and the mighty Bertie and it has been great fun but it is good to be back writing. Bertie is now nearly 15 months old and I am still astonished at the rate at which young children grow and learn.

In the last month, Bertie has learnt to walk, verbalising is still a way off but understanding and comprehension are getting better every day. With the rights of grandfathers at the fore, I have recently taught him to high five. We did it once and he has remembered. Ask him to get his boots to go for a walk in the garden and off he will waddle, in the way young children still wearing a nappy do.

Lucinda called her Grandfather, Grumps and she has decided that the name should become a family tradition. So, when Bertie is asked to give something to Grumps he knows where to go.

Of course, there is something special about Bertie, but he is special because he is my grandson but around the world, the same miracle is happening a million times. Not least in Reading where Sasha’s sister Ann has a young son, Michael, who coincidentally was born on the same day and just a matter of hours before Bertie.

Young children are sponges: watching and observing, copying, assimilating, and learning and developing all the time. They also do a good line in sleeping which makes me jealous. I still think a quick nap at lunchtime is a good idea.

As we get older, not only don’t we get as much chance to sleep but nor do we have the same biological growth in our brains. But, this is not just about biology. For so many age is an excuse to be lazy, to stop being interested, to stop learning, and to stop being inquisitive.

What makes our cosy inaction more depressing is that for millions of children across the world their earliest years are harder than anything you could imagine.

I wanted to know how many children don’t have Bertie’s opportunities. Working across 190 countries and territories, UNICEF defends the rights of children and young people, and their website gave me the answer.

Take one example, out of many, Yemen. This is UNICEF.

SANA’A, 27 March 2018– Nearly half a million children have dropped out of school since the 2015 escalation of conflict in Yemen, bringing the total number of out-of-school children to 2 million, according to a UNICEF assessment released today.  Meanwhile, almost three-quarters of public school teachers have not been paid their salaries in over a year, putting the education of an additional 4.5 million children at grave risk.

“An entire generation of children in Yemen faces a bleak future because of limited or no access to education,” said Meritxell Relaño, UNICEF Representative in Yemen. “Even those who remain in school are not getting the quality education they need.”

It is not just Yemen. Look at the UNICEF website and you can take your pick of conflicts or natural disasters affecting children. These are headlines from their press releases in March 2018.

  • Multiple earthquakes in Papua New Guinea leave children traumatized.
  • Rohingya refugee crisis: Children trapped in limbo and deprived of their basic rights
  • Statement on the release of girls abducted from a school in Dapchi by Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria
  • Taps run dry for 2 million people as fighting intensifies in Aleppo
  • Risking it all to escape gang violence and poverty. UNICEF reports on the harrowing journey of refugee and migrant children from Central America

The problem we have is that this, and by this I mean the plight of millions of children being caught in the middle of grown-up’s fights, is such frequent news that we tend not to see it as it is. We have become complacent.

I am not a religious person and have no faith worthy of a regular Church visit but the New Testament story of Jesus has some good words about children: Jesus said, “Let the little children come, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these

When I was bringing up Lucinda, a good friend, Alan McNab always said that we should treat and think of children as young adults. We should show them respect, respect their opinions and recognise their individual needs. In a western, civilised society he was right, but for the rest of the world, think of them only as vulnerable children whose needs are very simple and basic: food, water, loving parents, an education and safety. If you don’t they will never become adults.

I asked a question a few paragraphs ago. Let me try and answer it.

One in every nine children is raised in a conflict zone, according to a UNICEF report released in 2016. Two hundred and fifty million young people are living in war zones and with the number of people fleeing these regions at its highest since World War II, every second refugee is a child.

In 2015 alone, some 75 million children were born into conflict zones, said the report. What complicates matters, the UN agency said, is that on top of the risks to health and safety, regional violence blocks access to education.

Think about it when you next see a group of children playing in your local park. One in nine children is raised in a conflict zone. That can mean bombings, living in a dark basement, no school, no medical assistance, no parents, abduction, or rape and sexual molestations.

If that doesn’t stop your complacency, if that doesn’t make you want to do something, if that doesn’t trigger some activity in those unused brain cells, then little else will.

Damascus: Beauty and Beast

Within the last ten years, I have been to both Syria and Libya. Occasionally, I still look at the entry stamps in my passport and wonder how I have managed to travel so extensively without being stopped and questioned.

The Libya trip was sponsored by a direct invitation from Saif Gaddafi the son of the former Libyan leader. These were relatively quiet days, before the war and decline of the country. I was being asked to consider ways we could improve the education system. Of course, we never did the work and my argument with the hierarchy of PwC over this was the start of the end of my working days there.

Libya, or at least Tripoli, was a clean and an almost antiseptic city. It was quiet, the people thoughtful and I remember being offered an alcohol-free beer when I returned to the hotel. It is funny what sticks in the memory.

My invitation to Damascus was again for business but came through an opportunity identified by the New Zealand consulate in Dubai. This was an opportunity to study and recommend changes to the way the Government was managed and targets set.

I loved Damascus and the Syrians I met.

First Damascus. The hotel found for us was in the old city, just down the road from the Umayyad Mosque.

The Great Mosque of Damascus as it is also known is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world and thought by some Muslims to be the fourth-holiest place in Islam. But it is also a Christian shrine as legend has it that the building contains the head of John the Baptist. The mosque is also believed by Muslims to be the place where Jesus will return. Pope John Paul II visited in 2001.

The roads around the Mosque and the hotel are small, hardly wide enough for our taxi and always bustling with people. The driver didn’t spot the entrance, an unpresuming, single house door among many other similar doors. We drove past it and tried to reverse back through the crowd but gave up and walked. To be honest my heart dropped as I looked at the door and envisaged myself staying in something like a Blackpool guest house.

How wrong I was.

Pushing through the door I was sharing the same feelings as every new adventurer first walking into Doctor Who’s Tardis. That simple door hid something quite different and was the entrance into a huge, only partly covered, courtyard. As one of us said it is like Sheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights. It was opulent. A whole different world lived behind that simple door. The inside was enormous

The people we were visiting, our hosts, were as hospitable as any I have ever met. Apart from giving us their time which they did without hesitation they proudly showed us around their beautiful city. When we left they showered us with gifts.

One day I particularly remember was a lunch. As with most Middle Eastern food the meal sumptuous. You could taste the freshness and love put into its preparation. If anything could be better, it was the setting. We were eating outside, under a flimsy awning. Some children, tired of sitting still were running, laughing and playing around the tables. To the side, hidden from the sun a baby was asleep in a pram. It was mid-afternoon, and we were high on a hill, looking out over the city spread below us as light glinted off the gold on a distant minaret.

There is a point to this reminiscence.

I don’t know but it is more than likely that from that restaurant vantage point I was looking at Eastern Ghouta today the centre of a humanitarian disaster. I can tell you what it was like eight years ago but only others can describe the horrors of today.

That baby in a pram will now be eight or nine. The children running around in their teens. Maybe, they are no longer running, maybe they have lost a leg in a bomb blast, or maybe they have been killed in the war.

This is a harrowing, eyewitness report on the BBC website from a doctor in Eastern Ghouta.

Dr Hamid, 50, leaves the makeshift shelter three times a week for a nearby hospital, where he is a trauma doctor. Each time he kisses his wife and five children goodbye, he tries not to think that it might be the last time. He cycles to the hospital through deserted, rubble-strewn streets, mindful of the danger of being outside even for a few minutes. If the bombing is heavy, and there are many injured, he might work for more than 24 hours without a break. When he is treating wounded children, he thinks of his own children, and in the short pauses between patients he prays for their lives. There is no respite.

On Thursday, Syria entered the eighth year of its civil war. More than 400,000 people are believed to have been killed or are missing. Three of Dr Hamid’s own children and many of the children brought to his hospital have never known peace. The injured children arrive with penetrating shrapnel wounds, missing limbs, severe burns, or sometimes with no visible injuries at all, and yet lifeless, with a lingering smell of gas on their bodies.

“Most of the children who die have been shelled in the head or have injuries in their abdomen or bowels. And I have seen some cases of penetrating wounds directly in the heart,” said Dr Hamid.

“These children need specialist surgeons and seven or 14 days in intensive care,” he said. “Many could be saved. In London, they could be saved. In Ghouta we cannot do anything. We try to stop the bleeding and make it OK for them, then we allow them to die.”

This week, a five-year-old boy arrived at Dr Hamid’s hospital with multiple trauma wounds and fractures in both his legs and arms. Dr Hamid sutured the boy’s wounds and amputated one of his arms and one of his legs at the upper thigh. “That is his future,” Dr Hamid said. But the boy is alive, that is a success.

The same week, five young children who were brought to Dr Hamid died. “When we are dealing with children, we hope God will look to them,” he said, letting out a long, deep sigh. “I’m sorry, words cannot express this.”

Atef, 36, a radiologist lives in a basement under a public building, with his wife, children, and 100 other people. Mohammed, a 23-year-old medical student who was forced to abandon his studies to become a full-time war medic, lives with his family in a neighbour’s basement, where 30 people are crammed into three small rooms and there is no electricity or water. “The patients are also our family,” he said. “We will carry on treating them until all the medication is gone. Until we stand with nothing. Until the last minutes.”Dr Hamid estimated that the hospital could have as little as a few weeks’ worth of anaesthetic left, raising the fearful prospect of amputations with no pain relief. “We are working with stitches that were used before, disposable gloves that we wore before, chest drainage that was used on other patients,” he said. “Most wounds get infected and need bandages, but we are using bandages that we used before.”

The place where Dr Hamid was born and raised had been abandoned to its own slow death, he said. It was a place that people came to from Damascus, with their wives and husbands and children, for weekend picnics, or to shop for cheap merchandise in the bustling markets.

“They came here from all around to smell the fresh air and the rivers and the trees,” he said. “To me, it was a paradise on the Earth.”

Now he prays in his cramped shelter at night that his children will one day see the place he can still conjure in his mind, “as green as it was when I was a boy. It may be too late for me,” he said, “but God willing, our children will see these days.”

Yesterday, I asked you to send money to Sport Relief. If ever there was a good reason this is it.


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