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Laurie Penny: My night at the Shaftas, porn's award ceremony

What I learned at the porn industry's annual ceremony.

"If a girl wants to get into the porn industry, the most important thing is to act natural," says Hannah, 20, fluttering her huge fake eyelashes. We're at the Shaftas, the UK porn industry's annual awards ceremony, in the gloom of an upmarket London strip joint that reeks of power and cheap perfume.

Hannah is plastered in spraytan and crystals, the elaborate porno-drag not quite hiding her natural beauty. She started being fucked on film when she was 18, moving into the industry because her shop job didn't pay quite enough.

"I love doing porn, yeah, love it," she says, brandishing her gloriously tacky award for best sex scene: a golden statue of a woman's hand holding an erect penis. "The gold cock is smaller than last year," complains pornstar Angel Long, 29. "It must be the recession. It's a real wilter."

There has been much discussion, over the past 12 months, of the impact that the $96bn pornography industry has on women and on young people. As study after study has coyly revealed that yes, quite a lot of people downloading naughty pictures on the internet, anti-porn feminists and legislators have suggested that the ease with which pornography can now be accessed might contribute to rape and domestic violence.

Here, at the high end of the British porn industry, men and women dressed like extras from a low-budget remake of American Psycho drink warm beer and plunder the awful buffet. A woman with straining plastic boobs pouring out of a satin ballgown munches on a mini-fishcake. It's like being at an elaborate funeral for the human orgasm.

"What's the difference between having dirty sex in private and having it on camera, apart from the money?" says Hannah, who is slurping a cocktail called a Pussy Bomb. Porn director Dick Bush, 30, chips in. "The difference is that you don't have a bloke like me standing there, telling you to open your legs wider so the camera can get in, five minutes like that, then turn around for doggy style."

"We're all all one big happy family here," he adds, jiggling a drunken Hannah on his knee. He smoothes his hair back like a politician, and smiles. I go to the toilets to apply more makeup. There are bloodstained tissues strewn around the sinks.

The feminist porn director, Anna Span says: "There are no proven links between porn and violence, rape or any other damaging behaviour by men towards women, even though governments have spent millions of dollars trying to find one." She adds: "A third of all porn viewers online are female, too, so it no longer makes sense to discuss the subject in terms of 'men's opinions of women." Watching the Shaftas' endless rolling footage of naked people grimacing as they pummel each other's bodies robotically into submission, it strikes me that Anna is half-right: mainstream pornography is not anti-woman. It is anti-human.

Danny, 21, wins the Shafta for best male performer. He is dragged onto the stage and shouted at until he agrees to take his leviathan appendage out of his trousers. "So much blood goes to his erection that he often passes out on set. We have to hook him up to a drip," says Dick Bush. "The insurance is insane, It's an affliction." Danny waves his affliction dutifully at the crowd.

At the bar, Angel Long laughs aggressively and goes for another Pussy Bomb. "For Angel, doing porn is a competition thing rather than a sex thing," confides her friend. "She has to have the most hardcore scenes, the largest and most frequent penetrations. She's a star."

There is a hollow teenage atmosphere to this place, a desperate striving for status played out over the sort of naughty pop songs that once marked the end of school discos in the 1990s. Sullen-looking waitresses in satin thongs distribute drinks to the strains of No Diggity and Ebeneezer Goode. The guests air-kiss, greeting one another with shrill smiles: they all know why they're here. "It's for the money, and sometimes the fame," says Dick Bush, "although of course, enjoying it helps."

Pornography holds a dark mirror up to our culture. It places a frigid factory-line of violence and competition at the heart of human intimacy. With 92% of 14-17 year olds having seen porn online, a generation of young people is now growing up believing that this this brutally identikit performance is what real sex really looks like.

One doubts that any government ban on wank material will save sexuality from this trough of profit and power. "I love the idea of people watching me, of making money from performing," slurs Hannah. "but I've never had an orgasm from sex. Not from sex, no."

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 21 March 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The drowned world

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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