The only ones shocked by Tulisa's sex tapes are the adults

The way to guarantee teenagers access porn is to ban it outright.

Technological advancement has always complicated sex, and the internet has been throwing a mixed bag of Freudian issues at us since before we even worked out the webcam. It's no secret that today's teenagers have almost certainly seen more pairs of breasts sodden in variations of bodily fluids than they've had hot dinners - and suddenly, everyone's concerned again. In the same breath that middle aged parents thanked their local vendor for a (horrendously unsexy) copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, they began a tirade of complaints about sex scenes and triple-X websites last week. And as the traumatised few got vocal with their protestations that Black Swan "should have just been a movie about ballet", N-Dubz vocalist and famed X Factor judge Tulisa walked out of court and onto the front pages of a number of national publications, proclaiming that the ex-boyfriend who tried to sell her blow-job technique to the world had "messed with the wrong woman".

The way in which we handle sex, in a world where one hour on ChatRoulette can tell you more about the human libido than Kinsey ever dreamed of, is therefore a continuing conundrum. The record number of complaints about lesbian sex scenes in Black Swan - a number that vastly overtook other films' official complaints about deadly violence - speaks volumes about the way in which we have moved towards American attitudes (violence and guns are OK; willies and nipples are not) about the beast with two backs. After all, Black Swan went to cinemas with a rating of 15, meaning that the youngest viewer (presuming all guidelines were met) was only one year under the legal age of consent. There's no denying that the subject matter was psychologically challenging - but as for masturbation and a cheeky bit of third base in the bedroom, which apparently prompted more uproar than the protagonist's mental breakdown, it seems like we're all collectively kidding ourselves about the innocence of teenagers. Nobody wants to see a five-year-old prancing around in "sexy and I know it" branded bikinis, but whether we like it or not, schoolyard knowledge of websites like XTube and YouPorn amongst their older siblings is widespread and well-known.

This knowledge will soon be stamped out, David Cameron has informed us, by more stringent controls on ISPs and presumably a big dose of fairy dust.
The new "opt in" policy that it is currently fighting its way to officialdom is a system where all content judged to be "too adult" is automatically blocked from view unless you specifically request to see it.

In other words, it's a system that will shame you into openly declaring the real reasons why you opted for Virgin Media fibre optic like the pervert that you are, and no children at all will be able to view sex on the internet ever again. Just like when they banned the Pirate Bay, immediately and decisively solving the problem of illegal file-sharing forever. Phew - there was a danger that we might actually have to address a wealth of social perceptions there, but luckily we've sidestepped all that with the long arm of the law.

As we've previously said until we're blue in the face, the provision of porn on triple-X sites across the globe remains startlingly unsatisfactory relative to its breadth and availability. The only way to guarantee teenagers definitely access it, as well as to shut down any mature dialogue we might have had with them about it, is to ban it outright. And since "sexting" recently made its way onto the PSHE curriculum, there's surely more of an argument to widen our scope of discussion with children who will be hit with a tidal wave of sexual imagery throughout their youngest years whether we attempt to control it or not (hello, Herbal Essences commercials), rather than creating even more wildly exciting taboos for us all to enjoy flouting.

Perhaps if we focused on the real person behind the baby-oiled butt cheeks on predictable, sex-by-numbers wank fodder made for men only, we might begin to educate about sex and technology more effectively. Rather than rushing to turn off the computer screen, we might expose it through serious conversation as the very thin veil that it often is between an ambivalent viewer and the joyless life of physically demanding toil on the part of an actor who doesn't really want to be there. We could invite debate about empowerment and personhood - hell, we could forge a veritable utopia of sex and technology for the generations to come. By the time we have children ourselves, they could have healthy attitudes about hand jobs and not even want to download the latest Hot Girls XXX app on their souped-up iPhone 600s. They might - oh, happy day - wonder who the hot girls are, and why they got there, instead.

One colossal failure of sex marketing on the internet, of course, was demonstrated by Tulisa's ex boyfriend MC Ultra. Following his humiliation in court, it was reported that he and some acquaintances had somewhat optimistically hoped to make about £6m each by selling some grainy video phone footage of what Tulisa euphemistically but rightly referred to as "an intimate moment". It was a commercial flop, making the group about £30 in the day after its launch, but more significantly, it brought down its distributor with it. The young pop star Tulisa, who used to gyrate next to a bad rapper called Dappy and graduated into arguments with Simon Cowell on prime time telly, reacted with incredible dignity and humanity in the face of extreme public humiliation. A self-produced YouTube video showed her proclaiming that there was nothing shameful about being sexual on camera with a person that you trust; rather, that the person breaching that trust should be ashamed. Encouragingly, a major chunk of the British press agreed.

Whole new levels of shaming our peers are available at the poised fingers of each internet user nowadays. With the click of a button, lives can literally be altered forever - and allowing a move back into conservative attitudes about sex will only make these threats even seedier and more likely. The only way to tackle a sexual environment made threatening by the terrifying freedom of the world wide web and the control afforded to each user is education (on fellation, ho ho.) We all know in our hearts that censorship by default doesn't lead us down a road we'd wish to tread - and it's a very sad day when what we know in our hearts is overridden by what stirs in our pants.

 

Tulisa leaving the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Photograph: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad