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.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.