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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Our trade unions are doing more for women than ever before

You don’t have to look far to find examples of unions not just “noisily fighting for”, but actually winning better pay, terms and conditions for women.

Reading Carole Easton’s article on women and unions was puzzling and disappointing in equal measure. Puzzling because it paints a picture of trade unions which bears little resemblance to the movement I know and love. Disappointing because it presents a false image of trade unions to women readers just at a time when women need strong trade unions more than ever.

While it is right to say that too little progress has been made in closing the gender pay gap or tackling the scourge of zero hour contracts, it is wrong to suggest that trade unions have been twiddling their thumbs.

Like our friends at the Young Women’s Trust, equality is at the heart of what unions do. This work isn’t measured in the number of high-profile women we have at the forefront of our movement – although we’re not doing too badly there, as anyone will attest who has seen Frances O’Grady, the first female general secretary of the TUC, speaking out for ordinary women workers.  

Trade unions contribute to equality for our 3 million women members every day. For us, that’s about the thousands of workplace reps supporting individual women facing discrimination or harassment. It’s about health and safety reps negotiating for protective clothing and better workplace policies on the menopause, terminal illness and many more issues. Our work is unions taking employment tribunal cases on behalf of women who could never afford the tribunal fees without us. And always, at the heart of everything, our work is about the collective power of workers joining together to bargain for fair pay and decent work.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of unions not just “noisily fighting for”, but actually winning better pay, terms and conditions for women. Several unions have successfully organised cleaners, supported them to take strike action for better pay, and won. The RMT is just one example of many. Unite is busy organising London’s low-paid and often exploited hotel workers. Unison organises teaching assistants, fights for better pay and conditions, and even runs a Skills for Schools project to help TAs develop in their careers. Unison and the National Union of Teachers – both unions with over 75% female membership – organise childcare workers and fight not just for better pay but also for training and development opportunities. Over in the retail sector, Usdaw and GMB are fighting the good fight for their women members in supermarkets and shops, not just on pay but on pensions, health and safety, carers’ leave and protection from violence at work.

Women have much to gain from trade union membership. Male union members are paid 7.8 per cent more than men who aren’t in a union – but women union members are paid 30 per cent more than non-members. A recent EHRC report on pregnancy discrimination found that employers who recognised unions were less likely to discriminate against their pregnant employees.

Yes, it’s true that too few young women are union members. This summer, the TUC and our member unions will launch a new organising and campaigning effort to spread the benefits of union membership and attract a new generation of women (and men).

But starting new women-only unions is no form of progress. That’s where we started out over 100 years ago. Now women workers are at the heart of all our unions, across all sectors. Women’s concerns at work are trade union concerns. And every day we make practical progress towards women’s equality at work through patient representation and negotiation and active campaigning to challenge bad bosses. Young Women’s Trust should work with us to get more women the benefit of union membership.  

Scarlet Harris is women's equality policy officer at the TUC