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Jacqui Smith, watching filth so we don’t have to

So what did we learn from the Porn Again documentary?

In the list of things I thought I'd never put in the same sentence, "Jacqui Smith" and "bukkake" feature quite high up.

But this was Porn Again on BBC Radio 5 Live, the former home secretary's radio documentary adventure into the world of porn, adult entertainment, or whatever you want to call it. She explained it was coming on the back of the much-publicised purchase of a couple of adult films by her husband – his name was mentioned twice, and you couldn't help wondering whether it was just to make him squirm a little bit more.

So we got to hear Jacqui's reaction to bukkake – "All she is, that woman, is a receptacle. Is this bukkake? I think it's horrible" – a chandelier made of penises and her first ever viewing of a porn film. "It's anal sex with a man with a very big penis . . . She doesn't look as if she's being forced to do anything she doesn't want to . . . there's not a lot of story . . ." says Jacqui, watching the filth so we don't have to.

It's quite odd to think of a middle-aged, married person never having seen pornography, or having experienced it; even odder still to think of a public representative or politician legislating on matters they haven't directly experienced. After all, Smith went out on the streets to see crime-fighting for herself while home secretary, so the curiosity is there, beyond a photo opportunity, surely.

As one interviewee points out, here's someone who legislated as home secretary without ever having seen adult entertainment; Jacqui's response is that she didn't try hard drugs but she had to legislate on that, too.

And I think the most telling thing about the whole documentary is how we see the narcotic-like association between porn and drugs in the mind of a lawmaker; the idea that a pleasure must be a problem, that there must be regulation as a solution; the justification for legislation and regulation based in part on the most extreme examples – violent or extreme pornography was mentioned, as well as addiction, based on one interviewee's claim that simply looking at porn will spark dopamine in the user's brain.

Does it really? I don't know, but this was a documentary very much about opinions, rather than evidence. Throughout, Jacqui was keen to present her idea that pornography had a deleterious effect on "users" (there's that drugs link again) without ever really getting to the bottom of why she felt that way – or why explicit adult entertainment was any more responsible for a distorted view of sex and relationships than, say, the kind of glossy magazines that everyone can buy in Smith's without having to be furtive about it.

 

I suppose the whole thing attempted to be frank, but there was still a giggly tone to it, that particularly British thing of being simultaneously scandalised and titillated. The idea of porn as partly a solo pursuit was alluded to, but not really explored. There wasn't much thought given to the "users" other than as consumers. Perhaps based on the programme's central conceit – that Smith really was investigating the industry based on her husband's dalliance – there wasn't much thought given to women enjoying pornography, for example; or sex outside the confines of a heterosexual partnership. That may have made for a more rounded discussion.

What did we learn? More than anything, we learned how lawmakers see pleasurable pursuits as being a problem that needs regulation. Typically authoritarian New Labour, you might conclude; except, right at the end, Smith asked the porn industry to "put your money where your mouth is" and to fund sex education and counselling – a polite plea to a multimillion-pound business that sounded rather "big society". Would that really work? I am not so sure.

As a "money shot" it was rather a damp squib.