The Sun loves Page 3, but it can't stand women on top

Former dominatrix Nichi Hodgson was stunned to discover that the pictures that accompanied her article on how to safely spank a man were deemed officially "too racy" for the paper that proudly prints Page 3.

When I was growing up, I had a few ambitions. First, it was brain surgery. Then Shakespearean acting. In the end I decided to hack out a career for myself in journalism. Who knew that it was really my destiny to become "NICHI HODGSON: TOO RACY FOR THE SUN!!!"

Yes, here I am - not fit for even the nation’s favourite licentious prudes to print. Apparently, keeping all your clothes on while demonstrating how to safely spank a man makes you officially "too racy" (according to the editorial team) to feature alongside upskirt and page 3 shots.

Oh, but hang on a minute – spanking a man, did I say? Ooh er, quelle domme-age, as it were! Might I have made the readers uneasy with the revelation that thousands of British guys pay to be dominated each week? Would the moral pillars of Britain have crumbled if I’d floated the idea that sometimes men prefer to go over female knees?

Around a fortnight ago, the Sun repeatedly pestered me for pictures to accompany a feature on some Coco de Mer sex salons I had been teaching, and a BDSM sex memoir called Bound To You which I’ve just had published, which includes a section about my time as a dominatrix. "Oh, look, isn’t that lovely! BDSM prejudice is waning! Fifty Shades has broken down barriers! The Sun really DOES realise that male submission is the ultimate societal sexual taboo!” I gurgled internally. The pictures were taken by an experienced freelance photographer inside the elegant Coco de Mer shop and featured me, dressed in a regular French Connection dress and heels (NB not "domme-wear") demonstrating blindfolding, shoe worship, and how to assume safe spanking postures. In some of the pictures I merely stood in front of an underwear display or sat in an armchair, smiling. They were somewhat staged, slightly silly, but all demonstrated safe, sane, consensual BDSM practice.

The feature itself was pretty graphic, detailing my time working as a professional dominatrix and what it entailed; about the cuckolding, and the sploshing, and the adult baby play; about how men cannot admit to enjoying sexual submission without fearing emasculation; about how I’ve lost count of the number of professors, lawyers, even the editors who’ve approached me for a session since I’ve "come out" as a former sex worker. It was also politicised, and talked about how I hoped that the success of Fifty Shades had raised public awareness of and acceptance of kink; of how I believe passionately we really need access to good BDSM education.

So far, so unsensational. Unless of course the fact I didn’t have my tits out was the issue. If only I’d let them "reveal" my "self-important champagne socialist hack used to be a vice girl!" past. If only I’d said "but this is only what the weirdos do", or "if only I hadn’t had to fund my career break this way!" I might have been on to a winning lie. Instead, the many truths of the matter - that you don’t need to be a 17-year-old pop starlet in your scanties to tap into someone’s ultimate sexual fantasies, that I’d do it all again to ensure I could write for a living, that there are just as many men as women who identify with Ana Steele rather than Christian Grey - those truths are just too unnerving to contemplate.  

Let me be clear: after I’d been told the pictures were unprintable, I offered to provide a different picture myself; an "at home in my pyjamas with my cat Snap" snap or the like (admittedly Snap did come from a brothel but you wouldn’t know to look at him). The Sun declined. By this point, everything about me, from my sex education classes to my real-life experiences, had been infected by my virulent raciness.

I’d love to think the Sun’s decision to spike the piece was a result of the staff having listened carefully to Lord Leveson’s criticism of its "demeaning and sexualising lens"; that there’ll be no more no barely pixelated, exposed crotch-shots of Anne Hathaway (wearing bondage boots too, wouldn’t you know!), nor sardonic articles about the rise in A&E admissions for women who’ve sustained vajazzling injuries. Only both of those articles are on the website today. 

So, if you too aspire to being labeled "too racy" for the Sun, you know what to do. Don’t expose your knickerless crotch in public; instead, just exercise sexual agency, and tell a few home truths about the way the British populace has sex now. So much for Leveson - licentious prudery is here to stay.

Bondage by Ater Crudus on Flickr, via Creative Commons

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit