What’s Wrong With Porn?


Why all the fuss over Robert Mapplethorpe’s book? The main photograph that police object to shows one man fisting another. So what?

My glossy coffee table book, “Safer Sexy”, has close-up, full-colour photos of 65 hard-ons, 23 images of oral and anal penetration and, on page 68, a glorious fisting pic next to the slogan: “FIST…whatever turns you on, enjoy it safely”.

Although copies of “Safer Sexy “were seized by police shortly after its publication in December 1994, the copies were later returned. There was no prosecution. Since then, Safer Sexy has gone on to sell nearly 20,000 copies without any further police hindrance.

Why the police double-standards? My book, with photos by Robert Taylor, is far more sexually-explicit than Mapplethorpe’s. But I have, thankfully, been spared the attentions of the vice squad. Why?

Mapplethorpe had, of course, the defence that his book is art and, unlike me, he was a photographer with a world reputation.

Mind you, his controversial fisting image is technically and artistically a very poor photograph. It should never have been included in an otherwise outstanding collection. But that is not the point. Why should some busy-body copper have the right to act as the arbiter of moral taste?

West Midlands police seized the book, titled Mapplethorpe, from the library of the University of Central England. They are demanding its immediate destruction and are threatening to prosecute the University for obscenity.

What is obscenity anyway? Is there an objective definition? Who decides? Isn’t it, like beauty, a subjective judgement?

My own view is straightforward. There is nothing obscene about the naked human body or consenting sexual acts. Since the acts are not obscene, then neither are the images of those acts.

The censorship of porn is based on the assumption that sex is shameful, dirty and sordid. It is, of course, none of these things. Banning sexual images only serves to fuel sex phobia, guilt and anxiety. These attitudes contribute to sexual hang-ups and dysfunctional relationships, causing a great deal of personal misery.

In a mature sexual democracy, people should be free to make their own choices about whether they view images of sex. The police should concentrate on catching serious criminals – rapists, murders and queer-bashers.

Metropolis, 24 April 1998.