‘This House would recognise prostitution as legitimate business’ – Oxford Union speech

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Last night I had the privilege of attending and speaking as an invited guest at the Oxford Union.  I have already spoken at four university debates, however this was the first one not about pornography.  Instead, the motion proposed that “This House would recognise prostitution as legitimate business”.

The debate was well attended with some interesting guests on both sides.  As well as myself, the proposing team also had Oxford student Elizabeth Culliford, Nevada brother owner, Dennis Hof, and a last minute step-in from the English Collective of Prostitutes called Emma (her last name escapes me, I shall get back to you on that one).  On the opposing team:  Julie Bindel, authour and co-founder of Justice for Women, feminist activist Finn MacKay and campaigner Ellie Levenson, as well as another last minute addition (whose name also escapes from) of Cambridge University professor and expert in human trafficking.

Unfortunately, I can no longer claim to maintain a winning streak at these debates as the opposing team were victorious in the end.  However, I was very satisfied with the contribution I made and with how my speech was received.

As promised, below is a transcript of my speech.  Please feel free to add you comments and thoughts on the topic.

 ‘This House Would Recognise Prostitution as  Legitimate Business’
 
 
 
My name is Johnny Anglais.  Someone in this room, however, knows me as Benedict Garrett.  Mr.Garrett, in fact, as I was his teacher.  Now, I regularly perform as a stripper and in pornography. 
 
I am also a prostitute.
 
I am not ashamed of it.  I believe there is a distinction between porn performer and prostitute, but I have no problem with being called a ‘prostitute’. My main clients are either women but, more commonly, men who wish to hire me as a ‘gift’ for their wife or girlfriend.
 
I am not a prostitute out of any desperate need.  Although, like most people who are struggling to make money in this capitalist system that, rather than promoting a sense of community and self-worth, is about promoting individual greed and the accumulation of, through, essentially, whatever means, material wealth,   I do have rent to pay, bills to pay, a dog to look after and I also care for someone else’s child because they were incapable of doing so without harming him.  But I am not destitute or funding a drug habit.  In fact, I know many prostitutes (they might call themselves escorts, they are prostitutes).  Mostly women.  None of them are destitute.  Some, like many people, may have had troubles in their childhood, others not at all, some well educated, others less so. 
 
Prostitutes are not just poor, defenceless women.  I find it rather disingenuous the continual and disproportionate highlighting of concern that some so-called ‘feminists’ have for women in prostitution.  My concern is not for women.  My concern is for everyone.  I care not what the numbers or the differentials are between the abuses of women and men in prostitution.  The fact that any abuse exists should be enough for us to be sufficiently concerned for their well-being and a desire to take action to protect all regardless of their gender.  For there are also poor, defenceless men who have to suffer at the hands of such brutes as Boy George who, back in 2007, reportedly held a rent boy hostage by hand-cuffing him to a chair and attacking him with metal chains.  Equally, there are empowered, confident women who are prostitutes and doing it because they enjoy it and choosing to do it as a REAL option and not because it is their ONLY option, despite what some ‘feminists’ may have you believe.
 
This is not to say that I am happy with the current state of prostitution in this country.  I am absolutely not.  Of course, there are corrupt and abusive pimps who treat their prostitutes like little more than slaves.  There are women trafficked over from abroad and imprisoned in properties up and down this land (reportedly over 8,000 in London alone) and forced to work as prostitutes.  There are women, and men, who dangerously walk the streets, taking their lives into their own hands and never knowing where they could end up that night, if even still alive. There are women and men who do it simply out of desperation: to feed themselves, to keep themselves warm, to support their families or to fund an addiction. There are clients who treat the prostitute whose services they acquire with little or no respect.  But there are bad and risky elements to many industries.  Do we say that fashion is a non-legitimate business because some companies use child slave labour in Bangladesh, that we should live in a state of anarchy because some politicians fiddle their expenses so lets ban them,  or that all teachers are perverts because a few may have slept with their students?  Bad apples does not equate to a rotten crate.  The principle of producing and providing apples is still a good and well-intentioned one.
Indeed, I too take my own risks as a prostitute.  I may be a 6ft 2in, well-built, healthy male, but in the possibility, slim or not, of being potentially confronted by a sadistic, psychotic and deranged individual what protection do I really have against a knife or a gun? 
These are indeed real risks.  But many jobs are risky, some riskier than others.  By illegitimising a business and driving it underground, these risks are not eradicated.  On the contrary, these risks become greater.  What we need is the creation of a legitimate prostitution trade that is regulated and where the welfare of its workers is protected.
Some see prostitution as an evil in our society.  Some see it as something that simply panders to the whims and desires of a still male-dominated society.  I actually see it as a helpful and important service in our society.  I’ve argued publicly many times that our national attitude to sex needs to change drastically.  Its getting better but there is still vast room for improvement.  Equally, our attitude to prostitution, the one that treats it as something sleazy, the people who work in it is as dirty and those who seek its service as depraved, also needs to be reviewed. 
A desire for sexual gratification is a human need that, although not as crucial as oxygen, food, water and perhaps even shelter, follows closely behind them and rivals such things as our need for education, loving parents, physical exercise, leisure time, an active social life, having people we call friends around us.  All of which we could survive without, but with enormous difficulty, leading to serious voids in our lives, potentially causing depression, stress, lack of opportunity and so on.  Sexual gratification is a human need on this level.   
Many times, a simple wank is enough as an outlet for our frequent sexual urges.  Many are able to share their sex lives with another and along with it, the intimacy and touch of another, human skin against human skin, the kissing of lips, and simply being in the company of another human being while sharing in, what for most people, is a moment of great vulnerability and self-discovery.  Many people can form loving, intimate and physical relationships with another human being very easily.  Some people however, struggle (either through lack of confidence, skills or because their appearance, personality or characteristics renders them less attractive to many), or go through great periods of their lives without the company of another.  While frequent self-romance may be enough to satisfy the urges of sexual release at times, often the desire to share the experience or be in the company, presence and intimate entwine with another is one which, in my mind, does not need to be denied.  Unless you live a life of high moral values in relation to the sanctity of sexual expression within only the bounds of a marriage, or unless you choose, or, more likely, have been indoctrinated, to believe the unquestionable values that have, apparently, been bestowed upon you by some great mystical, supernatural entity, then the principle of a sexual encounter within a consensual arrangement should not need to raise concern or any controversy.  If it does, I would suggest this is the result of such memes as I have aforementioned and not based on a realistic and rational response to the complexities of human sexuality.
I don’t like marriage or even civil partnerships.  I have no problem with long-term committed relationships.  In fact, I have far more respect for people in long-term relationships who have never entered a legally binding contract to force them to stay together.  If two people really love each other, why on earth would they need it?  For essentially that is all that a marriage or a civil-partnership really is: a legally binding contract between two people.  I hate the idea that so much to do with human relationships, and not simply romantic ones, is brought down to contracts.  But unfortunately it is a necessary reality in so many cases.
The contract between a prostitute and his/her client is, or at least should be, open and clear:  One is exchanging capital for the sexual services of another.    In many cases, this service is carried out respectfully and received in much the same manner.  Most prostitutes take their sexual health very seriously and insist on having their clients use protection or, in my case, ensure I am wearing it.  It is a clear, honest and open contract between two or more consenting adults. 
 
Let’s contrast that situation with the alternative that occurs every weekend in every town in every bar or nightclub up and down this land.  Let me introduce you to the men and women of this country who are little more than ‘Prostitutes by Proxy’.  I’m sure we’ve all seen it, I’m sure we all know of people, we may have even done it ourselves.  We call it ‘going on the pull’.  Men do it.  Women do it.  Going out, of an evening, with the express intent of, without any prior knowledge of who will be present at the venue, finding a member of the opposite, or same (take your pick), sex with the sole purpose of having sex with them.  And how is it achieved?  Frequently, it is by payment.  But payment is not usually made directly to the person with whom eventual sexual activity occurs, it is exchanged with a ‘bar professional’ for an alcoholic beverage… or two, or three, or…. well, however many is usually enough to get them into whatever state is required for sexual conquest.  Where is the contract?  Where is the consent?  Can a contract and consent for such activity really be sought from someone so intoxicated as to fail to stand correctly or incapable of pronouncing their own name, let alone remembering yours.  How high is the likelihood that these individuals will a) care about using contraception and b) be capable of putting it on correctly?  What are the chances that one or both of these individuals may infect the other with a Sexually Transmitted Infection or impregnate the other?  Judging by our national statistics on these two things, particularly compared to our European neighbours, I would say pretty darn high.
 
 
So, I leave you with this thought.  How different might the scenario be if the same people lived in a society where brothels weren’t treated like sinister, sleazy centres of smut and filth, but actually seen as useful and regulated services, where the well-being of its workers were properly cared for,  that could be accessed in order to fulfil a basic human need, perhaps having one on every high street next to your Primark, Superdrug or JD Sport, where men and women of all ages could go in the moments of their life where their desire for sexual gratification needed more than simply a quick tug on the chap or session with the rampant rabbit, where men or women, for lack of sexual satisfaction in their own relationships, but loving their partner nonetheless, could seek the sexual fulfilment without the fear of attachment or greater intimacy that an affair might bring and potentially, in the long term, holding their marriage or relationship together?
 
As much as this scenario may make you laugh or sound so outlandish as to not be easily imagined, I would actually suggest in all seriousness that, compared to the current situation, living in that society would create a far more productive, healthy and happy community than the one in which we currently reside, not to mention one where those who work as prostitutes are treated decently and their well-being cared for.   If we are able to fight the cultural memes we have all inherited, but some of us have been able to shed, if we can rise above the irrational, unproven claims of the god-fearers, if we can begin to actually think about the reality of our society, the dangers our current national view of sex and anything related to it poses, often to our most vulnerable, and the complexities of our human sexuality, rather than the arbitrary rigidity that such memes, traditions and religions have attempted to impose on us, and begin to fathom how actually a recognition of the legitimacy of prostitution and an elevation of its reputation would improve the lives of its citizens then we would, in my opinion, be taking humanity in the right direction and not a step back.

Another win for pornography

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Yesterday, I made another appearance as an invited guest at a university debate. This time, members of The Hist society of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, had to decide whether the believed that ‘pornography damages society’.

Both sides, made up of student and guest speakers, made some excellent and valid contributions, but the opposing team made up of myself and Jessi Fischer, one of my co-speakers of the winning team at Cambridge Union Society debate on porn, came out as clear victors as members of The Hist voted against the motion.
Yet again students of one of the world’s most elite educational institutions (and this time in a land that has been so dogged by religious control and indoctrination for decades) has demonstrated that pornography is not damaging to our society. Once again the voice of reason wins through!

Another debate win and honorary membership

I was contacted in the early of hours of yesterday morning via Twitter by a follower who was excited to see me attending a debate at his college that evening.  I was somewhat confused, because I had it in my diary for next Tuesday!  After checking that I had not been victim of a blonde moment by checking the original email, I confirmed that I indeed had Tuesday correctly marked.

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After frantic emails, messages and telephone calls to the debate organisers, they confessed there had been a mix-up and the debate was indeed happening later that day.
So, once again, I shunted my frame onto a pendolino bound for London town to appear at Queen Mary College (of which I am an alumni) and University of London’s debate (organised by New Turn) entitled “Porn should be banned”.
It turned out I was billed as the headline speaker, so my absence would not have gone down well.
The trip was worthwhile.  As well as being given a tour of the campus, which has vastly changed since I graduated exactly ten years ago, we on the opposing team were the victors by far, with over 90% of attendees voting against the motion.
To top it, it was voted on that I should be given an honorary membership of New Turn Society (http://www.newturn.org.uk/) debates, which was a proud and humbling moment for me.
It was concluded with a trip to Nandos.  Mmmm, chicken!

“This House believes pornography does a good public service” – Cambridge union speech transcript

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the Cambridge University Union Society’s debate entitled ‘This House Believes Pornography Does A Good Public Service’.

On the proposing team were Anna Span (Britain’s first female porn producer), Jessi Fischer (US sex academic) and myself.  Opposing the motion: Gail Dines (anti-porn ‘feminist’), Dr Richard Woolfson (child psychologist) and Shelly Lubben (former porn ‘star’ and prostitute turned Chaplain).
Here is the transcript of my speech:
“Let me start with a quote from a member of the opposition: “Let me tell you about the people in porn: they are mentally ill, they are physically diseased, and drug infested”.  Please bear that in mind while you listen to me speak.
 
I would like to apologise to you.
 
You thought my name was ‘Johnny Anglais’.  It isn’t.
You possibly even thought my name was ‘Jonny Cockfill’,  a name I adopted because of my, apparently, at times uncanny resemblance to Jackass idiot, ‘Johnny Knoxville’.  But it isn’t.
 
My real name is ‘Benedict Garrett’.  I’m not a porn star.  I’m a man who sometimes appears in pornographic productions.
 
Truth is, I don’t believe that anyone who appears in pornographic productions can be described as a ‘star’.  It is simply a job like any other.  And, like any job, it has its ups and downs.  Believe me, I should know.
 
Over the past ten years, I’ve had quite a selection of occupations: working in one of London’s top restaurants, working in a bank in Canada explaining to French-Canadians why they couldn’t get credit, working in a travel company, working for a consultancy firm in The City, doing PR for the speed and red light camera department of a local government, and, up until recently, being a Head of Department and teacher within a London secondary school, heading up Personal Social and Health Education & Citizenship, as well as teaching Religious Studies, Sociology, German, French, History and A Level Politics.
 
But a job does not define you.  I was never simply just a teacher, I was a man who worked as a teacher.  Likewise, I am not a porn ‘star’, I am simply someone who works in pornography sometimes.
 
I am also someone’s son and someone’s brother.  I have been, on the odd occasion, someone’s lover.  I am the owner or ‘best friend’ of a 2 year old cocker spaniel.  I speak five languages, to varying levels.  I have performed in lead roles in several musical theatre productions over the last few years and starred in a Hong Kong film.  I am a Canadaphile, particularly interested in the politics and culture of Quebec and other francophone communities within the Confederation.  I am in no way religious, but have an interest in Judaism, the history and culture of the Jewish people and Israel and have recently been receiving lessons in Hebrew.  I am a qualified personal trainer and avid fitness enthusiast and will be running this year’s London Marathon raising money for Whizz-Kids.  I have had two book published, I will refrain from saying that I wrote them, but I compiled them and they have my name on the cover.  Most recently, and something I was most certainly not planning on being, I have become a carer to a former student after I assisted him in his return from Pakistan after he was forced into a Madrasa and suffered abuse and neglect while there.  I also enjoy porn.
 
Unlike most of you here today, who have probably been accessing internet porn for at least the last five years, I believe I was at least 16 before my first proper encounter with hardcore pornography.  This encounter came in the form of a ‘Lover’s Guide’ VHS tape I found in my father’s forbidden cupboard that, although locked, could be lifted off its hinges and replaced.  I remember that my parents had gone to Paris for a few days when I did this and, believe me, I made full use of the time and made sure to watch the film several times each day, just in case I missed a crucial detail to the storyline, you understand.
 
From then on, I was hooked.  Porn had become part of my life.  And then, when I was 18, my parents got a dial-up internet connection.  Well, what was the first thing I looked for when I got the chance?  Of course!  The rest is history.
 
But what was I hooked on? 
 
Yes, undoubtedly, it was wank fodder.  Witnessing the actions of others whilst in a state of sexual intimacy was and is definitely arousing.  And what’s wrong with that?  Masturbating is a good thing.  According to Great Ormond Street:
 
“There are actually many health benefits of masturbation and having an orgasm or ejaculating (releasing sperm). This is because it makes your body produce a pleasure hormone called epinephrine which makes you feel relaxed, happy and contented. In fact, some doctors say masturbation can actually stop depression, stress and make you feel good about yourself.”
Great Ormond Street on their ‘Teens first for Health’ website
 
And pornography helped and continues to help me reach this state.
 
But there was more to porn than simply being wank material.  For a country boy like me, who was largely academic, veering towards the geeky, it was the only exposure I would get to sex for several years and I certainly never saw anything like it while I was in school.  Pornography does have an educational value.   Save drawn diagrams in science books, I never really knew what a vagina looked like and I certainly had no idea how to pleasure it or what a plethora of different sexual positions that I might choose to employ there are.  Bearing in mind, I didn’t actually lose my virginity until I was 20, I can say, without a doubt, that my years of viewing pornography prior to the momentous occasion definitely gave me an understanding of the female form, how to pleasure it and an increased confidence to explore and try various things.  Nothing else would have done that for me.  And no matter what I saw in the porn I viewed, I have also grown to respect women and all human beings, so the idea of wanting to degrade a woman, if indeed I had ever seen that in pornography, although its really not my taste, certainly has never impacted on my own sexual activities in my private life.  Equally, I don’t learn how to treat fellow humans through horror films or shoot ‘em ups.  Whilst pornography taught me some things, it certainly never replaced more important lessons learned from good parenting and decent teaching.
On top of that, watching people having sex is, or at least can be, for me, aesthetically pleasing.  It can be an art form.  Undoubtedly, a lot of porn is poor, a lot of porn is bad quality, lacks creativity or any visual flair, but that is true in so many art forms, mainstream films and media.  But that does not mean that pornography cannot, like any other art form, stimulate our senses, arouse different thoughts, raise certain questions or simply make us smile.  
 
I actually agree with some of the points made by the opposition.  But your problem is not with porn per se, but with the current state of some porn.

There are those who blame pornography for certain ills in our society, particularly linked to young people.  As a former teacher, I know the majority of young people watch porn.  Children as young as 11 are watching full-blown hardcore pornography.  This is a reality.  In all honesty, I don’t know whether its necessarily a bad thing.   However, in this country, you are supposed to be 18 to view pornography and young people know that.  More importantly, their parents know that.  Where is the parental responsibility here?  Where are the internet safeguards?  Where is the supervision of your child while they are exploring the internet?  The internet is an amazing thing.  Its like having uncontrolled access to the entire world.  Allowing your child to freely roam around the internet, is like dumping them in the middle of Soho and saying “have a wander, we’ll meet you back here in a few hours”.  If parents really cared and were concerned, they would do something about it.  Little Johnny does not have to access to his laptop all the time.  Little Lizzy, doesn’t need to have a mobile phone with internet access, she doesn’t even need to have a mobile phone.  “But how do I call my Mummy and Daddy if there is an emergency?”, “We’ve got a phone in the reception!” 
 
As a former PSHE teacher, I am more than aware that there is particular concern that pornography may be connected to a rise in teenage pregnancy and STIs.  The United Kingdom has the highest rate of both of these in Western Europe, which immediately, without even seeing any figures, raises a certain question.  If young people in all of Western Europe have equal access to the same internet pornography, then why are rates so much higher in the UK?  In fact, in some other countries, particularly the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia, all of which have far lower rates of teenage pregnancy and STIs, there is and has been for many years a far greater access to pornographic material and exposure to other aspects of the sex industry.  I believe the answer lies not in pornography, but in that society’s attitude to pornography and sex generally.  Many Dutch children will state that talking with their parents and teachers about sex is not an issue.  This is rarely the case in Britain.  The concept of ‘No sex please, we’re British’ is still, despite an increased sexualisation in many aspects of our society (fashion, advertising, the media), very much the case.  We have a very immature attitude to sex.  If we do talk about it openly, its usually in a comedic manner.  When we try to address it seriously, parents and teachers often lack the confidence, or indeed, the experience, to tackle it in a way that is appropriate for today’s young people.   While we continue to treat sex as a taboo in this country and shroud it in an air of mystique, young people will want to try it.  While, in many European countries, young people are allowed a glass of wine at dinner, we tend to have a similar attitude in the UK to booze as we do to sex.  The result is an increasing of binge-drinking amongst the British youth.  If you tell someone they can’t do something, or shy away from talking about it, if we treat it as something that is ‘naughty’ that only big people can do, then our littler people will undoubtedly be more curious to try it.  The problem is not porn, the problem is our immature national attitude to sex.
 
There have been accusations from the opposing side of the exploitation of women within the porn industry.
I’m not going to stand here and say that exploitation does not exist.  I’m not going to stand here and say that there isn’t sometimes links between porn production and drugs or criminality.  There are corrupt individuals and people lacking any sense of decency in any industry.  Do we say that the whole of the fashion is bad because some companies employ child labour in Pakistan?  Do we call all police officers institutionally racist simply because there has been a culture within certain police forces within recent years?  Do we blame the whole of the Church for the actions of some paedophilic Catholic priests?
Exploitation exists everywhere.  When I worked in a restaurant, I regularly got less than 10 hours between the end of one shift and the start of another, according to British labour law, this is exploitation.  As a teacher, I have been slammed against a wall twice, spat at, sworn at regularly, insulted repeatedly – is this treatment that a human being should have to face?  Welcome to Capitalism.  Capitalism exploits, that is its essence.  I’ve done jobs in the past where I’ve felt so degraded by the people I work with, work for or the people who I served, that I felt, at times, like wanting to slit my wrists.
 
I find it frustrating that there is often the accusation of exploitation of women in pornography, but you never hear of the exploitation of the gay men who are dominated, or even of the straight men in scenes where they are dominated and ‘degraded’.  Pornography is such a wide term for a whole range of different genres.  Porn, like sex itself, indulges in different sexual acts and in different scenarios.  Believe it or not, sometimes women, even in their private sexual lives, like to dominated, and so do men.  If you genuinely believe, that all porn degrades women, then you haven’t seen enough porn and you certainly haven’t spent time on a porn set, certainly not any of the ones I have ever been on.
 
On top of this, there are increasing numbers of female porn producers and more and more porn that is being produced specifically for the female viewer.
 
I’m not saying pornography is the perfect route for anybody.  But I work in pornography because I enjoy it.  Of course, I’m not a woman.  But equally, I know women who enjoy working within the industry.  I have worked with women who come from a variety of backgrounds.  Some are university educated, some are parents, some of them do charity work, some of them have worked in professions.  I have never been on a set where the women and where everyone, in fact, are not utterly respected, where the crew are not professional, if the woman, or indeed the man,  is experiencing any discomfort, we stop, we take a break, we sort it out, we have a laugh, we do our job.  Women in pornography have a choice about what they do and what they don’t do.  I actually find it utterly insulting to the intelligence and to the right of those women who genuinely enjoy performing in pornographic productions, who take into account any risk element, to be accused of being exploited.  Who are you to say that they, by sheer virtue of the fact that they are women, cannot choose to pursue a path simply because you disagree with it?  I disagree with people working as religious leaders, spreading myth and lies and exploiting millions of people by praying on their insecurities and fears.  I think religion has done far more to be accused of having a bad public service, least of all in the spread of HIV or the brutality against homosexuals in Africa, for example.  But I allow individuals the right to make the choice to enter such a pointless and globally damaging profession.  In many cases, women in the porn industry have an opportunity to do a job that they enjoy and get paid a decent rate for, something that very few other people can say about their own jobs.
 
You are probably aware that I lost my job as a teacher because of my work in porn.  Ironically enough, it was doing porn that actually gave me the impetus to get into teaching.  Several years ago, I was shooting with a production company run by a couple.  Afterwards we met up with their two sons.  I spent much of the evening interacting with them, and the parents commented on my ability to engage with them.  They asked if I’d ever thought about being a teacher.  Truth is, I hadn’t before then, because both my parents were teachers and it was the one thing they told me never to do.  Needless to say, I had four years where I was able to make a big impact on the lives of young people.  I never, like some would accuse me, brought my outside activities into the classroom, but my experiences did help me to teach with greater confidence, particularly about topics related to sex and sexuality.  And of course, if I had never been a teacher, I would not have become a foster carer and who knows where my foster son would be right now?
 
Wank fodder, educational tool, art form and allowing me to become a teacher, for a few years at least, and a foster carer now pornography does an excellent public service.”