Thursday, 24 December 2009

A Decade in Review

Personally, it doesn’t yet feel like we are about to end a decade. It was so much easier in the last century, the 80’s moving into the 90’s, the 90s into the new millennium. We’ve only just decided that the current decade is called the ‘noughties’, so goodness knows what the decade we’re moving into is called. Roll on the ‘twenties’ and then we will know what to call years again.

So what of the past decade? The papers and magazines are starting their reviews of the decade and our pop culture but what about the decade and law and sexuality? It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster and here I am to review some aspects. I’m sure I’ll miss some stuff out so feel free to add suggestions via the comments link at the bottom of this post.

The Internet

Let’s start with what I think has been the biggest engine of cultural transformation over the last decade – the Internet. Think back to 1999. The Internet was there but still comparatively basic. No Facebook, no Twitter, in fact nobody had heard of ‘social networking’ sites. chat rooms were the big way for gay men to communicate and arrange quick sexual rendezvous based on minimal profiles or to explore their sexuality with men across the globe. 1999 also saw the launch of Gaydar, a website that was to transform gay lifestyles and effectively kill off According to QSoft Consulting, the company behind Gaydar: ‘Membership grew rapidly by around 10% a month until the end of the first year. By November 2000, there were 78,000 members. By November 2001, there were 220,000 members. By November 2002, there were 640,000. At the end of 2004, they had more than 1.2 million members - 500,000 in the UK alone. By early 2007 it had over 3.8 million members.’ Recent years have seen the emergence of ever more gay networking sites with Fitlads reported as in second place to Gaydar in the UK, based on hits. Manhunt is also a player along with more ‘specialist’ sites such as Squirt and BarebackRT. In North America, Craiglist has done much the same job as Gaydar and more recently, Grindr on the iPhone has entered the scene.


Self made porn on Xtube or free videos on YouTube was still something for the future so pornography was something largely behind pay walls. The last decade saw the emergence of Triga in the UK; a porn company that celebrated and sexualised the ‘scally’, the chav’ and a working class image of the English. It’s received academic attention in itself and is still a success. Current titles include ‘The English Scally Collection’, ‘Cocks n Robbers’, ‘Young Offenders’, ‘White Van Man’, ‘Skinheads’ and ‘Council Scum’. Porn also got ‘harder’, in every sense, as the Internet helped propel ‘R18’ porn into more homes and barebacking porn made not only a return, but the years of condom covered penises, led to the very sexualising of ‘raw’ sex.
As we enter the new decade, barebacking porn is likely to be a key issue and a divisive one at that.

The Escort and Male for Male Sex Work

Again, in part thanks to the Internet, this decade has seen the apparent growth in the male for male sex worker, at least in our consciousness. Sex work as an acceptable ‘side line’ has a long history within queer culture and so its continued presence should not come as a huge surprise. Chat rooms do seem to have contributed to what I’ve called the ‘ad hoc sex worker’ who might get asked for a meet, and says no, but will meet/perform a particular sexual act for a fee. They are not advertising themselves as a sex worker, might not regard themselves as a sex worker but will move into this mode of behaviour where they see a quick opportunity. Technology has also allowed for the growth in those who offer online striptease or sexual acts either solo or with their partner/others creating an additional form of sex work in the new millennium.

Something About Marrying

The end of the decade has been dominated by debates around marriage, particularly in America. A growing number of nations are accepting gay marriage but with that acceptance comes challenging questions for the LGBQ community and how those identities become defined. Is marriage a ‘straight’ jacket for our community or the successful culmination of years of campaigning? In the UK, will there been an attempt to get ‘marriage’ rather than a Civil Partnership? Personally, I doubt it. I have a feeling we are stuck with CP’s and I’m not sure there’s even an appetite for debate. People talk of getting married’ so society seems comfortable with that interpretation.

The Law and the Future

Of course, there has been a huge amount of landmark legislation, not just the Civil Partnership Act. The Equality Act, Gender Recognition Act, Sexual Offences Act, Criminal Justice and Immigration Act and current Equality Bill have shaped, continue to shape and are likely to shape the coming years. I can’t think of another decade with a similar flurry of sexual legislation for the English legal system. If this last decade has been about planting the seeds of legislative reform, the coming decade is likely to see those seeds grow, in ways we can not quite envisage now.

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