LAST week, the organiser of a Glasgow life-drawing group was ejected from her personal Facebook account for posting an image of a famous artwork. The image – of surrealist artist Rene Magritte's nude painting, Lola De Valence – had been posted by All The Young Nudes founder Joanna Süsskind as a way of advertising the art group's next event. “I was told I have violated Facebook’s terms and won’t be able to post again for 30 days,” said Susskind.

Of course, Facebook’s overbearing censorship of nudity is nothing new. Süsskind’s ejection is one of a long series. Most shocking examples have included the deletion of the iconic photograph of a naked nine-year-old fleeing napalm bombs during the Vietnam War, and Denmark's famous nude statue, The Little Mermaid.

Facebook never makes it clear how exactly it sifts through the pictures posted, but it’s a mix of artificial intelligence – the use of algorithmic pattern-finders that detect buttocks, female nipples and genitalia – and human labour. Sometimes, it’s complaints from members of the community.

There are, of course, very valid reasons for concern over what is published on social media. The digital world is littered with porn and objectifying images. Those who post exploitative images of children or revenge porn need to be not only censored but prosecuted. But we should be cautious about, in the name of achieving this, reverting to the kind of puritanism that would place fig leafs over all.

We've moved on over the last century, though only a little. Last week week saw the opening of a Tate Modern exhibition of nudes by Amedeo Modigliani of the type that scandalised Paris when they were first shown. A century ago, one of his shows was closed down following outrage at supposedly indecent paintings of nudes with pubic hair.

Returning to the 21st century and Facebook, a friend of mine, Jannica Honey, who has been working on a year-long art project photographing women of all ages, often complains that her images have been deleted. Among those removed was a portrait of an eight-month pregnant woman. “I ended up getting banned so many times that I never upload an image showing a nipple,” she's told me. “You can lose your whole account if you get banned too many times.”

What is censored by Facebook says a lot about our mixed-up relationship to our bodies, particularly female bodies. Male nipples are generally allowed, though female nipples are not. There’s also a differentiation between high art and other naked body imagery – as only the brush of the great artist could make the body anything other than obscene.

But these attitudes are nothing new. A YouGov survey of 2014 found that 59 per cent of us were uncomfortable naked. Some time ago, when I did a walk with Naked Rambler Stephen Gough – who argued that it was it is his human right to be unclothed in public – it seemed to me that it wasn’t the police that were his problem, it was the occasional member of the public who thought it their duty to complain. Yet, what struck me most, on my walk with him, was how desexualised his naked body seemed.

Perhaps that’s what we fear most. The naked, human body, particularly the female one, that isn’t about sex and desire, but just is. And, while we can get angry at Facebook it's not entirely Facebook’s fault. It’s just that on Facebook we see our dysfunctional attitudes exaggerated. Censorship like this should be a reminder that we all need to chill out. Relax. The plain, ordinary naked human should be a source of joy not shame.


GOOD news from the Bad Sex Awards – the Literary Review's annual celebratory shaming of the worst sex scenes in fiction. Sex in literature, the judges say, is getting better. “There’s plenty of sex around ... but a lot of it is quite good,” said judge Frank Brinkley. “Maybe we are having an effect – definitely literary fiction’s changing and the ‘Oh sod it, I’ll put in a sex scene’ attitude that prompted the creation of the award has pretty much fallen by the wayside.”

Still, it would be sad to see the award phased out on account of writers just getting too slick with their literary bedroom technique. For these accolades have actually always brightened up the dullness of November. After all, without the awards, we might never have come across some of the corkers, which nevertheless still exist this year.

There's Wilbur Smith, for instance, whose chilly sex scene had his male character worry about genital frostbite, only to be greeted with the response: “Silly man. Why don’t you put it somewhere hot?” Or Venetia Welby's Mother Of Darkness, which contains a character who "moans in colours".

Smugly, the event's organisers think it's their awards that have made the sex better. It's up to writers next year to prove them wrong, and demonstrate their shaming has failed. Let the bad sex live on.