As regular visitors to the Ministry are well aware I’m something of an obsessive fact checker.
Show me an article in the media that says ‘research has shown…’ or ‘scientists have said…’ and my immediate reaction is pretty much always ‘citation please’ unless the article to a field in which I’m already very familiar with the published research, in which the reaction will tend to be either ‘fair enough’ or ‘that looks like bullshit to me’.
One way or another, I’m a stickler for facts so if you make any kind of factual claims then be prepared to back them up with evidence; and if you don’t and you catch my interest then you can be sure I’ll go looking for the evidence myself.
A couple of days ago, The Guardian’s Comment is Free published an article by Rhiannon Lucy Cossett on the subject of online pornography, its presumed influence on the sexual behaviour of young men and the need for better sex education, particularly around consent. Some of what she has to say is a little confused in places, not because her overall argument is bad one but because the way she expresses it, in places, feels a little disjointed but within her article one section in particular – a description of a rather unusual sexual practice – seems to have captured far more attention than pretty much anything else in the entire article:
We need sex education because of a practice called “seagulling”, a boarding school import (what else?) that has spread to some university halls of residence. It involves a group of guys standing outside a mate’s door while he has sex with a girl, and then bursting in and ejaculating over her, all at once.
Rhiannon freely admits that the bulk of her article is based on anecdotes related to her by other young women and in the overall context of her argument on sex education that’s not that much of a problem but bearing the source of her information in mind and having done some background research of my own there is open question here as to whether the source of this particular anecdote was giving Rhiannon first hand information or merely reporting something they’d heard about but never actually encountered themselves.
There are three main reasons for posing this particular question, the first of which is that what Rhiannon describes as ‘seagulling’ is not the only act to which that name has been applied.
If you consult the online Urban Dictionary then you’ll quickly find that there are several definitions given for the term ‘seagulling’ the most popular of which describes something a little different Rhiannon’s version:
Seagulling: When you whack off and cum in your hand, then you run up to someone, slap them in the face with your salty hand and shout “Seagulled!”
Now that’s not the most pleasant thing that can happen to you but on a scale that runs from disgusting pranks to blatant sexual assaults it strikes me as being several orders of magnitude below the non-consensual bukkake scenario, which comes in at number 2 (absolutely no pun intended) on the Urban Dictionary list, although the account given there elaborates somewhat in Rhiannon’s version:
Seagulling is a variation on the sexual practice of bukkake, with the crucial difference that in this case the recipients are unwilling.
One person learns about two people that are going to have sex and works out the location of the aforementioned event. Then he gathers as many guys as possible and packs them into the room where it’s going to take place. The guys hide in cupboards, behind curtains – basically, wherever there is a place to hide. Then when the couple look like they’re about to finish, everyone runs out and ejaculates all over them and then proceeds to run around them, flapping their arms like birds and making seagull noises.
A couple of other definitions suggest that ‘seagulling’ entails either faking an orgasm during oral sex* with a partner before ejaculating into your hand which you then wipe over your unsuspecting partner’s face, withdrawing at the point of ejaculation while having sex ‘doggy style’ and then ejaculating into your hand, etc. while making seagull noises.
*I have to say that I have my doubts about the logistics of this particular variation, or more precisely about the viability of faking an orgasm during oral sex without your partner realising that you’re faking it, although this is question that is only applicable to fellatio and not cunnilingus for reasons that I really shouldn’t need to spell out.
There are also definitions that indicate that ‘seagulling’ involves:
– ‘swooping in’ (like a seagull) at the end of an unsuccessful evening out ‘on the pull’ to pick up whatever potential sexual partners might be left unattached at that time of night or, alternatively, doing much the same thing with the exception that the person you pick up is someone that someone else has been trying to chat up for most of the evening or, returning somewhat to the over masturbatory theme;
– watching a couple having sex in a car with them realising that you’re there and then making your presence known by either ejaculating or defecating onto the car windscreen and running away, or even;
– masturbating while in an upper level or a multi-storey car park or other high building overlooking a pedestrian area – and again I really don’t think I need spell out the rest.
There is also one definition supplied by a user who appears to have confused ‘seagulling’ with ‘seagull management’.
Moving beyond the Urban Dictionary, I was able to uncover two verifiable uses of the term ‘seagulling’ neither of which involves the use of any bodily fluids:
– a video from the Australian version of ‘Balls of Steel’ illustrating a ‘game’ which involves throwing chips (as in fried potatoes) over unsuspecting victims in beach side areas and scoring points based on the number seagulls that attack the victim, and
– an article on the website of a public radio program about language which notes that caller to show described the situation of being just about to jump into a conversation but having someone beat you to it as being ‘seagulled’, a term inspired by an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in which Lisa builds up the courage to take part in a conversation only to be interrupted at the crucial moment by a seagull.
And that concludes this week’s episode of Call My Bluff on Television X.
The point I’m driving at here is that there are several extant definitions of ‘seagulling’ of which the version given by Rhiannon is by no means the most popular or commonly cited; that dubious honour belongs to definition number one in the Urban Dictionary charts, i.e. masturbating into your hand and then wiping the resulting fluid on, or throwing it at, an unsuspecting victim.
As regards the origins of the word ‘seagulling’ the earliest references I can find online are in the Urban Dictionary and date to 2003. The earliest of these was posted in April of that year and gives this slightly vague definition:
to shoot sperm from a height onto a woman
The second entry moves on from shooting sperm from a height to actually throwing it from the hand:
to drive by on the beach and ‘chuck’ sperm from your hand into the face of an innocent passer by, the passer by has been seagulled
The user who posted that entry, redvynal, added three other definitions to the site, one for ‘downer’ – “to feel let down, expressing anxiety and [sic] dispair” – and two others for ‘scouse’ and ‘meat and potatoes’ both of which describe the actual dishes, would could suggest that the author, and maybe the word ‘seagulling’ itself has Northern origins.
Rhiannon’s version makes its first appearance in 2005 after which the sperm-throwing variant resurfaces in several forum posts early in 2006, by which time its claimed that ‘seagulling’ is a common practice in ‘London schools’. So far as an original source for this claim is concerned, the only references that refer to any kind of source point to posts on the Popbitch message boards, the earliest of which dates to January 2006 based on a reference in a Brighton and Hove Albion forum:
From the Popbitch messageboards…
My lovely other half is a deputy head teacher and told me of the new ‘craze’ sweeping the schools. Last week a kid came in to his office visably upset. The kid said he had been “Seagulled”. After 30 minutes of gentle persuasion the kid finally revealed what this meant. “Seagulling” is where some of the older boys of the school nip in to the bogs for a quick ****, jizz in their palms and then find an unsuspecting youngster and slap them on the face with the recently spunked hand whilst yelling “SEAGULL!”
From there, there’s a second post on Popbitch in May 2006 and references which indicate that it was also picked up by Holy Moly at around the same time:
From this week’s Popbitch…
Happy Slapping is so 2005. To be too cool for school these days you have to do the Seagull. In schools all over London, apparently, break-times are seeing boys running into the bogs to masturbate furiously, collect their jizz in the palms of their hands, then go out and find a younger kid…. then slap them in the face while shouting “SEAGULL!”
Try it in the office when you’re bored.
And about a month later there are references to the first televised use of the word by Russell Brand, without a definition being given, on Big Brother’s Big Mouth.
As for references to ‘seagulling’ in relation to boarding schools I can find only one in the forums of the online MMORPG Darkfall dating to 2009 where this was posted in response to an American user asking whether ‘seagulling’ is really a trend in the UK after a Russell Brand comedy special:
Russel brand was funny for about 5 minutes
now he is just an annoying ex drug addict
and no Seagulling is not a common practice in this country, except maybe in boarding schools, but rich people are strange that way
So we’ve got some provenance here in terms of a much earlier entry on the Urban Dictionary, a couple of posts on the Popbitch boards which are highly likely to have provided the source material for Russell Brand’s act and and belated if wholly speculative reference linking the sperm-throwing variant to boarding schools because ‘rich people are strange that way’ against a single reference to Rhiannon’s roving bands of Teenage Mutant Bukkake Turtles.
Not a promising start, you’ll agree.
The second reason which, for me at least, suggests that a healthy degree of scepticism may be warranted is the logistical implausibility of several of the suggested definitions of ‘seagulling’ other than the ejaculate-fuelled version of happy slapping.
I’ve already noted that faking an orgasm during fellatio strikes me as being a little difficult to pull off successfully (okay, you can have that one as pun if you like) but equally while the feat ejaculating onto the windscreen of car without the occupants noticing seems plausible the same cannot be said for the scatological variation of this definition, which would seem to entail someone climbing onto the bonnet of the car without being noticed in order to achieve the desired outcome.
And then we come to Rhiannon’s version where the main problem would appear to that of synchronised ejaculation. Although I aware that there are certain porn actors who, by repute, are thought to be capable of ‘letting fly’ more or less on demand given the right stimulation in advance it seems doubtful that a group of college students could collectively be capable of the same feat of self-control and a lack of adequate synchronisation would seem to be just the kind of thing that would tend to ‘spoil’ the prank. One rather tends to imagine, for example, that once the first guy in the group gets off a shot it seems spectacularly unlikely that the victim(s) would be content to lie back, relax and wait around for the others to play catch-up.
Again, plausibility seems rather on the low side when think about it properly.
Last, and by no means least, ‘seagulling’ seems to be a practice that very few people have ever talked about online, and most of those that have seem to have been of asking just exactly what the fuck Russell Brand was talking about in his act, against which there is very noticeable lack of any first hand account of ‘seagulling’ in any its suggested variants.
Now that may not be entirely surprising, it not the most obvious thing in the world for anyone to admit to even in those variations that would not immediately amount to an admission that one had been the victim or perpetrator of a pretty serious sexual assault; but that being the case, were ‘seagulling’ as Rhiannon describes it at all commonplace then one would expect to see some indication of it having lead to an arrest, a complaint or even just an expulsion from school at some point in the last 10 years or so.
If this were something that had only quite recently appeared on the radar then I might be less sceptical but, more eight years on from the definition of ‘seagulling’ that most closely matches Rhiannon’s version making it’s first appearance on the Urban Dictionary site, which was added on June 28, 2005, I can find no references to the term ‘seagulling’ in any kind of news or other commercial media source other than in a review of a new episode of ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’ published only last week in the US version of Huff Po and the context in which the term is used in that review implies that ‘seagulling’ may be a generic term for the act of masturbating over an unwilling female victim and not a group activity. What I did find was one 2013 report on ‘The Smoking Gun’ detailing an incident in Wilmington, Delaware in which a 22 year old man was arrested for throwing semen on a female customer in a local branch of Walmart but even here the only reference to ‘seagulling’ is a single user generate comment stating that is the ‘correct’ term for this incident, not that I imagine that is was used by the police when completing the paperwork for this arrest.
A more generic search, looking for references to sexual assaults at boarding or prep schools in which there is also a reference to masturbation turns up quite a number of relevant articles but most of these relate to sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers on students and not assaults by students on other students and where the latter do crop up I’ve yet to find anything that resembles Rhiannon’s version ‘seagulling’. That doesn’t mean that such an incident has never taken place, it is entirely possible that there is indeed an original incident from which this particular online definition of ‘seagulling’ derives, one which has become entirely detached from the term ‘seagulling’ if it was ever even attached to that word in the first place. It also doesn’t mean that such an incident could not have taken place relatively recently in the UK, a description of which then found its way to Rhiannon from one of her sources. Given that the definition she gives certainly exists and has been kicking around the Internet for several years one cannot rule out the disturbing possibility of a group of young men having emulated a behaviour they’ve seen a definition of online, even if that the definition itself is a complete and utter fabrication.
But, all things considered, what we’ve got here looks a hell of a lot like an urban myth no matter which definition you think is the correct one, hence the open question about Rhiannon’s source and whether or not what she was given was a first hand account of an incident; and I should note that the mere fact that the term ‘seagulling’ has recently turned up in a well known TV drama is no guarantee that it has any basis in fact. One of the great urban myths of all time, in which a police officer is claimed to have tricked a confession out of suspect using a photocopier and a colander which the officer claimed was a lie detector found its way (minus the colander) into an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street.
Indeed one thing that seems to me to suggest very strongly that we may very well be looking at an urban myth, and not a particularly widespread one at that, is the fact that in trying run down online references to ‘seagulling’ using Google, the number of references to the term in any kind of sexual context in its search indices seem rather shallow. I ran several searches for the word ‘seagulling’ alongside a variety of common terms used to refer to the act of masturbate and its associated *cough* emissions with safesearch turned off and relatively few ran to a depth of more than 10-12 pages before hitting the ‘In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the XXX already displayed‘ and hitting the option to repeat the search with the omitted results included appear to do nothing more than add in a shitload of references to localised versions of the Urban Dictionary entries all of which are automatically generated by the site’s SEO. That alone seems to suggest that if this practice exists at all then it is either extremely uncommon or that its something that just isn’t discussed anywhere online to any significant extent, and the lack of online chatter alone raises more than a few doubts.
And, based on Twitter’s advanced search (which is not the most reliable I know) there appear to have been more tweets referring to ‘seagulling’ as a reference to some sort of sexual practice involving masturbation in the last 7-8 days, on the back of the SVU episode and Rhiannon’s article, then there were in the previous six years. The earliest tweet I managed to unearth dates from July 2007 and refers only to ‘seagulling designers’ which I’m going to presume is a variation on ‘seagull managers’. The first tweet mentioning ‘seagulling’ in any sexual context doesn’t appear until March 2009 – that’s a link to the Urban Dictionary entry – and after that there’s nothing relevant until a Russell Brand’s comedy special aired in the US in September 2009.
Having said all that, one thing I should stress here is that the lesson to take from all this, if Rhiannon’s version of ‘seagulling’ is indeed an urban myth, is that – as ever – the plural of anecdote is not data, and it certainly isn’t evidence here either. That said, Rhiannon was at least up front and open about the fact that her article did rely on anecdotes, meaning that no one can say they weren’t implicitly warned of the possibility that the odd factual error might inadvertently creep into the article. all of which makes this mildly embarrassing perhaps, but nothing at all like the kind of bullshit zombie statistics one typically finds in media articles about online pornography or, worse still, in the pronouncements of some politicians and academics.
It is, for example, much less embarrassing than Diane Abbott’s claim that ‘Porn is the biggest driver of traffic to Google‘, which can be easily debunked in just a couple of minutes using Google Trends:
Or worse still, the ridiculous claims she made in a webchat on Mumsnet:
Most adults think that porn is just girls with naked breasts. But actually the stuff children can access nowadays is, as you say, hardcore. And the average age of boys accessing pornography has dropped from eleven to eight. I do not think sex is sordid and shameful. And I do not believe that is the view of the British public. But I think it’s a very specific form of sexuality that’s being imposed, on children and adults: a porn version. It’s particularly damaging to young girls, in my view. And this has been made worse by fast-developing technology.
Most adults think WHAT???
Seriously, the transition in Men’s magazines from topless images to full nudity (ignoring the naturist magazine Health an Efficiency) started with European editions of Penthouse in the late 1960’s although the US, where attitudes to nudity were rather less liberal than here in Europe, had to wait until the early 70’s for full nudity. The first full frontal nude pictorial in Playboy magazine featured either English model Marilyn Cole (Jan 1972) or American Bonnie Large (March 1973) depending of whether or not you think Cole’s claim to the be the first full nude playmate is compromised by a shadow cast by over part of her pubic area. In any case, the original Playboy/Penthouse full nude (pubic hair on view but no vulva) quickly ceased to be the apex of pictorial nudity with the publication of the first issue of Larry Flynt’s Hustler magazine in 1974, which ushered in the era of the graphic nude photo shoot in which everything was on full display.
By the time I was old enough to take an interest in hedge porn, right at the end of 1970s, you’d be disappointed if all you came across was a pictorially tame copy of Playboy or Penthouse instead of something more full-on in the pictorial department like Fiesta, Mayfair or Club International and as for a copy of Hustler… turn up one of those and you’d really have struck gold.
Never mind ‘most adults’ under, say, the age of sixty and maybe a fair bit older who don’t that porn is rather more than just ‘girls with naked breasts’, even if today’s hardcore is several parsecs on from the hedge porn of yesteryear.
As for the average age of buys accessing porn dropping from eleven to eight, the original claim that it was eleven was bullshit when I first investigated it in May 2012 and it was still bullshit when I revisited the claim after it showed up in the Daily Mail 12 months later and showed that a single Utah-based website is the primary source for most of the woefully outdated and, in many cases, utterly fabricated online porn ‘statistics’ which appear not only in the media but also in two of the most prominent feminist books that promote the whole idea of ‘pornification’; Gail Dines’ “Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality” and “Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry” by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray.
Now that’s embarrassing in a way that far exceeds getting taken by what may a bit of dodgy anecdote.
As a final ironic thought, if – as I very strongly suspect – ‘seagulling’ is an urban myth than Rhiannon’s error in repeating serves to prove her main point, that there is a need for more and better sex education not least to prevent these kinds of urban myths circulating and being treated as facts.