Online porn: the canary in the coalmine

Posted at 19:35 on 1 Dec 2014 by Pandora Blake

Tags: atvod, AVMS, bbfc, censorship, Extreme porn legislation, Fairtrade porn, Female gaze, feminist porn, Gender politics, Kink activism, Politics, Queer politics

Today in the UK, the law changed regarding the sort of content that can be sold online as "video on demand", to bring online regulations in line with the existing guidelines for the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification). Video on Demand (VoD) services are regulated by the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD), which restricts the types of sexual content that UK VoD distributors can provide. In other words, online porn sales are now subject to the same restrictions as DVD sales, and it is no longer legal to sell online anything which could not be classified by the BBFC as R-18. Myles Jackman has posted an in-depth article describing exactly what is restricted as of December 1.

This is a huge blow for freedom of expression. The internet was until now the last resort of adult film-makers who wished to produce a broader range of content than that admitted by the BBFC.

Under the new legislation, UK distributors are no longer allowed to sell content depicting bondage and gags, fisting, public sex, age play, facesitting, urination, female ejaculation, and spanking and caning beyond that deemed "transient and trifling".

I've known this was coming for a while, but seeing it today reported in Vice and on the Backlash UK website, the reality is starting to sink home. In one fell swoop, I and most other independent fetish porn producers in the UK have been criminalised. Many spanking producers are already making changes to their sites - including taking free trailers down, moving their base of operations outside the UK, or even taking their site offline entirely. Vice reports, "sites either closed down or made to come into compliance last year include Belted by Beauty, Mistress Whiplash, Pleasuring Herself and Young Dommes", although another femdom site, The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell, has fought off the censors and successfully challenged ATVOD's authority with the help of Myles Jackman.

It's interesting that for the most part, femdom sites have been the ones targeted. The restrictions on facesitting and squirting disproportionately censor female sexual expression, female pleasure and female dominance:

Its worth noting that facefucking an activity which, when shown in porn, often involves a man putting his penis in a womans mouth hard and fast (so basically, exactly how it sounds) a staple of mainstream heterosexual (and often deeply misogynistic) porn isnt on the list. Its fine to be there on DVDs, and its fine online. Meanwhile, facesitting which usually involves a woman sitting on a mans face is banned. So, a representation of female dominance is banned, while a representation of male dominance is perfectly legal. (Stavvers)

As Stavvers points out, facefucking is permitted, but facesitting is not; likewise consuming male ejaculate is permitted, but consuming female ejaculate is not. The new legislation props up patriarchal models of male sexual dominance and criminalises femdom and feminist producers whose work provides alternative models of sexual interaction.

Similarly, the restriction against fisting - an important part of authentic queer sexuality - will disproportionately affect producers of queer, lesbian and gay porn. This is undeniably a blow against women and queers, with a transparently sexist emphasis on restricting acts of female sexual power.

The EU AVMS directive states that content that "might seriously impair minors" should be restricted in order to protect those under 18. However, when considering the research of 20 European States(3), Ofcom found that: "No country found conclusive evidence that sexually explicit material harms minors. As a result, the regulations have been introduced under the aegis of "child protection", without any evidence that the regulation will contribute to child welfare. It will, however, have an adverse impact on the sexual choices of consenting adults and on the British media industry. (Backlash UK)

With these restrictions, distributing images of acts which are legal to consensually practice - such as piss play, bondage and fisting - becomes illegal. It's fine to do it, but not to sell images of it. Obscenity legislation is meant to prevent the publication of images which might corrupt those watching - in other words, stop people from being tempted to try something that is deemed "extreme". But quite aside from whether porn does in fact corrupt (and the evidence shows that it doesn't), if trying it would not actually be illegal, why do the images matter?

As for spanking - well, any image that shows bruising, welts, or marks beyond a slight redness are now restricted. So that's Dreams of Spanking, my fairtrade, feminist spanking site, well and truly implicated.

I've had people sending me this information for the last few weeks, asking what I intend to do, and my answer has been the same every time. If you think that this legislation is going to send me running and hiding, you are mistaken. I have no intention of helping the bigots by self-censoring, and I'm certainly not going to pre-emptively shut up shop.

This is a ludicrous, badly written law that criminalises sexual minorities and small business owners. It predominantly targets the cottage industries of women, couples, queers and fetishists - people who are making enough to cover their costs or perhaps a little more, people who are making their own porn because the mainstream genres don't cater to our needs.

We are self-employed performers, artists, producers, directors. We buy our camera equipment ourselves and edit our content ourselves. We create safe spaces for fellow kinksters to discover they are not alone. We propagate much-needed information about consensual kink practice, showing examples of safe play, negotiation, and healthy kinky relationships. Our films are homegrown, niche, playful, political and sexy, documenting our authentic sexualities where they are not catered to by the mainstream. We work alone or with our partners and like-minded kinky friends. We dare to be different, and to reach out to others who are like us. For this we are criminalised.

The internet is a lifeline to people whose sexuality does not fit that prescribed as "normal" by the legislators. Whatever our sexuality, none of us can help what turns us on. Queer and fetishist sexualities are no longer defined as psychiatric disorders by the medical establishment - we can legally pursue fetish activities with consenting adult partners, and in the UK there is a whole subculture of clubs, munches and play parties to help us do so.

Judging by the number of kinky events listed on Fetlife per week, the UK is one of the kinkiest countries on the planet - certainly in comparison to the number of people living here. We may be a minority, but there's strength in numbers. Together we can fight this.

This legislation is wrong-headed, sexist, unworkable - and it strikes a huge blow to equality and sexual freedom. We must fight it. If we tuck our tails between our legs and start scrambling around to take fetish content offline, we are doing the censors' work for them. We need to work together to make it functionally impossible for this legislation to be enforced.

Pornography is the canary in the coalmine of free speech: it is the first freedom to die. If this assault on liberty is allowed to go unchallenged, other freedoms will fall as a consequence.

This declaration of State censorship will affect millions of consenting adults who choose to view British pornography; impose an unnecessary trade barrier, which has already caused independent UK producers to shut down; result in a significant loss of revenue to The Treasury; is practically unworkable as it can be circumvented by proxy servers; and has implications for all forms of freedom of expression on the internet. (Obscenity Lawyer)

So what can you do? Well, you can tell your journalist friends about it and get them to write articles about how stupid and harmful this is. You can talk to your mates about it, post about it on social media, and raise the chances that the next time this comes to trial, the jury will think this legislation is a load of rubbish. You can donate to Backlash UK and join the Open Rights Group (of which I am a member), both of whom are campaigning on this issue. You can write to your MP. And you can support your local independent queer and fetish porn producers by buying their porn while you still can.

(Images from Nimue's World and Femme Fatale Films.)

Comments

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With a General Election coming next year, I wonder if any of the political parties would take a stance against this ridiculous piece of legislation? Perhaps there is a place for the "Monster Raving Spanking (only-slight-reddening-of-the-skin-though) Party.
Otherwise I shall just have to vote Green :-)

Stick to your stance and principles, Pandora - they are what make you who you are. So proud to read how you are reacting to this idiocy.

While obviously agreeing with all you have written - and being generally opposed to censorship even in problematic cases which this is not - I am confused by the central notion of 'TV like' (I am taking this from the http://obscenitylawyer.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/the-following-content-is-not-acceptable.html link you provide). I cannot see how any spanking video is 'TV like'. Even ones as brilliantly produced and made as yours Pandora are surely not comparable to something made for television? I obviously fully support the campaign to repeal the legislation but if anything did come to trial would not the defense be that the video was in fact not TV-like? (I am a complete legal ignoramus so this may well miss the point).
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Pandora, how anyone could watch Dreams of Spanking content, and NOT admit the artistic quality of your work, simply amazes us. We are stunned by this law, and saddened by this latest, blatant assault on free speech. We stand with you and all other UK producers, and hope you will collectively fight back on behalf of your many, many fans.
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Sigh. If there is going to be "porn police" deciding what is good porn and bad porn then at least have it be people who have some serious knowledge and experience of pornography. I go into local sex shops here in New Zealand and the porn is just utter garbage compared to what I can get here online. It's basically all the same boring "penetration porn" stuff.

I think that people are starting to fear that when someone says they want porn that is different they mean pedophilia, incest, beastiality or something like that. It's through ignorance that people have these fears. They don't even know about Dreams of Spanking or other sites which take a more clever, subtle approach to sex.

I think "penetration porn" is the alcohol of pornography. It's common, therefore legal and acceptable. Other drugs might be far better, but the people who make the rules don't understand or appreciate them so they ban them. So in order to be legal drug users or legal porn users, we have to become "normal" which to many of us means our lives will become boring.

It's just silly that people want everything to stay the same. I refuse to believe that so many people would rather just stick with penetration porn and never try anything different.

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