Restricting niche porn sites is bad news for people with marginalised sexualities

Posted at 09:41 on 30 Nov 2016 by Pandora Blake

Tags: age verification, BBFC, classification, Digital Economy Bill, Dreams of Spanking, ethical porn, feminist porn, Guardian, in the news, kink acceptance, Kink Olympixxx, law, media, Myles Jackman, Obscene Publications Act, obscenity, porn, protest

Restricting niche porn sites is a disaster for people with marginalised sexualities - Pandora Blake for The Guardian

Last week I had an article published in the Guardian about the impact of the forthcoming Digital Economy Bill, and its proposed restrictions on online porn. You can read it here - Restricting niche porn sites is a disaster for people with marginalised sexualities.

The article has received over one and a half thousand comments - and I was pleasantly astonished to discover that the majority of them are sympathetic or supportive. It seems that many people share my outrage that the Government think it a worthwhile use of time and money to legislate what consenting adults do for fun - or think that this bill is a proportionate, workable answer to the problems emerging from young people's lack of sex education.

Here's the longer version of the piece I drafted first, before cutting it nearly in half to meet the wordcount:

Five weeks ago I persuaded a few dozen people to show up outside Parliament and have a squirting water fight, to protest a new law criminalising the depiction of consensual sex acts in porn. The Digital Economy Bill currently going through Parliament represents an outrageous attack on the sexual liberty and personal privacy of adults in the UK. It will also destroy the livelihoods of many workers in the erotic industry such as webcam performers and DIY porn producers like myself. Making our own content at home to sell online gives us greater independence and more control over the kind of work we do - but this law will take that away.

I started working as a fetish video performer ten years ago: it was fun part-time work that let me get paid doing the same kinky roleplay and dressing up as I enjoyed at home. Eventually I managed to launch my own website, Dreams of Spanking; a sort of erotic autobiography, with films expressing my personal sexual tastes and fantasies. Running my own website gives me total freedom to do what I want on camera; and I go out of my way to give creative control to the performers who work with me.

You might think that sites like mine - owned and operated by women, authentic and performer-centric - are exactly what we need more of in the porn industry. But small-scale websites like mine are the ones that stand to be hit hardest by the Digital Economy Bill.

I’m no stranger to censorship. Last year, Dreams of Spanking was unsuccessfully targeted under the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations (AVMS) 2014 because it includes videos of consensual spankings that left marks. After a traumatic, invasive investigation, I was found in breach of the regulations and forced to take my site offline. I lost a project into which I’d poured years of creative energy - and, worse, it drove the message home that the law considers sexualities like mine to be obscene. I sought legal help, and after a lengthy battle I won my appeal, and was able to re-open Dreams of Spanking this summer. But I had a mere four weeks to enjoy my victory before the Digital Economy Bill was presented to Parliament, and I realised that I was going to be criminalised all over again.

I can’t help that I like spanking. I’ve known I liked it since I was six years old, when I encountered references to corporal punishment in old books, and felt a funny, excited feeling. I wanted to know what it felt like.

I knew better than to tell anyone about my fantasy. I kept it secret, feeling ashamed without really knowing why. As I entered puberty, I felt increasingly alone. I thought I was the only person on the planet who was like this; I despaired of ever finding a partner who shared my interest. 

It wasn’t until I got online in the mid-1990s and found some free previews for online pornography (which I wasn’t legally old enough to view) that I realised I wasn’t alone. For the first time, I began to understand that maybe I wasn’t a freak. Maybe I could find happiness and fulfilment after all.

This is why I make BDSM porn. I want to reach out to kinky people who feel isolated, and help them realise that they aren’t alone - and that there’s nothing wrong with them.

None of us deserve to be made to feel ashamed of our sexualities. I can’t help that I fantasise about spanking any more than I can help that I’m queer. It’s just the way I am. My spanking fetish isn’t obscene, and it isn’t harmful to society. It is unjust to criminalise the work I do to reach out to others with marginalised sexualities. 

By mandating age verification the Digital Economy Bill will put most homegrown porn in the UK out of business. Porn sites that are one-woman-shows, like mine, are labours of love, and don’t make much money. We can’t afford to foot the bill for securely age checking each site visitor. 

Feminist, queer, indie porn sites bring a healthy and much-needed diversity to the porn industry in the UK; we break the mould, and disrupt the homogeneity and heteronormativity of the mainstream. It’s sites like mine, which empower performers, show authentic self-expression, subvert stereotypes and queer tired porn tropes, that will disappear if this becomes law.

Worse, age checks that require users to submit identifying details to prove their age will enable record-keeping on a global scale. Do you want a private company to own a database of every porn site you’ve ever looked at - and would you trust a tube site to keep that data safe? No, me either.

But the biggest insult of the Digital Economy Bill is the “prohibited content” - the list of material that is banned entirely. 

The regulations that led to my site being unsuccessfully censored last year applied the classification guidelines used by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to online porn for the first time. The highest UK classification is R18, which covers any depiction of explicit, unsimulated sex. But the R18 category is actually very narrow; there’s a long list of content which is excluded from it, and which is therefore not legal to depict in porn at all. ‘Prohibited content’ includes fisting, bondage of all four limbs plus a gag, watersports and female ejaculation (if the fluid lands on another person, or is consumed), and the one that got me - spanking that leaves marks beyond those deemed “transient or trifling”. 

We have an absurd discrepancy where acts which are legal to do in real life are illegal to depict. Plenty of people enjoy a bit of consensual spanking from time to time, but as soon as a video of it is published online, suddenly it’s illegal - even if the people viewing it are all age-verified, consenting adults.

I find it demeaning to be told that my sexuality is obscene. Turning a camera on before engaging in enjoyable sex acts doesn’t make them inherently degrading; and nor does choosing how and when to share the images with a likeminded audience. 

As a woman, the prohibited content list is particularly offensive. How dare the Government say that if my partner makes me squirt, my orgasm is obscene? What message are we sending to young women by criminalising porn that depicts a visual, undeniable representation of female sexual fulfilment? Do we really want girls to think that the way their bodies naturally and authentically respond to pleasure is obscene?

If we want to help young people stay safe online, we need to teach privacy skills and how to critique the media they will inevitably encounter. We need to make sex education mandatory in schools - and we need it to answer the questions young people are asking, like how will I know when I’m ready to have sex; and when I am, how can I make my partner feel good? Attacking online porn is a cheap way to score political points - and it’s a distraction from the real issues.

The UK’s laws around sex and porn are incredibly outdated. The BBFC classification guidelines ultimately derive from the Obscene Publications Act (OPA) - a law dating from 1959, when it was still illegal to have gay sex, never mind film it. It’s absurd that this law should still be controlling what we can do with our bodies. 

Recent court cases under the OPA, such as R v Peacock in 2012 resulted in a jury of the British public unanimously agreeing that porn depicting fisting and BDSM aren’t obscene. Yet thanks to the out of date classification guidelines, these acts will be recriminalised by the Digital Economy Bill. Which is why, outside Parliament last month, I joined ‘Obscenity Lawyer’ Myles Jackman to demand a comprehensive review of UK obscenity law. We are calling for a Joint Committee to review the Obscene Publications Act and the BBFC classification guidelines, and bring our sex laws up to date with UK case law, and with current public opinion.

Consensual adult sex should not be criminalised - and nor should any porn that depicts it.

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