The Pendulum: Why Americans Should Care that British Porn is Fucked

12/12/14 UPDATE: This rant of mine matured over the course of the week and has become an article that I wrote for Thought Catalog called “Why Everyone Should Care that British Porn is F**ked” (note the classy asterisks!). I’m really happy to have it up on a larger forum, as I think this issue is massively important. Click HERE to check it out.

A few days ago, British pornographers were quietly hit with draconian new regulations. The UK’s new Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 are aimed at “Video on Demand,” ie: porn on the internet, which is now subject to the same restrictions as porn sold on DVD. As of December 1st, all pornographic content produced in the UK must adhere to the British Board of Film Classification’s rating of R-18, which falls roughly between the NC-17 and X ratings in the U.S. Click here for a full list of the newly banned sexual acts, accompanied by elucidating commentary from obscenity lawyer, Myles Jackman. The ban is fairly extensive, so here are a few highlights from the list of banned sexual acts, courtesy of The Independent.

According to the new restrictions, it is no longer legal for porn produced in the UK to portray spanking, caning, physical restraint, verbal or physical abuse (regardless of consent), humiliation, female ejaculation, face-sitting and fisting. The BBFC banned the last two items on the list on the grounds that they are “potentially life-endangering.”

Really? Interesting…. I’ll remember that the next time I want to take someone’s life in my hands.

There have been a number of excellent articles and essays published in the wake of these regulations that cover the many reasons why the new standards are problematic and discriminatory on multiple levels. Girl on the Net wrote an impassioned break down of the regulation’s idiocy, sex act by sex act. (I especially appreciated her pointing out the ironies inherent in the restrictions). Pandora Blake addressed the regulations as one of the independent porn producers whose livelihood is going to be directly affected by the ban. Remittance Girl addressed the BBFC’s overblown exercise of governmental power, and Stavvers examined the disturbing manner in which the restrictions target women’s sexuality and sexual pleasure, as well many aspects of the kink / minority / fetish sexualities, while leaving  mainstream / male pornographic tropes far less restricted. For example, while face-sitting is banned as potentially life-threatening, face fucking is just fine. I’d encourage anyone interested in learning more about the BBFC’s new standards to check any of those articles out, or to go to the Backlash website, an organization committed to defending freedom of sexual expression.

It hasn’t gotten quite so much coverage in the U.S. In fact, apart from an excellent article in Reason, it’s barely registered here. So, why does an erotica writer living in the United States care any all this? After all, it’s not as if people can’t spank each other or sit on their loved one’s faces in the comfort and privacy of their own homes, right? They just can’t see it in porn. Besides, that’s all happening an ocean away. We’re sitting pretty behind the First Amendment here. What does it really matter?

After three days of sitting with that question, I’ve come up with two answers. The first is more general so I’ll start there. I care because our culture, (meaning Western / European culture), moves like a pendulum. Periods of great conservatism are often followed by decades of social progress. Look at the turn of the 20th century when Victorian morality slowly gave way to the Roaring 20’s, a period fueled by popular resistance to prohibition. Consider the way the pendulum swung back to social conservatism in the years following World War II, when sexual and emotional repression became the standard way of life. That repression persisted until the rise of feminism and the sexual revolution pushed the pendulum back towards liberalism in the 60’s and 70’s. Still not convinced? How about the fiscal conservatism in the 80’s that lead to a popular culture that was both totally decadent and oddly repressed, particularly in the wake of AIDS. Then the nineties came around and the LGBT community mobilized, ushering in new struggles and discussions and efforts at re-education centering on sexual freedoms. And now here we are, in a relatively progressive, sex positive age where bondage is out of the closet and people buy 50 Shades of Grey in Walmart. But what does that even mean?

It means a lot changed very quickly, and we are now hitting up against cultural resistance.

Yes, sex positive efforts at education and advocacy are still active, now more than ever. In fact, they’ve expanded to include most marginalized sexualities, gender identifications and sexual kinks, including, but certainly not limited to, BDSM and D/s practices. But that doesn’t mean the pendulum can’t swing to the other way, back to a “safer,” less sexually challenging mode. I believe that the tighter porn restriction in the UK is one sign, (one of many small, subtle indicators), that it is already swinging back to what I will uncomfortably call “moral conservatism.”

The reasoning behind the restrictions is embedded in the language of the BBFC’s new regulations, and that reasoning boils down to this:

We want to protect our populace from being exposed to sex acts that we find subjectively uncomfortable and / or questionable. If people don’t know it exists, they won’t want to do it at home. They’ll stick to nice, “normal” things, like PIV and the occasional blow-job. They won’t try all of that crazy 50 Shades shit and get themselves hurt.

Which brings me to the second reason I care. In a move so ironic it still boggles my mind, the British government has nullified consent in an effort to protect people. It doesn’t matter if a fetish film clearly portrays a man consenting to have his ass whipped raw by a lovely woman with a cane. It doesn’t matter if a woman consents to being fisted by a man, (or another woman), on film, (and let’s not forget that anal fisting is included, fans of gay porn). The fact that the actors involved legally consent to whatever it is they’re doing doesn’t matter. IT DOESN’T MATTER. Because the government knows better. The government wants to keep you safe from all those dangerous, questionable things. The government will protect you from yourself.

Does this sound paranoid? It might, and for that I apologize. After all, we’re still just talking porn, right? Not real life…. Well, no. I’m afraid not.

As Myles Jackman states, “this declaration of State censorship will affect millions of consenting adults who choose to view British pornography.” You might still be able to spank your lover, but you can’t knowingly consent to watch a spanking video because, as the wording of the regulations imply, spanking is a moral danger and a health risk. They don’t want grown adults to get it into their silly heads to try it, so they’ve attempted to limit popular exposure by keeping it out of porn. And if you can’t show it in porn, then it must be really bad, right?

It’s another shove to the pendulum – one away from sex positivity, education and healthy bodily awareness. It’s a shove back towards shame and subjective moral judgment, and I’ll be honest. It pisses me off.

The cultural pendulum is going to swing, because that’s what it does. That’s what it’s always done. But to watch governments try to regulate it into swinging faster is galling, and please don’t think the UK is alone in passing regulations like these. Canada is trodding a similar path with its Porn-Block Bill and Australia’s censors have become slowly and increasingly more hostile to pornographic content. But what about the First Amendment? We have that here in the States! Surely, that’ll keep our freedoms of expression safe!

Yes, it will keep some of our freedoms safe, but I’m afraid porn is a bit of a grey area with the First Amendment. It is still subject to obscenity laws, laws that the Federal government is, at this moment, using to hold banks hostage for housing the funds of tax paying porn actors, directors and producers. At a state level, even California is using obscenity laws to make the state a legally hostile place for pornographers. Luckily for them, Nevada is next door.

Porn has been called “the canary in the coalmine of free speech” and this is, in the end, exactly what I’m getting at. We need to care about the restrictions on the British porn industry, because they are indicative of how our progressive, liberal Western society is feeling about sexuality. And kids, between Amazon censoring erotica and porn getting restricted right into the vanilla mainstream, our culture doesn’t appear to be feeling all that sexually open right now.

So what do we do? Well, the best thing anyone can do is to be aware and take an interest. If you’re British and the regulations piss you off, complain , sign this petition, and support legal objections. If you live in the States, don’t dismiss what’s happening as unimportant because it isn’t happening here. If you identify with or practice anything that might be considered an alternative sexuality, live your life. Consume the media that turns you on as much as you can, and provide a real, public, honest example of a healthy, consensual, joyful sexuality to anyone you feel comfortable doing so with.

The pendulum is swinging and things are going to change. How and to what degree remains to be seen, but the worst thing one can do is assume that progress can’t reverse.

25 comments

    1. Thank you, Brantwijn – I really appreciate that. A lot of this gets lost in the media. Honestly, it wasn’t until the regulations passed that I really went digging. I wish these issues got more coverage – it’s hard to know what’s going on when no one talks about it.

  1. So I went looking around because I was curious, and female ejaculation is still in that “we’re not sure wtf really” zone, but from what I can gather female ejaculation may be more than one thing.
    There’s the secretions from glands around the urethra (Skene’s gland, but also possibly others) but that secretion tends to not be in large amounts and is thicker than urine. There’s urine in there too, but considering where it is, there’s no way of not having contamination there.
    The “whole lot of clearish, not thick fluid” – all the porn I’ve seen shows this kind – is more likely to be diluted urine (and has in at least one case been tested and found to be diluted urine).
    So British porn makers – make sure that your female stars ejaculate in the correct manner, and make sure to gain a sample in case testing needs to be done. Obviously.
    All of which just goes to show that this kind of attempt at categorization is a crock.

    1. Yep. What’s truly galling is that there was no effort made to understand the biology involved. The wording throughout the document is also so fantastically vague and subjective that it would make me laugh if I didn’t feel like punching something.

  2. To be fair, the biology looks complicated and hasn’t been much studied. But they certainly should have looked at the seminal studies.
    I apologize for that. I couldn’t help myself. 🙂

    1. Never apologize – it’s only fair to mention that. But I do also agree that they should have looked at some of the seminal studies on female ejaculation before passing a blanket ban on it. It just makes it clear that the BBFC had no interest in *understanding* what it is they found objectionable, which makes the regulations more of a knee-jerk reaction than properly considered legislation. Not uncommon in any country, but it still frustrates the hell out of me 🙂

  3. Wonderful article, Malin.

    I, like you, feel that this legislative change is very much a barometric measure of where Western attitudes towards sex and sexuality are heading, regardless of geographic location. If you imagine censorship as a looming black cloud, it’s hard not to see the dreaded Amazon adult tag and the U.K. government’s Google ‘opt out’ policy as the first rumbles of thunder and this as the first actual raindrop. The only question is when the full force of the storm is going to hit … Jane xxx

    1. Thank you, Jane. Your black cloud analogy is spot on. It’s easy to feel safe in the bubble of the sex positive community, or ignore things entirely because it doesn’t directly effect us, but sex is such a bellwether for our culture. It’s just hard not to hear all the little rumbles and not be concerned. xxx.M

  4. What you say is so true, M, it would be laughable if it wasn’t so f**king tragic. I’m left speechless by the hypocrisy of what has been done. Life threatening acts? I can only assume then that there will soon be a ban on filming some of the other life threatening acts we all indulge in – driving, flyng, crossing roads, horse riding, contact sports, walking up steep and slippery spiral staircases… Because, above all, we must be protected from ourselves! And then don’t get me started on the other ‘non-consensual’ acts that are permitted as mainstream entertainment, in war films, crime dramas and the like. We’re currently hooked on The Fall (Gillian Anderson at her finest) – but why is it permissible at 9.00 at night on a terrestrial TV channel to show Jamie Dornan as a serial killer tying up, terrorizing and killing women, while a little light consensual spanking in a porn film is deemed too much for us to take? What this boils down to is fear and rejection of anything different, other. The people who pass these laws are narrow-minded bigots – “Look, there are people out there who enjoy something we don’t – we need to shut this down fast.” And they appear to have moved with stealth – despite being an erotica writer and constantly on the internet, I only really became aware this was happening just as the law was passed. Where was the debate and protest beforehand? Did anyone in the sex positive community know this was coming – because I wish it had been more widely publicized if they did. It seems unlikely that protesting after the law has been passed will cause a reversal. So as I said, it’s f**king tragic. Thank you for taking the time to consider this and to write about it so eloquently. As always, you get right to the heart of what needs to be said and don’t pull your punches.
    Tamsin
    xxx

    1. Thank you, Tamsin. I’ve been chewing on this all week and I knew I’m make myself crazy if I didn’t spit it out. And you’re right – it would be hilarious if it weren’t so worrisome. The sexually negative implication of the ban alone could have filled 5 pages, and beneath all that is the Nanny-State mentality of needing to keep the populace safe from itself, (we have that a *lot* here too). Unfortunately, it’s easy to be complacent when something doesn’t directly effect you – I’d wager a lot of people in a lot of places looked at these regulations and dismissed them because “it’s just porn.” But it isn’t – it’s also your freedom to *choose* the media you consume, and all based on thinly veiled moral subjectivity. Ugh. It’s maddening and saddening all at once. xxx.M

    2. Yes Tamsin yes. I was trying to formulate a reply to this wonderful article by Malin but this encapsulates exactly what I wanted to say. Also – and again – we are not allowed to embrace our sensual/sexuality and it is worrying that for young adults we are giving out signals about what is right and wrong. Imagine outlawing depiction of female ejaculation! Wow – how to make our women thoroughly ashamed of theur pleasure. Again!!! Remind me what century we’re in. I have a real fucking problem with the way violence in video games (which I assume falls under audio visual category) is fine!!! Fine!! Arrrghghghh. Thanks Malin. As you can see I fall into just writing things like aaarghghh I’m so frustrated. Thank goodness for the eloquent ones 😀

      1. Oh, Tabitha, I know what you mean! I spent most of the week going “argghhh!!” It took me three drafts to get this post under control! I hope if enough people complain or at least notice, it’ll help with push back. It’s just so damaging and ridiculous…

  5. Malin, thank you for such a brilliant analysis of just how important this really is. I wasn’t even aware of this until a couple days ago when Delilah Night posted something about it on Facebook. And you’re right, it’s sexist, discriminatory, clearly anti-women, and highly intrusive.

    I’m think I’m most shocked of all about the female ejaculation part. So it’s ok for a man to do his thing all over a woman’s face, but a woman can’t reciprocate, or even — heaven forbid — let her body do its own thing at the height of her pleasure? Ok, ladies, better rein in those orgasms! Can’t have you enjoying your sex TOO much! It’s not supposed to be pleasurable for you!

    But all of it should be laughable if it wasn’t just so… well, dangerous and serious.

    1. Thanks, Lace. I was shocked by the female ejaculation part too, and for just the reasons you mentioned. I have to wonder if the BBFC had any idea what it was implying with the banned acts. It’s clear in the wording that they had public health and safety in mind, but to throw consent and consumer freedom under the bus based on a clutch of dangerous misconceptions is fantastically irresponsible, though I’m sure they don’t see it as such.

  6. Heh. Actually, I was apologizing for the very bad pun. Though of course *female* ejaculate, urine or not, does not contain semen.

  7. The whole hypocrisy of the situation upsets me so much. As always, this government is attacking sexual freedom first – relying on people being less likely to fight it publicly. The contradictions in people being able to sign up to violent and risky contact sports but not be able to portray consensual acts is ridiculous and insulting.

  8. Fascinating to see that porn is expected to refrain from showing any life threatening acts. Can we assume that the British will no longer be televising any kind of raving event? Boxing or wrestling? Action movies? ….no? …no?

    Didn’t think so.

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