Tag: pornography

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.

(NSFW) Spotlight: Revenge by Ellen von Unwerth

Time for another installment of Spotlight, an occasional series in which I shine the light on books that I love. This time around, I’m looking at a decadent and thoroughly debauched story / photo collection by the brilliant fashion photographer, Ellen von Unwerth. It’s called Revenge, and it’s the prettiest, most artistic piece of soft-core pornography that I’ve ever come across. 

revenge16 I need to preface this post by admitting that I’ve been wanting to spotlight Revenge for ages but held off because it isn’t that easy to find, and the copies that are out there tend to be fairly expensive. I bought it on a lark when it first came out in 2003. I had no idea that my first edition was one of only 10,000. That said, I was flipping through it the other day, and was struck again by how…well, striking it is, so I decided to go ahead and run with the post and hope that anyone interested in getting a copy has some good luck or a generous Santa. xx.M

Let’s begin with the premise, because the premise says it all. An evil Baroness, (yes, I know…), takes her step-sister’s daughters and nieces in after a terrible cable-car crash devastates the family, (yes, I know…). Little does anyone know, but the Baroness is plagued by her late husband’s debts and has been forced to let most of her household staff go. All she has left is a nameless stable boy, a chauffeur named Eric, and three pouty sadistic maids.

So, the Baroness takes in the lovely young naifs, (eight in total, all legal yet beguiling in her own way), off her step-sister’s hands, but little does anyone know that these poor, poor, poor young women will be “forced to earn their keep” and take up the roles left vacant by the chateau’s departed staff. As you can imagine, a certain amount of discipline is required, much to the girls’ dismay. But the girls are resourceful, and not nearly so innocent as the

The Baroness & Veronique the maid. From Revenge, by Ellen von Unwerth

The Baroness & Veronique the maid. From Revenge, by Ellen von Unwerth

Baroness assumes. Despite setbacks and misadventures, they manage to turn the tables in the end.

Revenge is the photographic retelling of the girls’ misadventures during their stay with the Baroness. As the premise implies, it’s an unabashedly over-the-top BDSM fantasy. The whole thing reads like an elaborately choreographed scene. In fact, I could almost believe this whole scenario going down during a long week-end at a private play party.

The book is signature von Unwerth – gorgeously sexual and fantastically staged. But within the staging and premise, the models are given a remarkable amount of freedom to act and react naturally. That’s what keeps it from straying into a sort of vacant, cynical exercise. It’s obvious that everyone is having a genuinely good time. While there is no doubt that this is a photo-shoot and that von Unwerth has a firm hand on every frame and angle, everyone’s hamming it up, and that’s charming. There’s no way to take the situation terribly seriously, so they don’t. The models pout and grimace and sneer like pretty, X-rated cartoons, and engage the “story” with a gusto that I find totally and joyfully infectious.

Ivy turning the tables. From Revenge, by Ellen von Unwerth

Ivy turning the tables. From Revenge, by Ellen von Unwerth

As with much of her work, Ellen von Unwerth’s photographs feel like throwbacks to Weimar Berlin. The grainy, black and white images starkly highlight the girls’ pale skin, dark lips and glossy hair as they are forced to chop wood in stiletto heels and scrub floors in artistically tattered thigh highs. In fact, the entire book feels like what would happen if Vogue decided to run a unapologetically explicit sex issue. I almost never find anything this staged to be sexy at all, regardless of how aesthetically pleasing it is, but something about the book’s tongue-in-cheek, winking quality turns my head every time.

It’s that charm, more than anything, that turned me on when I first found Revenge nearly eleven years ago. On the surface, there’s a lot to get caught up in – a flagrantly abusive Baroness and her tool of a chauffeur, the lovely clutch of suffering nymphs, a trio of sly, sadistic, barely clothed maids – but beneath the sex-drenched premise and the glamor of von Unwerth’s images, the reality seemed to be that a bunch of people were getting a kick out of acting out a fabulously over-the-top fantasy, complete with crops, iron cuffs and pretty, black masks. That’s what made it impossible for me to put down.

What little text there is winks at novels like The Story of O and many of Anais Nin’s short stories, while never delving deeply into the potential psychology of the situation. This is one, very rare example of something that I think is sexy because it skates the surface of a fantasy without going deeper or darker than it has to. Forexample, the girls, who have “immaculate manners,” write the Baroness a thank you note after they liberate themselves from the chateau and leave their evil aunt in a compromising position in the village square.

Image from Revenge, by Ellen von Unwerth

Image from Revenge, by Ellen von Unwerth

Ridiculous. And yet…I kind of love the entire idea of that note, and of their aunt receiving her just desserts at the hands of outraged peasants who’ve been primed by rumors of her wicked ways. The fact that there is almost no story is actually one of the book’s strengths. The premise remains a premise, undeveloped and whole unto itself. Normally, I hate this. But I love it in Revenge.

I stumbled over Revenge when I was only just beginning to get a sense of my kinky side. I didn’t know much about BDSM then and, while I enjoyed sex, (a lot), I wasn’t consuming a lot of explicitly sexual material. I was still trying very hard to be my mother’s very normal, very good girl. But I couldn’t ignore this book or it’s arch, in-your-face sexuality. It was delicious and wicked and beautiful. It turned me on in so many ways, and I couldn’t put it down. It became one of those tiny bits of media that my sexuality latched onto. Something deep inside of me said, this is okay. This is good. It’s okay to want things that aren’t “safe.”

I’m honestly not sure I’d love it nearly so much if I hadn’t stumbled over it at such a pivotal point in my own sexual development. I might just have dismissed it as really pretty soft-core porn, or flipped through it and put it back on the shelf without paying what was then more than I could afford for a single book. But I did stumble over it at a pivotal time, and it tapped something inside of me like a tuning fork. It literally turned something inside me on. I didn’t know then whether I wanted to be the Baroness or one of her poor, put-upon nieces. All I knew was that I wanted to be in that book, and that was a revelation to me.

Image from Revenge, by Ellen von Unwerth

Image from Revenge, by Ellen von Unwerth

© 2017 Malin James

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Follow Me
Get every new post delivered to your inbox

Join other followers

Powered By WPFruits.com