Thought Catalog

Why Everyone Should Care That British Porn Is F**ked

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Jon Bennett
Jon Bennett

A few weeks 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 1, 2014, 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. The ban is fairly extensive, but here are a few highlights from the list: 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 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.

A number of excellent articles and essays have covered the reasons why the new standards are discriminatory on multiple levels. The regulations target niche pornography, which means that, while mainstream porn is left to go about its business, independent porn producers specializing in fetish, feminist and kink pornography are banned from producing films that show many of the acts that define their niche.

Outside of the BBFC’s overblown exercise of governmental power, the restrictions target women’s sexuality and sexual pleasure while leaving mainstream / male pornographic tropes far less restricted. For example, while face-sitting is now banned in UK porn, face fucking, that old standard of traditional porn, is just fine.

So, why does an American erotica writer care any all this? It’s not as if people in the UK can’t sit on their loved one’s faces in the privacy of their own homes. They just can’t see it in porn. Besides, that’s all happening an ocean away. We’re sitting pretty behind the First Amendment. What does it really matter?

Well, I have two answers to that. 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 periods of progress. Look at the turn of the 20th century when Victorian morality gave way to the Jazz Age, a decade fueled by popular resistance to prohibition. Then 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 sexual revolution rose on a tide of liberalism in the 60’s and 70’s. Still not convinced? How about the moral conservatism of the 80’s that rose in response to discovery of AIDS. Then the nineties came around and the LGBT community mobilized, ushering in efforts to educate, advocate and defend 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.

So what does all that mean?

It means that culture changes, and that we are, once again, on the verge of another change.

Yes, education and advocacy are still active, now more than ever. In fact, they’ve expanded to cover most marginalized sexualities, gender identifications and sexual kinks, including many BDSM practices. But that doesn’t mean the pendulum won’t swing to the other way, back to a “safer,” less sexually challenging mode. The tighter porn restrictions in the UK are just one sign that it’s already swinging back towards moral conservatism, all in the name of protecting the public.

Which brings me to the second reason that I care. In a move so ironic it boggles my mind, the British government has nullified consent in an effort to protect people. It doesn’t matter if a fetish film shows a man consent to a caning. It doesn’t matter if a woman consents to being fisted on film, (and let’s not forget that anal fisting is included too, fans of gay porn). The fact that the porn actors legally consent to whatever it is that they’re doing 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 alarmist? 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 the British obscenity lawyer, Myles Jackman, wrote, “this declaration of State censorship will affect millions of consenting adults who choose to view British pornography.” You be able to spank your lover, but you cannot choose 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 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, it must be really bad, right?

It’s another shove to the pendulum – one away from sex positivity, education and healthy bodily awareness; and back towards shame and subjective moral judgment.

The cultural pendulum is going to swing, because that’s what it does, but it’s disturbing to watch governments attempt to regulate it into swinging faster. And please don’t think the UK is alone in passing a ban like this. Canada is trodding a similar path with its Porn-Block Bill and Australia’s censors have become increasingly 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. Porn 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 British pornography, because they are indicative of how our progressive, liberal Western society is feeling about sexuality. And let’s be honest, kids. Between this ban, Amazon’s suppression of erotic content and governmentally mandated internet filters, our culture doesn’t appear to be feeling all that sexually open right now.

So what do we do? The best thing anyone can do is to be aware. If you’re British and you don’t agree with the regulations support legal objections. If you live anywhere else, 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, honest example of healthy, consensual, joyful sexuality to anyone you feel comfortable doing so with.

The pendulum is swinging and things are going to change. The worst thing anyone can do is assume that progress can’t reverse. TC mark

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