Pornography

U.K. Censors Online Porn; Spanking, Rough Sex, Other Assorted Kink Banned

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smcgee/Flickr

Continuing on its recent censorship-happy path, the U.K. government amended regulations this week to prohibit online porn from depicting a variety of erotic activities. Now-illicit acts range from the very specific (female ejaculation; "spanking, caning, and whipping beyond a gentle level") to the incredibly broad ("verbal abuse"). But basically, the U.K. has banned BDSM and certain forms of fetish porn—or at least, charging money for that sort of porn. 

The new rules come as part of the 2014 Audiovisual Media Services Regulations, which amends the country's previous communications law to require all "Video on Demand" services to meet standards set by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC). From Vice UK: 

… from now on, VoD porn – online porn you still pay for, essentially – must fall in line with what's available on DVD. That means that British pornography producers will no longer be able to offer content online that couldn't be bought in a sex shop.

Acts that are no longer acceptable include: spanking, caning and whipping beyond a gentle level; penetration by any object "associated with violence"; activities that can be classed as "life-endangering", such as strangulation and facesitting; fisting, if all knuckles are inserted; physical or verbal abuse, even if consensual; the portrayal of non-consensual sex; urination in various sexual contexts; and female ejaculation.

It's a strange, highly-subjective list of sexual behavior deemed too deviant for folks to be exposed to. (Who knew women orgasming were so scandalous?) "R18 is a strange thing," Jerry Barnett, founder of anti-censorship campaign Sex and Censorship, told Vice. "There appear to be no rational explanations for most of the R18 rules–they're simply a set of moral judgements designed by people who have struggled endlessly to stop the British people from watching pornography."

Adult filmmakers in the U.K. who show their videos on for-pay porn sites are now limited in what they can feature, and websites that charge for porn content are limited in what they can show. But of course there's plenty of (both free and for-sale) BDSM and fetish porn out there on the World Wide Web. U.K. lawmakers are essentially just further driving homegrown porn purveyors out of business. The industry is already strained by age-verification filters, mandated last year, which have driven up website operating costs while turning away customers. 

Both regulations disproportionately affect smaller, independent porn producers and websites. As Vice's Frankie Mullin points out, the new censorship rules will have less effect on large porn producers and mainstream sites, "which tend to favour the strip, blowjob, fuck, cum-all-over-a-woman's-face formula, but the UK's smaller, independent producers," specifically fetish producers. These include people like Ms Tytania, who makes feminist-tinged dominatrix porn, and pretty much anybody else whose products deviate from normative sexual practices. The rules really are a crazy infringement on freedom of artistic expression, not solely a commercial setback for someone who runs subscription rough-sex sites (not that there's anything wrong with that).  

This comes in the wake of increasing action from the U.K. government (as well elsewhere in the European Union) toward censoring the Internet. The more I read about things like this latest round of U.K. porn censorship or the Europe Union's new "right to be forgotten", the more I do stop and appreciate the speech protections we have in the U.S., even if those are ever under-attack from over-zealous politicians and culture warriors. As J.D. Tuccille wrote in response to a recent report on press freedom in the Americas, "the bad news is that the United States has … downward-spiraling respect for freedom of the press. The good news is that our officials' transgressions pale in comparison to the crimes inflicted on free speech and free inquiry" elsewhere. I don't think British-style web (and porn) censorship will fly here, but not for lack of a want of it from both lawmakers and activists. We're just lucky enough to have the First Amendment. 

Bonus video: Back in 2009, Reason TV caught up with Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) as he read a long list of philias and fetishes while arguing for the passage of HR 1913, a.k.a. the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. Enjoy!  

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