The U.K.’s online-sex censorship crusade is a toxic encounter between government arrogance and things it simply does not understand: sex, free speech, and the internet.
By Violet Blue
The United Kingdom’s headlong slide into becoming the West’s premier country for internet censorship began with a controversial—and mandatory—default internet filter at the ISP (internet service provider) level that’s been nicknamed “the Great British Firewall,” after China’s notoriously oppressive and restrictive government internet filter. The British ban came about when religious organizations and conservatives decided the government needed to force ISPs into default filtering to protect children from pornography. The charge, led by conservative Member of Parliament Claire Perry and Prime Minister David Cameron, started with the Online Safety Bill (2010–12).
Like antiporn pundits in America, Perry’s arguments about the harms of pornography have gone unsupported by unbiased data or clinical studies. Some believed her campaign was in bed with anti-file-sharing copyright lobbyists like the Motion Picture Academy of America, as the filter campaign conflated file sharing with pornography at every chance. When the file-sharing site Pirate Bay was sentenced to a High Court blocking order in 2012, Perry appeared on every media outlet that would take her; on a May 1 BBC Radio 4 show, she compared Pirate Bay operators to pedophiles.
As had been predicted, the Great British Firewall blocks much more than porn sites, blacking out travel sites, the internet tool Tor, torrent sites, and the oldest and largest association of computer hackers in Europe, the Chaos Computer Club. Displaying ignorance about porn, tech, and responsibility in equal measures, Perry and Cameron tried to make ISPs responsible for blocking “unwanted” content, and then officials held several meetings with Google, insisting that the search engine clean up the internet. When they finally realized that neither ISPs nor Google actually were the internet, Cameron and company set their sights on changing the U.K.’s obscenity legislation.
They did so quietly. The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 was approved in Parliament on November 6, 2014. It requires that online video-on-demand porn adhere to the same guidelines for DVD porn
set by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC). On December 1, 2014, the U.K. government changed legislation to create a list of sex acts to be banned from online porn videos filmed in-country, in a bid to crack down on “harmful” content.
Everyone from media and celebrities to pro-porn feminists and some U.K. government representatives find the list of unacceptable acts to be bizarrely antifemale, and out of touch with modern consensual-adult sex practices. The acts include: spanking, caning, aggressive whipping, penetration by any object “associated with violence,” physical or verbal abuse (even if consensual), urolagnia (aka water sports), roleplaying as non-adults, physical restraint, female ejaculation, strangulation, face-sitting, and fisting.
Critics have countered that the bans are arbitrary and sexist, as many of these acts reflect depictions of female pleasure and power. In fact, the hammer came down on some pretty popular sex acts and fantasies. According to an October 2014 Journal of Sexual Medicine paper, roleplaying as non-adults is a common sexual fantasy for 57 percent of men and 18 percent of women. The paper also found that 36 percent of women and 28 percent of men fantasized about being spanked or whipped for sexual pleasure; Business Insider estimated that the banning of this alone would affect around 17 million British adults. As for fisting, Deborah Addington’s physician-approved how-to book on vaginal fisting, A Hand in the Bush, reached No. 4 on Amazon’s sales chart in February 2000 (until it sold out).
The prohibition on female ejaculation is a particularly sticky wicket in light of the fact that it runs counter to the BBFC’s decision to give female ejaculation a pass in one high-profile case. The BBFC has historically banned films that show female ejaculation, claiming that the expert medical advice it solicited maintains there is no such thing; therefore any depiction of a woman’s ejaculation was “pee porn.” But in 2009, female British pornographer Anna Span submitted one of her adult films for R18+ approval with a female-ejaculation scene in it. When the BBFC told her it couldn’t pass because of the alleged water sports, Span had her defense ready. She presented medical research, ultrasound and biochemical studies, and—the coup de grâce—results from a lab analyzing the actual ejaculate expelled by the climaxing performer in her film that showed the fluid was definitely not urine.
After examining Span’s clear, conclusive evidence of women’s ability to ejaculate, the BBFC gave the scene a pass. Unfortunately for people who like to see female orgasms in their porn, the BBFC wouldn’t take a stance either way about the real issue (female orgasm disallowed under a false premise), and said that their lawyers advised it to let this one slide—presumably because Span was ready to fight.
That the BBFC chose to ban fisting, face-sitting, and female ejaculation gives ground to accusations of sexism and discrimination. In response, a protest occurred outside Parliament 11 days after the legislation went into effect, complete with a mass face-sitting. Organizer and sex worker Charlotte Rose didn’t set the record for simultaneous face-sitting, but everyone sure noticed that she tried. If lawmakers had hoped no one would be aware of the new regulations, they were proved wrong; thanks to global media coverage of dominatrixes sitting on the faces of smiling men outside Westminster, lots and lots of people noticed—including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Telling the press he backed Liberal Democrat MPs in opposition of the new rules, he said politicians should have no role in deciding how people “get their kicks.” (The face-sitting restriction was lifted in January).
The U.K. government’s war on open internet access, built on a foundation of destroying sex speech, combined with its adjacent war on female sexuality, is a study in delusion and arrogance. Unchecked, it’s a chilling specter, warning that the future for suppression of speech in the U.K. is as bright as it is toxic.
From the March 2015 issue of Penthouse