The government won't expose women's enjoyment of sex. Photo: Getty
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No spanking or bondage: why the government’s new porn laws are arbitrary and sexist

The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 impose restrictions on the content of pornography made and sold within the UK with a perplexing ignorance.

In a hopeless government attempt to control what Britons get off on, new rules regulating the UK porn industry have come into force this week. The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 imposes restrictions on the content of pornography made and sold within the UK – and it does so with a perplexing ignorance about the realities of modern technology.

British porn producers and consumers will now be subject to some of the harshest restrictions anywhere in Europe, with speculation that this is only the beginning. Video-on-demand content produced or sold in the UK is no longer permitted to show a vague and arbitrary list of explicit acts.

Physical or verbal abuse, depictions of non-consensual sex, strangulation, and urination in sexual context are all included on the list. Only “gentle” spanking, whipping and caning is allowed, though where exactly the government draws the line between the gentle and the excessive on this particular matter is unclear.

Some of the acts facing on-screen censorship are especially popular in LGBT and BDSM communities, and participants argue that taking part in them poses no risk to consenting adults. Much more taboo sexual activities such as bukkake (a large group of men climaxing all over the same woman) and paraphilic infantilism (dressing up and being treated like a baby for sexual pleasure) are seemingly not addressed by this new legislation.

Not only is the law misguided, it’s also deeply sexist. Showing female ejaculation on screen has been outlawed completely, while male ejaculation (on the face, breasts, feet, backside, wherever) faces no direct restrictions. Is female ejaculation really so vulgar and explicit that people shouldn’t see it, in pornography or anywhere else?

Restrictions on fisting, facesitting and which objects can be inserted into an adult’s body are included too. Regulating depictions of these acts – those relating directly to female sexual pleasure – make it seem like society is at risk from exposure to women’s enjoyment of sex, at least according to the government.

Protecting under-18s is supposedly at the heart of these regulations – preventing children from accessing “harmful material” that may “seriously impair” them. The peculiar piece of legislation only impacts paid-for, video-on-demand (VoD) content, so the idea that it in itself will have any real impact on the kind of porn that UK consumers – of age or otherwise – regularly access is ridiculous.

It’s not young people who are subscribing and accessing paid-for content online; these kinds of sites normally require a credit card or Paypal account to get past their paywalls. The new rules do nothing to address free, non-regulated content produced in other countries and uploaded to global streaming websites. So it begs the question, what’s the point of all this?

After the quiet ushering through of the Bill – seemingly without public surveys or much independent research to back it up – some have expressed concerns that this law change is the first step towards restricting access to “undesirable” foreign websites, with huge implications for the freedom of information online. With no concern for consent within or enjoyment of these sexual practices, the government appears to be legislating its own moral judgements on what is deemed acceptable in British society.

As legal adviser for Backlash Myles Jackman puts it: “Pornography is the canary in the coalmine of free speech: it is the first freedom to die. If this assault on liberty is allowed to go unchallenged, other freedoms will fall as a consequence.”

Lauren Razavi is a freelance columnist and features writer. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRazavi.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue