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.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.