opinion

New U.K. Regs Will Set Back Women in Porn

Porn is “the last glass ceiling for women,” Free Speech Coalition CEO Diane Duke has often told me — and it’s a sentiment I whole-heartedly share. From the attack on Christy Mack and the ensuing mainstream narrative that reduced her to an inevitable victim to the puerile outing of Belle Knox, 2014 highlighted that too many in society still believe female sexual performance comes at a price, and that price is rarely a squirting bonus scene.

In fact, if you’re a female performer or producer, a squirting bonus scene could now cost you your livelihood. Just to recap, as of Dec. 1, the new AVMS directive means online video content produced in the U.K. is now subject to the same conditions as R18 DVD material.

[T]he “producers” caught under these laws are predominantly independent cam girls and kinky performers who often host videos on their own personal websites or on distribution sites such as Clips4Sale.

Prohibited acts now include female ejaculation, bondage in which subjects are both bound and gagged, “life-threatening” face-sitting or acts where there is a risk of asphyxiation, wrestling, and then caning, whipping and spanking above a “gentle level.”

Quite aside from the severe violation of net neutrality and civil liberties this poses, it’s a strike in particular for female sexual agency and expression in adult content. And in a media source where it’s still easier to turn up a DP anal scene than a genuine female orgasm, that’s not a strike that women in porn are down to accept.

The U.K. porn industry has been in demise for the best part of a decade; many traditional porn production companies have already moved offshore to avoid draconian regulation and stinging fees imposed by regulator ATVOD, with only a handful of studios still in operation.

As a result, the “producers” caught under these laws are predominantly independent cam girls and kinky performers who often host videos on their own personal websites or on distribution sites such as clips4Sale.

They make clips either alone or with consenting adult performers for other consenting adults to watch, and it tends to be the kind of content that explores different gender and power dynamics, eschewing the standard penis in vagina sex to focus more on female agency and pleasure, and acts pertinent to LGBTQI sexual expression, such as fisting and bondage.

As a case in point, take Mistress Nikki Whiplash, who preemptively removed all face-sitting content from her site in response to the instruction. Or Petra Joy whom I talked to at the recent protest against the new regulations outside the Houses of Parliament and told me she was now utterly confused about whether a new couples scene she had just shot featuring spontaneous female ejaculation could be uploaded at all.

For the affected performers and producers, it’s not the mere principle that some sexual acts that better serve female pleasure are now banned, but that there has been no apparent medical risk assessment informing the decisions.

Take face-sitting, for example. As a former pro-domme, I know a thing or two about it – the practice as much as the performance. It was never in my interest to endanger my clients’ lives, by muff-crush or anything else.

But why just take my word for it. You’d think to make a claim that an act was potentially life threatening because of the risk of asphyxiation, you’d need some medical evidence to back that up. But the BBFC guidelines are merely informed by the potential for “moral harm.” Conversely, clips featuring cock-gagging or forced fellatio receive no such scrutiny.

Of course, plenty of us know there are plenty of liberated women who would argue for their right to perform in and watch so-called “face-fucking” or “cock-gagging” content. Yet ATVOD chief Pete Johnson has repeatedly condemned the “misogyny” of porn and cited acts such as spitting, striking, and gagging as evidence of this. You would think in his logic that would mean a ban on face-fucking or cock-gagging videos — but it hasn’t.

The logic levied by campaigners such as Sex & Censorship’s Jerry Barnett is that neither the government nor ATVOD has any sexist agenda; it’s simply easier to go after to independent cam performers and pro-dommes who post clips on their personal sites because it’s easier to prove they are operating out of the U.K.

But a feminist, the idea that female ejaculation is now on the prohibited list makes me incredibly angry. The censors may reason that it has to be outlawed because there’s no guaranteed way of proving it isn’t urine, something prohibited under England and Wales’ extreme pornography laws as well as the R18 classification (again on the basis of moral harm rather than health risk). But, that merely compounds the myths surrounding female ejaculate.

Rightly or wrongly, if porn is the place most people currently draw their sex education and sexual inspiration, the ban is only more likely to limit people’s sexual repertoires while stigmatizing a perfectly consensual and healthy practice. As the Westminster placards read, “squirting isn’t hurting.”

What’s more, the BBFC has already proved it can be scientifically reasoned with. In 2009, British director Anna Span wrote to the BBFC, enclosing performer declarations, crew testimony, and scientific evidence that ejaculate was not urine. The result? The BBFC allowed Anna to released her DVD, Women Love Porn, in which a woman was seen to be clearly ejaculating. Why, then, does that precedent not still stand?

At the recent protest outside the House of Parliament against the new regulations, the number of women in attendance was notable. From Charlotte Rose, the escort who organized the protest, to director Petra Joy, to performer and Dreams of Spanking proprietress Pandora Blake, these are no Linda Lovelaces, pimped into performing, but progressive, strident industry professionals who will not tolerate having their pleasure and sexual expression discriminated against.

You may or may not have noticed that PornHub recently installed a cunnilingus category. I take full responsibility. Following a chance conversation with female friends in the U.K. adult industry, I asked @PornHub straight: where were all the female oral sex clips? Their answer was to launch the “pussy-licking” category a few days later.

As elated as we were, unfortunately, we perused the new category with frustration. Tellingly, less than a handful of the clips featured men going down on women and there were few genuine orgasms, if any, and little female ejaculation. Female oral pleasure may be represented but “what women want” doesn’t quite yet cover it.

Porn may be a male-dominated profession but the future of its profit margins depend on satisfying women – whether they be performers, producers or viewers. Any regulations that are going to inhibit female performance or the shaping of content women say they want to view aren’t regulations we want. And that applies as much to those primarily concerned with revenue as to those concerned with female sexual liberation. As a case in point, a site such as James Deen’s eponymous one stands to lose up to a fifth of its revenue if viewers in the U.K. are blocked from viewing his face-sitting content. And while the U.K. may be the second largest consumer of U.S. porn, the niche BDSM and fetish material made in the U.K. have a sizeable transatlantic audience. Forget the English invasion; this is the English forced to beat a retreat.

Overturning the new U.K. porn regulations will much depend on raising the money required for a legal challenge. But it will also need the industry united against the regulations. Without a First Amendment fall-back, an easy English case against them might be made on the basis they breach equalities legislation.

So if you’ve never been much concerned with gender equality before, this may be the cause you can get behind — or better still, underneath. Otherwise, the glass ceiling may end up crushing all of us.

Nichi Hodgson is a journalist, broadcaster and author living in London. She regularly contributes to the Guardian, the New Statesman and the Telegraph on civil liberties and censorship issues, sex and the law, and gender politics.

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