So, let’s talk about the new ATVOD law that came into effect in the UK on Monday. I’d guess that many of you have already heard a lot about it, and if you read Pandora Blake’s blog you’ve already read much more cogent and significant writing than what I’m about to present here, but I long ago came to the conclusion that there’s no reason not to talk about something just because others have already done an excellent job of it. Besides, this issue needs all the media attention it can get, and I’m still seeing misinformation about the situation being passed around on social media.
People on twitter and Fetlife have been talking about the UK’s “spanking ban” or “porn ban.” These terms aren’t actually very accurate. The ATVOD law is a piece of legislature which limits what sorts of sexual activities can be presented in “video on demand”, a category which includes basically all forms of internet pornography: streaming and downloads on membership sites and pay-per-download videos hosted on sites like clips4sale and even content which is given out for free.
The law has been talked about a lot in the spanking community because it directly affects us: one of the things prohibited by the law is the infliction of any kind of pain inducing activity which is beyond “transient and trifling” and which leaves any mark on the body beyond slight reddening of the skin (welts, bruises… basically marks). This sums up most of the spanking content produced anywhere in the world. But the term “spanking ban” isn’t really the right one to use for two reasons. First of all, someone unaware of the situation reading that might come to the erroneous conclusion that spanking itself has been banned in the UK. It has not. That’s actually one of the things which is upsetting about the law: things which are perfectly legal to perform are illegal to film and distribute. The second reason is because while the prohibition of spanking in pornography is the part that will most directly affect most of us, the list of acts that are classified as “extreme pornography” is long and it includes a lot of things that are problematic. The term “porn ban” is also not entirely correct. Not all porn has been made illegal. Only a lot of the interesting stuff.
Spanking producers anywhere in the world have been dealing with a certain form of censorship for as long as internet spanking porn has existed. What we can and can’t show on film has been previously decided for us not by our governments, but by the companies that we use to process credit cards. CCBill, Clips4Sale and other companies that producers use to receive payment used to be the primary people who set the rules for what could and couldn’t be offered online.
Their rules restrict a lot of kinks, but are actually, by comparison, fairly permissive towards spanking porn: they prohibit showing any blood for any reason, limit what kind of ageplay scenarios can be presented, get fussy about words signifying blood relationships (“father,” “mother,” “brother,” “sister” et cetera) and force us to be careful about what words we use to talk about force and consensual non consent. They can also prohibit what is and isn’t too extreme in terms of marking, but it usually doesn’t come up.
Except, of course, for the time that it did. In 2013, CCBill forced Pandora Blake to remove a handful of scenes from Dreams of Spanking and to make changes to all the language used on the site, getting rid of words like “little girl” and “forced.” She had to comply or lose her ability to make money from her site, but she wasn’t being pushed into this by the law. She responded by making the content available for free on Darker Dreams.
Now that censorship is being enforced by the government and not just by corporations, this sort of work around isn’t possible anymore: like I mentioned before, UK producers can’t even give the content away for free. In addition to that, because making this content is illegal it doesn’t just mean that breaking the laws will result in your site being taken down (which in and of itself is disastrous for a producer, since for almost everyone I know producing spanking videos their site is their full time job and primary source of income) but in actual legal action being taken against the producers. As far as I understand the law (and feel free to correct me if I don’t have a proper understanding of it) someone could actually, hypothetically go to jail for making illegal, “extreme” pornography.
Looking at the law directly doesn’t tell you exactly what is and isn’t permitted in an easy to find manner because the law works by classifying internet pornography under the standards of censorship which had previously only applied to films released in cinema or on DVD: this is the reason why most UK spanking producers either don’t offer DVDs or sell them semi secretly. I referred to this blog post, which carefully breaks down what material is and isn’t permitted. The list is seriously problematic:
Peeing and female ejaculation are lumped together into one category, with the same rules applying to urine and to female ejaculatory fluid. This just shows a lack of sex education on the part of the people responsible for this legislature, because these two things are entirely different. Both are still permitted as long as they aren’t done onto another person, or then consumed. Squirting during sex is alright if it is “brief” and “isolated.”
This is an enormous problem because squirting isn’t even something that you set out to do, necessarily. It’s part of some women’s physiological response to sexual stimulus. This is a rule that will only affect female-centric porn that features female performers genuinely enjoying themselves (I don’t know anyone who can fake squirt, personally). You can have a brief squirt here and there, but can’t intentionally do it on anyone. And peeing, which is a widely popular fetish, can only be done in isolation from other people. This affects some spanking videos. There’s a cross over between the wetting fetish and the spanking fetish, specifically for girls wetting themselves while being spanked. It’s something people are very divided on, but I personally think this is totally hot. The scenes where one wets oneself while over a lap being spanked are doubly prohibited.
There isn’t actually a health risk associated with any of this behavior, either, even if we’re talking about drinking pee. Although some people may find it gross (it’s not my thing, personally) it isn’t any more likely to spread disease than lots of other things that we are totally allowed to do in porn (like kissing or having sex). You can’t ban something because you think it’s gross.
Of course, any consumption of male ejaculation is entirely fine. I don’t even understand how this makes sense. I feel that it’s blatantly sexist, and is implying that male centric, heteronormative porn is acceptable and that female centric porn is “extreme” and therefore deserving of censorship. On a related note, facesitting has been forbidden. This is apparently because if you try this on your own at home, you might die by having the airway blocked.
Interestingly, throat fucking, which also can be potentially dangerous in terms of blocking the airway, is entirely acceptable. The act which shows male pleasure is allowed, but the one which shows female pleasure is banned. You however, aren’t allowed to tell someone to “gag on your cock” because it refers to blocking the airway, whether you are doing it or not. Gags in general, especially when associated with bondage are prohibited. Bondage as a whole is mostly against the law, especially when it isn’t explicitly part of a roleplay scenario. I get the impression that behind the scenes material and context building items like interviews and performer blog posts don’t count for demonstrating consent here, just explicitly defining it on camera, which makes fantasy based bondage scenes illegal.
Fisting has been entirely forbidden. You cannot insert five fingers past the first knuckle into someone’s body. Again, this is a popular feature in female centric porn, and there’s no evidence that it’s actually medically dangerous.
There are quite a few other things on the list, but this blog post will be infinitely long if I talk about all of them, so let me come to the most relevant: BDSM pain play is only permissible if it is “transient and trifling.” Like I said before, this means no marks and less visible severity of any kind. I don’t just mean spanking, I mean any kind of kinky shit that hurts someone.
The supposed reason for this and for most of the other regulations is someone might try to replicate this at home and cause harm or death. This is a strange argument. For one thing, you can watch depictions of lots of things that you really shouldn’t try to do yourself, like almost everything in every movie and TV show ever. For some reason, they seem to believe that the general public can grasp the idea that you shouldn’t replicate the things that you see in a standard film, but that people will do dangerous and harmful things if they replicate that which is presented in pornography. I feel that if this was the real concern, it should just suffice to add a little caption on the bottom of the screen that reads “professional fuckers on a closed set, do not try this at home.”
In a certain way, by saying this, the British government is making all pornographers de facto sex educators. If they truly believe that people will replicate what they see in porn, shouldn’t they be celebrating sex positive porn, female centric porn and consensual, safe kink porn? Instead, these are the sites that they are criminalizing. Porn which shows a man with a perfect dick fucking a girl with a perfect body in a scene where he never attempts to please her, she moans in a way which is obviously fake and he then pulls out and ejaculates all over her face is basically protected under this law. Nothing about this scene is “extreme.”
If porn is meant to be a guide to sexual practices, then these videos are shoving body negativity and sexism down our throats in a way that the damage, while not physical, would be far beyond transient and trifling. The sites that focus on the pleasure of people of all genders, on discovering who you are and loving it, on not being ashamed of your sexuality even if you’ve been taught that it’s wrong by society are the ones that are being targeted by these restrictions.
Spanking porn is actually a very positive thing. It’s primarily made by a tight knit group of people who keep each other safe and who are passionate enough about sharing and celebrating their kink that they’re willing to dedicate their lives to it. The spanking community (both online and at parties) allows us to interact with performers and know that they truly enjoy what they do. You’re currently sitting wherever you are reading my blog about how I love what I do and how it fills my life with happiness and satisfaction in a way that no other profession could for me.
While there are certainly models who aren’t interested in spanking and just do a few shoots here and there for the money, they’re looked after, too, and the play is scaled to their tolerances. Limits are discussed. Safewords are in place. The play which is presented in spanking shoots is actually very safe: realistically, trying to replicate what you see in a film is likely not actually going to hurt someone because the majority of the Tops in spanking films are very skilled and watching them carefully can actually teach good technique. Of course we roleplay non-consensual scenarios, but I feel that this is the part which is inherently understood by the viewer. And if it isn’t, should we just be responsible for providing more context building materials outside of the actual scene instead of having the entire thing banned?
I’m not saying that the spanking industry is perfect. I have had bad experiences (one notable one) and so have other models that I know. But in general, it’s a healthy, positive community, and with the current louder voices in the scene emphasizing acceptance, safe play, negotiation, consent et cetera, it could only get even better. Unless, of course, you ban the entire thing.
I think it’s telling that when I get into arguments with people online in which I try to defend my experience as a spanking model as having been positive and explain that producing and participating in porn can be a really great experience for everyone involved, the response that I usually get is that it’s so nice for me that in my niche things are in such good shape, but that “real” porn is full of consent violations and ignored limits (I have absolutely no experience with mainstream B/G porn and I’m not agreeing with or supporting this statement, just repeating what was said to me on the internet). It’s funny that what I do isn’t even considered “real” porn by many, yet to the British government, it’s not just real, it’s “extreme.”
So, what’s the state of affairs for the UK based spanking producers? They’re faced with the calling to either relocate their studios, close up shop or fight back and do whatever they can. As far as I have been able to tell, none of the British spanking sites are going to stop production.
Paul told me about this law a couple of weeks ago, and was obviously extremely distressed about it. He asked me if I would be willing to take over legal ownership of Northern Spanking, making it a US based website instead of a UK one. In order to do this, Paul had to, on a legal level, give me every aspect of his company. Technically, I own it, and he now doesn’t have any source of income: that’s all, on paper, mine. Since, despite what you may have heard, I’m not a terrible person, I’m not going to really let this change anything. Everything about Northern will remain the same, until the site’s new design which has been in process for a while now is launched, that is. (I’m not going to run in and put stickers on everything.)
The process of transferring ownership to me was complicated, tedious, stressful and expensive, but it means that Northern is no longer at risk and that, most importantly, no one is going to arrest Paul. Doing this made me sad, though. It was bitter that Paul can’t own the thing that he has spent the better portion of my lifetime nurturing, and which he dedicates so much time, love, energy to. I know that he’s angry at the government for taking that away from him, and rightfully so. I wish I could be with him right now to offer him some comfort.
I learned that John Osborne who runs Triple A Spanking has done something similar: he announced on his blog that transferred ownership of his site to his US based partner, Sarah Gregory in what I can only assume is a similar arrangement. Not everyone has the privilege of having a trusted loved one in another country to whom they can transfer ownership of their site, however. When I was first asked for my thoughts on this on tumblr, a commenter asked why producers don’t just move to another country.
Moving yourself to another country is incredibly difficult. It means uprooting your entire life, putting a huge distance between you and your loved ones, leaving your home, selling or getting rid of most of your possessions because they’re too expensive and difficult to ship, selling your car or paying expensive fees to ship it, rehoming your pets or putting them through quarantine, going through a complicated legal process to get residency which is never easy and in fact can severely limit who can immigrate where and, if you’re leaving England, potentially giving up your right to free Health Care. I know all this because this is what Paul is going through right now.
When I first responded to that inquiry, I said that I didn’t think anyone would do that. It bothered me that people so callously threw this idea around online like it was the simplest thing in the world. “What? The law is infringing on your freedom and making it illegal for you to continue to earn your living? Just leave your entire life behind and start living somewhere else!” Moving to another country is a serious commitment, and I, wishfully, didn’t think that this was a situation so dire that it would cause people to have to do that.
I was not correct, as Sarah Bright of Spanking Sarah and English Spankers (among other sites) announced that she and her partner, Mr. Stern will be relocating their family to Spain to avoid persecution, a piece of news that solidified the seriousness of this situation for me. I simultaneously think it isn’t fair for people to suggest that producers should simply move away and feel that it’s perfectly understandable to want to live your life, especially a family life (as Sarah describes in her post) away from this stressful situation.
Pandora Blake has declared that she’s staying put, and she’s staying very on top of things, giving us information on how to file a complaint against the ATVOD and encouraging people to join her at a protest against the policies next week. Dreams of Spanking will continue to operate in the UK.
Nimue Allen of Nimue’s World has posted about the issue as well, and, as far as I can tell, intends to stand her ground and continue to operate her site from England. Hywel Phillips of Restrained Elegance, explained in a blog post that his studios are already legally based in the US and that he isn’t sure how the censorship will affect him, but that he doesn’t want to have to leave his home country. I don’t know what several other producers plan to do or not do, but it’s vital that all of them have our support.
What can you do?
If you live in the UK you can write to your MP protesting the censorship.
No matter where you live, you can sign this petition.
If you live in the UK you can also sign this one, and, most importantly, the official petition.
Donate to Backlash UK, a sexual liberties lobby group which has set up a legal fund to assist producers if they are targeted, and who is campaigning against the policy.
If you’re local to London or able to travel there, attend a protest outside of Parliament.
Consider getting a month’s membership to one of the sites affected by the censorship.
If you live in the UK, it is NOT illegal for you to join spanking sites, purchase spanking content or posses this content. As a consumer, you are not at risk: only producers are.
I don’t even feel up to leaving the sign-off heart on this post. There’s nothing that I heart about this.