Groups of protestors around the U.K. have gathered in recent weeks to express their frustration with new laws prohibiting certain sex acts from being performed in porn films. The restrictions were imposed late last year by British lawmakers.
The list of banned acts includes: physical or verbal abuse; strangulation; penetration by any object “associated with violence”; and any caning.
What’s stirring up the ire of protestors, though, is the list of banned acts deemed “most violent”: face-sitting; fisting; and—this is truly perplexing—female ejaculation.
Recently, one group staged a demonstration outside Parliament in London, where activists chanted and physically sat on each others’ faces in a simulated sex act. In another display of dissent, protestors marched while singing the lyrics to Monty Python’s “Sit On My Face.”
Many of the law’s opponents, including protest organizer and sex worker Charlotte Rose, say the restrictions not only hinder their sexual expression, but will also be damaging to the country’s porn industry as a whole.
Another protestor and fetishist, Isabel Dean, said in an interview with the BBC, “It’s a farcical thing to breach people’s basic rights to explore their sexual freedom, and it’s just so limiting to U.K. producers and performers.”
The restrictions, which took effect Dec. 1, subject all paid-for video-on-demand (VoD) online pornography produced and sold in the U.K. to the same guidelines that apply to DVD pornography (which is restricted for those under 18). According to the British Board of Film Censors, the objective behind this change is to protect minors from accessing potentially “harmful” content via the internet.
To be sure, some of the restrictions are justifiable. Concerns about instigating real-life sexual violence through pornography are certainly valid—or at least understandable. However, perhaps the most problematic aspect of the regulation is its disproportionate effect on women. The laws eliminate viewers’ exposure to certain depictions of female sexual pleasure, while permitting what are arguably more obscene or potentially demeaning activities by men–including male ejaculation onto any part of a woman’s body.
This blatant double standard implies that an outward display of female sexual pleasure is not only shameful, but actually so vulgar that it has the power to “seriously impair” an under-18 viewer who happens to witness it online. In addition, many of the censored activities are most commonly featured in smaller, more independent spheres of pornography, especially those within BDSM and queer communities. If the British government were truly interested in safeguarding children, why institute pointed laws that will heavily restrict niche pornography and leave mainstream videos otherwise untouched?
Undoubtedly, certain aspects of pornography as an industry have proven detrimental to women. Anti-porn proponents argue that pornography perpetuates the objectification of women through demeaning and misogynistic representations of sex. The industry hyper-sexualizes women, fetishizing underage teens as well as women who engage in the ever-favored “girl on girl.”
While pornography is not necessarily created with the purpose of instructing its viewers about sex, it does have the capacity to do so. And since pornography does not always depict safe or consensual sex, learning that this is an appropriate attitude toward sex may lead to dangerous and even violent sexual behavior.
Although the latest regulations may have been Britain’s attempt to remedy some of these problems, simply eradicating female enjoyment seems a faulty solution. Many feminists who believe in sex positivity feel that porn can be an empowering sexual outlet for women. They argue that women act in pornographic videos as a means of exercising control over their physical bodies and fulfilling their sexual desires. They would point out that women enjoying sex with the same vigor as men is still considered taboo. As Ellen Willis, a writer who coined the term “pro-sex feminism” aptly stated, “The claim that ‘pornography is violence against women’ was code for the neo-Victorian idea that men want sex and women endure it.”
The underlying issue here seems to be one of misguided government control. The regulations will not eliminate the curiosity of minors, who continue to have access to a wide variety of internet porn created outside the U.K. And they won’t change the fact that women are sexual beings capable of maintaining their own sexual autonomy—despite the fact that this may no longer be showcased in U.K.-made porn.