Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
As advent calendars rustled open, British-made pornography was quietly closed. A statutory instrument – the Audiovisual Media Services Regulation 2014 – came into force on December 1st. Age restrictions designed by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will apply to all video-on demand (VOD) services.
The Restricted 18 category is primarily for works of consensual sex and adult fetish materials. This is not a legal ceiling: the BBFC can choose to render a film unclassified, meaning it cannot be legally distributed within Britain. This happened to The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), before its filmmakers made 32 cuts and the BBFC awarded an ‘18’ rating to the reduced film.
Depictions of certain sex acts are denied even an R18 rating: spanking, caning, aggressive whipping, penetration by an object “associated with violence”, physical or verbal abuse (even if consenting and simulated), urolagnia (“water sports”), role-playing as non-adults, physical restraints, humiliation, female ejaculation, strangulation, face-sitting, and fisting. This list’s final three entries are considered to be potentially “life-endangering”. Films with female ejaculation are ruled obscene by the BBFC:
The Board remains open minded about the issue of female ejaculation but we have yet to be presented with any pornographic video that has convinced us – or our medical advisor – that it consists of anything other than an excuse to display scenes of urolagnia.
Now, VOD services for online pornography must adhere to these censorious standards: 19th century moral panics are transposed onto 21st century technology. Niche forms of pornography will be most afflicted, as physical restraints and humiliation are staple parts of dominatrix performances. Itziar Bilbao Urritia, also called Ms Tytania, told Vice UK about face-sitting:
It’s a harmless activity that most femdom performers, myself included, do fully dressed anyway. Its power is symbolic: women on top, unattainable.
A Department for Culture, Media & Sport spokesperson sought to justify this regulation:
In a converging media world these provisions must be coherent, and the BBFC classification regime is a tried and tested system of what content is regarded as harmful for minors.
Whilst the distinctions between television and the internet are becoming blurred, coherent legislation would recognise that British users can access websites from across the world. These regulations only restrict these pornographic publications within Britain. It is the manufacturers of this niche pornography that are harmed, whilst minors could access similar websites hosted and produced elsewhere. This analogue legislation is entirely outpaced by digital advances.
The BBFC guidelines state that “adults should be free to choose their own entertainment”, before immediately providing exceptions. Adults do not have to visit these websites, nor purchase their content. Personal enjoyment and fetishes are down to subjective tastes, made through adult choice. Pornography is often the first light of liberty to dim. Fifty years have passed since the last Obscene Publications Act, so that light is a dying ember stirring its shades. Contemporary politicians typically label freedoms of speech and expression as ‘British values’, but obscene censorship lingers. In our online world, pixelated censorship is unconscionable and unfeasible.