What’s the deal with the UK Porn Ban, Anyway?

It seems like as long as sex exists, there will always be those who seek to censor it. Censoring pornography is nothing new, and while it is reasonable to expect some level of censorship when it comes to ‘extreme’ and/or damaging sex acts, but there is always the opportunity to go over the top. 

You only need to look at the news to see how sexual censorship is alive and well. In fact, a Utah woman who went topless in her own home may now have to register as a sex offender - due to the state’s ‘lewdness laws’. 

Yep - it seems that censorship can creep into all areas of our lives, even in the privacy of our own homes! This censorship extends to pornography, and as mentioned - sometimes this is very necessary.  But other times, it can seem… just extreme. 

This is the sort of criticism that the government in the United Kingdom was facing in 2017 when they introduced legislation that would effectively ‘ban’ certain sex acts from being filmed as part of pornographic videos.

Are there ‘porn restrictions’ in the UK?

Before we delve a bit deeper into the so-called ‘porn ban’ in the UK, we need to point out that there have been a couple. The one we are referring to here is the most recent attempt to impose stricter age restrictions on porn - and we bring this up to illustrate a few things - just so you can imagine the magnitude (and also the potential futility) of this ban.

The types, genres, and appeal of porn can be extremely wide. There are a lot of categories within pornography - from hardcore to vanilla, and everything in between. We mentioned recently in an article all about pimple popping fetishes that ‘if a fetish exists, there’s porn of it’.

In fact, you could extend this to any type of sex. If you can think of a sexual act, chances are there is already a video or photo out there with people doing exactly that. Porn is, quite literally, everywhere. 

In most countries, most of the categories and subgenres of porn and pornographic acts can be viewed without any restrictions. But that isn’t to say that countries don’t have their own restrictions and different way of doing things (like in the USA where laws differ from state to state). 

Currently, internet customers in the UK are prohibited from accessing a range of web sites by default because they have their Internet access filtered by their internet service providers. The filtering program has applied to new internet service customers since the end of 2013 and has been extended to existing users on a rolling basis. Basically  - if you want to access porn through one of the four main internet service providers in the UK then technically, you need to kind of ask for ‘permission’ in the form of opting-out of this default.

But there have also been other attempts to make it even more difficult to access pornography. In fact, as recently as 2017, UK parliament passed the Digital Economy Act, which laid out the plans for a new ‘porn block’ - something that stirred up controversy and faced a backlash, as we’ll take a look at in this article; along with some important points about UK porn and censorship. 

What is the UK porn block?

Before we go on to talk more about censorship, it’s important to point out what the UK ‘porn block’ actually is because it can become confusing - and it is easy to get it mixed up with the ‘banned porn’ we are going to talk about later on in this article.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 10: A woman's shirt that says "censored" is seen at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo January 10, 2004 in Las Vegas. Thousands attended the three-day conference featuring adult film stars and adult sex toys. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The UK porn ‘block’ refers to a now seemingly abandoned plan to introduce age checks for online pornography. The plan itself stirred up a lot of controversies - because it would require users to show proof of ID before accessing any explicit material online.

This was in a bid to protect children from being able to access porn sites - which is obviously a good thing, but it turns out that people weren’t totally stoked about the idea of having their passports or driving licenses stored on file - presumably vulnerable to cyber attacks and hackers leaving them open to blackmail. Which is also understandable too.

So that was one big stumbling block.

Another was the way that it seemed nobody had taken into account the fact that pornographic material is literally all over the web. An article by Wired points this out and highlights the potential pitfalls of this seemingly well-intentioned though ill-conceived plan:

“Websites hosting pornography come in all shapes and sizes. While Pornhub is listed as the 28th largest website in the world, in the Alexa rankings, there's a sprawling network of other options. It's impossible to put any realistic numbers on how much of the internet is made-up of porn but the industry is huge.” 

That last sentence just about sums up the mammoth task of trying to police the internet on a mass scale, like the porn ban sought to do. It is, quite literally, impossible to put a number on how much porn is out there. So how can you enforce an age restriction on every single outlet for pornography on the internet?

The short answer is, you can’t. And it seems that the UK government may finally be coming to terms with this fact. Wired reported that “the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) dropped the entire porn block.” - even though the ban was due to come into force on July 15th of this year. 

But this still doesn’t mean that the UK government hasn’t had its hand in the censorship of pornography. Back in 2014, a somewhat more sneaky ban came into place.

Banned sex acts in UK porn

Five years ago, on a cold December morning, pornography produced in the UK was quietly censored through an amendment to the 2003 Communications Act.

The important thing to note, here, is that this relates to pornography produced in the UK. It does not mean that there are band or restrictions on viewing such pornography, but rather that is is not OK to go ahead and produce certain types of pornography in the UK.

This was a big blow (no pun intended) to the UK porn industry - as it meant that producers were no longer allowed to create porn that involved certain ‘banned acts’ of a sexual nature. No more fisting and no more squirting (among other things) thank you very much!

At least, not filmed on British soil. Leave that to the rest of the world, eh? 

Which porn acts were banned in the UK?

According to an article in the Telegraph (which was released at the time of the stealthy legislation being passed under all of our noses), there is a long list of sex acts that are now banned from porn in the UK, but only if that porn was produced in the UK for online paid-for video-on-demand (VoD).  According to the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014, VOD (video-on-demand) online porn must adhere to the same guidelines that are followed by DVD sex shop-like porn as stipulated by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC).

The BBFC seems to have the power to ban whatever they deem to be ‘unacceptable’ - which is in and of itself problematic. Here at Sofia Gray - we talk a lot about extreme fetishes and unusual kinks - which to the layman might be viewed as ‘unacceptable’ but amongst fellow kinksters and (of course) fully consenting adults, something like blood play or electrostimulation is a perfectly acceptable and enjoyable practice. 

So who is to say what’s unacceptable, and what isn’t? What criteria are being used to critique such things, and how is it ultimately decided which sex acts get to stay, and which have to go?

There doesn’t seem to be any information on how the BBFC arrived at their decisions to ax the acts that they did. But looking at the list of banned sex acts in UK porn, it is quite striking how they really do look like they are arbitrary at best, and damaging at worst. They also seem to focus a little too closely on anything that relates to female pleasure exclusively.

Here are some of the sex acts that are deemed as unacceptable for British pornography producers to depict:

  • Spanking
  • Caning
  • Aggressive whipping
  • Penetration by any object "associated with violence"
  • Physical or verbal abuse (regardless of if it is consensual)
  • Urolagnia (known as "water sports")
  • Role-playing as non-adults
  • Physical restraint
  • Humiliation
  • Female ejaculation
  • Strangulation
  • Facesitting
  • Fisting

Initially, although these measures restricted people from watching genres of porn that fell into these categories, they could still view videos of the same nature that were shot in other parts of the world, with only content that is created within the UK being restricted. This seems to put the British porn industry at a distinct disadvantage to the rest of the world - and it does make you wonder how this ban is being policed.

What’s to stop you from flying your actors and your crew out to, say, Europe or the USA, filming a nice collection of spanking scenes, followed by a golden shower and finished off with a bit of harsh name-calling, and then flying back home with the footage? 

OK, so this might not be possible - whether such a practice is legal or not is unknown - because, frankly, the information is not readily available. Another sign that this ‘ban’ is completely arbitrary and, well, kind of pointless.

It gets worse

As if arbitrarily banning loosely-defined sex acts which, you could argue, feature in at least half of the categories of porn out there wasn’t bad enough - the UK took things one step further. 

Back in 2016, new legislation was proposed to ban not only footage that was filmed in Britain but would also stop British viewers from accessing any websites from other parts of the world that contain these acts. 

Many women, especially those that work in the erotic film industry, have raised issues with the new legislation, citing that it is undermining their rights to express themselves as performers and directors in the industry. There is also the glaringly obvious fact that the ban seems to paint, well, kind of a messed up view about women’s sexual pleasure versus men’s. What the fuck is wrong with female ejaculation, exactly?

A passage from an article in The Guardian sums up the weird hypocrisy that is all too evident in the list of banned acts and highlights how the ‘rules’ or criteria for these banned acts are blatantly inconsistent. 

“It is also claimed that the rules are not consistent. Consumption of male ejaculate is fine, but not female, and although acts implying strangulation or choking are banned, videos showing women gagging on erect penises are apparently OK. Some critics say many of the rules constitute an attack on female sexuality.”

Although the passage doesn’t mention it - you can also argue that it’s pretty messed up that ‘facesitting’ (a downright pleasurable experience for women) is banned, but deepthroating - apparently - is not. What’s the deal there?

Why have these sex acts been banned in UK porn?

Of course, in theory, the reasoning behind the ban on these particular acts seems like it comes from a good place. Anything that helps to provide extra layers of safety (including censorship where censorship is due), I think we can all agree is a good thing. In theory.

In practice, though, it can be a little bit different.

As it turns out, though, it is quite difficult to actually pin down the exact reasoning for these particular acts to be banned from UK porn production. When you look at the weird criteria and ‘rules’ applied when targeting the sex acts, then you can kind of see why.

It almost seems like the BBFC is reluctant to release any official reasoning in case their logic gets completely destroyed, and their argument pulled apart. 

But even with a lack of access to official documentation giving the rationale behind the ban - a few things can be pieced together from the press coverage at the time of the ban. The most pertinent of these are as follows:

Reasons for banning sex acts in UK porn:

  • One or more of the acts may potentially result in lasting physical harm.
  • One or more of the acts may involve an apparent lack of consent.
  • One or more of the acts may encourage an interest in a sexually abusive activity that may include adults role-playing as non-adults.
  • One or more of the acts may involve physical restraint that prevents participants from indicating that they withdraw consent.
  • One or more of the acts may involve humiliation, abuse, or sexual threats that are not part of a role-playing game that is consenting.
  • One or more of the aforementioned acts involves penetration using an object that is usually associated with violence

It’s hard to argue with the theory, but the practice is a little different. Why is it OK to be choked by a cock - but not OK to be choked by a restraint? 

Shining a light on banned sex acts

The sex acts that are included in the "restricted' list are wide-ranging, with some being more commonly practiced than others.  So, in light of thumbing our nose at society, and giving a big F-you to censorship, let’s take a detailed look at some of them:

Physical and verbal ‘abuse’ (i.e. dirty talk and erotic humiliation)

The most common way physical abuse is demonstrated in consensual pornographic videos is through BDSM. BDSM is an umbrella term for consensual activities that involve sadistic and masochistic (S&M) elements.

Many actions such as spanking contain certain elements of sadomasochism. Harsher S&M acts may involve consensual torture of the more sensitive parts of the body such as breast and vagina torture for females and cock and ball torture for females. Other forms of physical abuse in BDSM include flogging, caning, wax play, and erotic electrostimulation.

Verbal abuse in pornographic productions typically involves hurling insults at a consenting partner to indicate dominance. Both physical and verbal abuse are considered to be forms of erotic humiliation, a general term that describes the consensual psychological humiliation that is performed to elicit sexual arousal or erotic excitement.

Physical restraint (i.e. bondage porn)

Physical restraint is usually observed in bondage, which is the act of consensually tying, restraining, or binding a partner for erotic stimulation. There are a variety of ways through which a partner can be restrained, including the use of cuffs, bondage tape, self-adhering bandage, or rope.

Bondage on its own does not have to incorporate sadomasochism and can be utilized as an end in itself, as with breast bondage and rope bondage. It can also be combined with other BDSM activities.

Facesitting (i.e. cunnilingus)

Facesitting, also referred to as kinging or queening, is a type of sexual activity where one partner sits over or on the other partner's face, usually to force or allow oral-anal or oral-genital contain. 

Additionally, the facesitting position also leaves the hands of the bottom partner free to stimulate other pleasurable areas of the body such as the nipples. The partner on top may face either direction when in this position. Unlike with smothering, the bottom partner in facesitting can still breathe comfortably.

Urolagnia (i.e. golden showers)

This is a form of paraphilia where sexual excitement is usually associated with the thought or sight of urine or urination. 

Urolagnia is also often referred to as watersports or golden shower. During the activity, the person on the receiving end may consume urine or bathe in it. Other common variations of urolagnia include clothes wetting, voyeurism, omorashi, and pussing.

Role-playing as non-adults (i.e. age play)

Role-playing as non-adults, or age play, is a type of role-playing where an involved party behaves or treats their partner as if they are a different age. 

Age play usually occurs between consenting adults and can be non-sexual or sexual depending on what those involved agree on. Usually, it involves an individual pretending to be younger than they are. 

Within dominant/submissive relationships, age play can be used to enhance power dynamics and may include spankings or other forms of punishment that the consenting parties agree to. Age play is not considered to be pedophilia or related to it by experts.

Strangulation (i.e. choking, erotic asphyxiation)

Strangulation, or erotic asphyxiation, is the intentional blockage of oxygen to the brain to elicit sexual arousal. 

There are a variety of methods that are usually used to achieve the oxygen deprivation levels that are needed, including hanging and self-strangulation with a ligature, chest compression, volatile or gas solvents, or a combination of these techniques. 

Strangulation has proven to be one of the more dangerous sex acts, with several accidental deaths occurring as a result of the practice.

What’s sexy to you could be sick to another

If we look at the last two sex acts mentioned above (age play and asphyxiation) we can see why there is controversy- and there are certainly arguments for the banning of such porn not just because it can be harmful - but also because, presumably, it could incite viewers to behave in such a way and is open to wrong interpretation.

While age play can be as innocuous as two consenting adults dressing up as college professor and student - it most certainly could be interpreted in a way that is not OK - and we do not want to normalize such thoughts or behaviors. Similarly, it makes sense not to promote sex acts that do result in death!

But giving weird, vague criteria that are open to interpretation helps no one. ANd we have to remember that there are a number of sex acts that are categorized as unconventional because they do not conform to what is considered to be “normal.” 

In truth, what is considered to be “normal” varies from place to place and from person to person. This is why, depending on where in the world you may be, there will be some variation when it comes to restrictions on what you can and cannot view when it comes to porn. 
It may be that the only way around it is to make your own porn at home. Just like selling your used panties online  if nothing else, it could be a pretty lucrative option