In Depth

Sex and censorship: why new porn laws are 'ridiculous'

Campaigners argue the 'sexist' rules amount to censorship and will mean woman can't be shown enjoying sex

A range of new restrictions on pornography in the UK have been implemented by the government, angering campaigners who say they are sexist and amount to censorship.

Online pornography produced and sold in the UK will be banned from containing at least ten sexual acts including female ejaculation, "aggressive" whipping or spanking, full bondage and restraint and "verbal abuse".

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport says the measures were being introduced to limit content that is "harmful to minors". The new rules govern online content, which must adhere to the standards set out by the British Board of Film Classification that also apply to pornography on DVDs.

The "arbitrary" new laws, which campaigners say were "quietly" introduced, have angered those fighting for freedom of sexual expression, and feminists who argue that the rules disproportionately affect women and the LGBT community. Activists argue that the legislation is:

Ineffective and will harm the industry

The law only applies to porn produced and sold in the UK, and not to international films, which can still be easily accessed online. They are also "some of the most severe content restrictions in Europe", according to Backlash, a campaign group that defends freedom of sexual expression. It argues that the measures will have a significant impact on the UK adult film industry, leaving it unable to remain competitive.

Sexist

One of the main arguments against the new law is that many of the restrictions seem to target female-centred pornography and is therefore discriminatory against women. Campaigners say the rules will effectively mean that women will no longer be able to be shown enjoying sex or being in control.

Writing in The Independent, erotic filmmaker Erika Lust said she was "saddened" by the move "not only because my fellow producers will suffer as businesses, but because what is most apparent is the enforced restriction on what appears to be acts from which women derive pleasure."

Others put it more bluntly. "Why is it OK to show a male ejaculation but not a female one?" asks The Guardian's Suzanne Moore.

While some feminists campaign for tougher restrictions on pornography, which they argue is degrading to women, Moore points out that "if feminists think that the government has women's interests at heart [with regard to the new laws] they are deluded." 

A form of censorship

"With no concern for consent within or enjoyment of these sexual practices, the government appears to be legislating its own moral judgements on what is deemed acceptable in British society," writes Lauren Razavi in the New Statesman.

Campaigners argue that the measures are a severe restriction of personal freedoms, delivered by MPs on "moral crusade". They say as long as those involved in the acts are consenting adults, it should not be up to the government to police which sexual acts they deem appropriate.

"It's entirely possible that, rather than becoming more liberal and more accepting of a diversity of sexualities, we will instead become embroiled in regulating and legislating desire," warns the Daily Telegraph's Rebecca Reid. "It's a frightening thought."

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