There’s something amiss about the way our government treats female sexuality, and we should be worried.
Thanks to an ongoing row over the proposed Digital Economy Bill, in which the government has put forward disorganised and prurient proposals to restrict access to online porn and other “harmful material”, a clause was tucked away in the fine print which received little to no public attention.
I, and many other campaigners, think it should have.
These new measures were added and quietly announced last Sunday; UK viewers will be banned from accessing websites portraying a range of what they deem as non-conventional and thus ‘prohibited’ sexual acts, and the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has been appointed to enforce these measures. Yes, you read that correctly; the same people who sift the Finding Nemos from the Saw franchise will now be in charge of making a moral judgement about what you can and can’t climax to. That might not sound like a huge issue right now, as surely the banned acts will be utterly deviant and unorthodox, right?
Wrong. In fact, the banned acts include such innocuous acts as spanking, the sight of menstrual blood, caning, and (gasp) female ejaculation. The ‘four finger rule’ would reportedly also apply, which limits the number of digits that can be placed into any orifice while on video (in other words, no fisting).
There’s a pattern emerging here; not only are all of the above acts legal for adults above the age of consent in the UK, but many of the sexual activities prohibited in this new clause are central aspects of female and LGBT+ sexuality, and a staple in the emerging ‘feminist porn’ industry focus of female-derived pleasure. Bondage, domination and sadomasochism – one of the things that might spring to mind when one thinks about sexual violence – is often expressed as female sexual domination. Since similar censorship was brought in to cover British websites in 2014, it has been often used to target websites owned and run by women.
Of course, pornography has long been a divisive issue between those of us who rally beneath the feminist flag, and our oft-heated discussions traverse the lengths of violence against women, prostitution, objectification, freedom of expression, and fundamental human autonomy. I place my banner firmly within the ‘sex-positive’ encampment, believing that there is room for genuinely empowering porn, shot for the female erotic gaze rather than the traditional straight, male viewer.
In female-positive porn, women are involved in the way the porn is made, promoted and presented, and queer-led porn creates a space which is specifically about challenging misogyny, heteronormativity, transphobia, and tearing down the outdated and archaic gender binary.
As Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti so eloquently put it, there’s no reason that porn can’t present women as sexual collaborators with men rather than as sexual conquests of men. Indeed, I believe that the portrayal of ‘collaborative’ sex and the attuning to female pleasure in the porn industry can only amount to an improvement in wider society.
Conversely, I find it ironic that acts such as forced-fellatio, bukkake scenes, and highly questionable scenes of sexual coercion and violence remain unchecked. Surely this is sexism in its purest form, wherein we see the delegitimisation of female pleasure, and the promotion of a proscriptive normative sexuality that serves to further objectify women. What could be more misogynist than banning portrayals of sex because they involve aspects of female bodily functions that someone Whitehall in finds distasteful?
As might be expected, there’s a larger issue at work here too. This isn’t really about porn, nor protecting children; an argument that falls apart anyway when we remember that it is adults too who will be stopped from viewing this material.
This is really about the government establishing a system of administrative censorship that, once in place, can be turned against anything that those in power would rather we didn’t see. A sliding scale of morality in which we have no say. It could be fictional works that authorities believe are damaging to the morals of society, such as the writings of D. H. Lawrence. It could be political viewpoints that the government deem extremist. It could be leaks about the criminal acts of our own military and intelligence agencies.
We need to stand up and say ‘enough is enough’.