The British government is censoring porn, scared of female sexuality.

British Government, Terrified of Female Sexuality, Is Censoring Bondage Porn

British Government, Terrified of Female Sexuality, Is Censoring Bondage Porn

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Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Dec. 3 2014 11:00 AM

British Government, Terrified of Female Sexuality, Is Censoring Bondage Porn

Men have always been terrified of powerful women.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the British government quietly banned a slew of sex acts from pornography produced in the United Kingdom and sold online. (The ban already applied to porn sold on DVDs.) Among the acts now illegal to depict in on-demand Internet porn: spanking, caning, aggressive whipping, penetration by any object “associated with violence,” physical or verbal abuse (consensual or not), urination in sexual contexts, female ejaculation, strangulation, face-sitting, and fisting (if all knuckles are inserted).

Mark Joseph Stern Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern covers courts and the law for Slate.

The Independent, Jezebel, and Vice UK call this list arbitrary. But there’s rarely anything arbitrary about censorship: As a rule, censors aim to stifle the ideas contained in objectionable expression, hoping to muffle the message behind it. Here, the British government has claimed that its new law is designed to protect children and performers. But Parliament’s true intent is almost comically obvious—to suppress expression that promotes kinky sex and female dominance.


To be fair, the British government has always been perfectly frank about its desire to censor kink. In 2011, Murray Perkins, a senior “examiner” at the British Board of Film Classification—which has the legal authority to censor or ban any film in the U.K.—gave a transfixing interview on the topic. Perkins explained that “there’s limited scope for role play”: Any bondage depicted must appear “non-harmful,” and portraying the “infliction of pain beyond mild consensual activity” is outlawed. The BBFC also proscribes porn from depicting enemas (“not the application itself, but interacting with the expelled fluid”), urine, and menstrual blood (except for the “incidental unfocused sight of a limited amount of blood”).

The government censors these images for a simple reason: It doesn’t like bondage and kink; it doesn’t want Britons to like it, either; and so it restricts their ability to see images of it. Initially, this form of thought control might seem relatively benign. But look closer at Britain’s anti-pornography laws, and you’ll see something much more disturbing: Taken as a whole, the rules reflect a deep terror of female sexual dominance—and a thinly veiled attempt to censor depictions of it.

This terror takes its most conspicuous form in Britain’s ban on images of female ejaculation, which suggests, at minimum, a fear of female pleasure. (There is, of course, no corresponding ban on male ejaculation.) But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. As one female erotic filmmaker has pointed out, the rules pretty clearly target female dominance porn. By forbidding both manifestations of female dominance (face-sitting, verbal abuse, object penetration) and displays of female pleasure (female ejaculation), these laws seem gerrymandered to proscribe porn featuring women who control their sexuality—and their submissive male partners.

It’s no surprise that Britain is using its censorship authority to ban expressions of female pleasure and power. Given the ability to control what images we cannot see—and what ideas we cannot promote—governments will invariably target disfavored forms of sexuality. In the United States, the First Amendment bars the government from censoring expression based on its underlying message, even when it portrays outré and unconventional sex acts. But the rest of the world is a different story. Canada provides the most notorious example of the state using censorship laws to stamp out the speech of sexual minorities. In 1992, the Canadian Supreme Court declared that depictions of sex that is “degrading and dehumanizing” toward women could be banned as obscene. The near-instant result? A nationwide crackdown on lesbian porn, under the theory that gay sex was always “dehumanizing” because it lacked “any real meaningful human relationship.”

Britain’s rules, too, will have a profound impact on gay and lesbian porn, much of which depicts the non-traditional sex acts that are now illegal to act out for the screen. But the real losers here are the erotic filmmakers who aim to promote female empowerment. The British government, comprised primarily of men, has decided that these filmmakers’ ideas about sexual gratification and dominance are too dangerous for the citizens of the United Kingdom. And so it has tasked the BBFC—again, mostly men—with suppressing certain images, on the laughable justification that such expression is harmful.

It’s easy to giggle at the strange fixations of these censors, who voluntarily spend their days counting knuckles and clocking blood shots. But their perverse preoccupation with sadomasochism and bodily fluids has an unnerving underbelly. Porn isn’t dangerous because it’s harmful; it’s dangerous because it’s vivid and graphic—and vivid expression is the most compelling and persuasive kind. The government and its censors claim to object to mere images. But in reality, they are terrified of ideas, especially the same idea that has terrified men from time immemorial: the notion that women, too, can be powerful.