UK porn laws a year on: A porn actress and a dominatrix on destroyed businesses and censorship

A year after laws restricting online pornography in the UK were introduced, two women reveal how the regulations have affected their lives and the industry 

It was stranger than fiction: women dressed in leather gimps masks and black PVC lingerie squatted over men’s faces outside Parliament, outnumbered by press photographers attempting to capture every eye-opening moment.

Braving the late-autumn weather, hundreds of protesters across the country - including at a "spankathon" in Manchester - rallied against laws which brought niche internet porn in line with rules binding DVDs sold in UK sex shops. 

The Audio Visual Media Services regulations (AVMS) banned sex acts that were deemed morally damaging or life-threatening, including strangulation, face-sitting and fisting. 

Spanking beyond what was deemed to be a gentle level, humiliation, full bondage and restraint (which involves a gag and all four limbs), female ejaculation, and depictions of non-consensual sex were also forbidden under the laws enforced by the Authority for Television on Demand (Atvod).

The demonstrations made headlines and gave people an excuse to discuss whipping and spanking with a wink and a smirk at work, at least for a few weeks. 

But after the frenzy died down and the crops and bondage were returned to bedrooms and BDSM dungeons, performers and production firms were left to deal with the effects of the regulations which they feared would destroy their businesses and threaten online freedom. 

Campaigners slammed the rules as subjective, and said they unfairly targeted women by banning female ejaculation and face-sitting.

At the time, Myles Jackman, a UK-based obscenity lawyer, warned that the ban would pose an unnecessary trade barrier to beleaguered UK pornography producers.  

It is now clear their fears were founded. 

Pandora Blake, 31, who describes herself as a “one-woman business” and a London-based feminist pornographer who stars in, writes, and directs films, said that she had to close her online business Dreams of Spanking as a direct result of the law. 

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Pandora Blake called the laws "devastating" and said they made it impossible to run her business (Image: Mr Magicfingers)

Her films depicted BDSM fetishes between consenting adults but which are banend by the regulations - often leaving the recipient with red welts, stripes or bruises that can take “a few days to heal” after a shoot.

Describing the rules as “very vague” she said: “My fetish is spanking, and I like to give and receive it with consenting partners. 

“My aim with Dreams of Spanking is to authentically depict my own genuine fantasies and desires, and accurately reflect the sort of play I enjoy in private."

But the regulations “made it impossible” for her to run her site, and she was ordered to take it offline in the summer. 

“The enforcement was far swifter, and more heavy handed than I expected,” she said, claiming that Atvod may have unfairly targeted her because she appeared on BBC 2’s Newsnight and BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour to argue that the laws were “needlessly oppressive and sexist”.

“Many of my fellow pornographers who distribute similar work depicting spanking that leaves lasting marks have not yet been contacted, so it's hard not to see it as political censorship,” she claimed. 

And as the regulations only apply to content produced in the UK, she suspects that customers with “tastes that are not mainstream enough to fit with the draconian limits of the new regulations”have simply taken their business to overseas websites and producers, as Mr Jackman predicted.

“Many UK websites have had to sell their businesses overseas, and others have closed down. Those remaining are forced to severely limit the sort of content they are able to publish,” she said.

But it is not merely a financial issue for Ms Blake. 

When her site was shut, five years of creativity, hard work, personal investment of time, money and energy were “destroyed in a single blow”, she said. 

“It has been a devastating year for me both personally and professionally. I have lost money, my mental health has suffered, my creative output has been stifled.”

She argues that the laws are a “clear effort” by the “heteronormative patriarchal establishment” to prohibit acts depicting female dominance, female sexual agency, as well as male submission and penetration. 

"These regulations ultimately derive from the Obscene Publications Act, a 56 year old law which dates from a time when it was illegal to depict sexual intercourse on film at all, and it was illegal to even have gay sex, never mind film it. To use this law as a basis for present day regulation of online media is simply ludicrous."

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Pandora Blake said the laws are a means of surveillance and control (Image: Tricia Sullivan)

"These laws are definitely intended as a means of surveillance and control. The AVMS regulations are the thin end of the wedge, using pornography as an excuse to regulate and censor the internet."

"The laws are not fit for purpose and should definitely be scrapped."

Peter Johnson, the CEO of Atvod, said that the organisation has published “clear guidance” on how to comply with the rules.

He added that most services are investigated after complaints or “if a service comes to our attention through other means – for example through press reports. We do not pro-actively target websites offering particular types of pornography.”

“The starting point of an investigation into a service is always to write to the service provider to make them aware of the relevant regulations and the obligations they place on providers of on demand programme services.

"We only proceed to take formal steps if a service provider fails to respond appropriately to this initial contact. A regulator cannot ignore complaints or flagrant breaches of the statutory rules it is charged with enforcing.”

But Megara Furie, a 32-year-old dominatrix based in Glasgow, holds similar views to Ms Blake. Highlighting that she is happy to censor pornography if it protects children from inappropriate content - she views the regulations as unrealistic. 

“The effects [of the laws] were good and bad. I lost money. But this is not everything.

"I do believe there is a level of protective intentions but unless they [Atvod] go after tube sites and start placing some onus on parents to protect their own children from over 18 content the same way there are laws against providing a child with alcohol or cigarettes, then I am sceptical."

Like Ms Blake, Ms Furie and others she knows in the industry have suffered greatly due to the laws, and she doesn’t look kindly on Atvod. 

“I have seen a lot of friends, good people, ethical like myself put out of business and lose their entire livelihood or pension fund because of the constant harassment they received. 

“A friend of mine lost her business. This was her retirement fund and she had spent thousands of pounds on equipment, filing systems, editing software etc to keep everything professional and complied fully with ATVOD.

“I think I was lucky in that I came out of it with good publicity and have had some amazing opportunities since. My friend wasn't in the papers, just quietly badgered until she caved."

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Mistress Megara has called for the laws to be changed (Image: Purple Tog)

Branding the laws as “subjective” she said they must be reviewed. 

"I personally find watching a woman being tag teamed and covered in ejaculation obscene as I believe this has a more detrimental effect on men's attitudes towards women in general than face-sitting but I wouldn't ban or deter anyone from enjoying what they like."

"There needs to be clear, specific guidelines on compliance. Someone from the kink scene needs to be involved in these consultations to ensure they are fair for everyone and written clearly. 

"I'll gladly offer free sessions to anyone who is involved in writing guidelines so they can get a feel for what we do and how responsible we are. Actually make it half price. It has cost me enough money already."

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