Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Vice Nation - Sex III: Pornography

(Pic : pornsfw.com)

It seems you can't escape it nowadays: tits, arse and muff everywhere. Since the internet revolution we've entered what you could consider the "Golden Age of Pornography"....in terms of availability anyway. But there's always a dark side and those unintended consequences present ongoing challenges to decision-makers and society generally.




The Adult Entertainment Industry


To clear things up I'm going to include strip clubs, sex shops and massage parlours as part of "the porn industry". I take a separate look at prostitution in Part IV.

Since humankind could first wield something that makes a mark on something else, there's been erotic imagery. Some of the oldest cave paintings have comically-sized genitalia and some of the most prized artifacts from antiquity have some sort of pornography on them.

There are estimates the global adult entertainment sector is worth $97billion – I'm not sure whether that includes strip clubs etc. - and there've been estimates that in the UK it's worth £1billion.

The irony is that, while the availability of pornography has increased, the industry as a whole is facing an uncertain future, with some claims the UK porn industry alone has shrunk 90%.

Free internet videos have decimated the paid DVD market. Softcore pornography like top-shelf "lads mags" have been going out of business in line with general declines in print sales. Also, because pretty much every fetish can be catered for online, traditional porn film seems outdated - the latest trend being to create "Cockbusters" (parodies of Hollywood films). Internet porn sites usually raise money through subscriptions and advertising.

Nevertheless, the appetite remains.





The porn industry is also one of the few sectors where women consistently earn more than men. In January 2016, CNBC found women earn on average $800-1000 per scene compared to $500-600 for male co-stars, a gender pay gap of ~40%. Excuse the pun, but it's really hard for men in the porn industry.

"No face-sitting please, we're British!"

First they came for the gimps, but I did not speak out because I was not a gimp.
Then they came for the spankers, but I did not speak out because I was not a spanker.
Then they came for the face-sitters, but nobody spoke out because "MMMHMHMMHHHMHH"

Anyone wanting to run a sex shop or a sex cinema (which are effectively extinct) needs a licence from their local authority. There's one notable exception to this; nearly all Ann Summers stores are run without a licence because they don't sell restricted hardcore DVDs (I come back to this shortly) and mostly deal in lingerie.

To qualify for a licence, the licensee has to: be over 18, prove that they don't employ anyone under the age of 18, be a UK resident, not have had a licence refused or withdrawn in the preceding 12 months and willing to properly control opening hours.

For any establishment where there's a "live display of nudity" (i.e a strip club), a sexual entertainment licence is required – the qualification requirements are often the same as sex shops, but they'll also need alcohol licenses (more here) and live music licenses.

Massage parlours fall under special treatment licenses, which cover things like electrolysis, tattoos, nails etc. I come back to what "actually happens" in massage parlours in Part IV, but selling sexual services under the guise of a legitimate business is actually a legal grey area and they're rarely investigated.

For pornography itself, new regulations were introduced by the UK Government in 2014 - the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations.

Following to the regulations, hardcore pornography (which was only legalised for public sale in the UK in 2000) is only available to buy on DVD with a BBFC R18 rating certificate and from a licensed sex shop (Broadcasting Wales VII). There are also unofficial methods of censorship such as age confirmation windows on websites or putting magazines on the top shelf.

R18 rated films could depict a large number of sex acts, with the only restrictions being on acts that: could cause injury, imply under-age sex, depict rape, humiliate or are otherwise extreme pornography (i.e. acts involving excretion and menstruation, necrophilia, bestiality).

A number of (otherwise comparatively tame or silly) consensual acts are banned. This includes things like face-sitting, verbal abuse, "spanking" and – somewhat bizarrely and misogynisticly – female ejaculation (because there's lack of consensus on whether it's urine or not). This led to protests outside the UK Houses of Parliament.

The problem is the regulations only apply to pornography produced in the UK itself, not that produced abroad. With the internet the regulations are effectively moot – though the UK Government tried to clamp down by forcing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to make customers opt out of adult content filters.

Then, in November 2016, they went one step further. As part of the Digital Economy Bill, the UK Government intend to ban/block all forms of "non-conventional pornography" – basically anything that wouldn't meet a BBFC R18 certificate - regardless of whether it's produced or hosted in the UK or not.

Porn & Objectification

(Pic : adweek.com)

One of the main criticisms against the proliferation of pornography is that it objectifies the subject – almost always women – reducing them to an instrument of sexual gratification.

The argument also goes that it creates unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of what sex is (which might put pressure on young people to do things they don't want to do), causes body image issues, can contribute to eating disorders and can even damage sexual performance.

This isn't just limited to hardcore and internet porn, but also the sort of softcore pornography used to sell things, or features like Page 3 – which the National Assembly discussed a few years ago.

One study for the European Journal of Social Psychology in 2012 suggests that while both genders are equally guilty of objectification, women are more likely to be objectified as "parts" while men are more likely to be considered "as a whole". This could be natural sexual selection or it could, indeed, be a result of sexual imagery in the media and pornography which is de-personalising women.

There's also a more positive spin on this from sex-positive feminists. As said earlier, women consume pornography too, and pornography could be considered a form of empowerment and sexual freedom – women accepting their own sexual desires and using their own bodies the way they want to.

My personal view is that it depends on the context and how the porn is presented and produced rather than pornography generally – violent porn is worse than tasteful erotica that both genders would (probably) enjoy.


Porn's Impact on Health & Society

  • A 2014 UCLA study showed 23.7% of porn actors had contracted chlamydia or gonorrhoea between August 2012 and June 2013. There've also been several high-profile HIV scares.
  • More than half (59%) of actors in the same study used cannabis, and up to 20% had used cocaine or ecstasy.
  • 15% also said they had to give sexual favours to find work, while 69% said they didn't use condoms when working.
  • A 2008 study of Croatian men showed users of mainstream pornography were no more or less satisfied in their relationships than non-users. The differences only arose with regard fetish and violent porn, with users having more sexual partners and being less intimate in a relationship.
  • There's no evidence that porn-induced erectile dysfunction exists. A study amongst Swiss men from 2013 found that while 25% of men under 40 reported erectile problems, pornography wasn't listed as a causal factor. The causal factors included use of medication without a prescription, low levels of sexual experience, general mental and physical health as well as smoking. That doesn't mean that there's no link at all, it just hasn't been properly studied yet.
  • There's no relationship between pornography use and sexism, with use not being a predictor of whether someone hold negative attitudes towards women. A 2015 study (sort of) confirmed this with regular pornography users said to have more egalitarian and socially-liberal views than non-users (though there's been criticism of the methodology as misogyny is difficult to quantify).
  • There currently isn't enough evidence that pornography is addictive and porn addiction was excluded from the most recent revision of the psychological diagnostic criteria in 2013 (DSM-5). The evidence points towards excessive porn use being a compulsion rather than an addiction.
  • Research from Denmark in the 1970s suggested that access to pornography hasn't resulted in an increase in sexual crimes, while an American study has shown that wider access to pornography has correlated with a decrease in sexual assaults – though the latter could just as easily be explained by better forensic science and law enforcement.

So, broadly-speaking, the impact of wider access to pornography is....no impact at all....while there are long-standing problems within the porn industry itself that need addressing.


That doesn't mean I'm dismissing it. It just means there've been too few studies done and some of the areas where pornography could be having a real impact – for example, pressure being put on young women in particular to do things they don't want to do and the wider quality of relationships – aren't being investigated properly.

There's also an emerging wave of secular male-led anti-pornography feeling – the NoFap board on Reddit, for example.

Meanwhile, Pamela Anderson has become a high-profile spokesperson against pornography, describing online porn as "corrosive" and expressing concerns about it's impact on relationships and violence against women. The only criticism I would have there is that she also said parts of her acting and modelling career made her feel "worthless" (net worth: $5million).

What is "obscene"?
James Joyce - One of the greatest literary figures of the 20th Century; fart connoisseur.
(Pic : via Buzzfeed - NSFW)


Pornography can be used as a litmus test for the prevailing moral attitudes of the time.

With some caveats, the Ancient Greeks and Romans had attitudes to sex that were more extreme than today (bisexuality was commonplace while pederasty and orgies were accepted). Meanwhile, Victorian society had a truly bizarre attitude to sexual morality – outwardly prudish, but prostitution (Part IV) and pornography were widespread and even tolerated; male homosexuality was even tolerated for a long time until it was criminalised in 1885.

In part because of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and second-wave feminism, we now live in a socially liberal time – even the AIDS scare hasn't dampened things. That doesn't mean everyone has a free rein, and decisions on whether to ban porn or not rest on where you draw the line between hardcore pornography and obscenity, and this differs from culture to culture.

I mentioned the BBFC's R18 rating guidelines, prohibited images and child pornography (Part II) earlier, but the Criminal Justice & Immigration Act 2008 outlines what's otherwise counted as extreme pornography and, subsequently, a criminal offence to possess – carrying a prison sentence to up to three years. This includes images of sexual acts that either threaten someone's life or are likely to result in serious injury  – insertion of a sharp object, for example.

It doesn't stop there, as there are other sexual acts that are either taboo or – for want of a better description – instinctively disgusting to "a right-minded person" (aside from those already mentioned): bestiality, necrophilia, cannibalism, incest, depictions of rape, unstaged voyeurism, sex acts involving bodily functions.

In my opinion, the test as to whether something is obscene – and justifiably banned – is that as long as it's between two obviously consenting adults that aren't related to each other (or one consenting performer) and wouldn't result in death or serious injury, then it's a case of "whatever floats your boat" - no matter how disgusting or strange it might be.

I mean, it's not against law to cover yourself in balloons....or have someone sit on your face....or stick your private parts into a vacuum cleaner....or dress up as football mascots and rub yourself up....or cover yourself in jam....or get fisted up to the elbow (Empress Theresa doesn't want you filming it though)....

XXX-Rated Independence



It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate pornography and erotica; even in places where pornography is formally illegal (like Iceland) the laws are rarely enforced. I'm not sure there's a will to do so either except at the conservative fringes of left and right politics. Nonetheless, there are some policy options an independent Wales could consider.


Regulation of the Sex Industry
  • Sex shops should no longer require a licence (other than licences generally relating to retailers), but sexual entertainment venues/live nudity would continue to do so. Restrictions can still be placed on where they can be based, opening hours, ID checking for customers etc. Maybe a "fit and proper person test" can be included.
  • There should be a planning use category (like B1, C3 etc.) for licenced sex shops, strip clubs, massage parlours etc. This will ensure they can only be based in certain areas (i.e. only in retail centres and away from schools, funeral directors) and that changes in use require formal planning permission.
  • The measures available to local authorities should be more flexible when it comes to a breach of license conditions, such as flexible bans on directors holding a licence, up to and including a lifetime ban.
  • Pornographic actors making films, being photographed etc. in Wales should be legally required to use condoms (where applicable), prove they're over the age of 18 before being filmed and get a certificate from a GUM clinic proving they're free of sexually-transmitted diseases (updated regularly).
  • People employing pornographic actors or sexual entertainers (i.e strippers) in Wales should ensure the performers are paid equally and that their pay meets or exceeds the minimum and/or living wage. Alternative business models such as worker-owned co-operatives should be explored (I know that sounds ridiculous, but I suggest you look up Lusty Ladies and the East London Strippers Collective).
  • Age/ID checks similar to those used by retailers for those they suspect of being under the age of 25 could be formally extended to pornographic publications and DVDs – how this could be done on the internet is difficult to answer, but age/ID/Validate cards could have a code on them to use websites, or the creation of Estonian-style "e-citizenship" to confirm ages.

Regulation of Pornography

  • The 10pm watershed for softcore pornography (i.e. Babestation) on television can remain. Encrypted/subscription porn channels should be allowed to broadcast hardcore pornography - at the moment they can't broadcast anything that would get an R18 certificate.
  • The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2004 should be repealed and the R18 licence scrapped as part of a new rating category system (Broadcasting Wales VII). Hardcore pornography would be given a standard 18 certificate, but has to be sold from a premises that has the right planning use category (as opposed to a licence).This will enable sale of hardcore pornography DVDs over the internet within Wales.
  • The definition of "extreme and prohibited pornography" should be revised to use legal tests based on: consent (Part I), age of the subjects, whether it falls under existing criminal offences and the risk of serious injury or risk to life – not the content itself or its subjective artistic merit.
  • Pornographic magazines and other publications with pornographic content would continue to be restricted to the top shelf, but could have their pages taped or put in a plastic sheath to prevent them being opened "accidentally" by children. The Sun and Daily Star on the top shelf? Why not?
  • Encourage greater use of, or limit all porn sites to, the .xxx domain to prevent teenagers from "accidentally" discovering such sites and damaging their fragile, completely unwitting, minds (this would probably have to be a global measure). ISPs should be free to decide for themselves how they want to filter adult content.

Public Decency

  • There's a growing problem of people viewing pornography in public (on a mobile, tablet etc). This could be made an offence in itself (not just masturbating in public), with an on-the-spot fine – particularly if it's causing anyone else distress, is done in view of children or no effort is made to conceal it.
  • Local authorities should have the power to designate public areas (i.e. small areas of secluded beaches and forests) as nude-friendly, with a code of conduct applicable to users (i.e. no sex acts, no drones, no photography from within the area or nearby). Public nudity should, as currently, only become a criminal offence if it's done with an intention of "causing alarm or distress".
    • Whether this should extend to "dogging" and "cottaging/cruising" is up for debate, but in all those cases it's should be a matter of using common sense and staying as far away from the public as possible.
  • "Sexual misadventure" could be a defence in murder and manslaughter trials as long as consent of the deceased is proven and it doesn't violate any other laws; it could also be considered a separate verdict in coroner's inquests - which will hopefully embarrass people into taking better care!

I realise that was a bit "Exclusive: Straight man has no problem seeing naked women", but Part IV addresses what's probably going to be the most controversial part of this – prostitution.

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