Sit On My Face and Tell Me You Love Free Speech

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The UK’s sexist new pornography restrictions  aren’t just an act of state censorship, but could be the first step towards something even worse (The Independent)
U.K. Sex Workers Sitting on Each Other’s Faces for Their Right to Fist (Gawker)

If you study human sexuality for any length of time, particularly fetish culture, you quickly gain an appreciation for the seemingly limitless ways in which we humans experience erotic enjoyment. I’ve often argued that the infamous “Rule 34” of the Internet, that if something exists then there is erotic work of it out there (I dislike the highly-problematic term “pornography”), needs a corollary which states that everything is erotic to someone. I don’t care if you’re talking about a loaf of bread or a picture of a sunset or an anthill, there is someone out there among us seven billion humans who gets off on it, either on its own or in combination with something else. Maybe this isn’t true for every single thing on the planet, but it probably holds true at least as often as Rule 34 does.

Sodomy laws were still on the books in several states, including Michigan, as I simultaneously went through political and sexual awakenings as a teenager. Whatever libertarian streak I have began to develop at that time, and even after having grown up in the eighties and been force-fed a lot of hatred about non-heterosexuals that was still lodged in my head, I found it nothing short of stupid that governments would dare to deign what consensual sexual activities people could and couldn’t perform in the privacy of their homes. Talking about sex, even in this legalistic way, was also a reliable way to piss off a lot of the adults around me who needed to be pissed off, so that just encouraged me to talk about the intersection of politics and law with sex all the more, and my own personal realizations over the coming years would add a personal element to a lot of the arguments I started formulating back in the day. Running a college GLBT student group for a year and a half certainly gave me a lot of practice making those arguments as well.

Fetish and kink have always been grey areas when it comes to sexuality and the law; even in an age where the word “safeword” is now in the common vernacular, there are still many who claim not to understand the concept of sexual play that may have the outward appearance of being non-consensual, but is, in fact, consented to by all parties involved. (Again, kink only refers to consensual activities; roughing someone up without their informed consent is abuse and assault and a whole lot of other nasty things, but it is most certainly not kink.) In some cases this is informed by a concern that replicating unhealthy power relationships, even in a mutually agreed-upon fantasy setting, can still reinforce that unhealthiness and cause harm to the participants; in other cases it’s just a bunch of nosy, bossy jerks who don’t want other people to have fun. Still, in most of America there is no legal distinction made between giving your partner a consensual spanking for erotic pleasure on the one hand, and walking up to a stranger and punching them in the face on the other. Yes, in practice most police officers won’t arrest anyone if they find out about something private and consensual going on, if only to avoid giving themselves so much paperwork to fill out, but this isn’t always the case, and I have at least one friend who was repeatedly harassed by the police for being kinky, to the point of having to move his whole family to another state. (This is why I support the Consent Counts Program.)

Legal difficulties involving kink have always been even more of a pain in the United Kingdom, evidenced most famously in the Spanner Case, one of the first kink-related legal brouhahas I became aware of. On top of the usual civil liberties issues I have with prosecuting and imprisoning people for consensual activities that pose no harm to other people, there was the additional ridiculousness in this case of the bottoms being charged and convicted with aiding and abetting in their own assaults. As much as I’ve thought about moving to England over the years, the sheer ridiculousness of the Spanner case and the harsh prison sentences that resulted — up to four and a half years — have always held me back from pursuing that opportunity.

In light of that, the new restrictions on the production of erotic images and videos in the United Kingdom are a bitter pill to swallow. To be clear, these restrictions were already in place for media distributed in physical form, i.e. photographic prints and DVDs, and have now just been extended to Internet media. (Yes, believe it or not, “adult bookstores” still exist in some places.) There is something to be said for holding to a single standard in all media just to make things easier on people, but there’s even more to be said about how arbitrary and ridiculous many of these restrictions are.

As always, advocates of these kinds of restrictions talk about how they’re taking these actions for “the safety of our children,” even though there are already many laws in place to put forth the nominal but ultimately futile gesture of trying to keep erotic material out of kids’ hands. I can understand the desire to shelter kids from expressions of sexuality that look violent on their surface, like spanking (and violence is far more “pornographic” to me than sexuality ever could be), but if you’re going to say that you can’t shoot pictures or videos of erotic spankings, then shouldn’t there be similar restrictions against showing spankings at all on the BBC and other British broadcasters? Hell, why not ban spanking as a form of punishing kids altogether? (There is a ban in schools, but parents and other guardians can still spank their children.) When you tell British kink producers that they can’t do any more spanking or caning, that takes away a significant chunk of what they can do; if British kink erotica is known for anything, it’s for replicating scenes of Victorian schoolroom discipline. Very few people would argue that we should never show a spanking of any kind on television or DVD ever again, if only because would place us hip-deep in Hays Code territory, so what difference does it make if the spanking is part of a BBC drama or an erotic film?

I can understand why strangulation is lumped in as a “potentially life-endangering action,” but any exchange of bodily fluids falls into that category as well. If you want to redefine that category to something along the lines of “actions that appear to be committed with murderous intent” then I can go along with that when it comes to strangulation, but fisting? How is fisting a “life-endangering action” in any way? The only answer I can come up with is that the people who made these rules didn’t bother to research any of this stuff (which wouldn’t surprise me in the least), saw the word “fisting” and thought it was someone penetrating another person with a normal “fist.” It’s nothing at all like that, but you’ll have to research the details on that yourself because this blog is already too far out into TMI territory for my tastes, and I’m the one writing it. Banning fisting makes no sense unless you also want to ban all forms of manual penetration or overly-large phalli (natural and artificial), and those weren’t included in the ban, so I can’t help concluding that the people who wrote up these restrictions don’t understand what fisting actually is.

If there was any bright side to this madness, the restrictions against facesitting did give us the most unique protest movement in recent memory, but as many have pointed out, the face-sitting restriction, along with the restriction against female ejaculation, points to a huge problem in terms of gender inequality because they’re banning sources of female pleasure without similar bans on sources of male pleasure, something that hearkens directly back to the old, damaging stereotypes of women being sex objects, and the man being the only one who’s supposed to derive any pleasure from a (heterosexual) sexual activity. (Research “hysterical paroxysm” if you need a refresher on that whole thing.) Given that it’s possible to drown on a single teaspoon of water, and the average male ejaculate is much more than a teaspoon, shouldn’t ejaculating into someone’s mouth be banned as a “potentially life-endangering action” as well?

More to the point, these restrictions end up being self-defeating, because while they’ve restricted the production of these actions in the United Kingdom, people are still free to actually see those actions in photos and videos, just as long as the media was produced in another country. All this is going to do is force producers to move to the continent and continue their work there, with the UK losing a lot of tax revenue in the process. (Make no mistake, erotica production is a huge business.) We saw the same thing here in the states a few years back when California adopted a law requiring adult “performers” to wear condoms; a lot of erotica studios moved their production to Las Vegas, and California lost a lot of money. For the small-time and amateur producers, though, these kinds of restrictions could literally snatch their livelihoods out from under them if they can’t afford all the expenses of moving, so these restrictions cause a lot of harm without doing any good except for making the people who pass them feel better about themselves.

I understand people being averse to ways that other people like to experience sexual gratification; most of the activities covered by the new restrictions in the UK are things I’d cross the street to avoid any day of the week. There’s still a huge difference between disliking an activity and wanting to stop people from seeing it (or from making money producing media for people who want to see it). There are some depictions that governments have a legitimate interest in censoring (like snuff films), but when you prohibit so many actions all at once, some of which border on the benign, then it forces you to wonder what kinds of depictions a government might feel it has the right to censor from its citizens’ eyes the next time they want to feel like they’re “doing something” about the problems they see in society, instead of trying to fix real problems.

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