Drawing lines

In which we discuss pornography, consent, and legal proposals

Today’s Top News Story: the government is planning to ban extreme pornography.

Now, as this idea goes: where’s the downside? It’s going to be a vote-winner, and the Opposition are bound to take the “well, we would have done this years ago!” line. But it does open up a rather nasty can of worms which, being your stereotypical Woolly-Minded Liberal,* I have no idea what to do about. The question is: what is porn? More importantly, what is extreme?

There’s no doubt that an awful lot of the stuff out there on the internet is only going to be attractive to a tiny minority of people. If you think you’re the only person out there with your particular fetish, then you’re wrong: someone somewhere will probably already have created a website devoted to it. The problem with that, of course, is that some people’s fetishes really are not things that anyone else is going to approve of. Now, I personally have no problem with what anybody wants to do in private, but the keyword there is consensuality. Where fetishes involve doing things without the other person’s consent, it’s not acceptable to me.

The can of worms comes into it, though, when you consider that the proposed law would outlaw pornography that shows illegal acts. The problem is that in British law, the legality of a lot of S&M sex is a very grey area. Even if you want your partner to do certain things to you, it might not be legal.** The second can of worms is that, looking at downloaded graphics, it can be impossible to tell if consent was given at the time. Indeed, some writers and campaigners would claim that no porn is consensual at all, because of the cultural context surrounding it.

There’s a lot of stuff out there, and a lot of it makes me sick to the stomach. But, even so, I’m fully expecting that this law – and it will become law – will go too far, and that we will see people being prosecuted for downloading images that, to my mind, are entirely harmless.

* I’m even a Guardian reader.

** The most famous legal case in BDSM circles is the Spanner Trial, in which a group of gay men were convicted and imprisoned for actual bodily harm even though the “victims” had consented; it is not the only one, though.

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , ,


3 comments on “Drawing lines”

  1. Gordon says:

    If you put aside the “what is healthy porn” debate for a second I think this law is a load of balls.

    The really BAD stuff, the stuff that everyone (in society) agrees is indecent is the stuff this law is aimed at but, and you’d think they’d have learned this by now, making something illegal very rarely stamps it out.

    And anyway a lot of the nastier stuff is already “underground” so even if the main aim of this law is to make it less accessible then it’s already a bit late.

    Now back to “healthy porn”. Playboy TV acceptable? Page 3? What about catalogs of ladies underwear? Will Ann Summers be driven out of business?

    How the hell decides that MY fetish for white stockings and CFM heels is “extreme” (I’ll happily admit that my other fetish is – but then not everyone likes watching goldfish have sex…).

    It’s an odd law this one. It’ll get some votes but it’s hard one (hahahaha) to sell across the board.

  2. Forest Pines says:

    The point is, I think, that it sells well to the Daily Mail-reading voter, and it’s the sort of law that you really can’t say no to without being swarmed on by the usual “but think of the children!” types. The problem, as you say, is that judging what is and isn’t offensive enough to be banned is basically impossible.

  3. […] I’ve spoken several times before about the proposed Extreme Pornography Bill. Which will, it’s planned, criminalise possession of pornographic pictures* which appear to show people at risk of serious harm. […]

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