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Porn in a Place Where Sitting on Someone’s Face Is Illegal

A night-vision camera blurs across a nondescript outdoor space where a car is parked, the video picking up just as the door is opened. Inside sits a young blonde woman, her lacy bra pulled down to reveal her breasts and her tight skirt hiked up to reveal similarly lacy panties. In the camera’s green glow, she lazily exits the car, showing off her body to several men who have gathered around and who are openly masturbating. One appears much older; another appears to be wearing sweat pants. The cameraman, amazed at what he’s seeing, whispers breathlessly, “She’s a real shower, this girl.” The men clumsily take turns having sex with her for the next 23 minutes — standing up beside the car, on the ground next to the car and directly on top of the hood of the car (its license plate in full view).

The video has more than a million views on PornHub, where if you type “U.K.” into the search bar, “amateur” and “dogging” are the top two autofill options. It’s a prime example of both categories, which when placed together constitute one of the most popular forms of U.K.-produced porn today.

Dogging, though not well-known in the U.S., is a subcultural sexual phenomenon throughout the U.K. It essentially consists of people gathering to have sex in or around their parked cars or outdoors in parks. It’s been a favorite pastime for exhibitionists and swingers for decades; it’s also proven popular with BBC radio announcers and at least one football star. Dogging occurs in spots well-known to dogging enthusiasts — and often, to chagrined members of their local communities — in roadside parking areas. They typically arrange encounters online beforehand, though part of the excitement of dogging is having sex with strangers, so most participants keep the pre-sex communication to a minimum. It’s always incorporated an element of voyeurism; nonparticipants are usually welcome to watch, and often to film, as a number of men engage in sex with one woman who makes herself available to them.

Its rampant popularity on PornHub is the culmination of a long history of the British porn industry making the best of a bad situation, and it speaks volumes about the current state of pornography in Great Britain. “The problem with the [British porn] industry today is that it still has this legacy of amateurism associated with it because it’s been clandestine,” says Oliver Carter, a senior lecturer in media and cultural theory at Birmingham City University. The history of sexual media in Great Britain goes back centuries, but he says, “It was illegal to distribute pornography in the U.K. — okay to make, but illegal to distribute — until the late 1990s. So you had production, but it was mainly for export.”

Specifically, non-explicit “glamour films” were produced as early as the 1940s and shipped to mainland Europe and the U.S. Hardcore material also was filmed, with notable outlaws like John Lindsay in the 1970s and Michael Freeman in the 1980s distributing their films illegally and on a small scale domestically. It wasn’t until 2000, however, that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the U.K.’s equivalent of the MPAA, updated its policies to catch up to the imported porn that was entering the country from elsewhere in the world. As such, the BBFC instituted a new classification — R18, which is roughly analogous to our X rating, with the notable difference being that while the Crown must classify every explicit film to be sold on film or DVD in the U.K., the X rating isn’t trademarked or overseen by the MPAA, so American pornographers can apply the X rating if they want, but it isn’t required.

The R18 classification was applied specifically to hardcore films and videos, so long as this material didn’t include any acts on a long list of items discouraged by the Crown Prosecution Service, the agency that provides what feminist fetish pornographer Pandora Blake calls “their list of tips to police” regarding prosecutable offenses. A few of the prohibited acts: BDSM-related activity like physical restraints that could cause lasting physical damage; role-play of nonconsensual acts; depictions of sexual threats, humiliation or abuse (even if consensual); and female ejaculation, which the BBFC considers urination. Scenes featuring this type of content had to be removed from films, or they’d be denied the right to be sold in sex shops around the U.K. — all of which, by the way, must receive permits from the government to stay in operation.

British pornographers, however, fought these regulations — particularly those around female ejaculation — and the government was hard-pressed to stick to its conservative guns. “We argued about female ejaculation in 2006, in a film called Match Mates, and it was overturned,” says Justin Santos, CEO and founder of Joybear Pictures, a feature film company that specializes in highly produced porn and depictions of female-focused sex.

Anna Span, a feminist pornographer, famously educated the BBFC in 2009 when it refused to give her film, Women Love Porn, an R18 classification. She wrote an informative treatise on the difference between urination and female ejaculation, which she sent to the Film Board along with scholarly essays, a book on the subject and testimonials from her cast and crew. She even had a sample of ejaculate from the set of the contested film and had a lab test it to prove that it wasn’t urine. (Suffice it to say, while the scientific community is still scratching its head over the subject, those with lived experience attest that these two phenomena are definitely not the same thing.)

Other filmmakers contested the BBFC’s rulings, too, and emerged likewise victorious. Still, pornogaphers have to tread lightly. “It’s illegal to sell unclassified DVDs in the U.K. Like, very illegal,” Pandora Blake says. “I know people who have gone to prison for 20 years for doing it. It’s also been expensive to get films classified [by the BBFC]. They charge you per minute. So to get a regular DVD classified costs you like £700, which no independent pornographer has!”

Naturally then, when the internet came along, the British porn industry was very excited. No R18 classification needed to distribute videos! No regulations! No fees!

Domestic porn production boomed until the British government introduced the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations of 2014 (AVMS). “They piggybacked off this EU regulation, which needed to be enforced in each individual member state,” explains Blake. “So, suddenly, this whole new industry that had sprung up online and had been enjoying this freedom of being unregulated gets regulated in one fell swoop.”

The AVMS regulations, which more or less mirrored the R18 classification for film and DVD porn, were applied to hardcore videos available through video-on-demand or other streaming platforms. And though the AVMS regulations were were meant to bring internet porn more in line with existing BBFC regulations, they were much maligned for taking aim at female pleasure — face-sitting and squirting in particular. (There were protests about the former, with activists staging “facesitting sit-ins” in front of Parliament.) “[The government] believes that it’s actually urine when the girl’s squirting,” says Paul Taylor, the mastermind behind the popular porn web series Nerd Pervert. “That she’s basically just having a wee. It was very sexist. Why [are] women’s sexual things getting banned and yet blokes’ aren’t?”

Further, Blake’s website, Dreams of Spanking, was taken down because it depicted sadomasochism. Blake, who produces ethically made and feminist-minded spanking content, appealed the decision to the British Office of Communications on the grounds that her website didn’t fit the “video-on-demand” description in the regulations, and won.

After all, the U.K., for all its censorship, has a long-standing love affair with the pleasures of strong-minded women. Blake’s victory was a win for the grand tradition of what Laura Helen Marks, a postdoctoral fellow at Tulane University focusing on sexuality and media, calls “The English Vice” (or “pleasure in pain”) — something that’s left a deep mark on the British erotic psyche. “There’s that history of 19th century pornographic literature of flagellation and being whipped and caned, and the pleasures of having a governess — this sort of male submission,” says Marks. “Spanking. Going to boarding school. All of this rigidity. And a lot of that culture involves either a domineering woman, like a governess, or a punishing woman.”

And yet, in the end, the new regulations caused “a lot of people who I respect to shut down their businesses,” says Taylor. “That was worrying and awful to see.” Even Span, ever the feminist spitfire, decamped to the U.S. in 2014 to escape the censorship of female pleasure in her work — just some five years after taking a stand on female ejaculation in her films.

All of which brings us back to dogging videos. In their own way, they involve female agency, too — albeit much differently than previous generations of British-made porn. In the vast majority of straight dogging videos, a woman goes dogging not because she’s being paid, coerced or forced, but because she wants to. And although dogging might be seen as a male fantasy because it often shows numerous men being pleasured, “those dogging videos are so much fun because the women always seem so into it and really enthusiastic,” says Marks. “When I watch them, I don’t see any passive women.”

That said, it’s not much of an industry in a monetary sense. Most of these videos are made by amateurs and uploaded to free tube sites. And while Killergram, one of the few remaining high-end British studios, has filmed a series of dogging scenes featuring big-name stars like Tallulah Thorn, most dogging porn online is unpaid and not particularly well executed. In fact, this amateurism is typical of much of the content produced by what passes for a porn industry in the U.K. these days.

“There were a lot more U.K. companies shooting back when I first started [in 2002],” says Taylor, who estimates that there are fewer than 10 studios in the U.K. shooting regular content for domestic distribution. “Now, there’s just amateur companies. There’s no unity anymore, and it’s all because the porn industry [is] pretty much dead over here.”

Nerd Pervert is doing well, but that’s mainly due to Taylor’s partnership with an American company that distributes his content. It’s a strategy many British porn makers pursue. For example, Petra Joy, a German pornographer whose long made feminist content in the U.K., does her business through a Spanish company. Similarly, longtime stalwart sites Fake Taxi and Fake Agent have recently been bought by MindGeek, the porn conglomerate behind Brazzers, PornHub and most other big-name porn sites. Even those companies that remain British-owned, like Joybear Pictures, don’t focus too much on the British market. “The U.K. market is pretty small for us,” says Justin Santos. “So we largely export. From a trading point-of-view, it’s almost irrelevant that we’re British.”

https://twitter.com/FakeTaxiFun/status/861316970075103232

With the British industry shrinking, performers from the U.K. find work in other markets. “British accents are highly fetishized elsewhere,” says Marks. And so, many British performers hop across the English Channel to film in other European countries or take to the U.S. — like well-known British stars Tanya Tate and Sophie Dee. Further draining the British porn economy is other sex work. Escorting is legal there, and because there’s so little work available for porn performers, many choose to primarily escort, only supplementing their income with porn. The result is a very small pool of performers available to make smut.

Worse yet, next year, the Digital Economy Act of 2017 will require all pornographic websites in the U.K. — as well as all international websites that accept payments from U.K. consumers — to move all nudity behind age-verification walls, a prohibitively expensive prospect for an already-weakened group of producers. “What they’re doing is making it impossible to do business in the U.K.,” says Taylor.

It’s already succeeding, too. Case in point: Blake has announced she will take a step back from her production work for Dreams of Spanking. She’s been unable to turn a profit after her site was reinstated, and she’s leery of what the Digital Economy Act will do to her already-small bottom line. “My view is that all it will do is push the industry underground,” speculates Oliver Carter.

But with amateur dogging videos already an online porn phenomenon that brings little profit to a besieged domestic industry, isn’t it underground already?