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Still from Secretary (2002)

The feminist pornographer fighting government censorship

Pandora Blake’s BDSM site Dreams Of Spanking was banned by the UK over its ‘harmful’ content

By now, the UK government’s attitude to pornography is well-known. After attempting to block the genre from all internet providers last year, the Conservatives have made every effort to cut down on our consumption; classifying porn as “harmful”, and blaming it for a rise in “unwanted” sexual activity. One December 2014 ruling even went as far as to ban some of its more niche (and bizarrely inoffensive) activities, such as face-sitting, fisting, spanking and female ejaculation.

Unfortunately – though it’s easy to make fun of David Cameron’s lustrous face getting flustered at the thought of a good squirt – there have been some heavy consequences to these bans. Pandora Blake’s award-winning BSDM site Dreams of Spanking, which is billed as a queer feminist porn site, was swiftly shut down after the blocks came into action. “To have the government crack down on fetish material, telling me, as a woman, that my sexuality is deviant and harmful to children, and that there’s something wrong with me...” she trails off. “It was harrowing. It made me wonder what sort of country I was really living in.”

Blake has since spent the last year conducting her own legal investigation into the ruling, which was enforced by the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD) watchdog. According to their regulations, her site – which mainly featured footage of consensual spanking and female dominance – was a direct violation of the government’s laws on censorship. “The AVMS regulations are about patriarchal institutions trying to enforce a heteronormative, kink-phobic sexuality,” she stresses. “Banning face-sitting but not deep-throat reveals a deep-seated misogyny that is suspicious of female sexual dominance and female pleasure. Banning squirting but not cum shots reveals the patriarchal belief that only men should gain pleasure from sex, and male visible orgasm is fine but female visible orgasm is obscene.”

“To have the government crack down on fetish material, telling me, as a woman, that my sexuality is deviant and harmful to children, and that there’s something wrong with me... It was harrowing” – Pandora Blake

Thankfully, Blake’s lengthy ordeal came to an end this weekend, when she finally won an Ofcom-backed appeal against the watchdog. With her site now set for reinstation, we caught up with the feminist pornographer to find out more about the trial, and why she thinks its so important that we fight the government’s threatening new stance on censorship.

Firstly, congratulations on the result this weekend, you must be thrilled. Has it been a long process?

Pandora Blake: I am absolutely over the moon. Standing up to government-sponsored censorship was a bit of a risk and it’s such a relief to have it pay off. Aside from the stress of losing a project that was more than a business, it was a piece of personal self-expression, I also felt horrible about the fact that my sexuality was being criminalised. As a kinky woman I have faced my share of shame and doubt about the fact that I fantasise about spanking – I always have, and I think it’s just the way I am, just like being bisexual. Making films expressing my kinky fantasies was an act of self-acceptance and empowerment, to show the world I am not ashamed. 

The porn you make is billed as both ‘queer’ and ‘feminist’. Why have you given it these labels?

Pandora Blake: For me, feminist porn is about the way the porn is made, promoted and presented. It means women are involved in production, and the films are shot for the female erotic gaze rather than the traditional straight, male viewer. Performers are given creative control over their scenes – choice of who they shoot with, what they do on camera, and freedom to exercise their autonomy on set. No one is pressured to do anything they don't want to do, limits are always respected and scenes and co-stars are chosen with a view to enthusiastic consent on the part of the performers. Queer/feminist porn specifically is about breaking down the gender binary, representing trans and NB performers, subverting gender stereotypes and not abusing heteronormative, homophobic, transphobic or misogynistic tropes. 

Why do you think the government find this kind of erotica so harmful?

Pandora Blake: I’m honestly not sure. Some of the laws claim to protect the safety of participants, but they’ve been put together without any consultation of actual BDSM practitioners, and have absolutely nothing to do with best practice, so this is nonsense. The argument I think is that depictions of ‘sexual violence’ will be distressing to young people and will lead them astray and make them more likely to do filthy things – or commit sex crimes – in later life. Actually, the opposite of that is true. The evidence shows that increased availability of erotic material reduces rates of sexual violence, whereas in countries where porn is banned (such as Utah) you see higher rates of sex crimes, teenage pregnancy, STI transmission and divorce.

You do a lot of work with sexual law reform, and are staunchly anti-censorship. Why do you think this government’s attitudes are so damaging?

Pandora Blake: I don’t think this is a party political thing – when the Tories came out in favour of mandatory age verification and banning porn from the UK that didn’t comply with regulatory standards, the Labour party said it was ‘too little, too late’. As society becomes more progressive and tolerant, particularly with regards to gender and sexuality, there’s a strong conservative backlash and I think governments play up to this, using conservative moral ideas about sexuality as a way to bring in legislation that increases their control. It’s a power play, it’s a fear of the uncensored internet, and it’s about a fear of sexuality itself. I suspect that a lot of legislators who have particularly strong opinions about, say, porn or fetish sexuality, are dealing with sexual shame themselves.

“The argument is that depictions of ‘sexual violence’ will be distressing to young people and will lead them astray and make them more likely to do filthy things – or commit sex crimes – in later life. Actually the opposite of that is true” – Pandora Blake

Can you see their argument? Do you feel like, in some cases, porn could be damaging to young women?

Pandora Blake: I think that porn, like any other entertainment medium, has good and bad examples and includes a lot of material that is sexist, and a lot of material that is progressive, feminist and positive. You see the same mixture in Hollywood, in video games, in music videos and in any other entertainment industry. I think that actually the way that women are represented in Hollywood films and in advertising is far more problematic than porn, because porn also celebrates women as the stars of the show, and is an industry in which it’s much easier for women to take control of the means of production and become directors themselves. Eight per cent of Hollywood directors are women, but nearly 50 per cent of porn directors are. I’m not going to say that a lot of mainstream, male gaze, heteronormative porn isn’t sexist, offensive or problematic, but I think it’s unfair to target the porn industry specifically as ‘damaging to young women’. Misogynistic porn is a symptom of misogyny in society, and we need to look on a much broader cultural scale if we want to avoid the normalisation of misogynistic tropes.

What are your hopes for the future?

Pandora Blake: I want to see the AVMS regulations overturned, and I’m hoping for a complete review of UK obscenity law to bring it up to date with current social standards. I'd like to see the laws repealed that criminalise kink activities resulting in so-called "bodily harm" (ie welts and bruises that will heal in a few hours or days) without any reference to the consent of the participants. I want to see porn destigmatised and demystified, with better sex education in schools that prepares young people for the media they will encounter in their lives. I want to see the sex industry completely decriminalised, including consensual sex work as well as consensual adult porn. Am I hopeful? Yes – I have to be, to keep fighting. There is a lot of work still to be done!

This interview has been edited and condensed for length