The UK government has recently moved to criminalize both production and consumption of porn that it deems "grossly offensive and disgusting." Clause 63 of the new Criminal Justice Bill defines this kind of porn as containing "real or pretend" acts which: (1) threaten a person's life; (2) may result in serious injury to the breasts, anus and genitals; (3) involve sexual interference with a human corpse; and (4) contain a person performing intercourse or oral sex on an animal. The law will effectively ban most ‘violent’ pornographic depictions, as well as images and stories featuring necrophilia and bestiality.

Is this law an intrusive policing of sexuality that will end up criminalizing most adult-consensual BDSM online communities? Or will it help to reduce violent sexual crimes, as the government claims?

If we accept the constructivist contention that sexuality is constituted by social discourses, it would appear that the UK government might have a point. Our sexual “natures” are not the expression of some internal, bio-psychological state, but are instead effects of cultural production. Thus, removing a key source of words and images that construct violent sexual desires will reduce the incidence of those desires. Presumably, if sexual violence is not craved, then it is much less likely to be implemented non-consensually. Banning ‘extreme pornography’ will reduce the amount of rapes, murders, kidnappings and tortures that are of a sexual nature.

Although this perspective appears to make intuitive sense, it represents a highly flawed and immature understanding of social constructivism. First of all, banning violent porn is not going to eliminate violent sexual desires. Violence is so much a part of our art, cultures, religions, history and daily life that eliminating the sources by which violent sexualities are constructed would require a censorship program of Stalinist proportions. Millions of paintings, movies, history books, works of fiction, holy texts, government policies etc… would have to be eliminated in order for this ‘purge of violent material’ to be truly successful. Eliminating violent sexual desires is as impossible as eliminating all instances or depictions of violence that might inspire those desires.

Furthermore, what is so bad about violent sexuality if it is practiced in an adult-consensual context? It is certainly a much more ethical alternative to violence as it is usually committed. What is more immoral? Torture and humiliation at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s henchmen, U.S. authorities at Abu Ghraib and Nazi ‘scientific’ experimenters? Or the same kinds of activities in an adult consensual framework, in which there are codes of conduct (such as ‘safe words’) that can ensure safety and security for all practitioners? Most violence is committed on a non-consensual basis, and it is that violence that is most morally questionable. Pleasure through consensual violence can be unproblematic if there are sufficient safeguards for the health of all concerned.

Thus, if the government were truly interested in providing some kind of regulation for ‘extreme pornography’, it would do well to pass laws that bind producers and consumers of such porn to accept an adult-consensual and safe framework of activity. For instance, requiring porn producers and users to sign statements about the necessity of adult-consensual safeguards in violent sexual situations would be a major step forward. Another useful policy is mandating that violent porn websites have to feature at least one page that lists guidelines for safe and healthy BDSM. If the government is actually concerned about people who want to practice violent sexuality, then it should enforce these kinds of regulations. The government should also avoid passing measures that would inhibit BDSM parlors (which usually have very well developed standards of collective safety and rule-enforcement) from practicing. In the 1990s, “decency laws” in many Western countries forced BDSM establishments to shut down or disperse to isolated parts of town. Thus, violent sexual cultures lost major institutions that encouraged adult-consensual and safe behavior.

Another issue that practitioners of violent sexuality should be aware of is the implications of structural violence in society. Women, racial and sexual minorities are frequently the subjects of systematic violence. Eroticizing sadism against these particular groups is, thus, highly problematic: sexist, racist, homophobic and ableist discourses can perpetrate sexuality, as they can any other social practice. I am certainly not advocating for a ‘ban’ on BDSM practices that reflect patterns of social dominance. Rather, it is simply necessary for the participants in such practices to be aware of the social implications of their actions. There is a risk that social oppressions reproduced in sexuality can feed back and reinforce dominance in the wider social realm. Practitioners of violent sexuality should at least be aware of this risk.

Overall, the UK government’s move to ban ‘extreme porn’ is a mistake. It is not going to contribute to a reduction in violent sexual crimes. If the government is truly interested in regulating ‘violent sexual practices’ (and ensuring the safety of its citizens), it should use ‘extreme porn’ websites to spread awareness about adult-consensual and safe BDSM practices.

***For More Information***
The Wikipedia page on ‘extreme porn’ has a surprisingly good summary of the concept as well as an insightful analysis of the debate around it. Also, check out the following articles:
In addition, take a look at this very interesting ‘diagram’ of various kinks and fetishes:
For a useful analysis of how ‘decency laws’ have forced the closure of BDSM establishments that encouraged safer sex, adult-consensual practices and ‘healthy play’, check out Michael Warner’s excellent book, The Trouble With Normal. I have also dealt with a similar topic in a previous post.

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