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Feminist Pornographers Stage a 'Fisting Volleyball' Protest Outside Parliament

Oct 18 2016 11:55 AM
Feminist Pornographers Stage a 'Fisting Volleyball' Protest Outside Parliament

All photos by Alice Zoo

New UK regulations will require people to prove that they are adults before accessing sexual material online. But porn performers and privacy activists have concerns.

I arrive at the Kink Olympixxx just in time for the fisting volleyball. A woman clad in a red rubber dress and oversized sunglasses punches an oversized beach ball towards a red-haired woman in a corset. She scores a point and the assembled crowd—wearing mostly fetish gear—cheer. The Houses of Parliament wink in the October sun behind them.

I'm at the self-styled Adult Games to watch feminist pornographers, sex workers, privacy campaigners, and activists protest a new law that is currently being debated by the British parliament. The Digital Economy Bill would require porn sites to introduce age verification from 2017. The plans have alarmed those within the sex industry and civil liberties campaigners alike.

For small-scale producers like queer feminist pornographer Pandora Blake, the financial burden of checking the ages of everyone visiting her site, Dreams of Spanking, would make her business unprofitable. "My site has a turnover of around £2,000 a month," she explains. "If I was to age verify all of my users, it would cost me more than my turnover. It's not cost effective."

All photos by Alice Zoo.

Blake—whose outfit is half Victorian sex worker, half Suffragette—is used to taking on the censors. In August 2015, UK regulatory authorities took down Dreams of Spanking under widely condemned legislation that criminalized the depiction of a host of acts in porn—such as spanking that leaves marks, face-sitting, or female ejaculation. Blake won an appeal and was free to spank once more, but her success was short-lived. If the Digital Economy Bill is passed, she and many of her sex industry peers will find themselves out of a job.

"The porn industry in the UK is going to massively suffer," Blake argues. "The Digital Economy Bill will increase the monopoly of the mainstream tube sites [such as Redtube], and wipe out a cottage industry of small-scale producers who won't be able to bear the cost of installing age verification systems." And with fines of up to £250,000 for sites that fail to check people's ages, only the porn industry behemoths—hardly known for their ethically produced or female-centric content—will survive.

Read more: Protesting for Basics

Around 50 people have converged on a Westminster lawn for today's protest. In front of me, a middle-aged man in ass-less chaps bends over and I get an unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome, view. A tall woman in a leather gimp mask circulates a silver tray stacked with fondant fancies. A small stand offers sandwiches and chocolate cake. If it weren't for the fact that absolutely nobody here should be allowed anywhere near a naked flame, the protest would have the air of a classic British garden party—albeit slightly more obscene.

Campaigners argue that the Digital Economy Bill doesn't just annihilate sexual freedom, but also poses grave privacy risks. I grab Myles Jackman, a prominent obscenity lawyer, for a quick chat. He's wearing a red toastmasters jacket, court shoes trimmed in the exact same shade ("mere coincidence!"), and a rubber waistcoat ("bespoke.")

"Initially it might seem sensible that children shouldn't be able to access adult porn," Jackman acknowledges. "But introducing a system where porn companies have to verify users will lead to the creation of a huge database. The state will be able to access our personal sexual preferences." He warns the data could be monetized and sold to third parties—or even worse, targeted by hackers and leaked online, Ashley Madison-style.

Age verification isn't as simple as just ticking a box to confirm you're 18. "You'll need to prove your age, so that could mean scraping your Facebook for private details or requiring you to put your credit card details in," Jackson says. "If that information gets in the wrong hands, how will you feel when your sexual preferences and personal detail are leaked into the public domain for all of your friends to see?"

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Regardless of your sexuality or gender identity, the new legislation has the potential to limit our scope for sexual exploration online. But it's LGBTQ groups who'll suffer the most. "The bill will adversely affect my life and friends of mine who make amazing niche porn," explains Molly, a 30-year-old porn performer and sex worker who uses they/them pronouns. "Phallocentric heteronormative porn is seemingly unregulated, but queer acts like fisting or squirting are seen as obscene."

Under the new regulations, all websites designed for sexual arousal—both those classified as 18 and R18 (more hardcore porn)—will be age-verified. Molly believes this will have a deleterious effect for young people exploring their identity.

"Trans and queer youth get a lot of their sex education from the internet," they argue. "The idea you'll have to put your details into a website is too much of a risk. I feel like a lot of trans and queer people will be blocked from accessing this information. That's potentially life-risking."

Behind us a collection of campaigners from the English Collective of Prostitutes, Privacy International, the Open Rights Group, Jackman, and Blake take to the podium. Behind them, signs read "Urine for a shock if you expect us to stop" and "Shame on you, we come too."

After a fisting joke (she clearly knows her crowd) Blake explains how the new legislation feels like an affront to her very identity as a queer woman. A man in a ball gag nods in agreement.

Pandora Blake.

It's nearly time for the squirting water fight, but sadly I've got to get back to the office. As I leave I notice a group of tourists gawping at the assorted fetish wear. I expect bondage gear isn't seen in Westminster often (although, who knows?)

For today's protest, though, it's pretty fitting. After all, if you're going to challenge state constraints on sexual freedom, why not turn up in bondage restraints?

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