Dear Dreams of Spanking,
You are the realisation of my hopes and dreams. You are the safe space I dreamed of creating for people to explore and express their spanking fantasies without shame; a community offering reassurance and support to likeminded kinksters. You are my proof that a spanking site bringing together all genders and sexual orientations can be a success. You model a way of publishing online porn that makes explicit the difference between fantasy and reality, and transparently reveals the enthusiastic consent of those taking part. You do all this while paying performers and contractors decent market rates, never exploiting unpaid labour, and paying me last, if at all. I am so proud of you I might burst.
Cynical people told me that this commitment to integrity would make you untenable as a business, but in 2015 you were a financial success. You had enough traffic and a high enough turnover to cover your costs, invest in exciting new productions, hire contractors to help with editing and marketing, and still have enough left over to pay me a reasonable wage for my time. Eventually, if you had been allowed to continue uninterrupted, I would have been able to train up trusted team members to do more of the production, post-production and marketing, until I could step back completely. I would have been able to keep earning income from you as the business owner, while I freed up time to move on to new porn projects. As a self-employed person I don't have much of a pension plan, but you were my nest egg.
If it hadn't been for ATVOD, we'd have pulled it off. You would still be flourishing and I'd be halfway through nursing your sister site to life. But that's not what happened.
ATVOD singled you out for censorship, investigating you while ignoring other UK spanking sites. I still don't know why this was, but I can guess: you became a target when I criticised the oppressive AVMS regulations in mainstream media. Or perhaps it was your queer and female-gaze depictions of masculine submission that singled you out as subversive. Either way, I regret nothing. Integrity and inclusivity are two of your core values, and I’m proud to have stood by your principles.
I endured the trauma of the investigation, the threat of being outed, and the bitterness of having to put you to sleep while you were in your prime. And then we won our appeal. We emerged victorious over ATVOD, gained the moral high ground and saw the whole organisation disbanded. Even better, we won the right to publish the content we had been prevented from publishing - and we've spent the last year doing just that.
So let’s talk about these last twelve months.
When you re-opened after a ten month hiatus, you were in a state of financial precarity that put me in a triple bind. I’d hoped that if we generated enough press coverage around the appeal win it would boost sales enough to cover my losses, but since we re-opened you’ve never recovered your former success. I’ve been juggling three fulltime jobs: political campaigning against the Digital Economy Act, editing new content to keep you updated, and since neither of those things have been paying me enough to live on, I’ve had to somehow find time to do enough billable work to pay the rent. It’s been a tough year, and I’ve been able to give neither you nor the campaigning the attention you deserve. I’ve stubbornly persisted, because I love you and I don’t want to let go. But it’s time I accept that this isn’t working.
Since your hiatus, sales haven’t been high enough to afford to hire editing help, so my only option has been to cut back the amount of content I put out each week. In the good old days, we’d publish a complete new spanking video plus photoset, trailer, and behind the scenes video every week - and preparing and promoting all that is considerably more than a full time job for one person. So then I cut it back to a photoset one week, an audio story another, and started splitting longer videos over multiple updates. And I still haven’t been able to stay on top of it. There have been too many missed updates this year, and you and your members deserve better.
I’ve been so busy it’s been hard to take stock, but even so, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching since the appeal win. Throughout the autumn, with the Digital Economy Bill looming and the future uncertain, I started to entertain the idea of leaving you. But I’d made a commitment to complete what we’d started. When ATVOD ruled against you, the idea that we might never have the right to release the content we’d already shot was one of the most painful aspects of it. It was deeply frustrating that creative endeavours I’d invested time, imagination, money and effort into might be thwarted. Then we became free to finish them, to put them out into the world, and I’ve felt myself stubbornly determined to carry out that commitment. Giving up would have felt like admitting defeat - like letting the government bullies win.
Morally and legally, we beat them and I’m glad of it. But in a practical sense, they’d already won before I even filed my appeal. They cut you down in your prime, wiped out years of carefully accumulated momentum and traffic, and turned you from a growing small business to an expensive hobby I can’t afford to continue.
I’ve been mulling it over for months, trying to decide what to do. In December I decided to not shoot anything new - it seemed pointless with the Digital Economy Bill hanging over us - and just keep going until we ran out of content. Originally I had enough scenes in the can to last until April; then the new slower update schedule stretched it out until June, and now every missed update delays the finishing line. It’s started to feel like completion is impossible. I’m away for most of July, and I absolutely don’t have time to prepare a month’s worth of updates in advance around the other paid work I’m doing. I’d set my sights on getting to the end of the content already shot, but I’ve had to accept I won’t manage it before I go away.
Trying to keep things limping along is just letting the situation continue indefinitely without conclusion. It's in my power to step away. A shift of attitude is all that's needed.
Love and fear
We’ve been together a long time. It’s been six and a half years since you opened for business, and I was working and planning for two years before that. You are a labour of love, and before the ATVOD investigation, you were a pleasure. I was passionate about you and preferred you to any other project. But under the present circumstances the weight of obligation is growing increasingly heavy.
I have always wanted to do what I love, and love what I do. Years ago, I sat down to create a job for myself which paid the bills, was creatively fulfilling, self-expressive, and politically worthwhile. You were what I came up with, and you ticked all my boxes. Then ATVOD came calling. Since then, the political importance of this work has become more acute - but it is no longer financially rewarding, and the constant legal struggles have made it hard for me to enjoy the creative aspect of the work. I used to pour my heart and soul into every update. The ATVOD investigation, the threat of being outed, the unfavourable ruling, the helplessness of waiting to hear my appeal result, and now the Digital Economy Act - all these have tainted my enjoyment of you. Since the appeal win I’ve stubbornly persisted in the face of financial losses, legal uncertainty and competing priorities, but now I only have time to do the bare minimum each week, it’s much less rewarding.
Spanking is a core part of my identity. It's my original fetish, hard-wired; it’s been with me for as long as I can remember. I am deeply attached to it, and spanking is what has kept me attached to you. Our relationship has always been one of love, as well as business. Now I need to ensure that I don’t let that love distort my ability to make rational decisions.
When I had to take you offline I was badly burned out, and it took about six months to recover. Now I'm finding myself heading towards burnout again. I need to start re-assessing my priorities, and putting what truly matters first in my life.
The thing is, this pressure of obligation is self-imposed. I can free myself if I want to. If I reprioritise, perhaps I can create more space for relaxation and celebration, and be able to enjoy some of the rewards the last few years has brought me. There are opportunities opening up for me, and I want to be able to take advantage of them rather than being stuck in the same situation forever.
For a while now, I’ve sensed that the rational decision was to stop updating you. And yet each time I’ve thought about it, I’ve found myself refusing to make that choice. So what am I afraid of?
You have brought me so much. Creative and erotic satisfaction, the pleasure of connecting with likeminded fetishists who affirm my interest and make me feel less alone. You’ve given me peer recognition, a political voice, social status. Our legal battles have brought me a reputation as a campaigner who keeps on fighting rather than backing down. I’m scared of losing that. I’m scared of giving up too soon. I’m scared of letting them win; and I’m scared of making people think that I’ve let them win.
The thing is, although we’ve been in conflict with UK authorities, ultimately this struggle is not with an external enemy, but with my own fear of letting go. My inner enemy is the very stubbornness that has made me a successful activist. That reluctance to back down, to lose face, has served me as a campaigner. But it’s not serving me now. An opportunity opens up for liberation and change; a new period of my life can begin.
The impact of age verification
I had hoped that this new period would be one in which you were a going concern, a profitable and liberated enterprise which could financially support me while giving me a space to express my authentic erotic self. But that’s not the world we find ourselves in. Thanks to the ATVOD hiatus and the Digital Economy Act, the economics are stacked too high against us.
Just for a second, let’s consider the possibility that I might want to keep updating you. I’d have to stop doing paid work and borrow money to free up time to build you back up to the successful business you used to be. It would mean going back to start-up mode, spending another couple of years accumulating debt and working for free. Realistically, to have a chance of being successful I’d also have to stop spending time on political activism, end my Patreon campaign and turn away from the chance to make a difference. But even if I wanted to do this - and I don’t - the new age verification rules would make it an impossible endeavour.
The mandatory age verification in the Digital Economy Bill leaves me three choices. To maintain my current level of page views, I’d have to pay several orders of magnitude more than your turnover each day to age verify every viewer. This is obviously not possible. To avoid having to age verify non-paying viewers, I would have to completely reorganise the site - months of unpaid work - and put everything classifiable as 18 or higher behind a paywall. I’d no longer be able to use any of the preview images, trailers, or explicit promotional materials I’ve spent years making. We’d make fewer sales as a result of not being able to publically promote the scenes in the archive, unless I spent yet more time creating new PG-13 promo materials for all the old scenes. Not only would this be a colossal waste of my time, it would lose the transparency which was always one of our core missions.
The third option is to geo-block all UK site visitors - 40% of your paying customers - and suffer a corresponding loss of sales. You’re already barely covering your costs, and I’m not getting paid enough to keep updating you. None of the available options are going to improve that situation.
The conclusion is clear. It’s time for me to step away. In fact, you’ve probably noticed I haven’t updated you for several weeks already. It was late April when the emotional reality of this situation hit home. In early May I went into hospital for an operation, and ended my twelve year relationship with D. It’s been a hard month, and I’ve had a lot to deal with. But even without those unusual circumstances, this would still have been the right decision.
It’s taken me a while to put this into words. I fear what your members will think; I don’t want to let them down. I don’t want them to feel disappointed, resentful or betrayed. I don’t want people to think that I’m weak, that I’m giving up too soon. But in the end, I shouldn’t be led by fear of what others might think.
For a few years, you were the reason I got up in the morning. I was gutted when ATVOD stopped us from doing the work we had set out to do. Now, a year after your triumphant re-opening, I’ve finally reached the point where I feel ready to step away.
Yes, I mourn the injustice that saw you cut down at your height. But what's happened has had a silver lining too. My campaigning against the AVMS 2014 and, more recently, the Digital Economy Act 2017, has given me the opportunity to challenge the criminalisation and stigma of sex work, and advocate for the right to enjoy consensual BDSM. My political work has taken me to places I’d never been before - from lobbying the House of Lords to leading the discussion on age verification at the Adult Provider's Network tech demo. I’ve built up a successful Patreon to support my ongoing political activism, and I'm finding myself increasingly drawn to this sort of work. I have you to thank for that, but ATVOD played their part in getting me fired up, too.
After the time I’ve spent with you, I know I can bring my dreams to life. I’ve learned how to build a successful enterprise, innovate, and take risks that pay off. You’ve given me confidence that any new venture I turn my hand to will yield results.
You have fulfilled your purpose, and it’s now time for me to move on. One of the hardest wisdoms of the heart is knowing when to leave a situation and let go. Our natural tendency is to want to have, to hold and to keep - letting go can seem a rejection of important values such as commitment, dedication and responsibility. But there is a season and a cycle to all things. Something that has served us at one time may now no longer do so. And I’m starting to realise that stepping away is not a rejection of one thing, but an embracing of another.
There is no need to blame anyone or anything in the past for my decision. I’m not bitter about ATVOD or the Digital Economy Act. These experiences have shaped me, given me skills and experience and connections, helped me step into my power. I see the future calling to me as I give thanks for the experiences of the past. Now, it’s time for me to take a break to recharge and rededicate myself to what I sense is the core purpose of my life.
So what does this mean in practice?
The Digital Economy Act has a one year window before enforcement will begin; we’re already a couple of months into that. So whatever changes I make to the site in response to the age verification requirement, they must be complete by next March, or earlier to be safe.
To avoid having to pay for age verification, I’ll have to geoblock UK IP addresses. This will mean that if you’re visiting the site from the UK and you aren’t using a VPN or onion router, you’ll be redirected to a PG-13 page which doesn’t contain any content that would be classified 18 or higher. Users from the rest of the world will still be able to view the site and buy access to scenes.
There won't be new weekly site updates. Current members will continue to have access to the archive. Members who bought subscriptions before this change was announced will be given extensions to their memberships to compensate them for the lack of new updates. If someone doesn’t have a membership yet and wants to be able to watch films in the archive, they will still be able to buy a subscription, but it won't entitle them to new content each week.
I still have several photo galleries, videos and audio stories which have not yet been published. I’d like to put them up at some point, but I’m not committing to any particular schedule. I’ll do it when I feel like it, if I feel like it. I suspect I’ll need to take a break for a while to recover my enthusiasm. I’m looking forward to this being a pleasure again; to sharing new spanking scenes for the joy of it, not because I’m tied to a neverending weekly obligation. Those with memberships will have access to new material when it comes out, and I might even give members a heads up when I’m working on something new - but I won’t be holding myself to any deadlines.
I’m planning a redesign. I’ve been meaning to do one for years, I even started work on it, but ATVOD et al got in the way. I’d like to set up more powerful video on demand functionality, with individual films available to stream or download without needing a membership. I’m not intending to walk away from you entirely; but I won’t have time to implement these changes while still struggling to edit new content every week.
What does the future hold?
Well. I still have so many porn ideas. New projects, new enterprises, new films. I doubt I’ll be gone for good. And without being tied down to a membership site, my time will be freed up to work on the new projects that excite me.
But in the short term, I think I’ll be taking a bit of a sabbatical. I’ve spent far too much time since 2009 editing porn and campaigning around porn politics, and not enough time with my loved ones, enjoying hobbies, or campaigning on any of the other social justice issues I care about. I have a book I want to write. I have plans that require money, and non-porn opportunities to earn it.
You can stay informed of what I’m up to by adding my blog pandorablake.com to your feed reader, and by following me on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram. If you want regular newsletters and sneak previews of my latest work in porn and out of it, you could consider becoming one of my supporters on Patreon.
So this is farewell, of a sort. Thanks, Dreams of Spanking. You’ve changed my life for the better. And I like to think that the two of us, in some small way, have changed spanking porn for the better, too. This has been the best job of my life, and now I find that I've reached a point where I am complete with it. Looking forward, the opportunities feel infinite. I’m excited about what I might do next.
Last weekend was the first ever London Porn Film Festival - a weekend of queer and feminist porn organised by queer community Wotever World. I managed to catch four out of five screenings, and attended three Q&As to accompany my films that were showing. I really enjoyed myself, and would love to write in more detail about some of the amazing porn I saw - keep an eye on my personal blog, and hopefully I'll post some reviews and recommendations for new hot, kinky, ethical porn when I get the chance.
They accepted two Dreams of Spanking films: Please May I Come, Mistress, and the new fast-paced edit of Bitch, which I renamed Queer as in Fuck You. In honour of its screening I've released it for free on Dreams of Spanking, so if you couldn't make it to the festival, you can watch it without a site membership here!
There was a lot of warmth and love for me in screening my work to my home community, a roomful of lovely queers many of whom I already knew. I think everyone else was feeling the love too, because the audience reception to both films was far and above the most positive response I've received so far. Everyone laughed at the jokes, got the little asides and comic moments, and enthusiastically applauded at the end - and I got lovely comments afterwards too from people who'd enjoyed the films. Perhaps it's a Londoner thing - all four performers in the films are from this city, and maybe there's a common sense of humour. But whatever the reason, I appreciated it.
Zak Jane Keir noticed it too, and has written a lovely blogpost about her experience seeing herself on the big screen for the first time.
The other factor that seems likely to have made it easier for the audience to get the jokes was that for the first time, both films were subtitled, and we were screening to a roomful of native English speakers. Dreams of Spanking films are often dialogue-heavy, and these two are no exception. Neither has particularly good audio quality; Queer as in Fuck You was shot before I upped my game and started using external mics to enhance sound quality, and Please May I Come, Mistress was an unexpected and spontaneous shoot when I didn't have my usual equipment. A couple of German speakers in Berlin told me that they found the rapid, quiet speech during the interviews hard to follow, so I was very happy to subtitle it in French for La Fete du Slip in Switzerland.
London Porn Film Festival were even more on the ball with language and accessibility - in fact, they were the most accessible porn film festival I've ever been to. Filmmakers were asked to submit English subtitles and audio description files for every film, to improve access for hearing and vision impaired members of the audience. The audio description was to be "exactly the same length, down to the frame, as the video file, and match up with it".
When I first got the email asking me to create those resources, I was fascinated to observe a short, intense ableist response flare up in me. Rather than admiring the LPFF for their strong stance on accessibility, my immediate reaction was frustration, feeling that this extra, unpaid work would be fiddly, tedious and unwelcome. Particularly around the audio description, I felt something along these lines: I've already created this film in my preferred medium to tell this story, it's done now. I don't want to have to go back and retell it another way, a way I never designed it to be told, having to comply with someone else's specifications! It's going to be unrewarding, and screening films at film festivals is meant to be about MY creative satisfaction, damnit!
Writing it out now, it sounds ridiculous - and in fact it didn't take long for me to get over myself and realise that of course creating accessibility materials was part of my job, and it was an honour to help my work reach a wider audience of people who were interested in viewing it, but wouldn't normally be able to. In fact, providing these sorts of materials was probably something I should be doing as a matter of course. So I made a conscious effort to shake off the ableist and self-involved reluctance, and got down to it. There was only one problem: I had never made an audio description file before, and I had no idea where to start.
The more I thought about it, the more confused I got. Surely an audio description of the film would take significantly longer than the film, as visual information is communicated more quickly than speech? Should I use the original dialogue and music to retain the voices of the performers and add mood and atmosphere - but then, that wouldn't leave many gaps to insert description?
Luckily, the lovely folks at the London Porn Film Festival were ready to answer my questions. They explained that audio description is transmitted at the same time as the film with a loosely-fitting headset, so whoever listens to the AD will hear all the film sound, including music and dialogue, as well as all the sound in the AD. Not all visually impaired people are blind, and many can see part of what's going on on-screen, which is why the timings need to match up, so the AD makes sense with the visuals they're seeing.
In fact, the advice they sent me was so valuable that I asked their permission to repost it in full. Since I was new to this, it occurred to me that other filmmakers might be, too; and so this guidance might be useful to others who want to make their work more accessible to visually impaired people.
The AD file should be just voice. Of course, not being able to describe everything is frustrating. But a lot of the personalities of Zak and Charlie can be picked up through their conversation, and their relationship is discussed in detail - perhaps their physical appearance is secondary? Very often, you go after what gaps are available and fill those with what seems right at that time, and that's as good as it's going to get.
I work professionally with AD scripts for mainstream TV, and I prioritise in roughly this order, with everything above taking precedence over everything below:
1. Not running the script over any dialogue or plot-pertinent sound effects, e.g. doorbell ringing
2. Stuff that's mentioned in dialogue but not explicity, e.g. someone points at a chair and mentions it without saying "chair", at which point the AD would say "Jim points at a chair" or whatever.
3. Characters present. Names if they've been introduced, brief descriptors if not.
6. Description of setting.
7. Description of characters' appreance and (non-plot-essential) clothing.
I'd say that in the majority of AD scripts I do, I rarely get below level five, and even then many actions that happen during dialogue will have to be excluded.
Armed with this information, I sat down and began the process of watching the films while noting down brief descriptions of actions every time there was a gap in the dialogue - and with these two films, there aren't many! I then did a second pass, reading my AD script aloud while playing the film again, and deleting anything that didn't fit. Once I had the wording down I set my mic up on my desktop, with the film soundtrack playing in headphones, and recorded the audio description at the same time as listening to the film audio. Finally, I laid the film soundtrack as a second track in Audacity and went through the recording and tweaked the timings of the audio description to make sure it didn't overlap any of the dialogue. Then I deleted the film soundtrack, and exported the audio description file complete with gaps in all the right places.
For two films, it was a long job, and sadly I don't have the resources to offer it as a matter of course for all Dreams of Spanking scenes. But it was an illuminating process. It enabled me to connect with my films in a new way, and perceive them as aural experiences, learning how they come across differently without the visuals. And it was fascinating to think about how visually impaired people might enjoy porn, and how pornographers might approach their work differently in order to create multi-sensory experiences that work on different levels for different types of viewer. It would be so cool to create a film that was just as effective an erotic experience if it was enjoyed aurally, or visually, as well as the combination of the two.
I'll upload the audio descriptions of Queer as in Fuck You and Please May I Come, Mistress to the scene pages, so you can try them out if you want to - and there are subtitle files for both films too, including both English and French for the latter. Plus, of course, if your sight doesn't permit you to fully enjoy Dreams of Spanking films visually, you would probably enjoy our audio spanking stories.
In the end, after a bit of a reluctant start, I enjoyed creating the audio descriptions for the London Porn Film Festival. And I was delighted when after the screening, someone came up to me after overhearing me talking to someone else, and recognised my voice from the audio description. They told me they'd really enjoyed it and they thought I'd done a great job with it. At the end of the day, that makes it all worthwhile.
A new video blog from me about yesterday's photoshoot for Dreams of Spanking, how I decided what to shoot and how, and some hints about what you can expect on Dreams of Spanking over the coming months. Worth a watch if you're interested in how the looming Digital Economy Bill in the UK will impact the site. Enjoy!
La Fete du Slip is a gender and sexuality film festival in Switzerland (I think it's slip as in panties or underwear). It's been running for a few years and has gained prestige in the international porn community, and Dreams of Spanking is joining them for the first time this weekend.
I first tried to take part in La Fete du Slip in 2015. After Houseboy won the Berlin Porn Film Festival short film competition, I felt encouraged to submit it to other festivals. But sadly it seemed that it wasn't to La Fete du Slip's taste. I figured that I was unlikely to make a better film than that any time soon, so perhaps my work just didn't suit them. I didn't think it would be worth trying again. But I was pleased and surprised in Berlin last October when Stéphane, one half of the brother-and-sister organising team, found me after the Fetish Porn screening to tell me that she'd loved Please May I Come, Mistress, starring Charlie J Forrest and Zak Jane Keir; and that she wanted to screen it at La Fete du Slip. Well!
So here I am, on the Eurostar to Paris, where I'll change trains and venture to Lausanne - my first visit to Switzerland. I am curious to discover whether the home of milk chocolate and cheese fondue will have vegan food I can eat. I'm sharing an airbnb with porn friends Livia and Parker Marx, and I'm so looking forward to catching up with them both, seeing other international porn fam, and immersing myself in queer, sex positive community.
When I watched Please May I Come, Mistress in Berlin I was pleased by how it came across, despite the appalling picture quality. (It was a DIY porn shoot; I hadn't intended to shoot porn that day, didn't have lights, and only had my oldest camera with me. If you don't know the story of how I came to shoot spontaneous porn at Eroticon with two brand new porn performers you can read it here.) But it was noticable that it was hard to catch what Charlie and Zak were saying. They both speak quite fast, and I hadn't had a proper audio recording setup; despite my best efforts to boost the dialogue, it was still hard to make out. So I'd already decided that I was going to need to create English subtitles for it at some point.
For La Fete du Slip, however, I needed French subtitles. I ran my English transcript through Google translate, but was well aware how lacking the result would be. I turned to Twitter to see if I could recruit a native French speaker who wanted to help with the translation in exchange for free porn. Big thanks to @bdsmfreq who valiantly stepped in. Did you know that the French for "come" is jouir? I do now.
Despite BDSMfreq's generous support, turning the French transcript into actual subtitles was a different ballgame. La Fete du Slip prefer hardcoded subtitles, and I would have liked to have had that much control over the aesthetic, but when I tried to use Premiere's built in subtitle feature the formatting and positioning looked terrible, and I couldn't work out how to fix it. Free subtitle software was equally frustrating. In the end I created a .srt file and hand-noted the timecodes for each line of dialogue, which the organisers kindly accepted. But this was my first time creating subtitles, and I'm nervous that I haven't left enough time for each line to be read. I'll be watching it on the big screen with my heart in my mouth to see if anyone can follow what's said.
Hopefully my efforts will be legible. But even if not, the bondage, spanking, teasing and orgasm control is still pretty hot.
Since Dreams of Spanking launched, I've been impatient to edit and release The Victorian Brothel. I chose the image of me over Tom's knee, wearing bloomers and a corset, as the homepage header image back when I designed the site in the summer of 2011. I always intended to create a rotating gallery of images on that header, showing a wider variety of scenes, but somehow I never found time.
I was incredibly proud of this film when we shot it. This was my second ever shoot as producer/director, a day with Zille Defeu, her husband Duncan, our friend Jay, Tom and me. The first Dreams of Spanking shoot had just been me, Jay and Tom. Those early shoots were a steep learning curve for me.
Until The Victorian Brothel, every scene was a crash course in new aspects of filming that I had to work out from scratch. There was a lot of stopping and starting. Trying to juggle the mental demands of directing with the physical and emotional challenges of bottoming on camera, I found it hard to avoid getting stressed. But The Victorian Brothel was our final scene of the day, and it was the first scene I'd produced that felt like it went well at the time. With Duncan, Zille and Jay behind the camera, Tom and I got into character and the roleplay flowed. It felt as natural as the roleplay scenes we played in private. Trusting our friends to capture our live improvisation, I was able to immerse myself in the scenario, get fully into character, and surrender to the beating without having to balance that headspace with other, more technical concerns. As a result I was able to take a much harder spanking, paddling and caning than I usually can while performing/directing, and I was really happy about it.
That was over seven years ago, in early December 2009. The reason I didn't edit this film before the site launched, along with the other two scenes we shot that day - Caned in Jodhpurs and Liberated Ladies of the Jazz Age - is simple. The Victorian Brothel was originally written as part of a series of films entitled The Adventures of Molly Brown. I'd written several episodes of it; this was the fourth chapter in the story. I hadn't had a chance yet to shoot episodes one to three, but the shoot with Zille and Tom was a perfect opportunity to shoot the episode in which my character meets his for the first time. I very much intended to shoot the others at some point, however; and I wanted to wait and release them in story order.
Sadly, I never got a chance to film the backstory. Episodes one, two and three fell by the wayside. And when I realised that the age verification policy in the Digital Economy Bill was going to put a cut-off point on my ability to keep the site alive in its current form, I finally accepted that I wasn't going to get the chance to shoot them any time soon. Meanwhile, I'm trying to release as much of the content I care about while the site is still legal in the UK.
So Molly Brown's story starts here: with her first appointment with a new customer in Mrs Slater's brothel. An urchin who grew up in the streets and the workhouse, Molly was sent out to work for various undesirable trades, but somehow always found herself sent back to face the the steely glare - and the hard leather strap - of the beadle. When Mrs Slater turned up to see if he had any new girls for her, he packed her off to the brothel - and Molly's life entered a new chapter.
Scrubbed to within an inch of her life, Molly began her transformation into a girl Mrs Slater's customers might find appealing. She earned her share of licks from the madame, too; but it was nothing compared to the beadle's strong right arm. When Mrs Slater saw how well Molly took her punishment, she thought to send her to one of her more eccentric clients, a gent with a predilection for administering corporal punishment to the plump bare bottoms of comely wenches. Molly lacked the elegance and accomplishment of other girls, but she was resilient and quick-witted, and Mrs Slater saw the potential to train her up to please her more unusual clientele.
Molly took well to Mrs Slater's training, and was finally declared ready to meet her first customer. But although Molly is no stranger to taking a beating, she still is not particularly inclined to behave submissively. Sparks fly between her and the gent as he tries to bend her to his will, and her quick tongue and stubborn nature get her into more trouble than she'd bargained for.
So that's Molly's backstory. You never know, it's not impossible I might be able to shoot the previous episodes sometime in the future - although perhaps I'll look too different by the time the stars align, and I have affordable access to the venues and cast I need. In the meantime I think this scene stands well enough on its own. Although I can tell you now that the next chapter has also been shot, and will be released in the coming weeks, starring myself, Tom, and a new character played by Leia Ann Woods...
Coming back to this film to edit it, seven years after it was filmed, was a weird experience. Tom and I split up three years ago, and it was very strange to watch us on camera. I almost felt like I was watching someone else; and yet in other ways seeing us together all those years ago felt very real, and very personal.
I remember writing this scene for us to play. Although Tom plays a very overbearing, bullying character, and to the uninitiated perhaps this scene might be edgy enough to seem non-consensual, I can tell you for certain that this scenario was my fantasy, and performing it was an authentic act of self-expression. But it was fascinating and somewhat dissonant to watch this recording, a piece of my own personal history, and reflect on how much has changed since then.
There are some aspects of this film that I would definitely do differently nowadays. For instance, the way that Tom's patriarchal character throws around the word "whore" makes me wince, now, as an advocate of sex workers' rights who is fighting against stigma and whorephobia. These days I would seriously consider before I took on the role of a historical sex worker, but back then I didn't think twice.
Editing this, I had the opportunity to reflect on how far Dreams of Spanking has come - not only politically, but technically. The Victorian Brothel was shot before I knew to record audio separately from the cameras, or to use face lights. It was a frustrating edit in some ways, as I struggled to salvage a legible soundtrack from two cameras that both had audio isses - one picking up a lot of wind noise (from where I have no idea, given we were indoors), the other plagued by mechanical clicks and whirrs from the operation of the camera. But I feel like I've managed to massage it into a shape that communicates my vision, hopefully without too many technical distractions. I hope you'll forgive any that remain.
For me, the power of this film comes from the interaction between the characters. It's a hard corporal punishment scene, both physically and emotionally - the intensity brings me/Molly to tears towards the end. But not only is the spanking itself severe, the atmosphere of the scene is rife with tension. The scenario unfolds as a battle of wills between a cruel gentleman with particular tastes, and a spirited wench who doesn't know when to keep her mouth shut. I certainly took more strokes, and harder, than if Molly Brown had been submissive than rebellious. But I loved it.
Life has moved on since Tom and I filmed this scene. We are no longer together, and there have been many changes for both me and Dreams of Spanking. But this film holds a special place in my heart. It shows what Tom and I did best - hard, accurate spanking that pushes me to my limits, quick-witted dialogue, sparks flying between two strong characters, and Tom's trademark brand of elegant, articulate dominance.
When I filmed this scene, it seemed to encapsulate everything I wanted to achieve with Dreams of Spanking: immersive roleplay between real life partners, lush costumes and locations, and imaginative historical settings with a quirky sense of humour and a rich attention to detail. That was why I chose a still from this scene as our banner image - and why, although much has changed since then, I'm still very pleased to share it with the world.
One of the things I've occasionally thought about, as a feminist who runs a spanking site, is content warnings. Fundamentally, the idea behind these is that if something might include content likely to trigger someone recovering from serious trauma, it's respectful to give notice in advance that the topic is likely to come up, so anyone who needs to can prepare themselves and isn't caught off guard.
I think it's a really great way of making material more inclusive. Yet I've never gone ahead and instituted content warnings on Dreams of Spanking, at least not overtly. What I do instead is to make the content of each scene very explicit in the tags and copy surrounding the film. I try not to spoiler plot twists, but I do often remove the element of surprise from how the story of a film unfolds, in the interests of pre-warning viewers what they can expect - both to catch the attention of people with particular niche tastes, and to pre-warn people who might find certain content distasteful or upsetting. So far, I've been happy with that system. But if any film on Dreams of Spanking has made me wonder if it should include a content warning, it's our latest film starring Tai Crimson.
When I was editing Caned at Home, I found parts of it so extreme - both in terms of the severity of the physical punishment and the nastiness of the verbal degradation and emotional abuse - that it made me feel uncomfortable. The whole scene was shot in a single take, so I didn't see any out-of-character interactions to break the tension and reassure me that Tai was okay with what was happening until the scene was over. However, I needn't have worried. The moment "cut" is called, Tai bounces up and enthusiastically tells me that she could have taken double the number of strokes. In fact, she almost seems disappointed that the scene hadn't been harder.
So I decided to reuse a film format that I trialled during our ATVOD investigation (and which may have played a part in our successful appeal win, although it's hard to be sure); showing snippets of out-of-character performer interviews or behind the scenes interaction both before and after the main film, to contextualise the fantasy in the real-world context of the performers' tastes and desires. Since we won our appeal, I hadn't particularly felt the need to do this - especially with films where the fantasy shows pleasure spankings and explicit consent. But Caned at Home is definitely not one of these.
If edgy domestic scenarios showing the disproportionately severe punishment of a helpless girl aren't a turn-off for you, Caned at Home has much to recommend it. In particular, the sequences of hard and fast cane strokes falling one after the other without a break are some of the most convincingly severe thrashing I've ever seen on a UK spanking site. Tai has a high tolerance, and this was the third time we'd played together; she'd asked me to push her to tears, and this was our last scene of the day, so there was no reason to hold back. As it turned out, even the nastiest verbal abuse I could come up with - and one of the hardest canings I've ever delivered on camera - weren't quite enough to break her.
Perhaps you love severe caning and verbal degradation as much as Tai does, in which case Caned at Home will be right up your street. But if, like me, you prefer to know for sure that the performers were into it before watching a scene of this intensity, I recommend watching the performer interview and behind the scenes video first, to reassure yourself that no only was Tai unharmed by the making of these scene, but actively enjoyed it. It's lovely to work with a young woman who is so in touch with her kinky sexuality, and so articulate at expressing her fantasies and fetishes.
Besides, severe canings that leave livid welts are most definitely not BBFC-compliant. Dreams of Spanking is currently the only UK spanking site where you can watch material like this, and we will remain so until the Digital Economy Bill means we have to stop, too. So enjoy it while you can.
A few years ago a news story broke online which caused a stir amongst spanking enthusiasts. Doctors in Siberia had been promoting a new "whipping therapy" to treat patients suffering from addiction and depression. A 2005 article describes how "Russian scientists from the city of Novosibirsk, Siberia, made a sensational report at the international conference devoted to new methods of treatment and rehabilitation in narcology. The report was called “Methods of painful impact to treat addictive behavior.”" The idea is that addiction and depression often are caused by decreasing production of endorphins - and the pain caused by corporal punishment can stimulate endorphin receptors and rekindle the "production of happiness". The scientists recommended that consenting adults judged psychologically fit for the treatment receive a course of thirty sessions, each consisting of 60 cane strokes on the buttocks, accompanied by counselling and therapy.
Although the therapeutic effects of corporal punishment practised by enthusiasts can hardly claim clinical success, all of us who enjoy spanking know how beneficial it can be. Personally, I find that spanking - particularly caning - grounds me in my body, making me feel calm and centred. Being physically punished focusses me on my breath, in the moment, and quietens my busy mind. When you're being caned, you aren't thinking about anything else.
I find it reduces anxiety and irritability, increases my sense of my own resilience and makes me believe I have the power to tackle the things I'm struggling with, and increases my zest for life. Plus if it's done by the right person in the right way it can be very sexually exciting too.
I'm not a doctor, and it would be presumptuous for any of us to claim that our spanking practice is seriously rooted in medical science. But the idea of spanking as a form of treatment approved by the medical establishment is an appealing fantasy. Plus, it's an excuse for me to pull out my nurse uniform...
In The Russian Treatment, patient Mike Pain has admitted himself to a specialist clinic after suffering from depression and malaise. The clinic is trialling an experimental therapy which uses the application of corporal punishment, beginning with hand spanking in the first session, then - in part 2 - escalating to the strap and, finally, the cane.
The treatment has many benefits. Spanking boosts the circulation and triggers the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. Patients report that it reduces anxiety, relaxes them, and improves sleep and mood. Nurse Pandora is careful to explain everything before asking Mike to sign the consent form - but it turns out that Mike doesn't take much persuading.
Lying over the nurse's knee on the bed, Mike surrenders to a firm hand spanking and deep bottom massage. He seems to take to the therapy very quickly... so quickly in fact that one can't help wondering whether this is the first time he's experienced something like this.
One week later, it's the final session of Mike's course of treatment. In the intervening time he's received daily spankings, including applications with the strap and cane; six strokes from Nurse Molly. Now, Nurse Pandora gives him another dose of the leather strap, administering ever harder strokes as Mike kneels on the wooden stool at the foot of the bed, his whole body rocked by the sharp blows.
Finally, it's time for the last caning of the treatment. On the nurse's recommendation, he receives twelve very hard strokes - a level of punishment that not every patient can endure. On all fours on the bed, Mike's upturned bottom is exposed - and his groans show that the pain is real. Still, as he breathes into each strokes, it's clear that the treatment is having the intended effect.
I really enjoyed making this two part nurse spanking film with Mike Pain and videographer Nimue Allen. It's a fun, satirical take on the Siberian medical caning story, and I think you can tell from the camp dialogue how much the set-up amused us. But there's also an authentic side to this scenario, from the genuinely hard cane strokes Mike bravely takes, to the exploration of the therapeutic benefits of spanking. If spanking for health and wellbeing interests you, you could do worse than to start with the breathing techniques advocated by Nurse Pandora in these films. Just let the pain flow through you... and remember to exhale.
Pandora Blake: Yes! I have to say I'm really enjoying the responses to this set, both on the site and on Twitter. It makes me feel very good to have internet folks appreciating the hotness of my boyfriend. I'm particularly enjoying that he seems to have a goth girl fan base :)
GotN: Goth girl fan base does NOT surprise me in the least, being a kind of clumsy goth myself =) I actually really wanted to ask you about that - do you get pride-shivers when people tell you how hot D is? Like, is there a showing off how hot he is element to photosets and videos?
PB: Very much yes. It makes me feel proud, delighted and very smug to hear people compliment him - it's like, yes, isn't he gorgeous, thanks for noticing, and he's MINE. I feel the same way when he dates new people to be honest - it always makes me appreciate him a little bit more and feel very pleased and proud when I see people being attracted to him
GotN: Ooh, yes I can definitely see that. Also, obviously am grateful, being one of the people who very much enjoys perving on his photosets.
PB: It is quite literally my pleasure.
GotN: This set in particular seems to have struck a chord with lots of people - and obviously me too. One of the things that really got me about it was that photo with the belt round his wrist - whose idea was that?
PB: Oh, that was entirely mine. When I was first looking through the unedited photos to remind myself what we had to work with, I had a chat window open with him, and a few pictures leaped out at me and gave me this involuntary physical quake of lust, so I posted them to him in the chat. That photo of the belt wrapped around his wrist was one of them.
PB: I was directing the set - which I can do with a very clear head when I'm neither modelling nor taking the photos - and I remember staging that shot. Neither D nor Matt really got the point of it, but I was determined I wanted it. When I looked through the photos again there was this double pleasure of seeing that shot - the pure rush of desire at seeing an image that struck one of my kinks so perfectly, and the sort of meta-delight at having successfully created something that was so perfectly porn for me. That was my aim with this set, to shoot something very self-indulgent, so it was lovely to feel so clearly that I'd got it right.
GotN: Ohhh, that is so hot! And it totally reinforces for me why the best porn is often the porn that's made by people who have exactly those kinks. Looking at that picture I would never have thought to explain that specific shot to anyone - I'd never have told a partner to do that or why it would be hot - but it gave me that exact same kick, and looking at it I realised that someone who didn't share the exact same belt-kinks with me would have been unlikely to stumble on something that hot by accident.
GotN: Also: by self-indulgent do you mean 'this is the set I'd make for myself to wank to'? :)
PB: That's exactly what I mean.
PB: Specifically, I wanted to shoot something to suit my own tastes without any reference to whether it might be popular or not. I'd never heard of a reverse striptease before, and I wasn't sure whether a solo male dom set would make any money, but that wasn't the point of this - it was to please myself. That's one of the reasons it's been so validating to receive positive responses to it. I love knowing that my specific porn tastes which aren't commonly catered to are shared by others!
GotN: Oh I totally see what you mean there - and although this is going to sound horribly gendered I think that's why it's so important for me, as a mostly-straight woman, to see female-directed porn. The female gaze is not something that can just be captured by copying male-gaze porn and making it softer, or focusing heavily on genitals, or whatever: it really stands out when you see something made by someone who is behind the camera feeling genuine, kinky lust for someone. Not sure if I've explained it that well, but yep - I've struggled to explain female gaze to people before, and I think from now on I'm just going to direct them to this photoset.
PB: So what is it about the belt-round-wrist that's so sexy for you?
GotN: Belts: sexiness beyond measure. I think of all the spanking implements they're my favourite. But it's not just that I love them: belts have something about them that many subby people can't resist. One of the most cited turn-ons for subs (in my general experience from sexy comments on my blog and etc) is that they love the sound that belts make when they're pulled out through the loops: that swish of a belt that says 'you're in trouble.' And then, on top of that...
GotN: Forearms are a stunningly hot feature, which does not get nearly enough love in my opinion. Biceps are often worshipped, but (I think I might be able to dig out the survey on this but not sure) forearms are one of the most frequently-cited turn-ons for women. Not sure what to call that - 'perv zones'? Lots of people perv on forearms, and yet they're rarely put front and center of a sexy scene. That belt-round-wrist thing combined D's gorgeous forearms with the symbolism of the belt, and then a slightly intimidating (in a domly hot way) blurred image of him in the mirror in the background behind. Unngh. So much hot.
PB: I LOVE forearms.
PB: For me, a strong looking forearm makes me think "I bet that person would be able to spank me really hard" more than a strong bicep does - perhaps because bicep worship is so common, it's more generalised rather than specifically a kink thing. (Although I do love biceps too.)
PB: That image is an interesting one - it doesn't prefigure any particular kink act; he's not wrapping it around his hand in preparation to hit someone with it. And yet the tension of the leather, the way it bites into teh skin of his wrist, the contrast between his smooth skin and the warm texture of the belt, and the firm grip of his hand, all suggest tension and strength and anticipation in a way that's incredibly powerful.
GotN: Oh yes! Strong forearms - and oh bracelets and tattoos on forearms too. Mmm. D's wearing quite a neat bracelet in that photoset as well, which draws attention to the forearm so nicely - the same way I'd wear a necklace to draw attention to a cleavage. More people should do this
PB: I love seeing that bracelet on him actually - it was a gift from a friend who made friendship bracelets for the whole friendship group in our favourite colours, and D wore his for ages. I still have mine too! It grounds the set in reality and reminds me that he's my real boyfriend with a life outside porn, as well as a super hot naked porn guy.
PB: So the reverse striptease. It was an idea I had ages ago, and I'm really pleased with the result. Does it work for you having him start naked and finish dressed?
GotN: YES! OMG so that was another thing I wanted to talk about. In general, I think my kinks tend towards guys who are either clothed or semi-clothed. This actually probably ties in to the hotness of bracelets and tattoos too: it's all about highlighting. Clothes draw your focus to a particular place. So in that photoset, you're kind of immediately plunged into 'oh, there's a seriously hot naked guy here', then as the set goes on, and the clothes go on piece by piece, it draws your attention to each feature. I LOVE it, and I would love to see more reverse stripteases in porn.
GotN: It actually reminds me a little of your calligraphy photoset with Adele Haze too - the words slowly covering the skin make you take your time looking at all the details of someone's body. So with D gradually covering himself over the course of the set, you get to go from full-on naked then take time to appreciate his forearms, the tone of his stomach, and each detail, before ending on his hands slipping into the leather gloves
PB: speaking of which, can we take a moment to just appreciate the hotness of leather gloves
GotN: ohhhh yes! Leather gloves are <3
GotN: Also: white shirts with black buttons, which you don't see much but which HOLY SHIT highlight D's hands as he's slowly buttoning up the shirt
GotN: I mean basically I am just 'splaining to you how hot your boyfriend is, but yeah :)
PB: It's all good!
GotN: I also wanted to ask you - is this your favourite D photoset? I've enjoyed loads of D on Dreams of Spanking, but I wondered if you have a favourite set or picture of him? Or as the director, do you love them all equally?
PB: The highlighting thing is an interesting one - I hadn't thought of it that way. For me, the reverse striptease isn't so much about revealing each feature as creating desire via unavailability. It's like, D is immediately available at the start so you see how yummy he is, but then as he goes from sleepy boy to gradually getting covered up, it has this slight distancing effect by making him seem older, more unavailable, and more dominant. For me lust has a lot to do with wanting without having, so for his body to go from revealed to covered increases the desire - as well as the specific clothes creating an aura of toppiness that has me squirming in my seat.
PB: This is my favourite D photoset right now, and I'm kind of obsessed with this picture that gives his beauty a rockstar pinup quality: I would totally have had that picture on my wall as a teenager. In fact I might make myself a print of it.
PB: But I'm also really fond of this set.
GotN: Oh I <3 Tangled With You too! You both just look so incredibly calm and happy in it. And I can definitely see why you'd have that rockstar picture on your wall - D has a really casually-hot vibe, like he's left the door to his rockstar dressing room open because he kind of hoped you'd walk in while he was getting changed.
PB: It's so lovely making porn with your lovers! I highly recommend it.
GotN: It's bloody wonderful for you to share it with us! I mean obviously we're kind of back to 'OMG your boyfriend is so hot' territory here, but on top of that it's incredible to see him through your eyes, if you see what I mean. I think it's a different perspective to the way it would be if you were strangers - there's a closeness as well as obviously your kinky eye, which picks up on the details that another director might not.
PB: Thank you! Full credit to Matt Christie as well for taking such superb pictures - he's got an amazing eye for light and composition, even if toppy men aren't his kink. I'd love to see more female photographers and directors shooting the men they love - I think you're right that the intimacy of shooting someone you're close to results in really special images. Here's to more sexy men in porn!
GotN: Amen to that!
If you read our last blogpost about the impact of the UK's impending Digital Economy Bill and want to know how you can help, I have something for you. This petition is hosted by the Open Rights Group, a UK organisation dedicated to campaigning for digital rights. It has over 11,000 signatures already, and you can sign it if you're in the UK or anywhere in the world - it only needs a name and email address to sign.
Why should you care? Here are the headlines:
We must act now to prevent this dangerous legislation from being passed - which will affect millions of people in the UK and worldwide. Blocking websites is a disproportionate, technical response to a complex, social issue. The UK’s children need education, not censorship, to keep them safe.
When you run a business, the conventional wisdom is to present a front of certainty at all times. If you're feeling ambivalent, the theory goes, don't let on; potential customers will pick up on it, and it might make them feel ambivalent too. It's better to hide your doubts, and manifest confidence and certainty that your product is the best there is. So the theory goes.
The problem is that if you're genuinely feeling ambivalent, it's hard to sound positive without it feeling fake. And if your business is founded on principles of authenticity, transparency and genuine self-expression, that fake feeling can amplify any feelings of ambivalence that already exist. It's a negative spiral. And if I'm truly honest, this is where I'm at right now with Dreams of Spanking.
Stopping and starting
When ATVOD first started investigating us, the site was going from strength to strength. Girl on the Net, AJ and I were working together as a solid team; we were earning international recognition and winning awards at film festivals. For the first time since we launched in 2011, I'd managed to get my own workload down to a manageable level. We were earning enough that everyone was getting paid - even me, and I've always made a point of paying everyone else before I take anything for myself.
After three years investing time, energy and money into the project, it was genuinely starting to pay off. I could even envisage a time when I might be able to hand over the video editing to a trusted colleague, and move onto new pastures while continuing to earn a little passive income from the project into which I had poured so much. Pensions are a tricky business for self-employed sex workers, but Dreams of Spanking was my first real chance at a nest egg. I didn't pay myself for most of the work I did nursing it to life in the beginning, but I was hoping that eventually, it would all work out.
Then ATVOD came to call, and after a gruelling investigation the site was forced offline for ten months. From a business perspective, this was a massive blow. Never mind that we were politically and morally vindicated in the end; we eventually won our appeal and earned the right to relaunch. My protestations that the AVMS regulations were unjust, and ATVOD was enforcing them unjustly, were eventually proved right when my appeal was upheld; but never mind that. The damage was done.
It's hard for any business to recover from an enforced hiatus. It's not just the loss of traffic and search engine rank; it's the human aspect too. Fans, promoters and affiliates get bored waiting and look elsewhere. If I'm honest, after my initial grief at ATVOD's verdict, my own focus has shifted too. During those ten months I was able to pursue other interests for the first time since I launched Dreams of Spanking. I travelled, exercised, got therapy, re-invested in friendships and relationships. I engaged with other forms of rewarding work. I made time for play. When I first heard the verdict I felt like my life had been taken away; but in some ways, the hiatus gave me my life back.
More pressingly, while the site was offline, the press attention surrounding the ATVOD verdict gave me the platform to to raise awareness about issues I cared about. I renewed my political activism, and launched a Patreon campaign to crowdfund the work I'm doing to challenge sex work criminalisation and promote sexual freedom. In the midst of trauma and loss from seeing the biggest creative project of my life destroyed, I was able to find a renewed sense of purpose.
Then it all got complicated again. Privately, I was told that I'd won my appeal - but that I couldn't announce it yet. I felt conflicted. I was happy to have won - but increasingly frustrated at having the rules of this game dictated to me; at not being free to express myself. The practicalities were stressful, too. I knew I would at some point be able to re-open the site, but that I wouldn't know when until much nearer the time. That not-knowing was hard. It was impossible to make plans; I didn't know if I could start new projects, or if I would suddenly have put everything else on hold to relaunch the site at short notice. When I launched Dreams of Spanking in 2011 I had created a fulltime job for myself. In 2015 that was taken away without my consent; and now it was being thrust back on me, and in some ways, I felt just as powerless. It felt like whatever steps I took to build a fulfilling, self-actualised life for myself, the government would stick their oar in and mess up my plans.
Of course I'm happy Dreams of Spanking won our appeal. Ofcom made the right decision; ATVOD should never have ruled against us, and the law and the whole investigation was unjust from the start. But the disruption was devastating both financially and personally, and picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild it didn't make the whole thing right again. After winning the appeal, it wasn't like the investigation had never happened.
So we co-ordinated the announcement of the appeal win, and in June I finally re-opened the site. But I was permitted a mere four weeks to enjoy our victory before the next cloud appeared on the horizon.
And now, after so many ups and downs, the future of Dreams of Spanking is still depressingly precarious.
The costs of age verification
The Digital Economy Bill is currently going through Parliament, and has just come to the end of its committee stage. The section of the Bill introducing compulsory age verification for all adult sites accessible from the UK will have a serious impact on Dreams of Spanking, and on many other adult websites.
Complying with this legislation will be difficult, if not impossible. First of all, I'll have to overhaul the whole site structure of Dreams of Spanking. Any content that would be classified as "18" or higher will be illegal to publish publicly, on the open internet. So video, images and audio that contain any nudity, bums or spanking will need to go behind intrusive, privacy-violating age checks.
To prove you're over 18, you'll have to type in sensitive personal details such as your legal name, credit card details, date of birth, address or phone number. That data will be visible not to me, but to whatever age verification system I install - private companies that are free to operate unregulated, and without having to safeguard the security and privacy of your personal data.
Not only is this terrible for you, it's terrible for me. Every age check will cost me money - estimates range from £0.05 to £1.50 per check. Dreams of Spanking currently receives over two thousand visitors a day (under half the traffic we had before ATVOD forced us offline), so the cost of checking the age of every site visitor would add up to significantly more than the site's total revenue - and that's before we take into account existing costs such as production, paying my team members, and bandwidth. In other words, complying with the age verification law will immediately put the site out of business.
Even if I can somehow persuade enough of those two thousand visitors to buy memberships that I can afford to verify all their ages, the site will never be the same. This law will mean no more public previews. No free trailers, no preview images, no free hosted galleries, no birthday spanking giveaways, no Creative Commons projects and no charity caning films. No more getting around CCBill's content restrictions by giving material away.
No more transparency, and no more free porn.
The value of giving things away
When I launched the site, it was hugely important to me that I didn't follow the standard paysite model. You know the one: some garish tour pages with flashing banners and fleshy montages, with all the actual scene previews, video trailers and so on behind a paywall. It's a scarcity based business model; the only way you can get to see the good stuff is by paying. I personally believe that's one reason why piracy has been such a problem for the porn industry - people resent having the content they want to see withheld, and it motivates them to buck the system by filesharing.
Instead, I wanted something closer to a loyalty model. Rather than trying to force a situation where buying a membership is the only way you can see Dreams of Spanking films (which is impossible when filesharing is so common), I wanted to make it so that people wanted to support the project. The idea of the model I came up with is that I give lots away, and you trust you know what you're getting if you do decide to pay. The brand gets more visibility; you feel more included. Everyone wins.
I have no desire for my porn to pop up in the browsers of young children who won't know how to assess what they're seeing, and might be distressed by it. But I don't use popup advertising, and Dreams of Spanking doesn't have high enough search rank for children to "accidentally" stumble across it. Even if a child did somehow find the link to the homepage, they'd have to click through the content warning page, scroll down, and click again on a link to an individual scene in order to see anything other than tiny thumbnails.
It is, I admit, possible that older teens, who are already interested in exploring their sexuality - and who may well be over the age of consent for sexual intercourse - might look for erotic content online, and find Dreams of Spanking. Realistically, this is unlikely to happen unless they're explicitly searching for "spanking". And if curious young people - perhaps wrestling, as I did, with the fear that because they fantasise about spanking there's something wrong with them - type "spanking" into a search engine and end up here, then at least they'll see a site that prioritises consent. They'll see interviews, behind the scenes videos, comments, and respectful copy that celebrates the whole personhood of our performers. They'll see body positivity, queer inclusivity, and gender equality.
If sexually curious teenagers are going to look for porn, I'd rather they found my porn than some of the other stuff that's out there, because at least then they'll be receiving healthy, positive messages about negotiation, communication, body image, gender, and consent.
Free previews are valuable to adult viewers too. I want kinky queer people, kinky fat people, and kinky people of colour to be able to see people in porn who look like them. No-one with a spanking fetish deserves to feel shame about their kink. I want as much of the site as possible to be public, because I want as many people as possible to become resilient to the sex-shaming and kink-shaming that are so prevalent in our culture - regardless of whether or not they can afford a membership.
If I was independently wealthy and could operate Dreams of Spanking as a free site, believe me, I would. Even as it is, the total pay I've drawn from the business over five years adds up to way less than a living wage.
So these core principles of transparency, visibility, and open dialogue about kink, diversity and consent, are absolutely fundamental to the Dreams of Spanking manifesto. And now, the age verification law will make it impossible for us to uphold them. Everything will be locked down, hidden away.
The legislation applies to audio and still images as well as video, so those won't be exempt. This blog will cease to be publically visible; all the discourse I have engaged in over the years about how to make porn in an ethical and feminist way will cease to be findable via Google. Years of careful tagging to make our scenes show up in searches will be destroyed in a single blow: you won't be able to find Dreams of Spanking via a search engine any more. It will be like a return to the secret libraries of Victorian England: only accessible to the wealthy, to those in the know, those with the privilege to not have anything to lose by sharing their identity or risking their privacy.
One of the many ways in which the internet has been a positive force for change is that it has opened up the discourse about sex and sexuality; made the topic more visible, invited more people to share experiences and insights, and helped all of us feel less alone. Now, just as we are really starting to see the benefits - in terms of better social understanding and acceptance of sex and gender diversity than ever before in our history - this law is going to shut that discourse down. Sex will become taboo again. You shouldn't talk about it, not in public spaces. It's dirty. You should be ashamed. Think of the children.
Actually, I do think of the children. I know that societies with more open attitudes towards porn have lower rates of sexual violence, STI transmission and teen pregnancy. I know that children growing up with marginalised sexualities - whether queer or kinky - often feel isolated, especially in rural communities. I know that this isolation can cause severe mental health issues, and even lead to suicide.
I know that young people need better sex education which is based around consent, pleasure and how to stay safe, provided by parents and teachers who aren't propagating their own sexual shame.
I know that humans are often sexual and often curious about it, and that if we don't talk to young people about porn they'll find it anyway, whether or not they have the resources or resilience to critically interpret what they're seeing. I know that shutting porn in a locked room and only giving keys to the rich is not the answer. It will not help our culture be healthier, or better informed, or more accepting or responsible about sex.
That's bad enough. But the problems with the Digital Economy Bill go deeper than that.
Even if I somehow manage to fully comply with the legislation: hide everything spanking-themed on the site behind age checks; find the money to check the ID of every non-paying visitor who wants to browse my free previews; survive the loss of traffic and Googleability - even if I can stomach the disappearing of this blog, the behind the scenes videos, the performer interviews, and the discourse about ethics and consent - the site still can't survive, because every scene that was criminalised by the AVMS regulations will be recriminalised by the Digital Economy Bill.
ATVOD found us in breach because they ruled that some of our videos depict corporal punishment that leaves 'lasting' marks. We won our appeal on the basis that the principle purpose of the site is not commercial, and it is not in competetition with mainstream broadcast media. That victory won us an exemption to the AVMS Regulations 2014. But the AVMS didn't invent the rules around what content is banned; it drew them from existing classification guidelines used by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) for films and TV.
The guidelines prohibit any depiction of pain play that leaves marks on the body beyond those deemed "transient and trifling" from classification even as R18, the highest classification category in the UK. Basically, under the current rules you can't show any act which would constitute assault or actual bodily harm, or any act which would risk injury to the viewer if it were imitated. So no caning, no belting, no welts, no bruises - and that's before we get into the bans on things like facesitting, breath play, fisting, squirting, watersports and "full" bondage, defined as the restraint of all four limbs plus a gag.
The AVMS regulations were the first instrument of UK law to apply those classification guidelines to material published on the internet. We've enjoyed a heady few months of official exemption from them: but now the Digital Economy Bill uses those same guidelines to control what can and can't be published online. If the Bill is passed it will be illegal to publish any 'prohibited content' even behind age checks. Let that sink in: even age-verified, consenting adults who have handed over their real names and addresses to prove their age won't be allowed to look at spanking videos that show marks.
So we're about to be recriminalised. And I can only assume that every other UK law affecting online pornography from now on will use the same prohibited content guidelines. If this law passes next March, as I'm told it will, then our victorious relaunch will barely have lasted longer than the enforced hiatus that preceded it.
What are our options? One thing is certain: stubbornly refusing to comply, incurring the wrath of the regulator, going through another investigation, another hiatus, another appeal - it's not an option. Either for me personally at an emotional level, or financially, from a business perspective.
I could try to comply with the age verification requirements: swallow my pride, compromise my core principles of transparency and visibility, and hope that I get away with there being prohibited content behind the age check. But it seems like a doomed proposition - even if I could afford age verification in practice, which seems unlikely. My public profile is too high, my reputation as a troublemaker too entrenched, for me to avoid scrutiny. And there's no way to avoid publishing prohibited content: under the current guidelines, nearly all our content is banned.
Moving the site overseas might seem my best remaining option - but the Digital Economy Bill applies to overseas sites as well as UK ones. The only way I could do it would be to install IP checks that made the site totally inaccessible from the UK. In effect, I would no longer legally be able to view my own website. I might be able to continue working for the site in some capacity, but I would no longer be able to own it, control it, or in fact see it.
As far as I can see, my best option is to challenge the problem at source, and push for a review of the classification guidelines - specifically the ceiling for R18 content - and of UK obscenity law more generally. So for the last couple of months I've been working with Backlash, Myles Jackman and other political allies towards this goal. We are challenging the Digital Economy Bill and pushing for a comprehensive review of the laws surrounding porn and BDSM in the UK.
If you want to support these efforts, you can pledge a dollar or whatever you can afford on Patreon, to help me pay my rent while I do this political work. You can sign and share the petition for personal privacy and sexual freedom. And if you can buy a site membership from time to time, even better.
But a comprehensive review of obscenity law is a long-term goal; and in the meantime, I have to accept that it's unlikely I'll be able to change the law in time to save Dreams of Spanking from being outlawed next spring.
The hard questions
All this has been going around my head since the Digital Economy Bill was published on the 5th July. Here are some hard truths, which I have come to admit only grudgingly:
All these add up to a strong argument for putting the site on ice now; gracefully retiring Dreams of Spanking to focus on other goals, rather than suffering the humiliation of clinging on to the last possible moment before it's wrenched away again. But I haven't done this, and I don't intend to.
Perhaps it's just stubbornness - it wouldn't be the first time that attribute had made my life more difficult than necessary. But to counter the above, I have good, valid reasons for keeping going.
The first is, quite simply, closure. The worst aspect of the ATVOD verdict was not being able to publish the content I had already filmed; it was a brutal disruption of my creative process. Winning my appeal was a victory for my right to express myself. I've won the right to publish that content, and I want to damn well publish it. Not just because I can, but because appealing that verdict was a 'fuck you' to unjust laws and a prejudicial regulator. I held fast to my principles, I fought, and I won. I intend to continue in that spirit.
Giving up now would be letting them win after all; it would betray everything I've fought for. Not getting that closure would leave me feeling unsatisfied and incomplete. I'm willing to accept that it doesn't make sense to shoot much new content now, given I may not get a chance to publish it. But the work I've already done was created as a true self-expression, and my intention was always to share it with the world. I want closure on that creative process before I move on to the next phase. I want to finish what I've started.
Secondly, this decision doesn't only affect me. Another dreadful consequence of the ATVOD decision was that it wasn't just me who was affected - my team members lost out too, and with even less control over the situation than I had. I was prepared to pay the price for my stubbornness, but it also impacted everyone who works for me. I try my hardest to be a good boss, and that means not making my whole team redundant if I don't have to. Doing so mere months after giving them their jobs back would be particularly cruel.
I feel too ambivalent, too uncertain, and too conflicted to be confident about quitting when it won't just affect me, but will also directly affect the financial stability and wellbeing of people I care about. The Dreams of Spanking project is a complex ecosystem; my own self-care isn't the only relevant factor.
But it's an incredibly difficult situation. Do I continue updating Dreams of Spanking while I still can, try to make the best of it, promote it enough to cover costs while I keep it ticking over - all at the same time as trying to campaign against the laws that will otherwise inevitably kill it? Or do I stop spending time editing and promoting new videos, put the project back on ice, and free up more time for activism, to give myself the best possible chance of defeating this terrible law?
This question isn't going to go away. And it's an impossible bind.
I can tell you this much: for now, I've decided to keep Dreams of Spanking running. I have a content schedule mapped out until March next year. Before then, I'm going to run out of male submissive scenes, and at that point I need to decide whether to re-invest in a project that is already barely covering costs, and risk ending up with more content I can't publish; or whether to compromise another the core principle of the site, and stop maintaining the gender diversity of new updates.
I don't know the answer to that question. And even not changing my plan, continuing to reflect while maintaining the status quo, is a decision that has consequences. Every month I keep the site running, I'm spending time on Dreams of Spanking that I'm not spending challenging the law.
I've been trying to balance these conflicting priorities for five months already. You have probably noticed that the content going out each week is different than it used to be. To free up time for the political campaigning I'm doing, I've been publishing shorter updates, more solo videos, POV scenes, audio stories and photosets. There has been a new update every week, but I'm no longer committed to a new spanking video plus performer interview plus behind the scenes video plus photoset every week, because maintaining that schedule is a fulltime job, and if Dreams is my fulltime job, I'm not doing the political work that is its only chance of longterm survival.
Deciding how much time to spend on the site, how much to delegate, is an open question; one I revisit every week. So far, I've been feeling my way through these thorny issues as best I can, with a heart full of uncertainty.
I've tried to be open and transparent with the rest of the Dreams of Spanking team throughout the process, but when I sent them the draft of this blogpost it was the first time most of them fully realised how precarious the future of the site really is. And now you know, too.
Where do we go from here?
I wish I could end this post on a positive note. It would, perhaps, be good business practice to reassure you that for now I'm committed to keeping the site alive (I am), that we have hot new content lined up for this week (we do), and that I won't stop updating the site without giving all of you a decent amount of notice (I won't). I could urge you to join now while you still can. I could sing the praises of our archive, which is bursting at the seams with high-quality spanking films available for all members to both stream and download.
But the truth is, this is hard, and no amount of positivity or spin will make it less hard.
So instead I invite you to stand with me, in this undeniably difficult and demoralising situation. I invite you to understand, perhaps, why not every site update at the moment is as substantial as I would like it to be. And I invite you to share my anger at the injustice of criminalising consensual adult activities that do no harm and bring pleasure to so many. Your empathy and shared outrage has kept me going before, and it is always welcome.
I can promise you new erotic content every week: always spanking themed, always ethically produced, always the authentic expression of my kinky sexuality. I can promise you at least one fully-realised, action-packed spanking film every month, with a behind the scenes video and a photoset - and that if it is ever possible for me to publish more than one, I will. I can promise that I will continue to fight these terrible laws that tell us we should be ashamed of our kink. I can promise to devote as much time and energy as possible to political campaigning, lobbying and activism, challenging porn criminalisation and promoting sexual freedom.
And I can promise to be honest, genuine and heartfelt in my work on Dreams of Spanking - always.