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.
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.
It's been a strange year, that's for damn sure.
When Pandora first asked me to come on board at Dreams of Spanking back in 2013, I really didn't have a clue where it would lead me. I'd been struggling to find the right job for many years; something that both fit my own needs, and played to my skills seemed like an impossible dream. But though it started humbly, it soon went from something to fill a couple of hours a week answering emails, to having actual creative and intellectual control in a business. I could never have known back then how much it would mean to me and how proud I'd be of the work I've done since. I've learned so much, worked with so many incredible people, and it was a wonderful thing to discover that my decade long friendship with Pandora was able to survive the curse of mixing business with pleasure - on the contrary, I feel like our working relationship has actually strengthened our bond and that's a rare treat.
I really felt like I was getting comfortable with the job when the news came down from on high that we were to be regulated past the point of reason, and it hurt. It hurt a lot. We'd worked so hard, how dare they stop us? I remember making comment at the time that I had spent years being harrassed by the government to find work despite being disabled, and then as soon as I found a job I could manage, the government took it away! The whole thing made me so angry, and angrier still that I felt helpless to fix anything. We spent nearly 8 months holding our breath and crossing our fingers waiting for the decision that would take our site down, and for a while after the judgement, I really believed that would be the end of my time at Dreams of Spanking. There was so much we didn't know about how this was going to turn out that it almost felt dangerous to feel hopeful. Once Pandora and Myles had submitted the appeal, there was nothing to do but wait.
And then we won. Just like that, we won, and far sooner than we'd ever imagined. When Pandora first told me, there was a palpable waft of trepidation, confusion, and frustration, but we barely had time to adjust to our feelings when suddenly we were able to actually open the site and talk about it again. I won't pretend that I didn't spend the few weeks between first hearing we might win and the day our billing was reinstated assuming that somehow we'd still end up having it taken away. But once the new subscriptions started rolling in, there was no stopping my delight. I think I smiled that whole day!
In some ways, I've fallen back into the job so easily that it feels like I never stopped, and in other ways, that 10 months we waited to hear about the appeal felt like a decade. But now we're back, and I'm so stoked about the future. In addition to flexing my PA/customer service muscle regularly, my photoshop skills have come on in leaps and bounds since the very first set Pandora ever gave me to edit, "Introducing Alexander Knight", and I've learned to make animated gifs, which I can't wait to make more of. If you've not seen the Dreams of Spanking tumblr, you'll find many of them there, along with a great selection of some of our favourite images from the site. Plus, I've had the chance to work with some outstanding people; determined, devoted and talented in so many ways, cultural and political voices who I'm honoured to have heard first hand, and I'm looking forward to meeting even more of them. I also hope to make my screen debut at some point. Who knows what form that will take, but finding out will be a lot of fun! I never imagined myself working in porn, but now, I can't imagine doing anything else.
I know Pandora has already made her gratitude to our followers known, but I'd like to back that up by saying that I am also immensely grateful for the opportunity to dive back into the world of ethical porn, and I'd like to thank every single person who has supported the Dreams of Spanking team - before, during and after our ban. This community has come to mean so much to me, and I'm so happy to be a part of it again.
Peace out folks, and stay tuned; we've got so much more to show you! :)
This is the first time I've updated the Dreams of Spanking blog for ten months - almost exactly. I've been staring at the empty page for a while wondering where to start. There's too much to say; and no way I can adequately express it.
We won our appeal.
Ten months of silence, of grief, of waiting, of nothing. And now all of a sudden this news that we won. We fought the law, and the law lost. It's pretty immense. It's huge, actually.
I want to do a proper post about the appeal at some point - there's the appeal document itself, which I'm pretty proud of and have permission to show you, and I can talk about the process, share Ofcom's determination, explain what arguments we made and what they accepted and why. But that's not this post. This post is just me wanting to make a start - wanting the most recent blogpost on the site not to be from ten months ago, what now feels like ancient history. This is just me feeling how good it is to be back.
I wrote last week, after the news had broken but before I was able to re-open the site (I was a bit overwhelmed by it all and didn't think of submitting a support request to CCBill to reactivate our billing account until the day before the public announcement, and then CCBill dragged their heels and didn't approve the account until Friday) about how my feelings were more complicated than pure jubilation. That's still true. I feel lots of things that aren't straightforward bouncing-up-and-down-for-joy: I feel exhausted, and overwhelmed, and worried that I'm not going to be able to manage the additional (if welcome) workload that re-launching Dreams of Spanking implies. I'm concerned not to let this development distract me from the political work that I've been doing recently, and which has been very generously sponsored by some of you on Patreon. I'm committed to that process, just as I'm committed to this one, and there'll be a period of adaptation while I learn how to juggle both.
Luckily, they are both part of the same thing, when it comes down to it; the same world work that I am ultimately engaged in. That of creating meaningful art about fetish sexuality (slash fetish porn, slash erotica - whatever definition floats your boat) that helps people overcome shame, accept their erotic selves and enjoy their kinky fantasies without guilt. That of opening a conversation about ethical porn; porn that breaks out of the gender binary and subverts stereotypes; porn that serves the sexual desires of a broader audience, in terms of both gender and sexuality, than just the typified heterosexual male. It's about making porn production - especially BDSM porn production - more transparent, making the differences between the fantasies expressed through fiction and the realities of sex work on set more visible, making the line between real consent and fictionalised non-consent more easily understood. It's talking about working conditions on porn sets and helping move the industry towards a more transparent, more accountable set of working practices. It's about empowering performers, offering them equal pay, creative control, and freedom to do what they want on film, with the people they choose. It's about fighting for our right to freedom of speech, our creative, sexual and civil liberties. It's about improving consent culture in wider society; modelling healthy relationships, negotiation, safer sex and best practice in porn, making it sexy. And of course it's about sex education, reducing stigma, and working towards better labour rights and decriminalisation for all workers in the adult industry.
Dreams of Spanking has a part to play in all of this. It's my working model of how to make BDSM porn as ethically as possible, my playground for trying out ideas. I can't say I always get it right, but I can honestly say that I hold myself accountable when I get it wrong, and am always trying to improve.
It's weird, clicking through these pages after nearly a year away. A few times I've got sucked in to reading old blog posts. Coming to the site fresh I'm struck by the sheer quantity - and, if I say so myself, the qualtity - of content here, accumulated over three and a half very active, enthusiastic years. There's so much great material to explore in the archive. Of course, perfectionist as I am, I'm already making a mental list of tweaks I want to make to the site, and am starting to think about a redesign to celebrate this new chapter of the site's life. But that's a job for later.
Now, it's time to enjoy what we have; to rediscover forgotten gems, to share favourite scenes with your friends you think might like them. For ten months, I've been talking to people about Dreams of Spanking who were gutted that they missed the chance to join before it was taken down. Let's get those people on board and show them what all the fuss is about. I'm looking forward to welcoming old members and new back to the community; there's already been lots of comment activity since the site re-opened last Friday, and I'd love to see that continue.
Community, ultimately, was what won us the appeal - the argument that the "Principle Purpose" of Dreams of Spanking is not that of a commercial porn movie site, but a community of interest, a multimedia site where likeminded enthusiasts can discuss their mutual interest, look at photos, listen to audio stories, read blogposts, comment, update their profile photos, and do all the other things you do in an online forum.
We're indebted to Myles Jackman and Backlash for all the help they've provided over the last year and a half - Myles in particular has been an absolute legend, and I'd like to urge you to pledge a couple of dollars to his Patreon if you can afford it. He lives on coffee, can't provide legal support without it, so buying him a virtual one would be a really lovely way to thank him for the invaluable role he's played in getting Dreams of Spanking back online. But most of all, I feel as if you, the Dreams of Spanking community, are really what's saved us. Without your engagement, your enthusiasm, your spirited comment threads, Ofcom might not have agreed with our argument that this site first and foremost a community of spanking fans, not a commercial video-on-demand site. And on a more personal level, without the support you've given me during this painful hiatus, I don't know if I'd have had the strength to keep fighting. Thank you.
We won this together. I couldn't have done it without you. Join me in celebrating - it's a landmark victory for kink acceptance, for feminist porn and for freedom of expression.
But more than that, it just feels good to be back. It feels right. I'm so very, very, glad that we're allowed our community again. I've missed it, and I've missed you.
After announcing ATVOD’s final determination that Dreams of Spanking is in breach of their ridiculous regulations, and that I will have to take most of the site’s content offline by 27 August, I'm being asked the same two questions again and again. If I had a pound for every time someone asked me this I would be able to afford my own legal fees.
I've already answered these questions in previous blogposts, so apologies for the repetition, but apparently it needs saying again. Please read, digest, and kindly trust that I have in fact thought about what I’m doing.
Why don’t I move the site so it’s hosted out of the UK?
Simply moving the hosting of the site wouldn’t help. When ATVOD are determining where a site is based, they don’t just look at the physical location of the server on which the site is hosted, they also look at the where the service provider is based (that is, the person or persons who own or operate the site). The relevant phrase here is “editorial control”.
If a site is hosted out of the UK, but the service producer is a UK citizen, who resides in the UK and makes editorial decisions in the UK, then for ATVOD’s purposes, the site is based in the UK. If videos are produced and shot in this country, edited in this country, and uploaded from this country, all these things contribute to bringing the site under ATVOD’s jurisdiction. If meetings are held in the UK, business decisions are made in the UK, and the programming schedule of the video-on-demand service is planned in the UK, then editorial control is, according to ATVOD, based in the UK.
Some producers have successfully avoided ATVOD so far by moving their hosting overseas,but keeping editorial control in the UK and hoping ATVOD doesn't notice. This isn't an option for me. I was on Channel 4 News talking about the new regulations after the facesitting protest, I've spoken on BBC Woman's Hour, at Conway Hall and at the National Theatre about my work as a porn producer, and there is zero chance of ATVOD not noticing I existed. Once they started investigating Dreams of Spanking, they would have quickly worked out that I was still operating the site from a UK base, and all the hassle of moving the hosting would have been for nothing. I have called too much attention to myself as an activist to be able to escape ATVOD by hopeful half measures.
In December, when the law came in, I was given them impression by the people I consulted that moving the site was not an option. After I got the first letter from ATVOD in February, and replied to it from a UK address, I began to work out that it might be an option - but by then it was too late, they already knew I was based in the UK. To escape ATVOD at any point since then would involve not just moving the hosting - I would also have to give up editorial control.
Giving up editorial control would look like this: I would sell the site to a friend in another country, move the hosting, the CCBill account, and the payments to their name, sign over commercial rights to all the archive content and everything I'd shot but not yet edited or published. I would no longer be able to shoot for the site, edit video for it, decide the update schedule or have any say in the running of the site. I would have to completely distance myself from the project in every way. Dreams of Spanking is a personal project, and as far as I'm concerned, once this had happened the site would no longer be Dreams of Spanking. It would no longer be mine.
Selling the site would mean killing it, stepping back, and let someone else reincarnate it as something completely new, based in a new country, with new cast members, new performers, and a new creative vision. I would lose the site completely - more completely than from ATVOD forcing me to take it offline, because at the moment I have the hope of a successful appeal, but if I sold the site, there would be no hope, and I would lose it forever.
Dreams of Spanking is my erotic autobiography, the expression of my own personal kink and fantasies, and I don't want to lose it. That's the whole point. I don't want to have to comply with ridiculous censorship regulations that would change it beyond recognition, and I don't want to have to give it to someone else who would change it beyond recognition, either. I want to fight for my right to keep it. That means appealing to Ofcom, and if that fails, taking the AVMS regulations to Judicial Review. If I win the appeal I can re-launch the site and keep it online exactly as it always was, with no ATVOD censorship, no guidelines to comply with, no fees to pay and no-one else telling me what to do. If I lose the appeal but win a Judicial Review, then I can get the law changed for everyone in the UK. This is something worth fighting for - and it's a plan of action that depends on complying with ATVOD's demands long enough for the appeal process to be completed, and keeping the site in the UK and under my control in the meantime. If I move the site overseas now, there is no hope of winning either the appeal or a JR.
If, a few years from now, both of these options have failed, then as a last resort, I would consider selling the site. But everything I've done so far, all the choices I've made, have been geared towards the goal of defeating ATVOD in a legal challenge. It would be completely self-defeating to sell it now, without seeing the plan through to the end.
Why don’t I move myself overseas, and emigrate to a different country?
Of all the well-intentioned, idiotic questions I am asked, this one hurts the most. It’s ridiculously insensitive to tell me that I should give up my entire life and everyone I love - to tell me that it's my responsibility to give up everything I have, implying that by not emigrating, what's happening is somehow my fault. If you want to support me, do not suggest this!
Emigrating is one of the biggest, most traumatic things anyone can ever do. It’s my decision to make, and mine alone. Do you think I haven’t considered this possibility? Of course I bloody have - I considered it and rejected it months before you even found out was happening. You are idly suggesting the first thought that popped into your head, and I've been living the reality of this struggle for nine months now. When you ask me this, you are suggesting that you don't think I've thought of the idea - which is pretty insulting. You also make it clear that you are completely incapable of grasping the enormity of what you're suggesting.
I’ve said this before but apparently it hasn’t sunk in, so I’m going to quote my previous post about this:
Quite aside from the stress and ultimate futility of moving away, however, this question makes me furious. The UK is my home. Why should I be the one to leave? I grew up here. My life is here. My support network, my partner, my friends, my history and my family are here. My partner and lovers couldn't come with me, and I don't want to lose all the connections I've spent thirty years building on these shores. I love these islands and I want to stay here and help make them better. I don't want to jump ship.
Attempting to persuade me and other UK producers that we should willingly exile ourselves is traumatic, stressful and victim-blaming. By doing this you are helping the censors who want to cleanse the UK of anything they find distasteful. Stop it.
ATVOD are threatening the future of independent, alternative, ethical porn within the UK. This is an issue I have devoted years of my life to, and which I care deeply about. I don't want to spend my time, money and effort running away. I want to stand and fight.
So are you with me - or not?
I believe that I have strong grounds for appeal - and that even if Ofcom don’t agree, that there is a very real hope that I can get the AVMS guidelines overturned in a court of law. That is the process I’m now embarking on, and it’s going to be stressful enough without you trying to tell me that I should give up without trying and run away. If I sell the site I will lose Dreams of Spanking, and if I emigrate I will lose my home. Do me a favour and trust that I’ve thought about this already, and that I’m choosing the path that is best.
My goal is to stay in the UK, stay the sole owner of Dreams of Spanking, and successfully challenge ATVOD's censorship. I am taking legal steps to make this happen, and I am going to see it through. The only result of your “helpful suggestion” will be to waste my time and stress me out, which is the last thing I need right now. So please think before you speak, and understand that when someone is going through a difficult time, they have probably spent far longer thinking in depth about their options than you have.
Well, it's happened.
Last week, I was away on holiday. I charged my phone in the pub on the way home on Monday, and saw an email from ATVOD with the subject "Dreams of Spanking - Final Determination". It was sent on Friday 31 July, so had been waiting in my inbox for three days. I'm glad I didn't turn my phone on while I was away - that would have been a surefire way to ruin the last few days of my trip.
As it was, I wept all the way home. I've known this was coming for a while - in fact I've been anticipating it since I received the first letter from ATVOD in February. With this hanging over me it's been a ridiculously tense six months, and I thought that when the axe finally fell it would be a relief of sorts. But when it came, it just made the loss more real.
I've known it was coming, but I'm still in bits. I feel like I built a beautiful sustainable house to live in, of my own design, which was legal to build at the time - but now, just as I've finally perfected all the finishing touches, paid off my investment, decorated it and was settling down to live in it and enjoy it for many years to come, I've been told that the law has been changed, and it's being demolished. That's the closest analogy I can think of. I designed this project to perfectly suit my needs - creatively, erotically, financially. I spent five years working on it as a labour of love, and just as all that effort was starting to pay off, it's being taken away.
I built this site so I would have something that was completely my own. This is the project that was meant to save me from having to compromise myself, my alternative to spending the best years of my life working for other people. Dreams of Spanking represents my creative independence, my sexual self-acceptance, and my financial stability. It's mine, I made it, it works, it was the biggest thing I'd ever done - and just as it started to pay me a wage, it's being taken away from me.
I knew this was coming, but the grief is still fierce. Whenever I let myself feel it, I can't help crying. I am losing the best thing I've ever made, and there's nothing I can do about it. I've never felt so powerless.
Why I refuse to comply
As anticipated by their Preliminary View, the Determination finds me in breach of Rules 1 (notify them that I'm running a service), 4 (pay them to censor me), 11 (lock everything 'adult' behind a credit card paywall) and 14 (no content 'prohibited' by the BBFC guidelines, even behind the paywall). I have 20 working days from the date of the Determination - which was sent on 31 July but dated 30 July - to comply.
As I see it, I don't have any choice but to appeal ATVOD's decision. There's no way I can comply with their demands without compromising the core principles of the site. ATVOD are demanding we register with them and pay them protection money - which not only funds their extortion efforts, it also officially submits to their control and gives them the right to censor us.
They demand that we put all adult content (ie anything comparable to the '18' BBFC classification, defined as anything containing nudity or strong fetish content) behind a credit card paywall. That means no more free preview images, image blogposts, free protest videos, Creative Commons spanking films, birthday freebies or free trailers. It also means credit cards would be the only way anyone could access any of our material - no debit cards, and no alternative payment options such as gift cards or cash.
Not only that, but from its inception Dreams of Spanking was intended to be a new kind of porn site, one that didn't rely on the standard, scarcity-based structure of infrequently-updated tour pages and hidden-away members areas. Coming from a digital rights background, I wanted to see what would happen if I built a porn site that was as transparent and as accessible as possible. I wanted everyone to see what I had to offer - and I wanted to give away as much free content as possible, trusting that if you liked it, you would choose to support us by paying for your porn. The gamble paid off, and the Dreams of Spanking business model has been turning a profit since the first year. I am fiercely proud of our members for their support and loyalty, and happy to have a site which is open to all - a site that teaches everyone about the ethics and consent of feminist porn, and what safe, positive spanking play looks like, whether or not they can afford a site membership. It is galling that after four years of successfully proving this concept, regressive legislation is trying to force me back into the closeted porn world of the 1990s, in which nothing is visible, and only those with the economic privilege to own a credit card are allowed into the club.
ATVOD also demand that we take down any content which doesn't comply with the ridiculous AVMS guidelines. These prohibit acts including hard spanking or caning that leaves marks, welts or bruises, adults roleplaying as under-18s, full bondage with gags, and a whole raft of other activities that are perfectly valid parts of many people's kinky sexualities. It would gut the site: I estimate well over half of our content, and possibly three quarters of it, falls foul of ATVOD's Rule 14. Not only would complying with this rule strip Dreams of Spanking back to a pitiful, sanitised shadow of its former self, it would be contrary to the most basic tenet of feminist pornography - that of authenticity.
The acts that are banned under the new regulations are a core part of my own sexuality. I didn't ask to be someone who was turned on by the idea of hard spanking that leaves marks, beltings, canings, strappings, riding crop thrashings and all the rest. But since I was six years old, this has been a part of me. I've tried to ignore it, to repress it - but not only does the attempt make me miserable, it doesn't work; trying to control these fantasies just makes them more potent. If, like me, you are turned on by sexual fantasies of hard corporal punishment, the best way to respond is by loving and accepting these fantasies as a true part of your sexuality. Since learning to accept my kink, I have been happier and more fulfilled than ever - and I have not only been lucky enough to act out my fantasies in more ways than I ever imagined, I have found an amazing community of likeminded people who share my enthusiasm.
If I were to pretend that these fantasies aren't a part of me, I would be undoing all that positive work of self-acceptance. It would be like pretending I was straight because it was illegal to be queer. If I were to remove these authentic depictions of my erotic life from Dreams of Spanking, I would be being fake. It is impossible for me comply with ATVOD's demands and still be true to myself; it is impossible for me to comply and still produce feminist porn. Expressing an authentic sexuality is one of the first principles of feminist porn. I don't want to become a fake porn star - and I refuse to lie about who I am.
So what happens next?
On Monday evening, as soon as I got home, I removed the CCBill signup link from our Join page. I'm afraid it's no longer possible to buy a membership to Dreams of Spanking - if you are not a member, I'm very sorry that you've missed your chance. Existing members will be able to access our members-only scenes until 27 August (20 working days after the date of the Determination).
With the help of the legal team at Backlash, I will be appealing to Ofcom (that's the UK Office of Communications, the government body for which ATVOD, a private company, act as unelected bailiffs). But while the appeal is underway, I still need to jump through various hoops if I don't want to jeopardise the process. All our spanking films and photos have to go offline on 27 August, and will remain offline until - unless - we win the appeal.
I don't know how long the appeal will take - a year, maybe more. Hopefully we will be able to announce a triumphant re-launch sometime in 2016 or 2017.
On the 27th, all remaining memberships will be frozen, and all our spanking films and photos will be taken offline.
I'm sorry. But I'm also angry: and I am going to fight.
This isn't the end of Dreams of Spanking - it's the beginning of a long journey to defend our freedom, and fight for the right to kinky self-expression in the UK. We're not the first to be targeted by ATVOD, and we certainly won't be the last. If you want to support the fight, please write to your MP, donate to Backlash, and tell everyone you know what's happening.
Although this site was created to document my personal journey of kinky discovery, it grew into a community - a warm, welcoming, non-judgemental place where we could enjoy our kinks together.
Let's fight together too.
I received your 8 June Preliminary Views about alleged violations of Rules 1 and 4 (register and pay up) plus your new version of Rule 11 (access by minors) and the novel Rule 14 (nothing too naughty) and am availing myself of your kind exhortation to respond.
I am of course delighted that ATVOD consider my pride and joy a 'high quality viewing experience', and the concomitant suggestion it has 'a clear impact on a significant proportion of the general public'. That made my day. Thank you.
Life is full of ironies, and you have illustrated several beautifully.
Let's start with the 'Principal Purpose' test.
Dreams of Spanking is the authentic expression of my fantasies, my sexuality, my truest self. It takes the form of an erotic autobiography, documenting both my real-life kinky explorations with my real-life partners, and roleplayed versions of my fantasies, acted out in costume and purely fictional.
I am unashamedly a spanking enthusiast, porn performer, sexual freedom activist and blogger. I started performing in spanking videos produced by other studios at the age of 22, after nurturing a private interest in the subject since the age of 6 (long before I ever got online - I'm afraid internet porn isn't to blame for this one). Dreams of Spanking is my attempt to create spanking videos which are more authentic, more ethical and more woman-oriented than the material I helped make for other studios. It is the culmination of several years of inspiration and hard work, and it represents my personal spanking kink as honestly as anything I've ever done. I hope you enjoyed researching it.
Dreams of Spanking is a hand-crafted, homemade website. I got stuck into performing, producing, directing, writing, camera operating and video editing as an enthusiastic amateur, entirely self-taught and without any formal training. The only aspect of the site which boasts a professional standard is the design and development of the website itself, as that is what myself and my partner do for a living when we aren't indulging my spanking hobby. It's been a steep learning curve, but a fun one, and my hope is that like-minded viewers will forgive the technical imperfections which result from my learning as I go.
As an activist and feminist, I wanted to innovate and create a new model of socially conscious erotic imagery which catered to female viewers, and prioritised process over product. When I shoot for Dreams of Spanking, providing a high standard of working conditions on set, and a superbly positive experience for my performers, takes precedence over the quality of the resulting stills or video. As you know, I started out as a performer myself, and I mostly shoot with my real-life friends and lovers, so it is perhaps unsurprising that my first priority is to give my friends fun shooting experiences; the creative endeavour comes second. But priotising good working conditions for performers over profitability is also a political statement.
As a feminist porn/art project Dreams of Spanking innovates in a number of ways:
When I watch porn, I want to be sure that the performers were respected on set, that they share my kinks, and enjoyed the shoot. I am also aware that many women, like me, enjoy spanking and want to find respectful, woman-positive material which reflects our ethical values as well as our erotic desires. For years I considered the question, can kinky porn featuring women being spanked be feminist? I think the answer is a resounding "YES!" - and Dreams of Spanking is my small attempt at a proof of concept.
So as well as my erotic theatre of the mind expressed for others to glimpse, Dreams of Spanking is an activist project. I aim to answer the question "How can I tell if a spanking video is truly consensual?" by emphasising performer agency, consent, transparency, real-world context and social responsibility in all the scenes I shoot. This site is neither sleazy nor stereotypical, but an example of fairtrade, free-range spanking.
That was why I created Dreams of Spanking. I wanted to express myself, and I wanted to reach out to likeminded people. I think women like me deserve to be able to watch porn that is made with love - safely, transparently, and responsibly.
Dreams of Spanking is my kinky feminist manifesto. That is its principal purpose.
I find it fascinating that, like the femdom sites which have been disproportionately targeted by your organisation over the last few years, it is Dreams of Spanking - and not any of the more sleazy or stereotypical sites run by men like yourself - that is enjoying your attention. It is almost as if, under the pretense of making online porn "less harmful", you are in fact going out of your way to censor the very projects that are making porn safer.
As for the straining over the balance between written material, still photographs and video which came out of your Preliminary View - well, I found it frankly laughable. These days any creative project, even one curated by a single person with no professional credentials - just masses of creativity - can easily and cheaply avail themselves of consumer-grade technology, and, after a few years of sleepless nights, produce 'a high quality viewing experience'. Competing with traditional linear TV was never in my mind - the very idea that my homegrown, amateur erotica might seriously compete with commercial products is ridiculous. In that respect Dreams of Spanking is very similar to the Urban Chick Supremacy Cell. I'm sure you won't have forgotten how that turned out.
It seems to me from reading previous Determinations that when it suits ATVOD, any adult video is claimed to be 'TV-like', so I am not going to waste effort trying to convince you you are mistaken in your analysis. Though I will admit to being quietly gratified my amateur cameras and creativity convinced you otherwise.
Turning to my Rule 11 infraction, whilst I disagree that my material 'might seriously impair' persons under eighteen or that they would ‘normally see or hear’ such material, I did find it a bit concerning that viewers could sign up using a debit card as I was under the impression this wasn't possible via CCBill - at least that's what they said to me. I am in the process of finding out how to disable that capability.
As for payments by direct bank transfer or by post, since no one ever uses that I'll happily remove the offer, and the ‘Amazon Gift Card’, which is there because I am a voracious book lover.
I had not previously registered the significance of the dog that didn't bark, to wit 'Section 368E (5) draws no distinction between a still and a moving image: a still image included within an ODPS is therefore subject to the same restrictions as those applying to moving images'. However as Rule 11 now derives from the December 2014 SI your attack on stills falls within comments I will make below.
On to Rule 14, which we indies now refer to the 'face-sitting' rule after the demonstration before Parliament last December. Initially I thought you were having a laugh citing 'Ariel's Sponsored Caning' as constituting 'material which 'involves the infliction of pain or acts which may cause lasting physical harm, whether real or (in a sexual context) simulated', which is prohibited by the BBFC in a pornographic work' - but I have been solemnly advised that no, that is indeed what the BBFC think. Or perhaps more accurately, are forced by the CPS and Met Police to say they think, even if privately they think nothing of the kind.
The wording itself is ambiguous - "involves the infliction of pain or acts which may cause lasting physical harm, whether real or (in a sexual context) simulated". Can "infliction of pain" really be enough to categorise content as prohibited? Not only did this particular video demonstrably not cause "lasting physical harm", but it is foolhardy to attempt to assess the likelihood of lasting harm from graded camera footage. If you read the linked documents, you will see that it is ridiculous to use these marks as evidence that this caning "may have caused lasting physical harm". So I wonder if you are perhaps including 'Ariel's Sponsored Caning' simply as evidence of "the infliction of pain"? But that makes no sense, because the CPS guidelines on the BBFC regulations allow for "moderate" pain play which leaves transient marks such as reddening of the skin. So if infliction of pain is permissible in some contexts, infliction of pain by itself can't be grounds for censorship. In this instance therefore I conclude that you must be referring to "acts which may cause lasting physical harm", and not just "the infliction of pain" - and I am sorry to tell you that you are mistaken.
Lasting physical harm was evidently not caused, and if this document does not convince you, Ariel has kindly volunteered to produce her unmarked bottom in evidence. Please let me know when you would like to inspect it.
What I cannot fathom is why you expend such effort on sites such as mine, which are worlds away from the kind of propaganda you induce opinion-formers such as the wife of the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice to broadcast widely - the "hard, sickening, degrading porn - the kind of stuff that, until very recently, you could buy only under the counter or in licensed sex shops - some of the most depraved acts ever to be performed by one human being on another … things that are so seared onto my retinas that they will not, I fear, fade any time soon … young women, their faces contorted in pain; sexual vocabulary I never even imagined existed; human flesh displayed like meat on a butcher’s block … visions that, as the mother of two children aged 10 and 11, have genuinely led to sleepless nights and a kind of pressing anxiety about their future … a Hieronymus Bosch vision of hell made flesh ... unfolding in front of my very eyes here, in a small, neat office in the shadow of the great castle in the Queen’s home town of Windsor here with Peter Johnson, chief executive of the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD), set up by Ofcom in 2010 to monitor the editorial content of services available on-demand on the internet, from your BBC iPlayer to companies such as Netflix and Sky". Such descriptions are infinitely more lurid than the safe, sane and consensual play depicted on Dreams of Spanking.
The disconnect between what you say and what you do is remarkable, even for an age in which politicians are increasingly despised for their two-faced behaviour.
On second thoughts perhaps I can fathom this messianic zeal - I'm told your CEO Peter Johnson is a very ambitious man who wants to make a reputation for himself and become the next CEO of the BBFC itself. My advice is, tread carefully.
Anyway, my substantive representation is as follows. Your Rule 11 and 14 claims rely on an implementation of the AVMS that goes way beyond the provisions of the underlying Directive 2010/13/EU. Whilst I accept that in certain quarters it is currently in vogue to blame all the ills of society on those dastardly continentals, when approving the Treaty to join the EU in 1972 Parliament anticipated this pernicious influence in the European Communities Act 1972, and under Section 2(2) granted a Secretary of State the power only to pass secondary legislation for the purpose of implementing any EU obligation, but to go no further - an interpretation buttressed by case law, in particular Marleasing SA v La Comercial Internacional de Alimentacion SA  1 CMLR 305.
Hence I submit the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014, which introduced sections 368E(2) and (3) into the Communications Act 2003, were made ultra vires the Secretary of State's power to pass secondary legislation.
Now I am sad to learn that when responding to previously expressed representations on this point, your Board simply claimed this is a matter for the Courts. Well, if that is your considered view, so be it. I do hope disclosure will not reveal ATVOD were well aware of the ultra vires issue but chose to ignore it, because that would be a rather irresponsible way for a regulator to behave.
When I talk to someone about the AVMS guidelines, which control what content it is now legal to distribute online in the UK, their first question is always how on earth these regulations came to pass. Why is facesitting banned, but not gagging on cock? Why can UK video producers not show female ejaculation, but male ejaculation is permissible? Why are the guidelines weirdly specific on the details of a high number of niche activities only found within female domination porn - such as trampling, ballbusting, facesitting, scissoring, wrestling, urethral sounds, anal insertion and BDSM pain play - but no mention is made of countless other obscure fetishes?
After I describe these inconsistencies, the person I'm talking to usually makes a face as they try to imagine how such a bizarre list of banned acts could possibly be compiled. Perhaps they envisage a group of old white men sitting in a boardroom, listing all the fetishes they can think of on a whiteboard, deleting some and underlining others. Half the fetishes on the internet they have never heard of, so they don't get a mention. None of these old white men have ever made a woman squirt, so the consensus is that female ejaculation is a myth, and probably urine - better ban it. But perhaps some of them have guiltily visited a dominatrix or watched femdom porn, so those activities are on their radar - along with all the attendant anxiety of a repressed sexuality. It's potent stuff, they might think, but it's also clearly morally suspect. Best to remove the temptation and ban it all together.
But it's a little more complicated by that. In fact these regulations weren't intentionally assembled by ATVOD or by any other organisation - the truth is weird, convoluted and spans fifty decades of case law. To understand quite how the AVMS guidelines arose we need to go back in time to 1959, when the Obscene Publications Act was passed. This became famous the following year during the trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover, and it defines a publication as obscene if its effect is:
to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.
There are two relevant points here. Firstly, the definition of obscenity as something that "depraves or corrupts" is not an absolute standard, but a moving one. We are neither depraved nor corrupted by seeing things that we have grown up seeing; depravity and corruption refer to things that are unusual, shocking. So this standard changes with the standards of the times: imagery which would have been considered depraved or corrupt in 1959 might now be considered positively modest, or at least perfectly conventional, and is often plastered all over billboards and posters in our public spaces.
In 1959, any depiction of sexual intercourse in a cinematic work was illegal. So was having gay sex in the privacy of your own home. 1959 standards of obscenity are not current standards.
So it's a little weird that since the OPA, which itself was a dramatic reform of obscenity law in the UK, the law has not been updated. The Act was amended in 1964 - but only regarding what sort of material might be considered a "publication", not in the definition of obscenity itself. The "National Campaign for the Repeal of the Obscene Publications Acts" (NCROPA) was set up in 1976 and operated until the late 1990s, but it was unsuccessful, and the OPA stands. Meanwhile the moving standard of "deprave or corrupt" has evolved via legal precedent in a series of test cases. The most recent of these was R v Peacock, with obscenity lawyer and Backlash advisor Myles Jackman (successfully) representing the defendant, resulting in an acquittal.
Since individuals are still being prosecuted under a law as outdated as the OPA, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has developed guidelines on how the Act should be interpreted. So even though the standard of obscenity defined in the OPA bears no relation to current social norms, there are knock-on effects which still significantly impact English law. One instance of this is the list of activities prohibited by the British Board of Film Classification.
I warned you this was complicated.
Some background: In the UK it's illegal to sell DVDs, videos or other physical video media unless the film has been classified by the BBFC, which is the UK film regulator. UK film producers have to send their film to the BBFC, pay a fee per minute for them to watch it, and then the BBFC either classify it, or send you feedback on what you would need to change to get it classified.
The CPS guidelines on what can be classified as R18, and which acts are considered too obscene to ever be shown, are based on an interpretation of the Obscene Publications Act.
R18 is the highest BBFC classification, higher than 18. Hardcore porn is classified as R18, or - if it contains acts which are deemed "obscene" - it is refused classification unless those acts are removed. Hardcore pornography depicting real, unsimulated sexual intercourse was unclassifiable under R18 until the year 2000. This is five years after internet porn became a household thing during the dot com boom. English law is way behind the times.
What happened in December last year with the introduction of the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Regulations 2014 is that a statutory instrument was passed, transposed from an EU directive, which brought the law regarding online video on demand services in the UK in line with the existing BBFC regulations controlling what you could sell on DVD. Until this law was passed, internet business had been unregulated. Niche fetish video prohibited by the BBFC moved online, and became a thriving industry. That is, until two decades worth of UK video on demand sites were criminalised in one fell swoop.
So if you challenge ATVOD about the ludricrous, inconsistent and sexist nature of the AVMS regulations, they will pass the buck: oh, they say, the guidelines are from the BBFC, they've been in place for years, they aren't new, we're just applying them to the internet now to level the playing field. If you ask the BBFC where this list comes from, they will say oh, it's not up to us, they're based on the CPS guidelines. That is, the list of categories of material most commonly prosecuted under the OPA, which is published by the Crown Prosecution Service and developed in consultation with the police.
And if you ask the CPS when they last updated their list? Well, they certainly haven't changed it in response to recent obscenity trials. As Myles Jackman writes of R v Peacock:
My client was tried for publishing supposedly obscene DVDs of male fisting, urination and BDSM; and was found Not Guilty by the jury. Despite being widely reported and commented upon in the media, the CPS have not yet updated their Guidance on the OPA in the light of this landmark jury decision.
So let's recap.
The only way continued reference to the 56-year-old OPA by UK authorities is justifiable is if the CPS Guidance is continually updated in response to legal precedent, as juries rule on new cases. That case law is how the moving standard of what is likely to "deprave or corrupt" is maintained in a changing world.
In 2012 - three years ago now - a jury of Michael Peacock's peers ruled that the hardcore gay BDSM fisting DVDs he was offering for sale were not likely to deprave or corrupt anyone who watched them. The consensus seemed to be that you wouldn't watch it unless you were already into it. The jury, having watched them in the courtroom, felt neither depraved nor corrupted; and certainly no more likely to go out and try these activities than they had been beforehand. However, three years after this legal ruling, "fisting" is still a prohibited activity listed in the CPS Guidance on the OPA.
And that list informs the BBFC guidelines; and that list has now been applied to online video on demand services.
If the BBFC guidelines had been updated before the AVMS 2014 slapped them onto a whole new sector of industry, affecting thousands more small UK businesses - or if the CPS had revisited and updated their guidelines to accurately reflect the current state of English case law before the AVMS was brought in - then this would be more tolerable. But the CPS have not done this. Perhaps they, along with many other public services, are feeling the pinch of UK austerity.
It is ridiculous to haul out old, outdated guidelines which do not accurately represent the current state of English case law, and use them to criminalise a whole sector of the creative industry which had never before been regulated. It is shocking that these regulations were passed as a statutory instrument, without any due democratic process, by unelected civil servants, and not debated in Parliament by our elected representatives. It is unforgivable that an unelected quango like ATVOD - a private company that pays its directors healthy salaries and which didn't exist a few years ago - should be set up as an official regulator of previously legitimate businesses, enforcing out-of-date regulations and operating what amounts to a protection racket, extorting fees from business owners for the privilege of being censored.
But that is exactly what's happening in the UK right now.
I spent all of May anticipating a letter from ATVOD, and by the time I went on holiday at the end of the month, none had arrived. I met with Ms Tytania (who successfully appealed to Ofcom regarding ATVOD's Determination against her site the Urban Chick Supremacy Cell in 2014) for coffee, and she gave me some more info on the appeal process. For instance, I learned that while her appeal was underway, she took her members section offline, but left her site and blog up. She also suggested that it might be months until ATVOD issued me with their Preliminary View (that is, their first report on the site and whether it is in breach of their guidelines) - they are pursuing lots of cases at the moment and in the case of UCSC, they sometimes kept her waiting a long time for a reply.
I came back from holiday feeling refreshed, and got stuck back into work on Dreams of Spanking with enthusiasm. The detachment and depression I'd felt after I first learned of ATVOD's investigation felt like a thing of the past. For a couple of weeks, I took pleasure in editing videos and promotiing the site.
Then on Monday I received a letter from ATVOD enclosing their Preliminary View on Dreams of Spanking.
The PV took the form of a summary PDF signed by CEO Peter Johnson, and three documents - the first one (7 pages) declaring that I was in breach of Rules 1 and 4 for failing to notify them that I was running a Video on Demand service and for failing to volunteer to pay their annual registration fee, the second (8 pages) a description of the ways in which the site is in breach of Rule 11 for making 'restricted material' available to view without age verification e.g. having to enter credit card details, and the third document (5 pages) declared that the site was in breach of rule 14 for including 'prohibited material' - that is, content which is too 'extreme' to be classified as R18 according to the British Board of Film Classification.;
At first read it makes for effective psychodrama. The first document goes into excruciating, pre-emptively defensive detail about why exactly ATVOD consider Dreams of Spanking to be a Video on Demand service by their definition, with particular emphasis on the reasons they feel the films are "TV-like". I admit I briefly felt intimidated - particularly by the all-caps, all-bold REAL NAME YOU ARE IN BREACH OF RULE BLAH BLAH statement at the end of each document - but then it struck me as trying too hard, ridiculous. For fully effective scare tactics they might as well has gone the whole hog and had it red and dripping blood, too. No government agency which was secure in its authority would resort to such puffed-up posturing.
The level of detail they've gone into is surreal. As I paged through the documents, reading chapter and verse on all the ways they consider my work to be a) under their authority and b) unacceptable, mixed feelings arose. On one level it was kind of gratifying to have my indulgent little porn site taken so seriously by a commercial regulator - I mean, I think they're coming at it all wrong, but at least they've done some research. On another, more irrational, level it felt somewhat violating. I guess when you publish niche fetish material online there's an implicit assumption that only likeminded folks will pay close attention. I know rationally that there's no guarantee of that, and if you'd asked me I'd have said it was a silly expectation to have. But still, I can't deny it felt uncomfortable to have my personal porn project dissected by hostile outsiders.
But I also couldn't help seeing the funny side. I mean, the sheer time and effort it must have taken to compile ... surely the no doubt skilled professionals who wrote these documents could be spending their time in a more productive way than poking their nose into other people's erotic lives online? And then there was how seriously they were taking it all - and the cost...
These people are paid (no doubt handsome) salaries to watch niche porn and methodically tear it apart - all funded by the fees they extract from other niche pornographers. As Ben Yates wrote for XBiz in March, "If they were the mafia, their fees would be termed protection money and their business model would be extortion."
So what do ATVOD have to say about Dreams of Spanking?
How's that for a cover quote? This paragraph tickled me so much that I've temporarily made it our Twitter cover picture - perhaps I should add ATVOD's review to the ones on our splash page.
Also, as Hywel pointed out,
@DreamofSpanking Go us. "Do not have the appearance of having been with consumer grade camera". ATVOD technically clueless as well, then.— Restrained Elegance (@RElegance) June 8, 2015
The cameras I use to shoot video for Dreams of Spanking are this one and this one. I bought the HF200 from Amazon for about £500 back in 2010, and the HF306 for £200 a couple of years later. Hardly commercial grade, and you can tell: the image is often grainy, with no manual focus or shallow depth of field, and responds badly to low lighting. I colour grade the best I can in Premiere, but when it comes to film-making I'm self-taught and operating on a miniscule budget. Are ATVOD really so clueless that they can't tell the difference betweeh this and commercial broadcast media?
As Nimue Allen pointed out, it's particularly weird of them to cite behind the scenes material as an example of something that makes our videos "TV-like", when you don't get behind the scenes out-takes and interviews on TV - it's a DVD extras thing.
And then there's this:
Don't even get me started on the problems inherent with using appropriate credits, behind the scenes materials showing consent, and "high production values" as evidence that our videos should be censored. What's that meant to do - encourage people to attempt to avoid regulation by making terrible porn?
@DreamofSpanking "Why pick Dreams, ATVOD?" "it was the credits, m'lud. Only TV programmes EVER credit their performers" =\— Girl on the Net (@girlonthenet) June 8, 2015
I've heard it argued that the AVMS 2014 (the Statutory Instrument that came into effect last December granting ATVOD these new powers) is aimed at bringing down the free tube sites, but based on these criteria, which exclude most of the offerings on tube sites - they usually don't include narrative, credits or out-of-character expressions of consent - I really don't understand how.
As if this ridiculousness wasn't enough, the document contained a number of typing errors.
Could do better, ATVOD. See me after class.
But the most ludicrous of their claims is in the document on Rule 14, in which they cite two scenes as examples of "prohibited material". One is "Slight Damage to the Rear End", which isn't surprising as the only reason that scene (which depicts caning hard enough to draw blood) is still on the site is that CCBill haven't noticed it yet. But the other is "Ariel's Sponsored Caning", the first of our free protest videos as part of our fundraiser for Backlash. The irony of them picking a video which was explicitly created to challenge the AVMS guidelines and ATVOD's authority is incredible. I can only hope that they paid close attention to the interviews at the start - it's funny to imagine them watching them and fuming.
"Lasting physical harm" - really? Let's revisit the scene in question. This is probably the clearest image of Ariel's welts by the end of the caning:
Now I don't know about you, but to me those look like fairly moderate cane welts. A little raising of the skin, but for the most part they're pink rather than dark red or purple, with only one darker line on the crease. Even compared with the rest of the sponsored caning videos - which are all free to view - these stripes are relatively mild, which makes it doubly weird that they picked out this one.
Here's what Ariel had to say about ATVOD's interpretation of her caning as "lasting physical harm":
@DreamofSpanking Jeez. They lasted for 1 week. Almost exactly. My bottom is *back to normal* Because we aren't insane. WTF.— Ariel Anderssen (@ArielAnderssen) June 8, 2015
Are marks that heal up within a few days really "lasting harm"? It's ludicrous that a group of people who know almost nothing about BDSM should attempt this sort of external, ill-informed assessment of which acts "might cause lasting harm". If the level of damage is the deciding factor, how on earth can they tell from the images shot on the day how long the marks took to heal? Everyone has different rates of healing, and I've had marks like this which disappeared overnight. Is that still "lasting harm"?
Then there's the arrogance of ATVOD deciding how "harmed" a performer was, or might have been, without paying any attention to the testimony of that performer. (In this instance, Ariel's smiles and hugs at the end of the film clearly show that neither of us was harmed during the filming of this video.) But why make assumptions? Since they were apparently so dedicated to their "research", how hard would it have been for ATVOD to contact Ariel and ask her themselves? Her email address is right there on her user profile.
That's the thing about feminist porn: the performers are real people, with online presence and social media profiles, and you can follow the links and find out for yourself how they felt about a given scene and how long it took them to recover. But it seems ATVOD would rather stand in judgement of porn performers than actually talk to them.
Re-reading it now, I'm actually confused about how to read that wording - This constitutes material which “involves the infliction of pain or acts which may cause lasting physical harm, whether real or (in a sexual context) simulated”. The infliction of pain or acts which may cause lasting physical harm? Is it possible that they aren't citing Ariel's caned bottom as evidence of lasting physical harm after all, but simply as evidence of "the infliction of pain"? But that makes no sense, because the guidelines allegedly allow for "moderate" pain play which leaves transient marks such as reddening of the skin. So if infliction of pain is permissible in some contexts, that by itself can't be grounds for censorship. In this instance therefore I think ATVOD must be referring to "acts which may cause lasting physical harm", and not just "the infliction of pain".
I love this idea. ATVOD have given me 10 working days to make legal representations to defend myself - perhaps we should append a lengthy collection of "before" and "after" bottom photos to prove that none of the material on Dreams of Spanking caused lasting physical harm to the performers.
The other thing that's particularly messed up about legislating BDSM material based on the perceived severity of the resulting marks is that marking is so very variable. Any player will tell you that some people mark more than others, and how much each of us marks depends on how much we've been playing lately, how well warmed up we are in a given scene, how well we take care of our skin with soothing lotion, moisturiser, aloe vera etc, and myriad other factors. Is it really the case that (for instance) a 25 stroke caning delivered after a lengthy warm-up session with hand, leather paddle and strap, resulting in a rosy red glow but no visible welts, would be permissible, but the same caning (or even a lighter one) delivered straight from cold, would be prohibited? How does that make sense?
Not to mention the fact that banning heavy marking discriminates against less-experienced bottoms - which disproportionately targets amateur porn and studios working with new performers rather than those who only work with experienced bottoms.
@DreamofSpanking Frankly, I've had pimples on my bum that hung around longer than any DoS marks.
— Adele Haze (@AdeleHaze) June 8, 2015
Finally, there's the fact that these criteria are only applied to "pornographic works", created "primarily for the purposes of sexual arousal". But eroticism is in the eyes of the viewer. You only need to take one look at the Clips4Sale categories list to realise that things you always thought were perfectly mundane are, for some people, the height of sexual excitement. So who gets to decide what is "pornographic", and why are we allowed to publish video of acts that may cause lasting physical harm in some contexts, but not in others?
I've had worse marks from Medieval re-enactment, and that's 100% legal.— Restrained Elegance (@RElegance) June 8, 2015
Here are some examples of "lasting physical harm" I have had that lasted longer than Ariel's cane marks:
All these these activities were undertaken deliberately and with full awareness of the risks involved. Should video of people swimming, doing parkour, hula hooping, or attacking their cats' fluffy bellies be illegal to distribute too?
The thing that really bites is that as a feminist porn producer I go out of my way to ensure the consent and wellbeing of the performers I work with. These guidelines make absolutely no provision for consent, for whether the acts are undertaken in a safe and responsible way, for the health and happiness of the performers, or for the production ethics, transparency and accountability of the service in question.
Under these guidelines, you can publish a four-boy, one-girl hardcore porn scene that includes double penetration and lots of gagging on cock, and you're absolutely fine provided it's shot with shoddy production values with no storyline, no performer interviews or behind the scenes, and no credits. But if you go out of your way to create something better, if you strive to be ethical and responsible, and if you dare to authentically express a kinky sexuality in a consensual, thoughtful and critical way - that's obviously "harmful", and they'll come after you and shut you down.
This blogpost is an update regarding my ongoing investigation by ATVOD, the UK's new Authority for Television and Video On-Demand, which has set itself up as the regulator of internet video pornography. You can read my first blogpost about this process here.
There are a few factors that make this whole thing particularly stressful which I haven't mentioned yet. The most significant is this: if and when ATVOD issue their Determination against me (that is, the final step of their investigation process), they are likely to out me. The way they are likely to do this is by publishing my legal name as the Service Provider of the site Dreams of Spanking on the list of 2015 Determinations on their website. Nearly all of the providers ATVOD have targeted so far this year have been listed by their legal name.
ATVOD like outing people
I was given the heads-up by Ms Tytania, who is currently the only producer legally permitted to sell video online in the UK without being registered with (i.e. censored by) ATVOD. With Backlash's help, she successfully appealed to Ofcom and over-ruled ATVOD's determination that she was operating illegally, and is now free to continue running her anarchist femdom site The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell without further disruption.
It was Ms Tytania who pointed out to me that on the list of 2014 Determinations on ATVOD's website, the names of the service providers are listed inconsistently. Some, such as Madame Caramel (who removed videos from her site at ATVOD's insistence) are permitted to retain their scene name and their privacy. Others, such as Ms Tytania, who challenged ATVOD's authority and subsequently won her appeal to Ofcom, are listed under their legal name. I'm not saying it's a comprehensive pattern, but ATVOD are undeniably maintaining a degree of unpredictability here. If ATVOD has in fact exercised their discretion to out producers that challenge them, then that's a disgusting abuse of authority. The social stigma faced by people who work in the adult industry is already bad enough without ambitious regulators exploiting it to punish those who stand up to them.
So I might be outed, but I don't know - and both the prospect and the uncertainty are pretty stressful.
To compound the stress, halfway through my correspondence with ATVOD I learned that there were various tactics I could use to potentially protect my privacy - for instance, legally changing my name, or registering a new company and transferring ownership of Dreams of Spanking to it - and had to quickly decide whether to jump through one of these additional hoops. All of them were a hassle, and none of them guaranteed that ATVOD wouldn't go ahead and out me anyway. They had already addressed their correspondence to my legal name, so at the end of the day, they could publish it if they wanted. No matter what I tried, it was ultimately out of my control. I decided to conserve my energies for the fight ahead.
Facing this - my legal name being publicly connected, for the first time, with my work as a porn performer and producer - is emotionally exhausting. I've maintained online separation between my porn name and my wallet name for ten years, and the compartmentalisation has been hugely beneficial to both my privacy and my wellbeing. Now, all that is threatened, and I don't even know if I can figure out ahead of time what the consequences are likely to be. I do know it will be life-changing, and my relationship with family may never be the same. I know that sex workers have lost their homes, their jobs, their children and their lives because of the stigma attached to their line of work. Porn is one of the least marginalised forms of sex work, but I know porn workers who have lost their jobs and faced abuse (both online and offline) when they were maliciously outed. I'm not ashamed of who I am or what I do, but in this day and age, losing your privacy is a hell of a thing. If ATVOD truly are using the threat of this to punish those who stand up to them, I think it's vile.
So the stakes are high. Every decision I've had to make during this process has been fraught. Even writing this post will have consequences. If I'm going to be outed, maybe I shouldn't call attention to the fact ahead of time - maybe I should just let it quietly happen, and hope no-one notices. But it's surely only a matter of time before a journalist picks up on it - and if it's inevitable, the least I can do is use my case as an example to show the world how ATVOD treats its victims.
So why don't I just move overseas?
This is the first question everyone asks, and I've been sick of it since the first week the new laws came in last December. There are lots of reasons why:
It's not enough to just move the hosting of the site overseas - what ATVOD care about is who has "editorial control" of the site. In order to effectively slip through their net, I would have to sign editorial rights for Dreams of Spanking over to an agent overseas. I'd need to transfer the hosting and the domain registration into their name. I would have to either transfer my CCBill account to their name, or get them to set up a new CCBill account and change the billing forms on the site accordingly. All of this adds up to a lot of effort and expense. If I wanted to carry on editing videos (and I'm not letting anyone else edit my videos - they're my damn creation and no-one else would do it right) I would have to be contracted by the new owner as a freelance video editor. And if I wanted to get paid at all, either for the site itself (I don't know anyone who could afford to buy a porn site outright, even a small one like Dreams of Spanking) or for my ongoing editing work, we'd have be very careful with the payments so as to not seem suspiciously like I was, in fact, still running the site. In order to back up this transfer of ownership, I'd then have to distance myself from the site online, both on the site itself and on my blogs and social media. As far as the public was concerned Dreams of Spanking would no longer be Pandora Blake's spanking site - and legally speaking, that would be absolutely true.
Not only would these bureaucratic hoops eat a huge amount of time, energy and money at a time when I have very little, I just can't stomach it. Dreams of Spanking is mine. It's an autobiography - it documents my relationships, my fantasies, and my evolving kinky sexuality. I conceived it, planned it and executed it. I paid for everything out of my personal savings. I have never shared ownership of it with anyone else. It's mine: my art, my activism and my kink. I don't want the world to think it's not mine, and I don't want to give control of it away. This might be irrational and stubborn, but it's how I feel.
The initial advice I had in December was that moving overseas wasn't, ultimately, a viable way of escaping ATVOD's notice. By the time I got stuck into the details and learned that it might be an option if I jumped through all the hoops listed above, they were already investigating me and had already sent me a letter. They knew who I was and where I was based. Any attempt at this point to relocate the site would be too little, too late.
ATVOD are threatening the future of independent, alternative, ethical porn within the UK. This is an issue I have devoted years of my life to, and which I care deeply about. I don't want to spend my time, money and effort running away. I want to stand and fight.
Why don't I move myself overseas, and take the site with me?
All the hassle and expense I've just enumerated would be multiplied by actually emigrating. It would also be an imperfect solution - ATVOD CEO Peter Johnson has made it quite clear that his eventual aim is to extend the UK internet filter to block all sites across the globe from being viewed within the UK unless they comply with their regulations, not just UK sites.
Quite aside from the stress and ultimate futility of moving away, however, this question makes me furious. The UK is my home. Why should I be the one to leave? I grew up here. My life is here. My support network, my partner, my friends, my history and my family are here. My partner and lovers couldn't come with me, and I don't want to lose all the connections I've spent thirty years building on these shores. I love these islands and I want to stay here and help make them better. I don't want to jump ship.
Attempting to persuade me and other UK producers that we should willingly exile ourselves is traumatic, stressful and victim-blaming. By doing this you are helping the censors who want to cleanse the UK of anything they find distasteful. Stop it.
The second letter
On 24th March, ATVOD joined Dreams of Spanking again (I got £20 out of them this time, because I'd cancelled the five day subscription option since they bought one in January. Riches!). They looked at a few more scenes than the first time, when they only skimmed a handful of videos and photosets. This time, their browsing seemed to be focused on the more 'extreme' end of my content - they seemed to be exploring the severe and welts tags, and they paid particular attention to Vincent Brennan's judicial caning scene, and subsequent hand and wooden ruler spanking over his fresh cane welts.
On 2nd April - a mere two days after I'd replied to the first one - ATVOD sent me a second letter, asking me to explain my claim that I don't fall within their area of jurisdiction. I took legal advice, and replied to it on April 23rd. I'm now waiting for their next move - probably their Preliminary View, followed by a Determination. That's the point at which they'll out me, if they're going to.
What happens next?
Once ATVOD issues their Determination, two things happen. Firstly, I will appeal to Ofcom on the same grounds laid down in my most recent reply to ATVOD, which is that I (and Backlash) believe that they are over-reaching their authority and acting beyond the remit of the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive. Secondly, I will need to stop operating, because otherwise it'll complicate the appeal process and it's very likely to scupper my chances. I'm not sure what "stopping operating" exactly means as yet, but it almost certainly means making Dreams of Spanking unavailable for the duration of the appeal. I don't know how long the appeal will take - months at least, perhaps a year. Once the appeal is underway I won't be allowed to discuss the details in public, which is why I'm explaining all this ahead of time.
So even if Backlash and their legal advisors are right (and I think they are) and I am not operating illegally, because the EU AVMS was never intended to apply to small cottage-industry websites which are expressions of a personal lifestyle - "communities of interest" serving a fetish niche, with low turnover and profit margins, and certainly not economic competitors to national or international TV broadcasters - even if Ofcom agrees on all those points and I win my appeal, I still have to take my site offline for a long period of time, and I still might get outed.
While the appeal is underway I'll lose the regular traffic I've spent three and a half years building up. My Google page rank will suffer. The threat of being outed is more serious: if it happens my life will be transformed in ways I can't anticipate right now. I'll lose my privacy, and I might lose more than that.
Overall, it's a lose/lose for me. Even if I eventually emerge triumphant, ATVOD will still have given me and my Dream a serious smacking. It sucks.
What particularly sucks is that it looks like ATVOD are singling me out. None of the fellow spanking or BDSM producers I personally know have been contacted by them, except the femdom sites they've been going after since they finished targeting Murdoch and his ilk. (Apparently male domination is fine but female domination is highly suspect, according to the patriarchal UK porn censor.) It also seems as if my investigation has been accelerated compared to other producers - if they issue their Determination in June, the whole process will only have taken around three months from start to finish. But perhaps ATVOD are merely getting into the swing of things, and getting more efficient every time they force another harmless independent adult site to disappear.
It seems pretty likely that my visibility as a campaigner has made me a target. In other words, ATVOD are punishing me for speaking out against them. My priorities as a loud-mouthed activist have, it seems, ended up conflicting with my priorities as a creative artist. If I'd kept my head down and stayed quiet, and not attended any protests, or argued against the regulations on the news, or done interviews with the press - if I'd not written a lot of angry blogposts or fundraised £3826 to help Backlash fight the laws - maybe I'd have been left alone a bit longer. But I can't say I have any regrets.
So what am I going to do? Well, I'm going to keep creating my unique brand of feminist spanking fantasies until the last possible moment - I want to publish as many videos as I can before the axe falls. I am consulting closely with Backlash and especially the inimitable Myles Jackman, the UK's top obscenity lawer, and if ATVOD rule against me they will help me appeal to Ofcom. Hopefully, once this has all blown over, we can all look forward to a glorious Dreams of Spanking re-launch next year. But - even more than launching this site in the first place - this is going to be the biggest gamble of my life.