Well, after lying low for a bit to recover from the shock of being investigated by ATVOD, I've realised I may only have a short amount of time to publish the content I care about, and I've got stuck back into editing with a vengeance. In the last couple of weeks we've not only released a new members film and spanking photo gallery, but two new editions of our sponsored caning project. With £3836 to cover at a rate of one cane stroke per £10, that's a lot of caning - and we split the 383 strokes between ten volunteers (plus some firm hand spanking to cover the extra six quid). So I hope you aren't tired of these free caning videos yet - because with six now published, we still have four to go!
Rosie Bottomley is the girlfriend of Nimue Allen, and she's a caning enthusiast, spanking model and erotic fiction writer. She was the first person after Nimue and me to volunteer her bottom for the cause - and the resulting video, shot and edited by Nimue, is a delightful portrait of their affectionate, playful relationship.
The tone is set at the start of Rosie's interview, when she mischievously explains, "What we are doing today is hitting me on the bottom - with a stick - fifty times." She is totally charming, and also bang on point as she expresses her frustration with the UK porn laws - if an act is legal to do it shouldn't be illegal to depict, and putting a camera in the room and sharing it online shouldn't criminalise an act which would otherwise be legal.
The thing these laws fail to recognise is that in the social media age, sharing online is an increasingly common part of a kinky lifestyle. These regulations don't just affect big corporate studios, but anyone making and sharing homegrown fetish videos in the UK. The internet finally offers a solution to the isolation that all kinky people growing up and thinking they are the only person on the planet with their fetish. Suddenly, for the first time in history, we can connect with each other online - we can realise we aren't alone, and looking at media created and shared by likeminded kinsters can validate and reassure those with marginalised sexualities, whom society all too often stigmatises as freakish, predatory or dangerous. Unfortunately, this move towards collective self-acceptance is, it seems, exactly what ATVOD wants to stop. The UK porn censors want us to feel like freaks. They don't think we deserve to feel validated, or fulfilled, or happy - they don't think we deserve to feel as if there was nothing wrong with us, because they think there is something wrong with us. These laws are born out of outright kinkphobia, stigmatising perfectly common and harmless sexual fetishes. We can't help being kinky - and criminalising the sexual expression and social sharing of kinky individuals is just as socially harmful as if a law had been passed criminalising videos depicting gay sex.
In fact, queer sexuality is targeted by these laws as well - which ban the depiction of fisting and other non-phallic sexual acts, such as penetration with objects if they are "associated with violence" (what does that even mean?) - and female sexuality. One of the most egregious chauvinist double standards in the new laws is that female ejaculation is banned if the fluid falls onto another person or is licked up or swallowed - whereas the equivalent acts of male ejaculation are permitted. The laws marginalise kinky, queer and female sexuality which are not only pretty common, but in the case of female ejaculation a natural, unavoidable response to sexual pleasure. Heaven forbid that porn should depict women enjoying sex!
Rosie rightly points out that there is absolutely no harm in watching this sort of porn, making it, or sharing it with likeminded consenting adults - but there is huge social harm in demonising people who do so.
If you're nodding along to all of this and feeling righteously indignant, then do watch Rosie's sponsored caning video, which was part of our fundraiser to raise cash for Backlash UK, the campaign group committed to fighting these draconian laws. She's not only articulate and fierce in her explanation of why the laws are so damaging, but - as if to prove the censors wrong in no uncertain terms - the caning itself is utterly lovely. Rosie and Nimue have a beautifully relaxed dynamic, and Rosie's cheerful wit turns into hilarious noises and giggles as the pain starts to sink in.
These 50 strokes are no joke - the first one made my eyes water, and dark pink and red welts quickly bloom on Rosie's pale skin. But if there was any doubt that this sort of play can be done in a fun, healthy and harmless way as part of a loving, supportive relationship, Rosie and Nimue prove it.
Rosie has also sent me a few of her spanking erotica stories, and I'm hoping to record them and publish them on Dreams of Spanking as audio stories - if we get a chance to do so before the censors close us 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.
Michelle Knight is a bondage fan and activist against porn censorship. Despite not being a fan of corporal punishment, she volunteered to take fifty hard cane strokes in protest against ATVOD. Why? Well, as Michelle explains:
“I'm doing this not for my own pleasure, but to help raise the money to take them to court.”
Bravely, Michelle bends over the sofa and calmly takes every single stroke – her first caning on camera. Her reasons for doing so are more complicated than you might think, and her pre-shoot interview gives some fascinating background on the history of UK porn censorship, as well as her personal reasons for taking on this challenge.
Reason 1: Show the truth, not the fiction
“There's a lot of fiction out there,” explains Michelle. She's spent the last twenty years educating people on issues to do with sexuality – running bondage website RealBondage.co.uk and writing books, as well as taking part in support groups for trans people. “There's a lot of fiction out there, and people are making decisions based on that.”
Her website and books are aimed telling the truth about bondage for people who are curious. Michelle explains that, when not given the right information, people are reliant on a fiction about BDSM and sexuality that encourages them to 'panic, panic, panic!'
What better way to challenge that fiction than by showing a real-life caning scene, complete with discussion, negotiation, and occasional breaks for tea and banana cake?
Reason 2: It's not the first time
Protesting the UK porn laws is not new to Michelle, who confesses that “ever since 2008 I've been a thorn in the side of the CPS, Home Office, Lords, my MP – oh boy!”
The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act in 2008 (often referred to as the 'Extreme Porn Law') sought to ban 'extreme' porn, and as you might have guessed, the word 'extreme' includes plenty of bondage, spanking, other forms of BDSM – things which kinksters engage in safely and consensually all the time.
The latest furore, with ATVOD, could see sites like Dreams of Spanking under the jurisdiction of a censor which hates any but the most gentle form of spanking. But it's certainly not the first - just the latest in a long line of attacks on kinky porn.
Reason 3: They haven't done the proper research
That 'Extreme Porn Law' – in 2008 – was subject to a rapid impact assessment before being passed. The key word here is 'rapid' - as Michelle explains, the organisation responsible for reviewing it mentioned that it did not have enough time to do a proper job.
This is a criticism that comes up frequently when looking at how the government makes changes which impact pornography and sexuality – lack of consultation with people whose lives will be affected by changes means that those making decisions rarely – if ever - get the full picture.
Reason 4: It's undemocratic
These are not policies which have been put forward in manifestos, or offered publicly for debate. In the case of the 'Extreme Porn Law', it was buried in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, which tackled a whole range of other topics completely unrelated to porn.
The recent changes are no different – they are primarily being made by ATVOD and the BBFC: statutory bodies which hold no direct democratic accountability.
Michelle explains: “They are operating as a law unto themselves – they are not fit as a body. They're making it up as they go along.” She adds that, from the government's point of view, this is almost certainly not an accident: “They don't want discussion on this. They want to oppress us. That's one of the major things I'm against.”
Reason 5: This is the only way to do this
There are lots of ways you can protest against democratic changes – you can stand in the street with a placard, or write to your MP. And while these things may help raise awareness of the changes, ultimately Michelle believes that the solution is more drastic:
“It looks like the only way we're going to be able to do this is to drag them through the courts.”
Sometimes you want to stay silent, revelling in the sensation of cane, strap, slipper or hand as it smacks against your skin. Sometimes you want to moan with pleasure, letting the person wielding the implement know just how much you love it. Sometimes you count. And occasionally, like Pandora in this week's scene, you want to ask for it even harder...
Lying vulnerable and exposed on the bed, Pandora makes a lot of sexy sounds in our new spanking video. Moans of pleasure as she's strapped hard across the bare bottom, and occasional squeals of 'ouch' at some of the harsher whacks. As the punishment gets harder, she counts out twelve vicious strokes with the strap, thanking John Phillips for each and every stinging blow.
But it's when the cane comes into play that she starts making requests - “I'm ready for a bit more thud now,” she says, as John pauses after a set of strokes. And later: “I know this is weird but I think I need them to be a bit harder.”
Which leads to my potentially obvious conclusion: I think the one of the hottest things to say during a beating is 'Harder.' There's that tense moment after you've uttered it, and you're waiting for the next smack to fall. If the previous stroke was about five on the pain scale, where will the next take you - six? Eight? Eleven?
Then there's the reaction from whoever's beating you. When I ask for things harder my guy usually responds with a kind of casual but enthusiastic surprise. The way you would if challenged to do something you didn't realise the other person wanted, but that you secretly crave.
Obviously a top will usually aim to beat someone within their limits – to make sure that they're enjoying what you're doing and that your whacks, smacks and stings are spot-on. But there's also that desire to really put your back into it – to deliver a beating that takes someone's breath away and makes them squeal with pleasure and pain. Despite usually being on the receiving end, I've beaten people in exactly this way before – with belts and straps mostly, which allow for the satisfaction of swinging your arm back behind your head to deliver a cracking blow. I've heard squeals and grunts and 'more please!' as well as people counting strokes and saying 'thank you.' I even once had a guy who asked me to gag him, because 'I'm not sure I can keep quiet while all this is happening.' Naturally I obliged.
These are all pretty damn hot, but I think there's a clear winner. A well-timed 'ouch' or a moan of pleasure can compliment a beating perfectly, but saying 'harder' hits all the right buttons: an invitation to give the most satisfying, hard strokes that you can muster, in the knowledge that it's exactly what your spankee desires the most.
John Phillips rises to the challenge, delivering 24 strokes with a nice thick cane. And, much to Pandora's satisfaction, they're deep, thuddy, and very hard.