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.