Dreams of Spanking: fairtrade spanking, corporal punishment and discipline fantasies by Pandora Blake. Join us »

 

Uncertainty

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.

Prohibited content

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:

  • At best, no matter what I do, it's unlikely I can keep Dreams of Spanking open beyond the end of 2017.
  • My political campaigning via Patreon, particularly my efforts to challenge UK obscenity law, is the most important and fullfilling work I am doing at present. Realistically, activism takes precedence over creating new Dreams of Spanking content for me right now, both emotionally (political work feels more urgent at the moment than making spanking videos) and strategically (Dreams of Spanking doesn't have a future unless I do this work, and do it well enough to succeed). 
  • After staff costs, bandwidth costs and other expenses, since relaunching Dreams of Spanking has only been able to pay me minimum wage for the time I've spent on it. It is therefore not possible for me to work fulltime on Dreams of Spanking at this point in my life: it doesn't pay me enough to live on, and my political work is both more urgent, and more important. 

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.

When the axe falls

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.

Get angry.

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.

Dear ATVOD

Dear ATVOD,

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:

  1. Presuming a female viewer, and offering male bodies as well as female as erotic objects of the camera's lens - including male/male scenes shot for the female gaze.
  2. Offering equal pay to men and women, and paying male and female performers the same amount of money for the same role (I pay tops less than bottoms; again, as performer who primarily plays the bottom role, I am showing some personal bias here, but there is also the argument that bottoms should be compensated fairly for the few days that any resulting marks might take to heal).
  3. Clearly demarcating 'fantasy' and 'reality', with a strong focus on the real-world consent and enthusiasm of the performers. At Dreams of Spanking, any fiction that involves the performers engaging in make-believe and playing pretend games of 'non-consent' are clearly and transparently marked as such.
  4. An inclusive and diverse representation of gender and sexuality, intermingling videos depicting queer and straight encounters, and performers of all genders - including trans and non-binary performers - without preference or segregation. We also depict consensual dominance and submission as roles undertaken equally by men, women and non-binary performers without any implied gender essentialism. Dreams of Spanking is not a "female submissive" site or a "female dominant" site, but a site dedicated to spanking without any sex bias. In the gender-segregated world of online fetish videos, this is remarkably radical.

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.

Did Ariels Sponsored Caning cause lasting physical harm? Click to open PDF

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.

Why you can't assess the likelihood of lasting harm from graded camera footage - click to open PDF

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 [1992] 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.

Yours,
Pandora Blake

Where do the AVMS guidelines come from?

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?

A preview photo from Femme Fatale Films, which definitely doesn't depict any of ATVOD's banned acts.

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. 

Lady Chatterly's lover - obscene in the 1950s, filmed by the BBC in 1993 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.

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