I recently received this glowing letter from a woman who had joined the site, and it touched me so deeply that I wanted to share it. This is the reason I built Dreams of Spanking. This, right here, is the reason I've done everything I've done.
This is the first time I’ve had the nerve to contact you, and I really do want to let you know how much your work has meant to me, and especially if you’ve decided that stepping away from the site is the best thing for you, I wanted to be one more voice telling you that the work you’ve done is incredibly meaningful and still having an effect.
Before I found Dreams of Spanking, I was aware of, though not at all comfortable with, my kink, and had this vague idea that porn was sleazy and not really something women were interested in. I did try a couple of other spanking sites first, and while it was super exciting to finally be able to do more than watch ten-second clips late at night, I always felt a bit icky about it –from a “there’s something wrong with me for wanting to be spanked” standpoint, but perhaps even more so from a “I really don’t know how I feel about paying for this material” – buying a scene described along the lines of “Blond hottie’s huge bubble butt spanked HARD!” didn’t feel like particularly great feminism.
And then I stumbled across Dreams of Spanking (and bought a subscription, and stayed up until 4 AM watching videos until I physically couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore!). And I found EXACTLY what I’d been looking for – stories about real characters with real plotlines that involved spanking! Content that was artistic and beautiful and brought to life some of my favorite fantasies (and introduced me to a lot of new ones)! And most of all, respectful descriptions that called performers by name and showed an appreciation of their work, and commentary and behind-the-scenes content that assured me that the performers were not only “not exploited” (what a ridiculously low bar!), but people who were genuinely into what they were doing, whose boundaries and limits were respected, and who had input into the scenes they chose to do. And all of that together made incredible art, art that felt not like “what the company assumes the average porn consumer wants” but art that was creative and expressive and fulfilling for the people making it.
And then I started reading your blog, and learned that a creative, articulate, intelligent, successful, poised, independent woman can like getting spanked, and there’s nothing about any of those facts that are not compatible with each other. And something inside me relaxed.
The last thing I wanted to say, because I’m aware that I’m really rambling now, is thank you so, so much for your focus on diversity in all areas, but especially meaningfully for me personally, for hiring performers with such a diverse range of body types. Your website shows SO many people with all different kinds of bodies and they’re all presented simply as what they are – photos of people looking beautiful (and/or hot, sexy, sweet, cute, etc.) – with no fetishizing size, no “how brave of x to be seen naked despite x,” no “real women look like x” – just gorgeous photos of people presented as exactly that. Thank you, thank you so much for that.
When you run a business, the conventional wisdom is to present a front of certainty at all times. If you're feeling ambivalent, the theory goes, don't let on; potential customers will pick up on it, and it might make them feel ambivalent too. It's better to hide your doubts, and manifest confidence and certainty that your product is the best there is. So the theory goes.
The problem is that if you're genuinely feeling ambivalent, it's hard to sound positive without it feeling fake. And if your business is founded on principles of authenticity, transparency and genuine self-expression, that fake feeling can amplify any feelings of ambivalence that already exist. It's a negative spiral. And if I'm truly honest, this is where I'm at right now with Dreams of Spanking.
Stopping and starting
When ATVOD first started investigating us, the site was going from strength to strength. Girl on the Net, AJ and I were working together as a solid team; we were earning international recognition and winning awards at film festivals. For the first time since we launched in 2011, I'd managed to get my own workload down to a manageable level. We were earning enough that everyone was getting paid - even me, and I've always made a point of paying everyone else before I take anything for myself.
After three years investing time, energy and money into the project, it was genuinely starting to pay off. I could even envisage a time when I might be able to hand over the video editing to a trusted colleague, and move onto new pastures while continuing to earn a little passive income from the project into which I had poured so much. Pensions are a tricky business for self-employed sex workers, but Dreams of Spanking was my first real chance at a nest egg. I didn't pay myself for most of the work I did nursing it to life in the beginning, but I was hoping that eventually, it would all work out.
Then ATVOD came to call, and after a gruelling investigation the site was forced offline for ten months. From a business perspective, this was a massive blow. Never mind that we were politically and morally vindicated in the end; we eventually won our appeal and earned the right to relaunch. My protestations that the AVMS regulations were unjust, and ATVOD was enforcing them unjustly, were eventually proved right when my appeal was upheld; but never mind that. The damage was done.
It's hard for any business to recover from an enforced hiatus. It's not just the loss of traffic and search engine rank; it's the human aspect too. Fans, promoters and affiliates get bored waiting and look elsewhere. If I'm honest, after my initial grief at ATVOD's verdict, my own focus has shifted too. During those ten months I was able to pursue other interests for the first time since I launched Dreams of Spanking. I travelled, exercised, got therapy, re-invested in friendships and relationships. I engaged with other forms of rewarding work. I made time for play. When I first heard the verdict I felt like my life had been taken away; but in some ways, the hiatus gave me my life back.
More pressingly, while the site was offline, the press attention surrounding the ATVOD verdict gave me the platform to to raise awareness about issues I cared about. I renewed my political activism, and launched a Patreon campaign to crowdfund the work I'm doing to challenge sex work criminalisation and promote sexual freedom. In the midst of trauma and loss from seeing the biggest creative project of my life destroyed, I was able to find a renewed sense of purpose.
Then it all got complicated again. Privately, I was told that I'd won my appeal - but that I couldn't announce it yet. I felt conflicted. I was happy to have won - but increasingly frustrated at having the rules of this game dictated to me; at not being free to express myself. The practicalities were stressful, too. I knew I would at some point be able to re-open the site, but that I wouldn't know when until much nearer the time. That not-knowing was hard. It was impossible to make plans; I didn't know if I could start new projects, or if I would suddenly have put everything else on hold to relaunch the site at short notice. When I launched Dreams of Spanking in 2011 I had created a fulltime job for myself. In 2015 that was taken away without my consent; and now it was being thrust back on me, and in some ways, I felt just as powerless. It felt like whatever steps I took to build a fulfilling, self-actualised life for myself, the government would stick their oar in and mess up my plans.
Of course I'm happy Dreams of Spanking won our appeal. Ofcom made the right decision; ATVOD should never have ruled against us, and the law and the whole investigation was unjust from the start. But the disruption was devastating both financially and personally, and picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild it didn't make the whole thing right again. After winning the appeal, it wasn't like the investigation had never happened.
So we co-ordinated the announcement of the appeal win, and in June I finally re-opened the site. But I was permitted a mere four weeks to enjoy our victory before the next cloud appeared on the horizon.
And now, after so many ups and downs, the future of Dreams of Spanking is still depressingly precarious.
The costs of age verification
The Digital Economy Bill is currently going through Parliament, and has just come to the end of its committee stage. The section of the Bill introducing compulsory age verification for all adult sites accessible from the UK will have a serious impact on Dreams of Spanking, and on many other adult websites.
Complying with this legislation will be difficult, if not impossible. First of all, I'll have to overhaul the whole site structure of Dreams of Spanking. Any content that would be classified as "18" or higher will be illegal to publish publicly, on the open internet. So video, images and audio that contain any nudity, bums or spanking will need to go behind intrusive, privacy-violating age checks.
To prove you're over 18, you'll have to type in sensitive personal details such as your legal name, credit card details, date of birth, address or phone number. That data will be visible not to me, but to whatever age verification system I install - private companies that are free to operate unregulated, and without having to safeguard the security and privacy of your personal data.
Not only is this terrible for you, it's terrible for me. Every age check will cost me money - estimates range from £0.05 to £1.50 per check. Dreams of Spanking currently receives over two thousand visitors a day (under half the traffic we had before ATVOD forced us offline), so the cost of checking the age of every site visitor would add up to significantly more than the site's total revenue - and that's before we take into account existing costs such as production, paying my team members, and bandwidth. In other words, complying with the age verification law will immediately put the site out of business.
Even if I can somehow persuade enough of those two thousand visitors to buy memberships that I can afford to verify all their ages, the site will never be the same. This law will mean no more public previews. No free trailers, no preview images, no free hosted galleries, no birthday spanking giveaways, no Creative Commons projects and no charity caning films. No more getting around CCBill's content restrictions by giving material away.
No more transparency, and no more free porn.
The value of giving things away
When I launched the site, it was hugely important to me that I didn't follow the standard paysite model. You know the one: some garish tour pages with flashing banners and fleshy montages, with all the actual scene previews, video trailers and so on behind a paywall. It's a scarcity based business model; the only way you can get to see the good stuff is by paying. I personally believe that's one reason why piracy has been such a problem for the porn industry - people resent having the content they want to see withheld, and it motivates them to buck the system by filesharing.
Instead, I wanted something closer to a loyalty model. Rather than trying to force a situation where buying a membership is the only way you can see Dreams of Spanking films (which is impossible when filesharing is so common), I wanted to make it so that people wanted to support the project. The idea of the model I came up with is that I give lots away, and you trust you know what you're getting if you do decide to pay. The brand gets more visibility; you feel more included. Everyone wins.
I have no desire for my porn to pop up in the browsers of young children who won't know how to assess what they're seeing, and might be distressed by it. But I don't use popup advertising, and Dreams of Spanking doesn't have high enough search rank for children to "accidentally" stumble across it. Even if a child did somehow find the link to the homepage, they'd have to click through the content warning page, scroll down, and click again on a link to an individual scene in order to see anything other than tiny thumbnails.
It is, I admit, possible that older teens, who are already interested in exploring their sexuality - and who may well be over the age of consent for sexual intercourse - might look for erotic content online, and find Dreams of Spanking. Realistically, this is unlikely to happen unless they're explicitly searching for "spanking". And if curious young people - perhaps wrestling, as I did, with the fear that because they fantasise about spanking there's something wrong with them - type "spanking" into a search engine and end up here, then at least they'll see a site that prioritises consent. They'll see interviews, behind the scenes videos, comments, and respectful copy that celebrates the whole personhood of our performers. They'll see body positivity, queer inclusivity, and gender equality.
If sexually curious teenagers are going to look for porn, I'd rather they found my porn than some of the other stuff that's out there, because at least then they'll be receiving healthy, positive messages about negotiation, communication, body image, gender, and consent.
Free previews are valuable to adult viewers too. I want kinky queer people, kinky fat people, and kinky people of colour to be able to see people in porn who look like them. No-one with a spanking fetish deserves to feel shame about their kink. I want as much of the site as possible to be public, because I want as many people as possible to become resilient to the sex-shaming and kink-shaming that are so prevalent in our culture - regardless of whether or not they can afford a membership.
If I was independently wealthy and could operate Dreams of Spanking as a free site, believe me, I would. Even as it is, the total pay I've drawn from the business over five years adds up to way less than a living wage.
So these core principles of transparency, visibility, and open dialogue about kink, diversity and consent, are absolutely fundamental to the Dreams of Spanking manifesto. And now, the age verification law will make it impossible for us to uphold them. Everything will be locked down, hidden away.
The legislation applies to audio and still images as well as video, so those won't be exempt. This blog will cease to be publically visible; all the discourse I have engaged in over the years about how to make porn in an ethical and feminist way will cease to be findable via Google. Years of careful tagging to make our scenes show up in searches will be destroyed in a single blow: you won't be able to find Dreams of Spanking via a search engine any more. It will be like a return to the secret libraries of Victorian England: only accessible to the wealthy, to those in the know, those with the privilege to not have anything to lose by sharing their identity or risking their privacy.
One of the many ways in which the internet has been a positive force for change is that it has opened up the discourse about sex and sexuality; made the topic more visible, invited more people to share experiences and insights, and helped all of us feel less alone. Now, just as we are really starting to see the benefits - in terms of better social understanding and acceptance of sex and gender diversity than ever before in our history - this law is going to shut that discourse down. Sex will become taboo again. You shouldn't talk about it, not in public spaces. It's dirty. You should be ashamed. Think of the children.
Actually, I do think of the children. I know that societies with more open attitudes towards porn have lower rates of sexual violence, STI transmission and teen pregnancy. I know that children growing up with marginalised sexualities - whether queer or kinky - often feel isolated, especially in rural communities. I know that this isolation can cause severe mental health issues, and even lead to suicide.
I know that young people need better sex education which is based around consent, pleasure and how to stay safe, provided by parents and teachers who aren't propagating their own sexual shame.
I know that humans are often sexual and often curious about it, and that if we don't talk to young people about porn they'll find it anyway, whether or not they have the resources or resilience to critically interpret what they're seeing. I know that shutting porn in a locked room and only giving keys to the rich is not the answer. It will not help our culture be healthier, or better informed, or more accepting or responsible about sex.
That's bad enough. But the problems with the Digital Economy Bill go deeper than that.
Even if I somehow manage to fully comply with the legislation: hide everything spanking-themed on the site behind age checks; find the money to check the ID of every non-paying visitor who wants to browse my free previews; survive the loss of traffic and Googleability - even if I can stomach the disappearing of this blog, the behind the scenes videos, the performer interviews, and the discourse about ethics and consent - the site still can't survive, because every scene that was criminalised by the AVMS regulations will be recriminalised by the Digital Economy Bill.
ATVOD found us in breach because they ruled that some of our videos depict corporal punishment that leaves 'lasting' marks. We won our appeal on the basis that the principle purpose of the site is not commercial, and it is not in competetition with mainstream broadcast media. That victory won us an exemption to the AVMS Regulations 2014. But the AVMS didn't invent the rules around what content is banned; it drew them from existing classification guidelines used by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) for films and TV.
The guidelines prohibit any depiction of pain play that leaves marks on the body beyond those deemed "transient and trifling" from classification even as R18, the highest classification category in the UK. Basically, under the current rules you can't show any act which would constitute assault or actual bodily harm, or any act which would risk injury to the viewer if it were imitated. So no caning, no belting, no welts, no bruises - and that's before we get into the bans on things like facesitting, breath play, fisting, squirting, watersports and "full" bondage, defined as the restraint of all four limbs plus a gag.
The AVMS regulations were the first instrument of UK law to apply those classification guidelines to material published on the internet. We've enjoyed a heady few months of official exemption from them: but now the Digital Economy Bill uses those same guidelines to control what can and can't be published online. If the Bill is passed it will be illegal to publish any 'prohibited content' even behind age checks. Let that sink in: even age-verified, consenting adults who have handed over their real names and addresses to prove their age won't be allowed to look at spanking videos that show marks.
So we're about to be recriminalised. And I can only assume that every other UK law affecting online pornography from now on will use the same prohibited content guidelines. If this law passes next March, as I'm told it will, then our victorious relaunch will barely have lasted longer than the enforced hiatus that preceded it.
What are our options? One thing is certain: stubbornly refusing to comply, incurring the wrath of the regulator, going through another investigation, another hiatus, another appeal - it's not an option. Either for me personally at an emotional level, or financially, from a business perspective.
I could try to comply with the age verification requirements: swallow my pride, compromise my core principles of transparency and visibility, and hope that I get away with there being prohibited content behind the age check. But it seems like a doomed proposition - even if I could afford age verification in practice, which seems unlikely. My public profile is too high, my reputation as a troublemaker too entrenched, for me to avoid scrutiny. And there's no way to avoid publishing prohibited content: under the current guidelines, nearly all our content is banned.
Moving the site overseas might seem my best remaining option - but the Digital Economy Bill applies to overseas sites as well as UK ones. The only way I could do it would be to install IP checks that made the site totally inaccessible from the UK. In effect, I would no longer legally be able to view my own website. I might be able to continue working for the site in some capacity, but I would no longer be able to own it, control it, or in fact see it.
As far as I can see, my best option is to challenge the problem at source, and push for a review of the classification guidelines - specifically the ceiling for R18 content - and of UK obscenity law more generally. So for the last couple of months I've been working with Backlash, Myles Jackman and other political allies towards this goal. We are challenging the Digital Economy Bill and pushing for a comprehensive review of the laws surrounding porn and BDSM in the UK.
If you want to support these efforts, you can pledge a dollar or whatever you can afford on Patreon, to help me pay my rent while I do this political work. You can sign and share the petition for personal privacy and sexual freedom. And if you can buy a site membership from time to time, even better.
But a comprehensive review of obscenity law is a long-term goal; and in the meantime, I have to accept that it's unlikely I'll be able to change the law in time to save Dreams of Spanking from being outlawed next spring.
The hard questions
All this has been going around my head since the Digital Economy Bill was published on the 5th July. Here are some hard truths, which I have come to admit only grudgingly:
All these add up to a strong argument for putting the site on ice now; gracefully retiring Dreams of Spanking to focus on other goals, rather than suffering the humiliation of clinging on to the last possible moment before it's wrenched away again. But I haven't done this, and I don't intend to.
Perhaps it's just stubbornness - it wouldn't be the first time that attribute had made my life more difficult than necessary. But to counter the above, I have good, valid reasons for keeping going.
The first is, quite simply, closure. The worst aspect of the ATVOD verdict was not being able to publish the content I had already filmed; it was a brutal disruption of my creative process. Winning my appeal was a victory for my right to express myself. I've won the right to publish that content, and I want to damn well publish it. Not just because I can, but because appealing that verdict was a 'fuck you' to unjust laws and a prejudicial regulator. I held fast to my principles, I fought, and I won. I intend to continue in that spirit.
Giving up now would be letting them win after all; it would betray everything I've fought for. Not getting that closure would leave me feeling unsatisfied and incomplete. I'm willing to accept that it doesn't make sense to shoot much new content now, given I may not get a chance to publish it. But the work I've already done was created as a true self-expression, and my intention was always to share it with the world. I want closure on that creative process before I move on to the next phase. I want to finish what I've started.
Secondly, this decision doesn't only affect me. Another dreadful consequence of the ATVOD decision was that it wasn't just me who was affected - my team members lost out too, and with even less control over the situation than I had. I was prepared to pay the price for my stubbornness, but it also impacted everyone who works for me. I try my hardest to be a good boss, and that means not making my whole team redundant if I don't have to. Doing so mere months after giving them their jobs back would be particularly cruel.
I feel too ambivalent, too uncertain, and too conflicted to be confident about quitting when it won't just affect me, but will also directly affect the financial stability and wellbeing of people I care about. The Dreams of Spanking project is a complex ecosystem; my own self-care isn't the only relevant factor.
But it's an incredibly difficult situation. Do I continue updating Dreams of Spanking while I still can, try to make the best of it, promote it enough to cover costs while I keep it ticking over - all at the same time as trying to campaign against the laws that will otherwise inevitably kill it? Or do I stop spending time editing and promoting new videos, put the project back on ice, and free up more time for activism, to give myself the best possible chance of defeating this terrible law?
This question isn't going to go away. And it's an impossible bind.
I can tell you this much: for now, I've decided to keep Dreams of Spanking running. I have a content schedule mapped out until March next year. Before then, I'm going to run out of male submissive scenes, and at that point I need to decide whether to re-invest in a project that is already barely covering costs, and risk ending up with more content I can't publish; or whether to compromise another the core principle of the site, and stop maintaining the gender diversity of new updates.
I don't know the answer to that question. And even not changing my plan, continuing to reflect while maintaining the status quo, is a decision that has consequences. Every month I keep the site running, I'm spending time on Dreams of Spanking that I'm not spending challenging the law.
I've been trying to balance these conflicting priorities for five months already. You have probably noticed that the content going out each week is different than it used to be. To free up time for the political campaigning I'm doing, I've been publishing shorter updates, more solo videos, POV scenes, audio stories and photosets. There has been a new update every week, but I'm no longer committed to a new spanking video plus performer interview plus behind the scenes video plus photoset every week, because maintaining that schedule is a fulltime job, and if Dreams is my fulltime job, I'm not doing the political work that is its only chance of longterm survival.
Deciding how much time to spend on the site, how much to delegate, is an open question; one I revisit every week. So far, I've been feeling my way through these thorny issues as best I can, with a heart full of uncertainty.
I've tried to be open and transparent with the rest of the Dreams of Spanking team throughout the process, but when I sent them the draft of this blogpost it was the first time most of them fully realised how precarious the future of the site really is. And now you know, too.
Where do we go from here?
I wish I could end this post on a positive note. It would, perhaps, be good business practice to reassure you that for now I'm committed to keeping the site alive (I am), that we have hot new content lined up for this week (we do), and that I won't stop updating the site without giving all of you a decent amount of notice (I won't). I could urge you to join now while you still can. I could sing the praises of our archive, which is bursting at the seams with high-quality spanking films available for all members to both stream and download.
But the truth is, this is hard, and no amount of positivity or spin will make it less hard.
So instead I invite you to stand with me, in this undeniably difficult and demoralising situation. I invite you to understand, perhaps, why not every site update at the moment is as substantial as I would like it to be. And I invite you to share my anger at the injustice of criminalising consensual adult activities that do no harm and bring pleasure to so many. Your empathy and shared outrage has kept me going before, and it is always welcome.
I can promise you new erotic content every week: always spanking themed, always ethically produced, always the authentic expression of my kinky sexuality. I can promise you at least one fully-realised, action-packed spanking film every month, with a behind the scenes video and a photoset - and that if it is ever possible for me to publish more than one, I will. I can promise that I will continue to fight these terrible laws that tell us we should be ashamed of our kink. I can promise to devote as much time and energy as possible to political campaigning, lobbying and activism, challenging porn criminalisation and promoting sexual freedom.
And I can promise to be honest, genuine and heartfelt in my work on Dreams of Spanking - always.
We do get some interesting emails here at Dreams of Spanking from time to time, but I'm happy to say that 99 out of 100 are positive, and many more complimentary (sometimes so complimentary they seemed typed one-handed). That may be why that one percent really stands out. But even among the run of the mill technophobes and grouchy people, this email Pandora received as a reply to our latest newsletter completely floored me, and I don't think it'll be hard to see why.
Well. I'm not exaggerating when I say that both Pandora and I were gobsmacked. Aside from the screeching bigotry and entitlement, the thing that baffled us most was the thought that a former member could have read a Dreams of Spanking newsletter and thought "I know what would improve this experience - less than half the content!" It's not as if we've ever tried to obscure our principles of diversity and equality - in fact it's one of our major selling points.
I don't often get to argue with bigots who aren't just glorified twitter trolls, so when Pandora asked if I'd like to field this one, I didn't miss a beat. This guy? This guy was going down.
I think I was remarkably restrained, under the circumstances. I also thought I was pretty direct and firm that we were not going to capitulate. Oh ho, but I was wrong!
And yet, the entitlement kept coming...
Thankfully, he gave up after that, which is lucky as I'm not sure I could've found another way to say "No". I'm genuinely stunned that it took that many emails for him to stop mansplaining our business to us. Maybe he was bored, maybe he was trolling, but whatever the reason, attitudes like this are why we need feminist porn. That a man could approach a studio (incidentally, a studio openly run by feminist women), and demand that they bin several years worth of alternative content - and then continue to demand it blithely, despite being told repeatedly that he was barking up the wrong tree - is why we're here. This is why we have to keep fighting to raise the standard of porn, and open it up to the full spectrum of sexualities, gender identities, personalities, and body types. This guy and his ilk are why we work so hard, so that one day, anyone can be open and engaging about their kinks, no matter who they are.
As Girl on the Net has said before, not all porn is for you. We have no problem with people who prefer certain types of porn, and even people who *gasp* don't like our porn, but we will take issue with anyone who thinks that their specific sexual tastes should dominate, and take priority over other people's. There's a great big world of pornography out there, and nobody is saying you have to like it all. But don't you dare try and tell us that your custom is more important than our ethos, because we will always fight you, and in the end, we'll win.
Since its inception, Dreams of Spanking has always been queer inclusive, and our performers have included transgender and non-binary folk from the very beginning (although they haven't always wanted to make a song and dance about it). My feminist politics of bodily automony and sexual freedom have always included the right for any individual to define their own gender identity, and to manifest their identity however they damn well please, whether through clothing, hormones or body modification.
In this day and age it seems bizarre to me that anyone would not be accepting of this - particularly those who make a point of their own right to express their kinky sexualities however they wish, despite the social stigma that often rejects kink as unwholesome, self-destructive or abusive. Transgender people experience much greater marginalisation than cis kinksters - particularly trans women, who inhabit a unique intersection of transphobia and misogyny which sees them as othered by many movements claiming to be radical, including some feminist and queer communities. The way I see it, us marginalised folk should stick together and support each other. BDSM and spanking has always been more body positive than vanilla porn, in some ways - it's more common to see fat performers in kinky porn, for example, and curvy bottoms in particular are fetishised in the spanking world. But in many ways, the spanking and BDSM communities are just as white-centric, sexist, ableist, ageist and transphobic as the wider culture they are embedded in. Being kinky doesn't automatically make people open-minded, unfortunately.
It seems very strange to me that Dreams of Spanking is still the only spanking site in the world that I know of to shoot with trans men and women, and to openly celebrate their transness as part of their whole personhood, if that's how the performer wants to be identified. Even among BDSM porn more generally, trans performers are a rare sight.
Having had trans men and genderqueer performers amongst our cast members from the very beginning, it took longer than I wanted for Dreams of Spanking to shoot with our first trans woman. This wasn't intentional, but I could certainly have done more to seek people out sooner. It was listening to Courtney Trouble's keynote speech at the Feminist Porn Conference in 2014 that motivated me to up my game.
Skip ahead to 2016, where we have three out-and-proud trans women on the site - gorgeous Eliza Grey in Houseboy, and Michelle Knight and Submissive Sarah who took part in our sponsored caning project. And now, I'm here to tell you that since ATVOD forced us offline, that number has quietly gone up to four without you knowing it. Since shooting for us in May 2015 - already much more genderqueer than the male character they played in Houseboy - Tai Crimson has come out as a trans girl. And she is fucking adorable.
I learned about Tai's transition when I saw her in Berlin last year, and I was delighted for her. When she mentioned that she would be in London this summer and was interested in shooting again, I nearly bit her hand off. Houseboy was an incredible project, but the flipside of the ambitious cinematography was a long-winded shoot that involved a lot more getting the shots right than actual spanking. Last time we filmed together, Tai expressed her regret that she hadn't gotten more marked (in fact she asked for a behind-the-scenes caning in her end of shoot interview so she would go home with enough welts to be satisfied, and I was more than happy to oblige) and it led to some reflection for me on the fact that our normal, low-key, point-and-shoot filming style is actually a much more immersive and fulfilling kinky experience for my performers than more cinematic shooting.
After Tai worked so hard to help us produce an award-winning short film on her first ever porn shoot, I wanted her second shoot with us to be more down-to-earth: just me, her and Nimue, at my house, cramming as many hot experiences as we could into the time available. And oh my goodness, it was filthy enough to exceed all my expectations. I've got some incredibly hot previews to share with you all, but this post is already long enough. So - watch this space.
Like a lot of people I've been plagued with a rollercoaster of thoughts and feelings since the UK voted to leave the EU.
The outcome of the referendum has left me feeling, more than ever, that this isn't really my country, or at the very least, not the country I thought I was in. I got a similar sense of shock and confusion after the general election last year, a feeling of "how can everyone else's view of the world be so different from mine?"
So what to do in the face of a huge sensation of not-belonging? There is a part of me that's seriously contemplating moving up to Scotland. I was born north of the border and have some friends and family ties up there. But also I feel like the political climate in Scotland is one I prefer, having voted strongly for Labour historically and overwhelmingly to remain in the EU.
However, leaving feels like running away. I guess makes sense because the referendum left myself and many others feeling confused, powerless, frightened of the changes and the attitudes I see rising up around me. Bigotry, racism, hatred, all given that bit more voice, that hint of legitimacy. It worries me; it scares me.
But I don't want to give in to that fear. When I think back to Eroticon Live in Bristol this year and shooting porn with Zak and Pandora, I felt so, so different. I felt indestructible after that, a feeling that what we'd done was something I could be truly proud of. I was filled with the idea of a sort of defiant vulnerability, if that makes sense? Because in that moment I was utterly unapologetically me. Not the cleaned up compromised presentable version, but me as I am.
I worry about where this country is going, and of what I can do. But there's a part of me that knows that running isn't the answer and that maybe, just maybe, being myself and refusing to apologise for it can make a difference. So I guess I wanted to say thank you to Pandora, and everyone who helps at Dreams of Spanking, for doing what they do, being who you are, and helping me find a space to be me.
Well, it's happened.
Last week, I was away on holiday. I charged my phone in the pub on the way home on Monday, and saw an email from ATVOD with the subject "Dreams of Spanking - Final Determination". It was sent on Friday 31 July, so had been waiting in my inbox for three days. I'm glad I didn't turn my phone on while I was away - that would have been a surefire way to ruin the last few days of my trip.
As it was, I wept all the way home. I've known this was coming for a while - in fact I've been anticipating it since I received the first letter from ATVOD in February. With this hanging over me it's been a ridiculously tense six months, and I thought that when the axe finally fell it would be a relief of sorts. But when it came, it just made the loss more real.
I've known it was coming, but I'm still in bits. I feel like I built a beautiful sustainable house to live in, of my own design, which was legal to build at the time - but now, just as I've finally perfected all the finishing touches, paid off my investment, decorated it and was settling down to live in it and enjoy it for many years to come, I've been told that the law has been changed, and it's being demolished. That's the closest analogy I can think of. I designed this project to perfectly suit my needs - creatively, erotically, financially. I spent five years working on it as a labour of love, and just as all that effort was starting to pay off, it's being taken away.
I built this site so I would have something that was completely my own. This is the project that was meant to save me from having to compromise myself, my alternative to spending the best years of my life working for other people. Dreams of Spanking represents my creative independence, my sexual self-acceptance, and my financial stability. It's mine, I made it, it works, it was the biggest thing I'd ever done - and just as it started to pay me a wage, it's being taken away from me.
I knew this was coming, but the grief is still fierce. Whenever I let myself feel it, I can't help crying. I am losing the best thing I've ever made, and there's nothing I can do about it. I've never felt so powerless.
Why I refuse to comply
As anticipated by their Preliminary View, the Determination finds me in breach of Rules 1 (notify them that I'm running a service), 4 (pay them to censor me), 11 (lock everything 'adult' behind a credit card paywall) and 14 (no content 'prohibited' by the BBFC guidelines, even behind the paywall). I have 20 working days from the date of the Determination - which was sent on 31 July but dated 30 July - to comply.
As I see it, I don't have any choice but to appeal ATVOD's decision. There's no way I can comply with their demands without compromising the core principles of the site. ATVOD are demanding we register with them and pay them protection money - which not only funds their extortion efforts, it also officially submits to their control and gives them the right to censor us.
They demand that we put all adult content (ie anything comparable to the '18' BBFC classification, defined as anything containing nudity or strong fetish content) behind a credit card paywall. That means no more free preview images, image blogposts, free protest videos, Creative Commons spanking films, birthday freebies or free trailers. It also means credit cards would be the only way anyone could access any of our material - no debit cards, and no alternative payment options such as gift cards or cash.
Not only that, but from its inception Dreams of Spanking was intended to be a new kind of porn site, one that didn't rely on the standard, scarcity-based structure of infrequently-updated tour pages and hidden-away members areas. Coming from a digital rights background, I wanted to see what would happen if I built a porn site that was as transparent and as accessible as possible. I wanted everyone to see what I had to offer - and I wanted to give away as much free content as possible, trusting that if you liked it, you would choose to support us by paying for your porn. The gamble paid off, and the Dreams of Spanking business model has been turning a profit since the first year. I am fiercely proud of our members for their support and loyalty, and happy to have a site which is open to all - a site that teaches everyone about the ethics and consent of feminist porn, and what safe, positive spanking play looks like, whether or not they can afford a site membership. It is galling that after four years of successfully proving this concept, regressive legislation is trying to force me back into the closeted porn world of the 1990s, in which nothing is visible, and only those with the economic privilege to own a credit card are allowed into the club.
ATVOD also demand that we take down any content which doesn't comply with the ridiculous AVMS guidelines. These prohibit acts including hard spanking or caning that leaves marks, welts or bruises, adults roleplaying as under-18s, full bondage with gags, and a whole raft of other activities that are perfectly valid parts of many people's kinky sexualities. It would gut the site: I estimate well over half of our content, and possibly three quarters of it, falls foul of ATVOD's Rule 14. Not only would complying with this rule strip Dreams of Spanking back to a pitiful, sanitised shadow of its former self, it would be contrary to the most basic tenet of feminist pornography - that of authenticity.
The acts that are banned under the new regulations are a core part of my own sexuality. I didn't ask to be someone who was turned on by the idea of hard spanking that leaves marks, beltings, canings, strappings, riding crop thrashings and all the rest. But since I was six years old, this has been a part of me. I've tried to ignore it, to repress it - but not only does the attempt make me miserable, it doesn't work; trying to control these fantasies just makes them more potent. If, like me, you are turned on by sexual fantasies of hard corporal punishment, the best way to respond is by loving and accepting these fantasies as a true part of your sexuality. Since learning to accept my kink, I have been happier and more fulfilled than ever - and I have not only been lucky enough to act out my fantasies in more ways than I ever imagined, I have found an amazing community of likeminded people who share my enthusiasm.
If I were to pretend that these fantasies aren't a part of me, I would be undoing all that positive work of self-acceptance. It would be like pretending I was straight because it was illegal to be queer. If I were to remove these authentic depictions of my erotic life from Dreams of Spanking, I would be being fake. It is impossible for me comply with ATVOD's demands and still be true to myself; it is impossible for me to comply and still produce feminist porn. Expressing an authentic sexuality is one of the first principles of feminist porn. I don't want to become a fake porn star - and I refuse to lie about who I am.
So what happens next?
On Monday evening, as soon as I got home, I removed the CCBill signup link from our Join page. I'm afraid it's no longer possible to buy a membership to Dreams of Spanking - if you are not a member, I'm very sorry that you've missed your chance. Existing members will be able to access our members-only scenes until 27 August (20 working days after the date of the Determination).
With the help of the legal team at Backlash, I will be appealing to Ofcom (that's the UK Office of Communications, the government body for which ATVOD, a private company, act as unelected bailiffs). But while the appeal is underway, I still need to jump through various hoops if I don't want to jeopardise the process. All our spanking films and photos have to go offline on 27 August, and will remain offline until - unless - we win the appeal.
I don't know how long the appeal will take - a year, maybe more. Hopefully we will be able to announce a triumphant re-launch sometime in 2016 or 2017.
On the 27th, all remaining memberships will be frozen, and all our spanking films and photos will be taken offline.
I'm sorry. But I'm also angry: and I am going to fight.
This isn't the end of Dreams of Spanking - it's the beginning of a long journey to defend our freedom, and fight for the right to kinky self-expression in the UK. We're not the first to be targeted by ATVOD, and we certainly won't be the last. If you want to support the fight, please write to your MP, donate to Backlash, and tell everyone you know what's happening.
Although this site was created to document my personal journey of kinky discovery, it grew into a community - a warm, welcoming, non-judgemental place where we could enjoy our kinks together.
Let's fight together too.
I received your 8 June Preliminary Views about alleged violations of Rules 1 and 4 (register and pay up) plus your new version of Rule 11 (access by minors) and the novel Rule 14 (nothing too naughty) and am availing myself of your kind exhortation to respond.
I am of course delighted that ATVOD consider my pride and joy a 'high quality viewing experience', and the concomitant suggestion it has 'a clear impact on a significant proportion of the general public'. That made my day. Thank you.
Life is full of ironies, and you have illustrated several beautifully.
Let's start with the 'Principal Purpose' test.
Dreams of Spanking is the authentic expression of my fantasies, my sexuality, my truest self. It takes the form of an erotic autobiography, documenting both my real-life kinky explorations with my real-life partners, and roleplayed versions of my fantasies, acted out in costume and purely fictional.
I am unashamedly a spanking enthusiast, porn performer, sexual freedom activist and blogger. I started performing in spanking videos produced by other studios at the age of 22, after nurturing a private interest in the subject since the age of 6 (long before I ever got online - I'm afraid internet porn isn't to blame for this one). Dreams of Spanking is my attempt to create spanking videos which are more authentic, more ethical and more woman-oriented than the material I helped make for other studios. It is the culmination of several years of inspiration and hard work, and it represents my personal spanking kink as honestly as anything I've ever done. I hope you enjoyed researching it.
Dreams of Spanking is a hand-crafted, homemade website. I got stuck into performing, producing, directing, writing, camera operating and video editing as an enthusiastic amateur, entirely self-taught and without any formal training. The only aspect of the site which boasts a professional standard is the design and development of the website itself, as that is what myself and my partner do for a living when we aren't indulging my spanking hobby. It's been a steep learning curve, but a fun one, and my hope is that like-minded viewers will forgive the technical imperfections which result from my learning as I go.
As an activist and feminist, I wanted to innovate and create a new model of socially conscious erotic imagery which catered to female viewers, and prioritised process over product. When I shoot for Dreams of Spanking, providing a high standard of working conditions on set, and a superbly positive experience for my performers, takes precedence over the quality of the resulting stills or video. As you know, I started out as a performer myself, and I mostly shoot with my real-life friends and lovers, so it is perhaps unsurprising that my first priority is to give my friends fun shooting experiences; the creative endeavour comes second. But priotising good working conditions for performers over profitability is also a political statement.
As a feminist porn/art project Dreams of Spanking innovates in a number of ways:
When I watch porn, I want to be sure that the performers were respected on set, that they share my kinks, and enjoyed the shoot. I am also aware that many women, like me, enjoy spanking and want to find respectful, woman-positive material which reflects our ethical values as well as our erotic desires. For years I considered the question, can kinky porn featuring women being spanked be feminist? I think the answer is a resounding "YES!" - and Dreams of Spanking is my small attempt at a proof of concept.
So as well as my erotic theatre of the mind expressed for others to glimpse, Dreams of Spanking is an activist project. I aim to answer the question "How can I tell if a spanking video is truly consensual?" by emphasising performer agency, consent, transparency, real-world context and social responsibility in all the scenes I shoot. This site is neither sleazy nor stereotypical, but an example of fairtrade, free-range spanking.
That was why I created Dreams of Spanking. I wanted to express myself, and I wanted to reach out to likeminded people. I think women like me deserve to be able to watch porn that is made with love - safely, transparently, and responsibly.
Dreams of Spanking is my kinky feminist manifesto. That is its principal purpose.
I find it fascinating that, like the femdom sites which have been disproportionately targeted by your organisation over the last few years, it is Dreams of Spanking - and not any of the more sleazy or stereotypical sites run by men like yourself - that is enjoying your attention. It is almost as if, under the pretense of making online porn "less harmful", you are in fact going out of your way to censor the very projects that are making porn safer.
As for the straining over the balance between written material, still photographs and video which came out of your Preliminary View - well, I found it frankly laughable. These days any creative project, even one curated by a single person with no professional credentials - just masses of creativity - can easily and cheaply avail themselves of consumer-grade technology, and, after a few years of sleepless nights, produce 'a high quality viewing experience'. Competing with traditional linear TV was never in my mind - the very idea that my homegrown, amateur erotica might seriously compete with commercial products is ridiculous. In that respect Dreams of Spanking is very similar to the Urban Chick Supremacy Cell. I'm sure you won't have forgotten how that turned out.
It seems to me from reading previous Determinations that when it suits ATVOD, any adult video is claimed to be 'TV-like', so I am not going to waste effort trying to convince you you are mistaken in your analysis. Though I will admit to being quietly gratified my amateur cameras and creativity convinced you otherwise.
Turning to my Rule 11 infraction, whilst I disagree that my material 'might seriously impair' persons under eighteen or that they would ‘normally see or hear’ such material, I did find it a bit concerning that viewers could sign up using a debit card as I was under the impression this wasn't possible via CCBill - at least that's what they said to me. I am in the process of finding out how to disable that capability.
As for payments by direct bank transfer or by post, since no one ever uses that I'll happily remove the offer, and the ‘Amazon Gift Card’, which is there because I am a voracious book lover.
I had not previously registered the significance of the dog that didn't bark, to wit 'Section 368E (5) draws no distinction between a still and a moving image: a still image included within an ODPS is therefore subject to the same restrictions as those applying to moving images'. However as Rule 11 now derives from the December 2014 SI your attack on stills falls within comments I will make below.
On to Rule 14, which we indies now refer to the 'face-sitting' rule after the demonstration before Parliament last December. Initially I thought you were having a laugh citing 'Ariel's Sponsored Caning' as constituting 'material which 'involves the infliction of pain or acts which may cause lasting physical harm, whether real or (in a sexual context) simulated', which is prohibited by the BBFC in a pornographic work' - but I have been solemnly advised that no, that is indeed what the BBFC think. Or perhaps more accurately, are forced by the CPS and Met Police to say they think, even if privately they think nothing of the kind.
The wording itself is ambiguous - "involves the infliction of pain or acts which may cause lasting physical harm, whether real or (in a sexual context) simulated". Can "infliction of pain" really be enough to categorise content as prohibited? Not only did this particular video demonstrably not cause "lasting physical harm", but it is foolhardy to attempt to assess the likelihood of lasting harm from graded camera footage. If you read the linked documents, you will see that it is ridiculous to use these marks as evidence that this caning "may have caused lasting physical harm". So I wonder if you are perhaps including 'Ariel's Sponsored Caning' simply as evidence of "the infliction of pain"? But that makes no sense, because the CPS guidelines on the BBFC regulations allow for "moderate" pain play which leaves transient marks such as reddening of the skin. So if infliction of pain is permissible in some contexts, infliction of pain by itself can't be grounds for censorship. In this instance therefore I conclude that you must be referring to "acts which may cause lasting physical harm", and not just "the infliction of pain" - and I am sorry to tell you that you are mistaken.
Lasting physical harm was evidently not caused, and if this document does not convince you, Ariel has kindly volunteered to produce her unmarked bottom in evidence. Please let me know when you would like to inspect it.
What I cannot fathom is why you expend such effort on sites such as mine, which are worlds away from the kind of propaganda you induce opinion-formers such as the wife of the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice to broadcast widely - the "hard, sickening, degrading porn - the kind of stuff that, until very recently, you could buy only under the counter or in licensed sex shops - some of the most depraved acts ever to be performed by one human being on another … things that are so seared onto my retinas that they will not, I fear, fade any time soon … young women, their faces contorted in pain; sexual vocabulary I never even imagined existed; human flesh displayed like meat on a butcher’s block … visions that, as the mother of two children aged 10 and 11, have genuinely led to sleepless nights and a kind of pressing anxiety about their future … a Hieronymus Bosch vision of hell made flesh ... unfolding in front of my very eyes here, in a small, neat office in the shadow of the great castle in the Queen’s home town of Windsor here with Peter Johnson, chief executive of the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD), set up by Ofcom in 2010 to monitor the editorial content of services available on-demand on the internet, from your BBC iPlayer to companies such as Netflix and Sky". Such descriptions are infinitely more lurid than the safe, sane and consensual play depicted on Dreams of Spanking.
The disconnect between what you say and what you do is remarkable, even for an age in which politicians are increasingly despised for their two-faced behaviour.
On second thoughts perhaps I can fathom this messianic zeal - I'm told your CEO Peter Johnson is a very ambitious man who wants to make a reputation for himself and become the next CEO of the BBFC itself. My advice is, tread carefully.
Anyway, my substantive representation is as follows. Your Rule 11 and 14 claims rely on an implementation of the AVMS that goes way beyond the provisions of the underlying Directive 2010/13/EU. Whilst I accept that in certain quarters it is currently in vogue to blame all the ills of society on those dastardly continentals, when approving the Treaty to join the EU in 1972 Parliament anticipated this pernicious influence in the European Communities Act 1972, and under Section 2(2) granted a Secretary of State the power only to pass secondary legislation for the purpose of implementing any EU obligation, but to go no further - an interpretation buttressed by case law, in particular Marleasing SA v La Comercial Internacional de Alimentacion SA  1 CMLR 305.
Hence I submit the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014, which introduced sections 368E(2) and (3) into the Communications Act 2003, were made ultra vires the Secretary of State's power to pass secondary legislation.
Now I am sad to learn that when responding to previously expressed representations on this point, your Board simply claimed this is a matter for the Courts. Well, if that is your considered view, so be it. I do hope disclosure will not reveal ATVOD were well aware of the ultra vires issue but chose to ignore it, because that would be a rather irresponsible way for a regulator to behave.
When I was eighteen, I'd have described myself as a sexual enthusiast, although probably in a hushed voice and with a fair degree of nervous shaking. As I grew into my kinks I learned more about what I liked and didn't, but it took a long time to swallow the courage to have an open discussion about it. It was rare for eighteen-year-old me to have conversations with others in my age group about navigating things such as polyamory, spanking, and kinky sex, and as a result I think it took a long time for me to work out exactly what I liked, and why.
If I'd met someone like Eliza Grey – the stunning transgender woman who plays Pandora's established housegirl – or Tai Crimson – who plays the queer, confident new arrival – then I suspect I'd have reached that place a lot sooner.
I'd have loved to have even half the confidence and sexual understanding of Tai, who has just shot his first porn film at the age of eighteen. Tai describes himself as a (gender)queer pansexual polyamorous switch – a bit of a mouthful perhaps, but utterly perfect to describe someone so enthusiastic about exploring every corner of his multi-faceted sexuality.
Eliza Grey, who plays opposite him, is equally confident in herself and her sexuality – a proud transgender woman who radiates delight in her body and her kinks in her post-shoot interview. As she explains candidly that “You should never be afraid of who you are,” I can't help but think that a younger version of me would have benefited greatly from knowing more people like Eliza.
In fact, both Eliza and Tai are amazing ambassadors for queer, kinky sexuality, and their post-shoot interviews are the perfect demonstration of why behind the scenes material, and candid discussions with performers, are so important to ethical porn.
As Eliza says in her interview, porn can play a vital role in sex education – giving people an insight into sex, gender, and desire. Many of the topics that are brushed over (or downright ignored) in the mainstream media come to the fore in porn, where people put some of their most intimate kinks and fantasies out there for others to share. There's a whole world of difference between watching something that's formulaically created to fit mainstream ideas of what's sexy, and porn that's an expression and exploration of people's authentic desires.
At just-turned-eighteen, Tai is the youngest performer on Dreams of Spanking. When I watched his interview, the expression 'kid in a sweet shop' came to mind: he's got exactly the kind of gleeful enthusiasm for sex and kink that I would have loved to express at his age. His profile page gives an insight into the wide range of things he enjoys, including big butt plugs, bondage and prostate milking, and he's clearly a big fan of marks too. During his post-shoot interview his eyes light up at the mention of cane tramlines, and he requests a hard caning so he can go home with a few welts as a souvenir.
When I was Tai's age, the idea of having those exciting discussions would have been completely alien to me – a combination of societal shame, a lack of internet access (I didn't get proper broadband until university, so access to porn meant dodging parents and sweating over dial-up), and just plain shyness I guess. I certainly didn't have positive, proud role models like Tai and Eliza.
Please do go and watch the post-shoot interviews that accompany Pandora's cinematic new spanking film Houseboy. Not only are Tai and Eliza both so lovely that I couldn't help grinning all the way through their interviews, I think they're also fantastically eloquent ambassadors for BDSM.
It's ironic (OK, more than that – frustrating? Appalling? Fuck-off-worthy?) that one of the reasons ATVOD targeted Dreams of Spanking for censorship was that the films were deemed too 'TV-like', because they included interviews with performers and behind the scenes material. Leaving aside the fact that it's rare for a TV programme to include this kind of stuff, to my mind backstage video is vital to any porn that wants to be taken seriously. Not only does it give you a chance to meet the performers, satisfy yourself about their consent, and find out more about their kinks, it also opens up the discussion. When it comes to sex one of our greatest mistakes is our failure to talk candidly about it. If I could go back in time, one of the things I'd like to tell my younger self is this:
“There are other people out there like you.”
At its best, getting this message out to those who most need to hear it is exactly what porn can do.
What was your experience of kink when you were younger? Have you met people during your kinky life who've given you the same kind of positive messages as Eliza and Tai in their interviews?
Sometimes if we want progress, all we need to do is hvae a conversation – and I can think of no better people to start it than fantastic, kinky ambassadors like Eliza, Tai, and the other amazing performers who feature on Dreams of Spanking.
Our new film Houseboy is a departure from the usual videos on Dreams of Spanking - and most other spanking sites. This is our first attempt at a cinematic short film, aiming for a higher standard of cinematography and storytelling than we are usually able to achieve. I wasn't planning to shoot this way from the start - it came about from a convergence of factors that created the perfect opportunity to try something new.
Casting Tai Crimson
It started last year, when I met an enthusiastically kinky and ridiculously cute young person from San Francisco. He was gorgeous, he loved spanking - he could certainly take it - and he expressed an interest in shooting for Dreams of Spanking. He wasn't old enough at that point to perform in porn, but I said that once he turned 18 I'd be very happy to work with him. We made plans to shoot together when he was next in the UK - which happened to be May 2015, less than a week after his eighteenth birthday. How's that for a coming-of-age celebration?
I normally prefer to work with kinksters who are a little older, simply because I value emotional maturity and experience in the people I shoot with. I think the common fetish for "barely 18" performers in porn is partly based on the idea that young performers are vulnerable, and so it's easier to take advantage of them and push their limits. I find this sleazy and totally unethical, and I'd always much rather work with older players who know their own minds and are able to look after themselves. It's important to me that the performers I hire can take responsibility for their own limits and communication, are experienced enough players to know their bodies and their preferences, and are secure in their decision to appear in fetish porn - because once you've done it, there's no going back.
When I met Tai, however, he exploded all of my preconceptions. Although a teenager, he has a rock solid sense of his kinky identity, and he's been exploring his interest in private for years. He is calm, confident, intelligent, self-reliant, and very emotionally mature. So at eighteen and a few days, Tai officially beats Talia Lane to the position of youngest performer on Dreams of Spanking - and yes, we do have his ID on file to prove it!
We put a date in the diary, and meanwhile Tai and I exchanged emails discussing his interests and preferences. But by March this year, when I needed to start firming up plans, I already knew that ATVOD were investigating Dreams of Spanking and that I was likely to have to stop updating the site for a duration of several months while my appeal was underway. I had lots of scenes already shot starring Fauni, Mike, Talia and David and others which I wasn't going to be able to publish, so there was absolutely no point spending money and energy shooting more material that might never see the light of day.
Towards a cinematic style
Meanwhile, I'd attended the British Fetish Film Festival in February and the Berlin Porn Film Festival last October, and I'd been thinking an awful lot about shooting styles, production values, and the budget and time constraints under which I was shooting.
Over five years I have developed a shoot style that produces one 10-15 minute spanking film per hour, in a remarkably stress free environment, with plenty of breaks. This is based on improvised scenes filmed live by one or two handheld camera operators, with perhaps some close-ups or cutaways to enhance anticipation in the build up to the spanking scenes, but otherwise shot with as few cuts as possible - unless the performers themselves need to cut. Lightweight, consumer-grade cameras make handheld shooting manageable without the camera operators getting too tired, and using auto-focus allows us to get visual variety by roaming around the scene shooting different angles, rather than stopping the action to reset each shot.
This non-disruptive shooting style allows the performers to get into an immersive scene space and stay in character, which helps the roleplay flow more smoothly, and also helps the bottom stay in their headspace and makes the spanking itself easier to take. It's a system that Nimue and I have got down to a fine art, and I was pleased that we'd reached a point where we could create nice-looking films within budget, while maintaining a relaxed and fun shoot environment for everyone involved.
The downside of this low-key shooting style is that the resulting films would never achieve the cinematic quality that I was seeing at the film festivals I was going to. I'd had a couple of films rejected from international festivals, presumably because the videography, audio quality and storytelling wasn't up to scratch. I found myself wanting to level up, and see if with a bit more money, time and effort, I could raise my production values and put Dreams of Spanking on the map as a credible producer of cinema-quality films.
So rather than hire Tai for a day shooting a number of improvised ten minute website updates, I decided to use him to do something different. I booked amazing boudoir photographer Matt Christie to help out with the videography - he'd expressed an interest in shooting video last time we shot together, he has a commercial-grade camera and he also had access to an amazing location perfect for the scenario I had in mind.
I started penning ideas for a single 10-15 minute short film. Not five films, or six films, or seven. Just one.
Developing the story
With Tai, I had an articulate and gorgeous masculine-of-center performer with a submissive streak a mile wide, who loved being spanked. I thought about the films I was seeing at festivals, and the lack of beautifully-shot female/male BDSM films shot from a female perspective, with a male submissive who is both beautiful and interesting, and not just a cipher propping up a sexually objectified female dominant. Instead of this I wanted to make Tai the lust object and protagonist of the film, focussing both the lens on his body, and the story on his character's journey.
I started with a fairly traditional plot - a young man applying for a submissive role in the household of an established mistress. I brainstormed ideas for visual storytelling, thinking about ways to focus the storyline on the tension and anticipation Tai's character feels before he takes the plunge towards fulfilling his submissive desires. I considered ways to create an interesting power dynamic between his character and mine. I quickly realised that I'd need a third performer, another submissive serving the mistress - someone to make his arrival at the house feel more formal and more intimidating.
I'd already talked to my friend Eliza Grey about having her on set as a shoot assistant, helping out behind the camera (she had planned to be with us on our shoot in November, but had sadly been unable to make it). I realised she'd be perfect for the role of a bitchy receptionist, enhancing Tai's nerves before his interview with the Madame... and once I'd cast Eliza, the rest of the story fell into place.
Writing the script
Ten days before the shoot, I was hurrying to finish the script on my laptop on the train. I'd never written lines for characters to say before, and I was finding it surprisingly difficult. I'd write a line, then agonise over it. What if Tai doesn't feel comfortable saying that? What if that's not what Eliza would say? I've always made a political point of not putting words in my performers' mouths, and suddenly that was what I was literally doing. At the same time I was all-too-aware that they were going to need to memorise their lines, and time was running out.
I closed my eyes, wrote some lines telling myself they were only placeholders, and sent it off with an apologetic email saying this was a very rough draft, and inviting them to make any changes they wanted. But my anxiety proved unfounded. In the end, bar one wording change, that script was the one we used - and Tai and Eliza rocked it.
Working with a storyboard
A week before the shoot I was on D's sofa after a fetish party, scribbling a 'storyboard' in biro on A4 paper from his printer while my friends chatted around me. After writing the screenplay I had a strong visual image in my mind's eye of what most of the shots would look like - now it was just a case of creating a visual reference so I could communicate my ideas to Matt on the day. I'd visited Matt's location a week ago, so the rooms were fresh in my mind. It was a useful exercise to think through camera angles and compose the shots, but I'm pretty sure it was the crappiest storyboard anyone has ever worked from. The most hilarious of my terrible stick figure drawings was this sketch of Eliza being spanked over my knee and feeling sad about it:
Professional production all round, innit.
The day of the shoot
The shoot day approached. I bought food and props, looked up travel options, packed suitcases, selected implements, printed scripts and release forms. Shortly before the day I realised that I'd inadvertently booked our shoot on the same day as the London Marathon, and the location we were using was only one block away from the route. That meant that not only would transport potentially be disrupted, but the exterior shots would all have a huge amount of background noise. Still, at this late stage there was nothing to be done about it. I booked an 8am taxi, the traffic at that hour was fine, and I was on set at 9am. Matt and I drank coffee and looked through the storyboard, then Tai and Eliza arrived - and it was all go.
Shooting from a script was a totally new experience for me, and a steep learning curve. I'd worked out the best shooting order, shooting the story in as close to chronological order as possible while minimising room and lighting changes. After that it was just a question of staying calm, following the callsheet and taking it one shot at a time.
I was using an external mic for the first time, and was grateful to have Eliza helping out and sharing the responsibility for making sure the mic was a) close enough, b) not in shot, and c) recording each time. She was also an absolute star helping out with moving lights, checking camera batteries and memory cards, making tea and tidying up behind us. A+++, would work with again. Plus it turned out she could seriously act...
It was a full day, perhaps a bit too full - nerves started to fray after a few hours, and everyone was feeling tired by mid-afternoon. The shoot would definitely have been easier with more camera crew or fewer scenes to fit in. After a few hours, Matt noticed a round smudge in the middle of the lens, and wiped it off - but of course there wasn't time to go back and re-shoot the shots we'd already done. By the time we came to shoot the confrontation between Tai and Eliza in the kitchen, everyone was so tired that that scene took about seven takes. Some of the shots ended up out of focus, and we got through so many cans of tonic that I was worried we'd run out!
Editing the film
Still, despite all that, when I came to look at the footage I was pleased to discover that most of it looked how I'd expected. There were a few surprises in the edit - such as that moment when I realised the reverse shot in one dialogue scene crossed the line and was therefore unusable, and was suddenly grateful that we'd shot three angles of that particular scene, even though at the time it felt like overkill. It was a monster of an edit, but satisfying too, sorting through all the footage, plugging it into place, and seeing how the scenes I'd envisioned in my mind played out on camera.
Choosing the music was another daunting prospect - I knew I wanted to avoid re-using the same creative commons soundtracks that you hear time and time again in indie porn, and that meant spending money. But how to start looking? First I worked out where music was needed - in the intro sequence, the montage, and the closing credits, which meant I needed two or three pieces in total. Then I did a rough edit of those sequences so I had a vague idea of how long the music would need to be. After that, I set a day aside to browse SoundDogs, typing in different keywords and playing pieces with my eyes closed, visualing the film, until I hit on a genre that felt right. I realised that for this story my usual taste in piano and cello-dominated classical and film score music wouldn't work - Tai's character needed something moody and masculine, guitar-led, energetic and driving. Finally I whittled down a selection, downloaded some samples and started laying them over the edit to see what worked.
Primarily, this film was intended to be screened at film festivals - which meant that the narrative would have a different structure than standard spanking films. In a film intended for someone to watch while having a wank, you need a carefully paced build-up and pay-off that sustains uninterrupted shots of climactic spanking action for long enough for the viewer to reach orgasm. In a longer film, there might be two of three of these build-ups and climaxes, separated by character-driven story. But at a film festival, the audience are watching to have their minds stimulated, not their genitals. Fast-paced editing is preferable, providing lots of new visual information with every shot. Explicit sequences need to be edited down to the bare minimum necessary to develop the characters and progress the story. So that was a new challenge: cutting the 15 minutes of high quality spanking action in, for instance, Tai's audition scene, down to the three minutes earmarked for it in the festival edit. The only way I was able to do it was by promising myself that I'd release the full, uncut scene as an extended edition on Dreams of Spanking later. But meanwhile the deadline for the Berlin Porn Film Festival was June 30th, so I had to get the shorter edit finished first...
In the end, thankfully, it was finished in time to submit to Berlin, and I'm hopeful that they'll accept it. I'll be submitting it to various other film festivals over the summer as well. I'm really happy with the finished film, and completely honoured to have been trusted with Tai and Eliza's porn debuts - and thrilled that they had a good time.
And that's a wrap!
It was a really long shoot day. We finished the scheduled shots around 7pm, 10 hours after I'd arrived on set. But then we cracked open the champagne and ended up chatting and buzzing on a total high, which led to another two hours shooting performer interviews, and even a behind the scenes caning for Tai when he confessed he still didn't think he'd been spanked enough...
By the time we finally turned the cameras off, sat down for some supper and tidied everything away, the sun had gone down - and it was 11pm before I finally got into a cab. Matt and I had been on set for fourteen hours, Tai and Eliza for thirteen. I am so grateful to the three of them for their enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism. It was a long fucking shoot and everyone put in so much energy and creativity it was kind of overwhelming. Overall, this production cost ten times as much as an average Dreams of Spanking video, but even so I still came away feeling like I hadn't paid people enough for the amount of work they'd put in.
Overall, this was a very satisfying project, and I'm really happy to have it under my belt. But it also taught me a lot about the trade-off that arises when you move towards a more cinematic shooting style. My previous method gave my performers more breaks, less stress and a much more satisfying kink experience. Shooting Houseboy, we did the bare minimum of spanking needed to get the shots I wanted - and stopping to move the camera, check the focus and lighting, consult the storyboard every few seconds made it hard to get immersed into a satisfying spanking headspace. I'm glad I hadn't scripted any particularly hard spanking scenes, because I think severe corporal punishment would be much more emotionally and physically challenging to take in this context.
I hadn't realised it before, but shooting in a more amateur style results in a much more rewarding experience for the performers - with more opportunity for top and bottom to develop an in-scene chemistry, focus on each other rather than the camera, and time for the bottom to sink into a yummy submissive headspace, without constant distractions.
So what can I take away from this? Well, I've learned that shooting in a cinematic style is something I can do, and that's good to know. I've learned that it's hard work, at least ten times as expensive as my usual shooting style, and considerably more time-consuming to produce and edit. It's also exhilarating, exhausting, and very creatively satisfying. I'm glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and gave it a go, and I'm hopeful that the finished film will be screened in Berlin this year. But I've also learned that I don't want to start shooting this way every time. Perhaps I might be able to put out one cinematic film a year, but this experiment has restored my faith in my usual low-key way of shooting, which it turns out is preferable experience for me and my performers - and a much better environment to ask people to take hard spankings in. Our standard Dreams of Spanking shoots emphasise process over product, and trying something new has re-affirmed my faith in that process.
You can watch the long-play trailer for Houseboy below - and if you're a site member, please watch the full film and tell me what you think - and make sure you also check out the extended editions of Tai's and Eliza's spanking scenes, performer interviews and Tai's off-the-cuff behind the scenes caning.
I spent all of May anticipating a letter from ATVOD, and by the time I went on holiday at the end of the month, none had arrived. I met with Ms Tytania (who successfully appealed to Ofcom regarding ATVOD's Determination against her site the Urban Chick Supremacy Cell in 2014) for coffee, and she gave me some more info on the appeal process. For instance, I learned that while her appeal was underway, she took her members section offline, but left her site and blog up. She also suggested that it might be months until ATVOD issued me with their Preliminary View (that is, their first report on the site and whether it is in breach of their guidelines) - they are pursuing lots of cases at the moment and in the case of UCSC, they sometimes kept her waiting a long time for a reply.
I came back from holiday feeling refreshed, and got stuck back into work on Dreams of Spanking with enthusiasm. The detachment and depression I'd felt after I first learned of ATVOD's investigation felt like a thing of the past. For a couple of weeks, I took pleasure in editing videos and promotiing the site.
Then on Monday I received a letter from ATVOD enclosing their Preliminary View on Dreams of Spanking.
The PV took the form of a summary PDF signed by CEO Peter Johnson, and three documents - the first one (7 pages) declaring that I was in breach of Rules 1 and 4 for failing to notify them that I was running a Video on Demand service and for failing to volunteer to pay their annual registration fee, the second (8 pages) a description of the ways in which the site is in breach of Rule 11 for making 'restricted material' available to view without age verification e.g. having to enter credit card details, and the third document (5 pages) declared that the site was in breach of rule 14 for including 'prohibited material' - that is, content which is too 'extreme' to be classified as R18 according to the British Board of Film Classification.;
At first read it makes for effective psychodrama. The first document goes into excruciating, pre-emptively defensive detail about why exactly ATVOD consider Dreams of Spanking to be a Video on Demand service by their definition, with particular emphasis on the reasons they feel the films are "TV-like". I admit I briefly felt intimidated - particularly by the all-caps, all-bold REAL NAME YOU ARE IN BREACH OF RULE BLAH BLAH statement at the end of each document - but then it struck me as trying too hard, ridiculous. For fully effective scare tactics they might as well has gone the whole hog and had it red and dripping blood, too. No government agency which was secure in its authority would resort to such puffed-up posturing.
The level of detail they've gone into is surreal. As I paged through the documents, reading chapter and verse on all the ways they consider my work to be a) under their authority and b) unacceptable, mixed feelings arose. On one level it was kind of gratifying to have my indulgent little porn site taken so seriously by a commercial regulator - I mean, I think they're coming at it all wrong, but at least they've done some research. On another, more irrational, level it felt somewhat violating. I guess when you publish niche fetish material online there's an implicit assumption that only likeminded folks will pay close attention. I know rationally that there's no guarantee of that, and if you'd asked me I'd have said it was a silly expectation to have. But still, I can't deny it felt uncomfortable to have my personal porn project dissected by hostile outsiders.
But I also couldn't help seeing the funny side. I mean, the sheer time and effort it must have taken to compile ... surely the no doubt skilled professionals who wrote these documents could be spending their time in a more productive way than poking their nose into other people's erotic lives online? And then there was how seriously they were taking it all - and the cost...
These people are paid (no doubt handsome) salaries to watch niche porn and methodically tear it apart - all funded by the fees they extract from other niche pornographers. As Ben Yates wrote for XBiz in March, "If they were the mafia, their fees would be termed protection money and their business model would be extortion."
So what do ATVOD have to say about Dreams of Spanking?
How's that for a cover quote? This paragraph tickled me so much that I've temporarily made it our Twitter cover picture - perhaps I should add ATVOD's review to the ones on our splash page.
Also, as Hywel pointed out,
@DreamofSpanking Go us. "Do not have the appearance of having been with consumer grade camera". ATVOD technically clueless as well, then.— Restrained Elegance (@RElegance) June 8, 2015
The cameras I use to shoot video for Dreams of Spanking are this one and this one. I bought the HF200 from Amazon for about £500 back in 2010, and the HF306 for £200 a couple of years later. Hardly commercial grade, and you can tell: the image is often grainy, with no manual focus or shallow depth of field, and responds badly to low lighting. I colour grade the best I can in Premiere, but when it comes to film-making I'm self-taught and operating on a miniscule budget. Are ATVOD really so clueless that they can't tell the difference betweeh this and commercial broadcast media?
As Nimue Allen pointed out, it's particularly weird of them to cite behind the scenes material as an example of something that makes our videos "TV-like", when you don't get behind the scenes out-takes and interviews on TV - it's a DVD extras thing.
And then there's this:
Don't even get me started on the problems inherent with using appropriate credits, behind the scenes materials showing consent, and "high production values" as evidence that our videos should be censored. What's that meant to do - encourage people to attempt to avoid regulation by making terrible porn?
@DreamofSpanking "Why pick Dreams, ATVOD?" "it was the credits, m'lud. Only TV programmes EVER credit their performers" =\— Girl on the Net (@girlonthenet) June 8, 2015
I've heard it argued that the AVMS 2014 (the Statutory Instrument that came into effect last December granting ATVOD these new powers) is aimed at bringing down the free tube sites, but based on these criteria, which exclude most of the offerings on tube sites - they usually don't include narrative, credits or out-of-character expressions of consent - I really don't understand how.
As if this ridiculousness wasn't enough, the document contained a number of typing errors.
Could do better, ATVOD. See me after class.
But the most ludicrous of their claims is in the document on Rule 14, in which they cite two scenes as examples of "prohibited material". One is "Slight Damage to the Rear End", which isn't surprising as the only reason that scene (which depicts caning hard enough to draw blood) is still on the site is that CCBill haven't noticed it yet. But the other is "Ariel's Sponsored Caning", the first of our free protest videos as part of our fundraiser for Backlash. The irony of them picking a video which was explicitly created to challenge the AVMS guidelines and ATVOD's authority is incredible. I can only hope that they paid close attention to the interviews at the start - it's funny to imagine them watching them and fuming.
"Lasting physical harm" - really? Let's revisit the scene in question. This is probably the clearest image of Ariel's welts by the end of the caning:
Now I don't know about you, but to me those look like fairly moderate cane welts. A little raising of the skin, but for the most part they're pink rather than dark red or purple, with only one darker line on the crease. Even compared with the rest of the sponsored caning videos - which are all free to view - these stripes are relatively mild, which makes it doubly weird that they picked out this one.
Here's what Ariel had to say about ATVOD's interpretation of her caning as "lasting physical harm":
@DreamofSpanking Jeez. They lasted for 1 week. Almost exactly. My bottom is *back to normal* Because we aren't insane. WTF.— Ariel Anderssen (@ArielAnderssen) June 8, 2015
Are marks that heal up within a few days really "lasting harm"? It's ludicrous that a group of people who know almost nothing about BDSM should attempt this sort of external, ill-informed assessment of which acts "might cause lasting harm". If the level of damage is the deciding factor, how on earth can they tell from the images shot on the day how long the marks took to heal? Everyone has different rates of healing, and I've had marks like this which disappeared overnight. Is that still "lasting harm"?
Then there's the arrogance of ATVOD deciding how "harmed" a performer was, or might have been, without paying any attention to the testimony of that performer. (In this instance, Ariel's smiles and hugs at the end of the film clearly show that neither of us was harmed during the filming of this video.) But why make assumptions? Since they were apparently so dedicated to their "research", how hard would it have been for ATVOD to contact Ariel and ask her themselves? Her email address is right there on her user profile.
That's the thing about feminist porn: the performers are real people, with online presence and social media profiles, and you can follow the links and find out for yourself how they felt about a given scene and how long it took them to recover. But it seems ATVOD would rather stand in judgement of porn performers than actually talk to them.
Re-reading it now, I'm actually confused about how to read that wording - This constitutes material which “involves the infliction of pain or acts which may cause lasting physical harm, whether real or (in a sexual context) simulated”. The infliction of pain or acts which may cause lasting physical harm? Is it possible that they aren't citing Ariel's caned bottom as evidence of lasting physical harm after all, but simply as evidence of "the infliction of pain"? But that makes no sense, because the guidelines allegedly allow for "moderate" pain play which leaves transient marks such as reddening of the skin. So if infliction of pain is permissible in some contexts, that by itself can't be grounds for censorship. In this instance therefore I think ATVOD must be referring to "acts which may cause lasting physical harm", and not just "the infliction of pain".
I love this idea. ATVOD have given me 10 working days to make legal representations to defend myself - perhaps we should append a lengthy collection of "before" and "after" bottom photos to prove that none of the material on Dreams of Spanking caused lasting physical harm to the performers.
The other thing that's particularly messed up about legislating BDSM material based on the perceived severity of the resulting marks is that marking is so very variable. Any player will tell you that some people mark more than others, and how much each of us marks depends on how much we've been playing lately, how well warmed up we are in a given scene, how well we take care of our skin with soothing lotion, moisturiser, aloe vera etc, and myriad other factors. Is it really the case that (for instance) a 25 stroke caning delivered after a lengthy warm-up session with hand, leather paddle and strap, resulting in a rosy red glow but no visible welts, would be permissible, but the same caning (or even a lighter one) delivered straight from cold, would be prohibited? How does that make sense?
Not to mention the fact that banning heavy marking discriminates against less-experienced bottoms - which disproportionately targets amateur porn and studios working with new performers rather than those who only work with experienced bottoms.
@DreamofSpanking Frankly, I've had pimples on my bum that hung around longer than any DoS marks.
— Adele Haze (@AdeleHaze) June 8, 2015
Finally, there's the fact that these criteria are only applied to "pornographic works", created "primarily for the purposes of sexual arousal". But eroticism is in the eyes of the viewer. You only need to take one look at the Clips4Sale categories list to realise that things you always thought were perfectly mundane are, for some people, the height of sexual excitement. So who gets to decide what is "pornographic", and why are we allowed to publish video of acts that may cause lasting physical harm in some contexts, but not in others?
I've had worse marks from Medieval re-enactment, and that's 100% legal.— Restrained Elegance (@RElegance) June 8, 2015
Here are some examples of "lasting physical harm" I have had that lasted longer than Ariel's cane marks:
All these these activities were undertaken deliberately and with full awareness of the risks involved. Should video of people swimming, doing parkour, hula hooping, or attacking their cats' fluffy bellies be illegal to distribute too?
The thing that really bites is that as a feminist porn producer I go out of my way to ensure the consent and wellbeing of the performers I work with. These guidelines make absolutely no provision for consent, for whether the acts are undertaken in a safe and responsible way, for the health and happiness of the performers, or for the production ethics, transparency and accountability of the service in question.
Under these guidelines, you can publish a four-boy, one-girl hardcore porn scene that includes double penetration and lots of gagging on cock, and you're absolutely fine provided it's shot with shoddy production values with no storyline, no performer interviews or behind the scenes, and no credits. But if you go out of your way to create something better, if you strive to be ethical and responsible, and if you dare to authentically express a kinky sexuality in a consensual, thoughtful and critical way - that's obviously "harmful", and they'll come after you and shut you down.