Anti-pornography movement in the United Kingdom

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The anti-pornography movement in the United Kingdom is a social movement that seeks to reduce the availability of pornography in the country. The movement originates from two distinct perspectives: some feminists oppose pornography because they regard it as a means of degrading women, while some conservatives (both religiously-motivated and secular) view it as immoral. The movement has had some influence over legislation, resulting in a number of laws intended to restrict the availability of certain genres of pornography which are legal in a number of other countries. Feminists Against Censorship have described the movement as more concerted and better organised than similar movements in other Western liberal democracies. [1]

Social movement type of group action

A social movement is a type of group action. There is no single consensus definition of a social movement. They are large, sometimes informal, groupings of individuals or organizations which focus on specific political or social issues. In other words, they carry out, resist, or undo a social change. They provide a way of social change from the bottom within nations.

Feminists Against Censorship (FAC) is a large network of women founded in 1989 in the United Kingdom to present the feminist arguments against censorship, particularly of sexual materials, and to defend individual sexual expression.


Radical feminist opposition

During the 1970s, there emerged several anti-pornography groups, including legislatively focused groups such as Campaign Against Pornography and Campaign Against Pornography and Censorship, as well as groups associated with Revolutionary Feminism such as Women Against Violence Against Women and its direct action offshoot Angry Women. [2] Opposition to violent or degrading pornography continues to this day from radical feminists who continue to fight the Feminist sex wars.[ citation needed ]

Direct action action taken by a group intended to reveal an existing problem, highlight an alternative, or demonstrate a possible solution to a social issue

Direct action originated as a political activist term for economical and political acts in which the actors use their power to directly reach certain goals of interest, in contrast to those actions that appeal to others by, for instance, revealing an existing problem, using physical violence, highlighting an alternative, or demonstrating a possible solution.

Radical feminism is a perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts.

The feminist sex wars, also known as the lesbian sex wars, or simply the sex wars or porn wars, are terms used to refer to collective debates amongst feminists regarding a number of issues broadly relating to sexuality and sexual activity. Differences of opinion on matters of sexuality deeply polarized the feminist movement, particularly leading feminist thinkers, in the late 1970s and early 1980s and continue to influence debate amongst feminists to this day.

Conservative and religious opposition

Strong opposition to pornography in the United Kingdom has come from the Christian pressure group Mediawatch-UK (formerly known as the National Viewers and Listeners Association). The organisation, which was founded and led by the social activist Mary Whitehouse until 1991, wishes to criminalise possession of pornography.[ citation needed ]

Mediawatch-UK, formerly known as the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, is a pressure group in the United Kingdom, which campaigns against the publication and broadcast of media content that it views as harmful and offensive, such as violence, hate speech against any race, creed or sexual orientation, xenophobia, and profanity.

Mary Whitehouse British activist

Constance Mary Whitehouse was an English social activist who opposed social liberalism and the mainstream British media, both of which she accused of encouraging a more permissive society. She was the founder and first president of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, through which she led a longstanding campaign against the BBC. A hard-line social conservative, she was disparagingly termed a reactionary by her socially liberal opponents. Her motivation derived from her traditional Christian beliefs, her aversion to the rapid social and political changes in British society of the 1960s and her work as a teacher of sex education.

Campaign against violent pornography

A campaign to restrict the availability of violent pornography on the Internet was launched in 2004 following the murder of Jane Longhurst by Graham Coutts, a man who had viewed Internet pornography, particularly strangulation fetish sites. A concern that there could be a link between the crime and what the Government termed "extreme pornography" led to calls from Longhurst's mother Liz, the police, MP Martin Salter and Home Secretary David Blunkett to ban such websites. [3] [4] [5] A campaign by the Government and Liz Longhurst collected a petition of over 50,000 signatures calling for a ban on "extreme internet sites promoting violence against women in the name of sexual gratification". The Home Office carried out a consultation on proposals to criminalise possession of "extreme pornographic material" which found 63% of responses opposed to a new law. However, legislation was supported by anti-pornography groups Mediawatch and Mediamarch as well as some radical feminists, such as Julie Bindel. [6] Some of those responding to the Government consultation, especially police organizations, felt that the proposal should go much further, and that tighter restriction on all pornography should be imposed. [7] On 30 August 2006 the UK government announced that it intended to legislate to criminalise the possession of "extreme pornography", the first time that possession of pornography depicting adults would be an offence in the UK. [8] In 2009, section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 criminalised the possession of some forms of pornography, including violent pornography. The offence is punishable by up to 3 years in prison.

Special needs teacher Jane Longhurst was murdered by Graham Coutts on 14 March 2003. At the time, Coutts was a guitarist and part-time salesman living in Brighton. He claimed that Longhurst had died accidentally during consensual erotic asphyxiation, although the prosecution maintained that there was nothing to suggest that Coutts and Longhurst had ever been lovers. Coutts was convicted of murder on 3 February 2004, and sentenced to a life term serving a minimum of 30 years. The conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal on 19 July 2006, and a new trial started on 12 June 2007. He was again found guilty on 4 July 2007.

Erotic asphyxiation is the intentional restriction of oxygen to the brain for the purposes of sexual arousal. The term autoerotic asphyxiation is used when the act is done by a person to themselves. Colloquially, a person engaging in the activity is sometimes called a gasper.

Martin John Salter is a British Labour Party politician who was the Member of Parliament for Reading West from 1997 to 2010.

British Board of Film Classification

Hardcore material was not legalised until 2000, almost 30 years after the United States and the rest of Europe. Filmed material still has to be certified by the British Board of Film Classification in order to be legally supplied. This makes the UK's media one of the most regulated liberal democracies. [9] Distribution of pornography, including written material, is also restricted by the Obscene Publications Acts.

Hardcore pornography Explicit graphical depictions of sexual acts

Hardcore pornography, or hardcore porn, is pornography that features detailed depictions of sexual organs or sexual acts such as vaginal, anal or oral intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, fingering, anilingus, ejaculation, and fetish play. The term is in contrast with less-explicit softcore pornography. Hardcore pornography usually takes the form of photographs, films and cartoons. Since the 1990s, hardcore pornography has become widely available over the Internet, making it more widely available than ever before.

Europe Continent in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere

Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Asia to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia.

The British Board of Film Classification, is a non-governmental organisation, founded by the film industry in 1912 and responsible for the national classification and censorship of films exhibited at cinemas and video works released on physical media within the United Kingdom. It has a statutory requirement to classify all video works released on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and to a lesser extent, some video games under the Video Recordings Act 1984. The BBFC was also the designated regulator for the UK age-verification scheme which was abandoned before being implemented.

See also

Censorship in the United Kingdom has a history with various stringent and lax laws in place at different times.

The Victorian pornographic tradition included French photographs, erotic prints, and printed literature. As technology has advanced, pornography has taken diverse forms and become more widespread in society. In the twentieth century the production of pornographic magazines and films developed, and by the twenty-first century pornography was available by telephone, on television and via the internet. However, access to pornography has generally been more restricted than it has been in comparable Western countries.

Related Research Articles

Sex-positive feminism, also known as pro-sex feminism, sex-radical feminism, or sexually liberal feminism, is a movement that began in the early 1980s centering on the idea that sexual freedom is an essential component of women's freedom.

Pornography laws by region

The production and distribution of pornographic films are both activities that are lawful in many, but by no means all, countries so long as the pornography features performers aged above a certain age, usually eighteen years. Further restrictions are often placed on such material.

Opposition to pornography

Reasons for opposition to pornography include religious objections, feminist concerns, and claims of harmful effects, such as pornography addiction. Anti-pornography movements have allied disparate social activists in opposition to pornography, from social conservatives to harm reduction advocates.

Rape pornography is a subgenre of pornography involving the description or depiction of rape. It is controversial because of the argument that it encourages people to commit rape. However, studies of the issue produce conflicting results.

Due to the international nature of the Internet, Internet pornography carries with it special issues with regard to the law. There is no one set of laws that apply to the distribution, purchase, or possession of Internet pornography. This means that, for example, even if a pornographer is legally distributing pornography, the person receiving it may not be legally doing so due to local laws.

Women Against Pornography (WAP) was a radical feminist activist group based out of New York City that had an influential force in the anti-pornography movement of the late 1970s and the 1980s.

Backlash is an umbrella group formed in 2005 to coordinate opposition to the “Consultation on the possession of extreme pornographic material” issued in the United Kingdom jointly by the Home Office and the Scottish Executive. Its stated belief is that the proposals underlying the consultation represent an unjustified assault on freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

Internet censorship in the United Kingdom is conducted under a variety of laws, judicial processes, administrative regulations and voluntary arrangements. It is achieved by blocking access to sites as well as the use of laws that criminalise publication or possession of certain types of material. These include English defamation law, the Copyright law of the United Kingdom, regulations against incitement to terrorism and child pornography.

The Consenting Adult Action Network (CAAN) is a grassroots network of individuals in the United Kingdom that was formed in 2008 to protest and oppose laws restricting activities between consenting adults, most notably the criminalisation of possession of "extreme pornography".

Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 is a law in the United Kingdom criminalising possession of what it refers to as "extreme pornographic images". The law was enacted from 26 January 2009. The legislation was brought in following the murder of Jane Longhurst by a man who was said at the time of his trial to have had "extreme pornography" in his possession at the time of the death. The law has been more widely used than originally predicted, raising concerns as to whether the legislation is being used for prosecutions beyond the scope originally envisaged by parliament.

In People vs Freeman of 1988, the California Supreme Court stated that adult film production was to be protected as free speech under the First Amendment. They ruled that since such films did not include obscene images and indecency, and stayed within society's standards, the adult film industry should be granted the freedom of speech. Escaping highly regulated government intervention, regulation in the adult film industry has been limited to preventing child pornography. In the United States Code of Regulations, under title Title 18, Section 2257, no performers under the age of 18 are allowed to be employed by adult industry production companies. The failure to abide by this regulation results in civil and criminal prosecutions. To enforce the age entry restriction, all adult industry production companies are required to have a Custodian of Records that documents and holds records of the ages of all performers.

Feminist views on pornography range from condemnation of all of it as a form of violence against women, to an embracing of some forms as a medium of feminist expression. This debate reflects larger concerns surrounding feminist views on sexuality, and is closely related to those on prostitution, on BDSM, and other issues. Pornography has been one of the most divisive issues in feminism, particularly in anglophone (English-speaking) countries. This deep division was exemplified in the feminist sex wars of the 1980s, which pitted anti-pornography activists against sex-positive ones.

Feminist views on sexuality widely vary. Many feminists, particularly radical feminists, are highly critical of what they see as sexual objectification and sexual exploitation in the media and society. Radical feminists are often opposed to the sex industry, including opposition to prostitution and pornography. Other feminists define themselves as sex-positive feminists and believe that a wide variety of expressions of female sexuality can be empowering to women when they are freely chosen. Some feminists support efforts to reform the sex industry to become less sexist, such as the feminist pornography movement.

Stop Porn Culture is an international feminist anti-porn organization with branches in the United States, Norway, and the United Kingdom. It works as an advisory body, trains trainers, and builds public health educational materials based on empirical research. It has a network of volunteers and activists and collaborates with other organizations in the U.S. and Europe. Some of its work is grassroots activist work.

Clare McGlynn

Clare Mary Smith McGlynn(born 1970) is a Professor of Law at Durham University. She specialises in the legal regulation of pornography, image-based sexual abuse, violence against women, and gender equality in the legal profession. McGlynn regularly contributes to media debates about her areas of expertise, commenting in 2017 on whether pornography should be included on the school curriculum, whether it is ok to watch pornography in public, celebrity image-based sexual abuse, and on the proposed regulation of upskirting in England and Wales. She has submitted evidence to UK and Scottish Parliamentary committees. Her work with Erika Rackley on the cultural harm caused by rape pornography was instrumental in the Scottish Parliament's decision to criminalise possession of such material. McGlynn and Rackley were involved in Rape Crisis London's campaign to 'close the loophole' that makes possession of rape pornography lawful in England and Wales. The campaign was successful, and an amendment to include rape in the definition of 'extreme pornography' was incorporated into the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.


  1. Avedon Carol (1995). "The Harm of Porn: Just Another Excuse to Censor". Feminists Against Censorship. Archived from the original on 3 May 2010. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  2. "Angry Wimmin". Lefties. 17 July 2006. BBC Four. Archived from the original on 21 January 2011.
  3. "Victim's mother in web porn plea". BBC News. 4 February 2004. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  4. "UK police seek web porn crackdown". BBC News. 5 February 2004. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  5. "MP calls for violent porn ban". BBC News. 9 February 2004. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  6. Katy Taylor (28 October 2008). "Criminalising extreme porn". New Statesman. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  7. "Consultation on the possession of extreme pornographic material". Home Office. 30 August 2006. Archived from the original on 2 September 2006. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  8. "Mother wins ban on violent porn". BBC News. 2006-08-30. Retrieved 2010-04-25.
  9. O'Toole, Laurence (1998). Pornocopia: Porn, Sex, Technology and Desire, London, Serpent's Tail. ( ISBN   1-85242-395-1)