R18 (British Board of Film Classification)

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BBFC R18 category symbol BBFC R18 2019.svg
BBFC R18 category symbol

R18 is a film or video classification given by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). It is intended to provide a classification for works that are within British obscenity laws, but exceed what the BBFC considers acceptable for its 18 certificate. In practice, this means hardcore pornography.

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.

Obscene Publications Acts United Kingdom legislation

Since 1857, a series of obscenity laws known as the Obscene Publications Acts have governed what can be published in England and Wales. The classic definition of criminal obscenity is if it "tends to deprave and corrupt," stated in 1868 by Lord Justice Cockburn, in Regina v. Hicklin, now known as the Hicklin test.

18 (British Board of Film Classification) BBFC content rating

The 18 certificate is issued by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), to state that in its opinion, a film, video recording, or game is suitable only for persons aged 18 years and over. It recommends that no one below that age should be admitted to view a film with an 18 certificate in a cinema, and that 18-rated video recordings should not be sold or rented to anyone below that age.


Under the terms of the 1984 Video Recordings Act all non-exempt videos sold or distributed within the UK must be given a certificate by the BBFC. The distributor must decide whether a video is exempt. [1] Uncertificated recordings are not illegal, regardless of content (except where the content itself is illegal), but supply (i.e. sale, rental, loan or gift) of them is. The R18 certificate is the most restrictive of the certificates.

Video Recordings Act 1984 United Kingdom legislation

The Video Recordings Act 1984 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that was passed in 1984. It states that commercial video recordings offered for sale or for hire within the UK must carry a classification that has been agreed upon by an authority designated by the Home Office. The British Board of Film Classification, which had been instrumental in the certification of motion pictures since 1912, was designated as the classifying authority in 1985. Works are classified by the BBFC under an age-rated system ; it is an offence under the Act to supply video works to individuals who are under the age of the classification designated. Works that are refused classification cannot, under the Act, be legally sold or supplied to anyone of any age unless it is educational, or to do with a sport, religion or music and does not depict violence, sex or incite a criminal offence. The BBFC may also require cuts to be made, either to receive a certain age rating, or to be allowed a classification at all.


The R18 classification was created in 1982 in response to the recommendations in 1979 of the Home Office Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship chaired by Sir Bernard Williams. Originally it was only used for films featuring simulated sex only, but the BBFC found itself forced to award R18 certificates to hardcore films in 2000 after a series of legal appeals and a judicial review of those appeals.

Bernard Williams English moral philosopher

Sir Bernard Arthur Owen Williams, FBA was an English moral philosopher. His publications include Problems of the Self (1973), Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985), Shame and Necessity (1993), and Truth and Truthfulness (2002). He was knighted in 1999.

Judicial review is a process under which executive or legislative actions are subject to review by the judiciary. A court with authority for judicial review may invalidate laws, acts and governmental actions that are incompatible with a higher authority: an executive decision may be invalidated for being unlawful or a statute may be invalidated for violating the terms of a constitution. Judicial review is one of the checks and balances in the separation of powers: the power of the judiciary to supervise the legislative and executive branches when the latter exceed their authority. The doctrine varies between jurisdictions, so the procedure and scope of judicial review may differ between and within countries.

The introduction of the R18 certificate for hardcore films is widely seen by observers as a reaction to more liberal attitudes in British society to pornography, the de facto legalisation of the import of hardcore pornography (but not its sale) across EU member countries because of customs law harmonisation, and the widespread availability of unregulated pornography over the Internet.

Most cuts made by the BBFC are in the R18 category (e.g., 13.6% of R18 videos were cut in 2011, compared with 7.5% for 18, and 0.5% or less for other categories). [2] [3]

Regulation of content

The BBFC specifies in detail what kinds of acts are permitted to be depicted in works receiving an R18 certificate, and which are not. In particular, it prohibits: [4]

Obscene Publications Act 1959 United Kingdom legislation

The Obscene Publications Act 1959 is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom Parliament that significantly reformed the law related to obscenity in England and Wales. Prior to the passage of the Act, the law on publishing obscene materials was governed by the common law case of R v Hicklin, which had no exceptions for artistic merit or the public good. During the 1950s, the Society of Authors formed a committee to recommend reform of the existing law, submitting a draft bill to the Home Office in February 1955. After several failed attempts to push a bill through Parliament, a committee finally succeeded in creating a viable bill, which was introduced to Parliament by Roy Jenkins and given the Royal Assent on 29 July 1959, coming into force on 29 August 1959 as the Obscene Publications Act 1959. With the committee consisting of both censors and reformers, the actual reform of the law was limited, with several extensions to police powers included in the final version.

Bondage (BDSM) practice of consentually tying, binding, or restraining a partner for erotic, aesthetic, or somatosensory stimulation

In the BDSM subculture, Bondage is the practice of consensually tying, binding, or restraining a partner for erotic, aesthetic, or somatosensory stimulation. A partner may be physically restrained in a variety of ways, including the use of rope, cuffs, bondage tape, or self-adhering bandage.

Although R18 does allow for the depiction of most consensual sex acts such as vaginal sexual intercourse, oral sex, masturbation, anal sex and some moderate BDSM between any combination of men and women, the following is prohibited:

The acts include those deemed likely to contravene the Obscene Publications Act 1959. Depiction of urolagnia, fisting and various hardcore BDSM acts were deemed legal in January 2012 in R v Peacock. Following a public consultation, the Crown Prosecution Service published guidelines in 2019 indicating that pornography depicting consenting adults engaged in legal acts would no longer be prosecuted under the Act, provided no serious harm was caused and the likely audience was over the age of 18. [6] ; it is unclear as to whether the BBFC will revise its guidelines, but they announced that they are discussing what to do next. [7]

Films given the R18 certificate may only be exhibited in licensed cinemas and can only be sold on physical media direct to the buyer in person in licensed sex shops. [4] Ofcom also prohibit the transmission of R18 material as part of a television broadcast, although these restrictions do not apply to hotel television systems which are not regulated by Ofcom. [8]

The BBFC do not have jurisdiction over content distributed via non-physical media; however, in 2014 the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 amended the Communications Act 2003 to extend the statutory and legal obligations for the distribution of R18 content to "on-demand" programme services, such as streaming media/video on demand over the internet or mobile phone networks and web-based platforms. [8] [9] The revisions make it a criminal offence to not adequately restrict access to works rated R18 by the BBFC—or any work that would be likely to receive a R18 classification if it were submitted—to those aged over 18. [9] These provisions are only applicable to services whose principal purpose is to provide content that is comparable to what is normally found in television services and if the service enables the user to select the programme and permits viewing at a time chosen by them. [10]

Recent developments

In 2004 a group of video distributors appealed to the Video Appeals Committee (VAC) against the BBFC's decision to award R18 certificates to 9 films that the distributors wished to be reclassified as 18. A press release issued by the BBFC on 20 July 2005 announced that the VAC had dismissed that appeal. [11]

The BBFC has previously granted 18 certificates for movies containing short scenes of unsimulated sex, such as Catherine Breillat's Romance (in 1999), Virginie Despentes's Baise Moi (in 2000), Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy (in 2001), Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs (in 2004), short-film compilation Destricted (in 2006), and in 2008 the hardcore version of Tinto Brass's Caligula was passed uncut for DVD with an 18. [12]

The Digital Economy Act 2017 includes powers to require age-verification for pornographic Internet sites and the government accepted an amendment to allow the regulator to require ISPs to block access to non-compliant sites. [13] As the BBFC are expected to become the regulator, this has caused discussion about ISPs being required to block Internet pornography that would be prohibited under an R18 certificate, [13] [14] the prohibition of some of which is itself controversial. [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

A motion picture content rating system is designated to classify films with regard to suitability for audiences in terms of issues such as sex, violence, substance abuse, profanity, impudence or other types of mature content. A particular issued rating can be called a certification, classification, certificate or rating. Most countries have some form of rating system, typically carrying age recommendations in an advisory or restrictive capacity ranging up to adulthood, and are often given in lieu of censorship. In some jurisdictions the legal obligation of administering the rating may be imposed on movie theaters.

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.

Tentacle erotica genre of erotica involving tentacles

Tentacle erotica or Tentacle rape is a type of pornography most commonly found in Japan which integrates traditional pornography with elements of bestiality and a fantasy, horror, or science-fiction theme. It is found in some horror or hentai titles, with tentacled creatures having sexual intercourse, predominantly with females. Tentacle erotica can be consensual but frequently contains elements of rape.

<i>Baise-moi</i> 2000 film by Coralie Trinh Thi, Virginie Despentes

Baise-moi is a 2000 French crime thriller film with elements of a rape and revenge film written and directed by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi and starring Karen Lancaume and Raffaëla Anderson. It is based on the novel by Despentes, first published in 1993. The film received intense media coverage because of its graphic mix of violence and explicit sex scenes. Consequently, it is sometimes considered an example of the "New French Extremity."

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.

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.

The Maritime Film Classification Board is a government organization responsible for reviewing films and granting film ratings in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

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.

Pornography in Europe

Pornography in Europe has been dominated by a few pan-European producers and distributors, the most notable of which is the Private Media Group that successfully claimed the position previously held by Color Climax Corporation in the early 1990s. Most European countries also have local pornography producers, from Portugal to Serbia, who face varying levels of competition with international producers. The legal status of pornography varies widely in Europe; its production and distribution are illegal in countries such as Ukraine, Belarus and Bulgaria, while Hungary is noted for having liberal pornography laws.

Pornography Explicit portrayal of sexual acts and intercourse

Pornography is the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the exclusive purpose of sexual arousal. Pornography may be presented in a variety of media, including books, magazines, postcards, photographs, sculpture, drawing, painting, animation, sound recording, phone calls, writing, film, video, and video games. The term applies to the depiction of the act rather than the act itself, and so does not include live exhibitions like sex shows and striptease. The primary subjects of present-day pornographic depictions are pornographic models, who pose for still photographs, and pornographic actors or "porn stars", who perform in pornographic films. If dramatic skills are not involved, a performer in pornographic media may also be called a model.

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.

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.

An obscenity is any utterance or act that strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time. It is derived from the Latin obscaena (offstage) a cognate of the Ancient Greek root skene, because some potentially offensive content, such as murder or sex, was depicted offstage in classical drama. The word can be used to indicate a strong moral repugnance, in expressions such as "obscene profits" or "the obscenity of war". As a legal term, it usually refers to graphic depictions of people engaged in sexual and excretory activity.

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.

Australian Classification Board classification agency of films, video games and literary works in Australia

The Australian Classification Board is an Australian Government statutory body responsible for the classification and censorship of films, video games and publications for exhibition, sale or hire in Australia. The ACB was established in 1970 and was once part of the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), which was dissolved in 2006. The Department of Communications and the Arts now provides administrative support to the ACB and decisions made by the ACB may be reviewed by the Australian Classification Review Board. The ACB now operates under the Commonwealth Classification Act 1995.

<i>R v Peacock</i>

R v Peacock was an English Crown Court case that was a test of the Obscene Publications Act 1959. In December 2009, the defendant, a male escort named Michael Peacock, had been charged by the Metropolitan Police for selling hardcore gay pornography that the police believed had the ability to "deprave or corrupt" the viewer, which was illegal under the Obscene Publications Act. He was subsequently acquitted through a trial by jury in January 2012.

Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 United Kingdom legislation

The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 is a Statutory Instrument of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that applies regulations to R18-rated pornography that is available through video on demand or other streaming platforms. Prior to the regulations coming into force, neither Ofcom nor the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) had jurisdiction over such content. In force from 1 December 2014, these regulations have been made by the Secretary of State in exercise of the powers conferred by section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972.


  1. BBFC FAQ - What does the 'E' symbol mean, and it is an official category? Archived 2008-07-24 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Statistics, BBFC, archived from the original on 6 January 2012, retrieved 28 November 2016
  3. Barnfield, Graham (27 August 2009). "Let's finally erase this 'law' from the statutes". Spiked Magazine. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  4. 1 2 "R18 | British Board of Film Classification". Bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved 2015-09-07.
  5. "Prime cuts". Index on Censorship. 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2015-09-07.
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2019/jan/31/pornography-of-adult-consensual-sex-no-longer-taboo-says-cps
  7. "Article about the Michael Peacock trial, the Obscene Publications Act, and what it means for cinema". Eye For Film. Retrieved 2015-09-07.
  8. 1 2 British Board of Film Classification (16 May 2007). "Memorandum submitted by the British Board of Film Classification". Culture, Media and Sport Committee . Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  9. 1 2 Ed Vaizey (4 November 2014). "The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014". Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  10. "The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2009". Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2009. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  11. BBFC press release 20 July 2005 Archived 27 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  12. "Caligula". British Board of Film Classification. 26 August 2008. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  13. 1 2 Fiveash, Kelly (24 November 2016). "UK ISPs may be forced to block porn sites that snub age checks, sex acts face ban". Ars Technica . Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  14. 1 2 Gayle, Damien (23 November 2016). "UK to censor online videos of 'non-conventional' sex acts". The Guardian . Retrieved 24 November 2016.