Friday, 2 April 2010


So, I’m mulling over ideas for my blog. Just a short essay, I thought. I want to get back to writing my Erotic story; it’s liberating me and keeping me young.

Then, I started to wonder -- am I writing Erotica or Porn? Is there a difference? There must be.

So why not an essay to try and decide? Should be easy; find out the legal definition of Pornography, here, in the U.K. Perhaps in the U.S. too. Discuss where I’m coming from. Find out a few celebrated opinions; for and against.

But I discovered, right away, it wasn’t going to be straight forward. There doesn’t appear to be an absolute definition for Porn.

In the “Obscene publications act 1959” they have a “Test of obscenity”.

“For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.”

The Americans say more, but they don’t seem any clearer than the Brits. From the “Free Dictionary, on-line.”

“The representation in books, magazines, photographs, films, and other media scenes, of sexual behaviour, that are erotic or lewd and are designed to arouse sexual interest. Pornography is the depiction of sexual behaviour, that is intended to arouse sexual excitement.”

Are you any clearer? I’m not. I’m not getting it. Considering the law in the U.K. is celebrated for its plain and unequivocal use of language, this surprises me. The only phrase that stands out to me is “deprave and corrupt”. Whom is being depraved and corrupted? Are Pornographers proselytising folk out there? Dragging innocent people off the street to make them a part of their depravity?

And the Americans aren’t much help either. I know that some of the stuff that I write “arouses sexual excitement.” The same with my writer friends. I remember reading THE BRANDING by Oatmeal girl. It seemed to come from a very dark place; as did DARK GARDEN by Remittance Girl. Janine Ashbless’ stories too, M.Christian’s and Jude Mason’s. Are we all unwittingly writing Pornography? Breaking the law? Or is the phrase “intended to arouse sexual excitement”, a get out clause? If it isn’t our “intention to arouse sexual excitement.” It’s certainly our intention to write a good story. We just happen to “arouse sexual excitement” as well.

I still want an absolute definition for Pornography. No-one’s giving me one.

I found this on the web.

“There is no legal definition of Pornography, which is very confusing! The law applies to the Internet in the same way as it would apply to any other type of media. What is illegal off-line is illegal online.”

“Pornographic material is considered legally ‘obscene' if it is judged to have ‘a tendency to deprave and corrupt' the intended audience. (Obscene Publications Acts 1959 & 1964, as amended). This normally applies only to the most violent and degrading adult pornography. It is currently an offence to ‘publish’ obscene material. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 has introduced a new offence of being in possession of 'extreme pornographic material'.”

There’s that phrase again; “deprave and corrupt”. But at least the article is going a little way further, talking about; “the most violent and degrading adult Pornography.”

They still don’t say what. It’s left to my lurid imagination.

Then I found this;

"Pornographic material which depicts necrophilia, bestiality or violence that is life threatening or likely to result in serious injury to the anus, breasts or genitals has no place in a modern society and should not be tolerated," says a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice. (BBC News 2008)

At last, some words I can understand. I mean, this is important. Some stuff I want spelling out.

I’m feeling more secure. I’m being given some guidelines. What I, and a lot of writer friends publish has to be classified as Erotica. We don’t write about the stuff the Woman from the Ministry talked about. Therefore we are not Pornographers.

That’s right, isn’t it? Well isn’t it?

There have been a number of high profile cases brought against various individuals over the years, brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

From the Web again;

1960: the “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, obscenity trial (found not guilty)

1971: the “Schoolkids’Oz” obscenity trial (found guilty, overturned on appeal)

1976: the “Inside Linda Lovelace”, obscenity trial (found not guilty)

1984: the “Gay’s The Word”, prosecution (charges dropped)

1991: David Britton’s "Lord Horror" prosecution (not prosecuted - banned under the
act, but later overturned)

2009: Darryn Walker found not guilty under the Obscene Publications Act for posting a story entitled "Girls (Scream) Aloud", a fictional written account on an internet erotic story site describing the kidnap, rape and murder of pop group Girl’s Aloud.

“A defence against the charge of obscenity on the grounds of literary merit was introduced in the Obscene Publications Act 1959. The OPA was tested in the high-profile obscenity trial brought against Penguin Books for publishing “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (by D.H. Lawrence) in 1960. The book was found to have merit, and Penguin Books was found not guilty — a ruling which granted far more freedom to publish explicit material. This trial did not establish the 'merit' defence as an automatic right; several controversial books and publications were the subject of British court cases throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s.”

They continue;

“There is a substantial overlap between legal erotic literature and illegal pornography, with the distinction traditionally made in the English-speaking courts on the basis of perceived literary merit. Purely textual pornography has not been prosecuted since the “Inside Linda Lovelace” trial of 1976. In late August 2005, the government announced that it plans to criminalise possession of extreme pornographic material, rather than just publication.”

But what’s really going on here? These are surely just fantasies; stories that we tell ourselves. Images and words to allure us and arouse. We’re grown ups, we know the difference between illusion and reality; don’t we? What is the government so afraid of that they need to censor our dreams -- and our nightmares?

Well according to the law, we do need to be shielded from certain types of Porn. Some people apparently can’t separate their dreams from the real world. The vulnerable do need to be protected from predators. Eminent men and women, report that viewing extreme, explicit Porn, can influence minds that are already disturbed.

Everyday news reports are loaded with stories of violent attacks, brutal rapes even murders. Whether the paedophile Roy Whiting, had viewed Porn before sexually assaulting and murdering little Sara Payne, we don’t know. Neither do we know if the Soham killer, Ian Huntley, had ever viewed Porn, before he murdered Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

But children have to be protected from the violence of sick minds, as do women and men from the perpetrators of domestic violence.

Is there any proof that Porn aggravates the urge to do harm? That viewing it, or reading it, can make folk forget that they are right thinking human beings? That they are unable to distinguish between right and wrong? There’s a lot of opinion that Porn is an unhealthy trigger and can push people over the edge into a dark world.

There are also opinions that state that viewing Porn does not act as a trigger at all. The urges to commit sexual and violent acts, are inate in these people. Already in the psyche of the potential perpetrator.

Several years ago, Jane Longhurst, a teacher from Brighton, was murdered. It later emerged that her killer had been compulsively accessing websites such as Club Dead and Rape Action, which contained images of women being abused and violated. When Graham Coutts was jailed for life, Jane Longhurst’s mother, Liz, began a campaign to ban the possession of such images.

Supported by her local M.P. she found a listening ear in the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, who agreed to introduce legislation to ban the possession of “violent and extreme Pornography.”

“This was included in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill which will get its final reading this week and will get Royal Assent on 8th May (2008).”(From BBC News. 2008).

I think that’s all enough to be going on with. At least I understand now what people mean when they talk about “extreme porn.” I had an idea, but I didn’t really know when I started out writing this.

Was I naïve? I don’t know. What I do know, and am very sure of is that I, and my writer friends, write Erotica. And, as Janine Ashbless said to me when people talk about Porn and how it should be banned. What they usually mean is; “Erotica I don’t like.”

It’s real, it’s scary and it’s out there. Really, it is. Perhaps the laws do need to be tighter -- perhaps, in the name of democracy the laws should be relaxed. As usual, as with any passionate debate, I find myself agreeing with the last person who has spoken.

One thing I did learn very early on, when I first started writing Erotic stories, is that there are areas which I will not, cannot venture into. I remember reading a castration story on the Literotica website. It made me want to throw up. So did a lot of things I’ve read, putting this essay together.

But a lot of stuff makes me want to throw up. Some years ago I read Joseph Conrad’s novel; HEART OF DARKNESS. That made me want to throw up. So did the film; PLATOON. Neither the book, nor the film are Pornographic.

Still made me want to throw up.

Clearly, we can’t add “what makes billierosie wanna throw up” to our still, much needed absolute, definition of Pornography.

Sometimes all I can say is; “I don’t know”.

I still don’t know -- so I’m going back to the cosy world of my Erotic story.

Burying my head in the sand? Yes; for now. But I’ll be back, thinking some more, when I’ve caught my breath.

(Thanks to Fulani and Janine Ashbless for their support and for giving me the ideas to put this essay together.)

Take a look at these ideas from well known commentators below.

From The Guardian. September 2006

Joan Bakewell. Broadcaster.

“Mrs Longhurst is to be congratulated on the success of her crusade. It shows that individuals can still be effective. But I see problems ahead. The first concerns the difference between reality and simulation. Will looking at images of gross brutality that have been acted out, without real harm, really be prosecuted? If so, we could be back to the case that beset The Romans in Britain, the stage play that included a simulated anal rape, which Mary Whitehouse tried to have banned.
Secondly, I would prefer to prosecute not those who look at the images, but those who put them there in the first place. This should be possible: making and distributing extremely violent pornography is already illegal. So why can't we censor the images that are produced, removing them from the internet, before they reach their intended audience? Surely if China can stop liberal ideas from reaching its people, Britain can keep extreme pornography from a much smaller population?
The idea that pornography causes murder is hard to prove. My television series Taboo tried to demonstrate the link. But the truth is that many people can watch films of cruelty and degradation without harmful effect. That said, extreme pornography degrades women and brutalises men, which is why I think that removing it from the internet would be the best way forward.”

Julie Bindel, feminist campaigner and journalist.

“For those of us who know how much harm porn does - to the women raped and beaten in its production, and the men who consume it and start to see women as meat - the proposed new law against violent pornography provides a glimmer of hope.
There are, of course, people who have never encountered extreme pornography, can't really imagine what it could be like, and therefore can't see why we need this law. Twenty-five years ago I watched a snuff movie with other anti-porn activists, journalists and special film-effects experts. One of the activists had gone into a porn shop in England and asked if the owner had something "really extreme". He gave her a film of a woman in South America being raped, tortured and murdered. As a finale, her hand was sawn off. By that time it was only the feminists left in the room, the others having run out to cry, or throw up. We knew what we would be seeing, because we had heard about it from activists in the US who were fighting the same battles.

We had proved that snuff existed (the film experts verified that there were no camera tricks to depict the sawing), and one of the journalists wrote copiously about the issue, urging police to take action. Nothing happened.

Since then the internet has allowed men to film themselves abusing women and children, and to distribute these images to thousands of people worldwide, within minutes. For a woman whose rape and violation is now a piece of entertainment, she has to cope with the knowledge that the record of this may well outlive her.

Earlier this year, I did some research for a film company on violent porn, and found an image on the internet that haunts me. It was a photograph of a dead naked woman in a ditch, who had been beaten and seemingly raped. Her flesh crawled with maggots. Some men will find that picture sexually arousing. Those men need to be stopped from creating the demand that encourages the murder of women simply in order to satisfy their grotesque desires.”

Holly Combe, member of Feminists Against Censorship.

“One of my main concerns for victims of genuine abuse is that their abuser is prosecuted, not whether somebody looked at the evidence and became turned on. I would also suggest that anyone who commits a serious crime is unlikely to put the results all over the internet, and that many of the sites likely to be affected by the new laws would actually be showing sexual activity between consenting adults. The government seems to be making the point that some sex acts are so wrong that individual consent doesn't count and that it is the place of authority to dictate our sexual preferences or place limits on them.

I would also add that even the original consultation paper for this bill openly states that there is a lack of evidence to support claims about the links between viewing porn and engaging in non-consensual, abusive behaviour. In my view, the proposed law potentially absolves killers who enjoy violent porn of responsibility for their actions.
The bottom line is that the majority of people aren't into BDSM [bondage/domination/sado-masochism] and that means it's all too easy for most of us to say, "It won't affect me if you ban that" and allow this bill to pass into law. But if we let the government tell us what we can and can't look at, who knows what they'll be able to achieve in the future?”

Jeremy Coutinho, chair of Object.

“Obviously these proposals are "a good news day" for women's human rights. They plug a legal loophole whereby the distribution and sale, but not the possession of violent material, was illegal.
Simply closing this loophole, though, does not in itself address society's attitudes towards women, which are still extraordinarily sexist and allow rape, sexual assault and discrimination to flourish. The mainstreaming of a porn aesthetic and outlook is now endemic.

So, for instance, in Virgin Airline's executive lounge at JFK, the introduction of urinals shaped like women's mouths was only abandoned after massive protest. Then there was Zoo magazine's "dictionary of porn" which described abusive porn such as "pink eye" (ejaculating on to a woman's eye ball). Zoo is sold without age restriction as a "lifestyle" magazine, often for as little as 60p.

Or take the Sport "newspaper", which described the sex life of Jane Longhurst's murderer as "an adventurous romp" on a page crammed with graphic adverts for sex chat lines and hardcore porn.

While I welcome this bill, the mainstream objectification of women has to be tackled too if the government is really serious about women's human rights.”

Bonnie Greer, playwright.

“The creation and use of pornography is as old as humankind. In the 18th century, pornographic novels were used to spread ideas that later became the foundation for the Enlightenment. Ulysses, arguably the greatest novel of the 20th century, was called porn. So was Manet's Olympia; Goya's The Naked Maja; Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.

While snuff imagery, female mutilation and gynaecological surgery is not my idea of entertainment, these sites are usually made by adults and consumed by adults and it is as important to protect consenting adult behaviour as it is to protect children, the aged, racial minorities, and the disabled. While any decent human being can sympathise with a grieving mother, particularly in the face of an especially horrendous crime; we can allow neither her, nor 50,000 petitioners, nor a government that has lost its way, to criminalise legitimate, private, adult behaviour. The arena of adulthood must be allowed to exist for the sake of democracy.”


  1. Damn.

    Reading this:

    "Pornographic material which depicts necrophilia, bestiality or violence that is life threatening or likely to result in serious injury to the anus, breasts or genitals has no place in a modern society and should not be tolerated," says a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice. (BBC News 2008)

    I don't think anyone will ever want to publish my latest story...


  2. This is really four comments in one - oh, and it's a nice piece, I enjoyed reading it!
    First, as a 'thought experiment', if you wanted to set out to 'deprave and corrupt' how would you do it? Personally I'd feel pushed towards, say, Ayn Rand territory and the corrosive political views expressed there. I'd want to write pieces celebrating corruption in high places as the efficient use of political influence, and the necessity of authoritarian regimes. I wouldn't do it by writing erotica.
    Second, in terms of what does deprave and corrupt people, I think the 'triggers' are often very subconscious and random, to do with childhood experiences. I'm sure there are people, a few at least, who would find the vase picture at the head of your post insanely erotic and depraved. I couldn't guess where their head's at I'm sure there would be at least a couple such people around.
    As a thought experiment, how about the following idea: someone who had childhood athsma, sexualised it because they were helpless and looked after by mummy, and this results in adulthood into a fascination with breath play and a desire to 'help others find true happiness' through erotic asphyxiation.
    Third, much of the argument as you say has to do with whether porn 'triggers' sexual offending or not. I'm not an expert in this but I have done limited research in this area and would offer the alternative proposition that people who have such tendencies anyway, and are sociopathic enough potentially to fulfill them in a criminal way, actively seek out such pornography - the availability of it may trigger a small proportion into committing crimes while the majority may satisfy themselves with the porn and not commit the offences.
    I could wax lyrical about how similar psychological mechanisms of fetishisation can be at play in a wide range of other crimes types but maybe that's for another day.
    Anyway - an interesting post, and thank you.

  3. O.G. I'm sure if Theatres can get permission to perform Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus -- which has everything the Woman from the Ministry complained of. You won't have any trouble getting a publisher for your story. Her words are profoundly silly and an anachronism.

    Here's a summary of the play (stolen from the web) for anyone who doesn't know it.

    Titus Andronicus, Roman general, returns from ten years of war with only four out of twenty-five sons left. He has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, her three sons, and Aaron the Moor. In obedience to Roman rituals, he sacrifices her eldest son to his own dead sons, which earns him Tamora's unending hatred and her promise of revenge.
    Tamora is made empress by the new emperor Saturninus. To get back at Titus, she schemes with her lover Aaron to have Titus's two sons framed for the murder of Bassianus, the emperor's brother. Titus's sons are beheaded. Unappeased, she urges her sons Chiron and Demetrius to rape Titus's daughter Lavinia, after which they cut off her hands and tongue so she cannot give their crime away. Finally, even Titus's last surviving son Lucius is banished from Rome; he subsequently seeks alliance with the enemy Goths in order to attack Rome. Each new misfortune hits the aged, tired Titus with heavier impact. Eventually, he begins to act oddly and everyone assumes that he is crazy.
    Tamora tries to capitalize on his seeming madness by pretending to be the figure of Revenge, come to offer him justice if Titus will only convince Lucius to cease attacking Rome. Titus, having feigned his madness all along, tricks her, captures her sons, kills them, and makes pie out of them. He feeds this pie to their mother in the final scene, after which he kills both Tamora and Lavinia, his own daughter. A rash of killings ensue; the only people left alive are Marcus, Lucius, Young Lucius, and Aaron. Lucius has the unrepentant Aaron buried alive, and Tamora's corpse thrown to the beasts. He becomes the new emperor of Rome.

  4. Fulani -- It would be an interesting experiment, wouldn’t it -- to actually set out to try and “deprave and corrupt” someone? And, I agree you certainly wouldn’t set about it by writing erotica.

    As I said in the essay, I know I have limits about the stuff I write. I didn’t set out and plan those limits -- I just knew that there were places I didn’t want to go.

    There’s also a question of talent. I don’t think I have the talent to write something say, like LOLITA. That’s no reason not to try -- I just don’t want to go there.

    It is disturbing -- perhaps there is something in childhood events that acts as a trigger for sexual offence. Maybe it is already there -- I think psychologists/anthropologists/sociologists, are still trying to work that one out.

    And disturbing too, in the wake of the two brothers in Edlington, aged ten and eleven -- torturing and sexually abusing two other boys. “Devil Brothers” one of the newspapers called them not very helpful.

    What has happened to them, in their short lives that has made them behave like that?

    Personally, for what it’s worth, I don’t think that porn does act as a trigger for violent, sexual deviance. I think for whatever reason, it’s already there.

    I just wish the law would be clearer about it.

    But thanks for your comment, and the links you sent me. I’m pleased that you liked the essay.

  5. Well, now I know why they don't teach Titus in high schools. However, mine has bestiality, too. Mythical bestiality, to be sure, but still, I doubt ERWA would approve.

  6. C'mon O.G. You know the classics, probably better than I do.

    Bestiality -- nothing to the Greek Myths.

    Pasiphae and how the Minotaur was conceived?

    Incest -- Oedipus, marrying his mom and having kids with her?

    Those guys knew how to weave a story didn't they?

    I wonder if that's one of the reasons why the law has such a problem with Porn? We're taught the Classics and learn to love them -- but there's all this stuff going on that they don't like us to think about.

    Perhaps we should point out the double standard to them.

    Just a thought.

  7. Thanks for the Minotaur reminder! Maybe that should be my next attempt. I am in fact considering a whole series of erotic/BDSM takes on the Greek myths. The story in question is exactly that. Just imagine the nasty love bites Zeus left on Leda with his swan beak...

  8. I wrote a Minotaur story -- well it's a Pasiphae story really. It's somewhere on my blog, around November 2009 if you want to take a look.

    Leda and the swan -- that's just begging to be re-told.

  9. This is an enormous, horrible (and horribly complex) subject which I don't really want to get started on. I think you are very brave to try writing this post. But I will say this much:

    When i write I definitely have the "intention to arouse sexual excitement" and I do not see what is wrong with this. I don't have any problem with the word pornography either. I write pornography.

    I don't think you are trying to distinguish between erotica and porn - I think you are trying to distinguish between harmless porn and harmful porn.

    And I think it muddies the waters to fail to distinguish between the written word which - no matter how violent or frightening the events described - essentially harms no one when it is made, and that subsection of visual porn (even the vanilla stuff) that depends on exploiting or damaging REAL PEOPLE in order come into existence. This is a real and significant difference.

  10. I said in my post that in a passionate debate, “I always end up agreeing with the last person who has spoken”. And here I am again, whirling around, trying to get my balance.

    I see what you mean Janine -- my essay starts off by trying to distinguish between erotica and porn, but then sort of slides off into talking about harmless and harmful porn. And I end up not really confronting anything.

    It isn’t helped by none of us being clear about the law -- even the law isn’t clear about the law.

    Times change, and now it seems rather ridiculous that Lawrence’s LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER, could have been the subject of such a high profile case. Even in amending the law in 2008, we aren’t given any real guidelines, as this only states that we are breaking the law if we are; “in possession of 'extreme pornographic material'.” Probably, in the future, it will seem prosaic that the law failed to give us any real guidelines as to what is permissible.

    We are stuck with “corrupt and deprave”, in the U.K. and the "intention to arouse sexual excitement" in the U.S.

    It is my failing that I failed to distinguish between porn as in the written word and visual porn. Yes visual porn, does use real people and is exploitative. It also has an immediacy and following that, a power that the written word hasn’t got.

    And, of course there’s animated porn -- there’s plenty of it out there. If anything, I think it’s just as powerful, if not more so, than porn that uses real people. Okay it’s not exploiting or damaging real people, but it’s putting representations of real people into dangerous and scary situations. Some of it really is corrupt and depraved. And horrifyingly, sickeningly real.

    As you say Janine, this is an enormous, horrible (and horribly complex) subject. And as usual, I’ve jumped in with both feet.

  11. Well, I think it's great that you're prepared to tackle such a subject. Though you're a braver man than I, Gunga Din.

    BTW, The new British law about "extreme pornographic material" does not, thank goodness, aim to take down either the written word or cartoons, at least according to the articles I read: it specifically says that the material has to appear to be a (photographic) depiction of real events. This it does make some attempt to distinguish harmful from merely extremely unpleasant.

  12. Not brave Janine, but thanks for saying so --foolhardy describes me better.

    But at least it got us all talking -- and that is important. Especially in the light of what we write about. Think how terrible it would be if the law came crashing down on one of us!

  13. And from here, you all might want to trot over to Remittance Girl's little salon where she is discussing "The Ethics and Eroticism of Non-Consensual Sex in Fiction".

  14. Brilliant! An excellent, well-thought-out treatise. Bravo!