Friday, 2 August 2013


Back when I first started keeping this blog in 2009, I put together a post about pornography. It wasn’t long before I got into a helluva muddle, floundering through the legislation -- confusing hard core porn, with its disgusting images of children being abused, with violent porn, soft porn and erotica.

I returned to the debate over the last two weeks when my friend Jan Vander Laenen sent me an essay, written in 1930, by D.H.Lawrence, entitled “Pornography and Obscenity.” Lawrence’s essay makes interesting reading and it seems that even as far back as the 1930’s, people were asking the same question that we still ask today.

What exactly is pornography? I asked that question in my original post; I am still asking it today. I still haven’t had a cohesive answer.

D.H. Lawrence says in his essay;

“What they are depends, as usual, on the individual. What is the pornography of one man is the laughter of genius to another…”

And what is the meaning of the word ‘obscene?’

“What is obscene to Tom is not obscene to Lucy or Joe…’Hamlet’ shocked all the Cromwellian Puritans, and shocks nobody today, and some of Aristophanes shocks everybody today, and didn’t galvanize the later Greeks at all, apparently. Man is a changeable beast, and words change their meanings with him…”

Well Lawrence appears to know what he is talking about; he thinks that porn is subjective to the individual. A matter of cultural taste and depending which epoch you’re living in. But Lawrence doesn’t give me the definition that I’m asking for.

Some porn is illegal; some isn’t. Why is that? We can view the topless girls on Page 3 and the “adult” film channels on Sky. Do they come under the heading of porn? Who decides what should be legal and what should be banned? Who decides what is pornographic?

I want to know. Are my little tales erotica or pornography? Is there a difference? There must be.  
Should be easy to find out; surely the laws of the land are clear? I have to find a 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 is not straight forward. I can’t find anywhere that provides 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 cold, dark place; as did DARK GARDEN by Remittance Girl. Janine Ashbless’ stories too, M.Christian, Fulani, Velvet Tripp, George Pappas, Jan Vander Laenen. 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, dirty 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.

But even though I’m being given some guidelines, I still feel insecure. I may not write stories about necrophilia, but I have written a story about bestiality. I haven’t written a snuff tale, or stuff that is life threatening, but some of the stuff I write could cause serious injury if put into practice. That must mean that I am writing pornography. I do write intentionally, very deliberately to allure and arouse sexual excitement. That’s what the Woman from the Ministry is talking about. 

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.”

Times change, as D.H. Lawrence says, 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. 

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 grownups, 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. We do know that Mark Bridger, murderer and sexual abuser of five-year-old April Jones, was addicted to child sex-abuse videos on the Web. 

And children have to be protected from 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 innate in these people. Already in the psyche of the potential perpetrator.

Fulani remarked “…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…”

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. 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.”

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 Pornographic 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 post 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”.

And there is a glaring double standard. Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. It has everything that the Woman from the Ministry asserted was pornography. Rape, explicit sex, violence.

 I don’t think that theatres need to get permission to perform it. And I don’t expect the director issues a cautionary warning of sex and violence in the programme, or anywhere else.

Here's a summary of the play. It’s graphic and horrible.

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.

Thanks to Jan Vander Laenen for sending me the D.H.Lawrence manuscript.


  1. I heard recently there is someone who is suing Apple for not locking his phone against adult websites. He claims he typed instead of and then became addicted to porn.

    I don't know where the line between pornography and erotica sits because I think there are lots of things that are sexy for sexy sake and all of those could be labeled pornographic but not necessarily be porn.

    For purposes of legality, so much of it is subjective that my preference (not necessarily the reality) is that the legality be based upon the method of creation. A snuff film for instance should be illegal because someone died. But writing about someone being killed or drawing a picture would be entirely legal because it is entirely fictional.

  2. Thanks for your comment John..yes, we do have to remember that a lot of what I am talking about here is fiction. No one really gets raped,violently abused or snuffed -- but some writers are skilled enough with their craft, to make it seem as if they do.

    The way the law is framed, the language used to talk about porn, make it seem as if there is something wrong with getting sexually excited.

    I still don't know -- and I don't think that lawyers do either.

  3. Anti-porn laws assume that sexual arousal is a bad this based on an ideological or religious bias?

  4. It's neither Dave -- it's in the subtext. The fact that it is written into the law that a work is porn, if the author or artist INTENDED to arouse...

  5. Jan sent me this quote...Maybe a valid statement is this one of French decadent writer d’Aurevilly: “Literature (and art) isn’t capable of even describing 5 % of the atrocities that take place everywhere.”

  6. The law is archaic (the 1959 law still applies to literature and more recent laws have largely addressed photographic images.
    Outside of child porn and 'extreme porn', there are actually rather few leading cases and they don't deal with literature. They include for example the Richard Prince photo of a young, nude Brooke Shields, 'Spiritual America', displayed at the Tate Modern as part of an exhibition in 2009, and the 1998 own-goal scored by West Midlands police when they tried to seize the catalogue of a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition (the exhibition had been in the US some years earlier and caused controversy there). The police held the book for a year, the Crown Prosecution Service eventually declined to prosecute and the book was returned in a rather well-worn state!
    I do remember one case some years back in which someone was prosecuted under the obscene Publication Act 1959 for publishing a bdsm story online, but the issues were mainly around the submissive characters being clearly based on real people and using their names. They were members of a girl band popular at the time and the piece was a fantasy concerning their kidnap. rape and mutilation. The prosecution ended up offering no evidence and he was found not guilty. The case was R v Walker (2009).
    At the moment the situation seems to be that written material, on the whole, is unlikely to be prosecuted because the law is felt to be out of date, and that 'benign neglect' is probably to the advantage of writers - because new laws would lead to the police and others going out to test any new legal powers.
    As to the difference between porn and erotica: I've seen dozens of attempts to make a distinction but never seen one that works. Not even the 'tendency to deprave and corrupt' argument used in the 1959 law.
    For what it's worth, I was once a researcher on a social science project on the question of whether pornography was likely to lead to sex crimes, at a time when it was being claimed pornographic pictures and videos were causing some men to engage in sex crimes. The conclusion of the research was that the reverse was the case. Those who were likely to engage in sex crimes actively sought out such material, they didn't just come across it by accident. And even so they were the minority of people who watched this stuff. In general people who viewed such material, even teenagers, had a good grasp of the difference between what they watched (fantasy) and how to act in real life, i.e. not to kidnap and sexually assault others. And think about it: if people didn't have that kind of grip on reality, with wall-to-wall crime and murder mystery (and documentaries and fly-on-the wall programmes) on the TV we'd probably have a sky-high murder rate.

    1. Obscenity laws have never been objective, and I'm not sure it's even possible to come up with an objective, universal definition of "obscenity," "depravity, or "pornography" (unless this literally has to do with sex workers: the original meaning). And the censorship of imagination (as distinct from actual behaviour) should concern everyone who values freedom of choice. It's strange that violence against girls & women, in particular, has so often been blamed on the availability of "porn," and not on gender inequality throughout the culture. (On that note, early television sitcoms from the 1950s could be criticized for their ability to "deprave and corrupt" the viewer into believing that all women need to be firmly controlled by men for their own good.)
      Titus Andronicus is a good example of a very violent piece that escapes legal censorship because it was supposedly written by the Bard (although this is debated).
      Anicent Greek drama (esp. the comedies) shows how cultural values shape what is considered "obscene." Nudity & sexual jokes are fine but violence happens offstage and usually described by a wailing chorus.