On holiday recently, my boyfriend and I ended an enjoyable
day of fishing from a small boat in the middle of a large lake, followed by a supper of
hot smoked salmon and lingonberries, in a traditional European manner. We settled down to
watch a porn video in our Finnish hotel room. On the screen, all sorts of sexual practices
unfolded, to a script consisting entirely of feral grunts and "Oui! Si! Ja!
Yes!", so that, wherever you were in Europe, you would be satisfied.
Soon we won't have to travel so far to enjoy such late-night diversions.
This week the Video Appeals Committee ruled that the BBFC should have given R18
certificates to seven pornographic videos showing real, penetrative sex. Until now, the
board has only passed videos showing simulated sex. Nympho Nurse Nancy, Office
Tart, Horny Catbabe and Miss Nude International will be coming
soon to one of the 80 licensed adult sex shops near you.
The board is not happy about this. They do not think you and I are responsible enough
to be entrusted with such erotic material. Most of all, they are worried we might allow
our children to watch Office Tart after Teletubbies, and these innocents might grow up
with the perverted notion that the main purpose of filing cabinets is for fornicating
The Finnish video was uncompromising; there was anal sex, ejaculation and full
Technicolor close-ups. None of the seven videos passed by the board contain any of these
elements. Even with these latest concessions, Britain's porn laws are much stricter than
almost anywhere else in Europe.
That's perhaps why the British abroad find foreign cable channels so fascinating. My
boyfriend and I viewed the mating habits on the Finnish video with the same detached
quasi-scientific curiosity we might watch David Attenborough on birds. If a child had been
with us, what would they have thought of a naked man and woman massaging each other's
genitals and the feral grunts? Would they have become distraught and burst into tears?
Would their future sexual practices have been warped beyond recognition? No, I'm convinced
they would have fallen straight to sleep.
But what if a child had stayed awake for a few moments and asked me some questions.
They might have wanted to know what those nude men and women - with far from perfect
bodies, rather like their parents - were doing. In which case, I would have told them:
they are having sex. The child may have tried to look more closely, examining their
harshly-lit bodies just as we were. I expect the child would have found it absurd. The
idea of penetration is simply silly to a small child. Even adults find it funny. Author
Nina Bawden, a member of the Video Appeals Committee, said that the majority of material
they watched was more likely to cause laughter than erections.
There are plenty of other images, on other videos, that our moral overlords are not
nearly as concerned about our children and ourselves seeing, even though they show a far
less honest, and amusing, picture of sexual practices. In most mainstream Hollywood
movies, sex consists of a man with no hair anywhere on his body rubbing vigorously up
against a woman, followed by some slow press-ups and a miraculous orgasm for the female
star, as if no one west of Ellis Island had ever heard of a clitoral stimulation. In
healthy contrast, the clitoris has a big part in most porn movies; it's considered
important. Women masturbate themselves. But in the warped world of censorship, these most
accurate portrayals of female sexuality are banished to late-night cable channels in
far-flung foreign hotel rooms.
Pornography is a challenge to Britain's conservative censorship lobby. It's a truly
popular form of entertainment which threatens established prejudices, often pioneering
sexual practices considered taboo. Gay and inter-racial sex have long been prolific in
porn when absent almost anywhere else, prompting feminist commentator Paula Webster to
say: Pornography implies that we could find all races, genders, ages, and shapes
Outside the low-brow land of Makin Whoopee and Wet Nurses 2,
sex scenes are far from challenging. It's a daring Hollywood film in which the man isn't
on top. In carnal contrast, pornography prefers the fantasy of the sexually eager woman.
One of the most memorable lines in the handful of porn movies I've watched is: "Give
it to me, big boy." What is so objectionable about this? In porn videos women are
regularly given an aggressive, up-front, on-top role. As Norman Mailer wryly commented:
seen any number of pornographic films where you have girls sitting on guys' heads.
Children are not corrupted by porn; they're more likely to be bored by it. And adult
viewers of any material, however raunchy, should not be treated like children. But that's
exactly the attitude of the British Board of Film Classification in believing we - the
great unwashed British public - cannot be trusted with perfectly ordinary footage of
consenting adults copulating. God knows what we might be provoked into doing by such
images. Copulate with another consenting adult, perhaps? The board should have the balls
to challenge Britain's censorship laws. Then we could all look forward to having the
choice to watch undiluted, honest sex in our own homes.