Background: A guy from North London was charged with distributing ‘obscene’ DVDs after a police officer bought some from him. They included lots of lovely (or not-so-lovely, depending on your preferences) gay sex acts, including fisting, BDSM and piss-play.
The acts themselves were legal, what the law frowned upon was distributing DVDs of said acts to people who wanted to crack one off over them. The ‘Obscene Publications Act (OPA)‘ makes it illegal to publish material that is likely to ‘deprave and corrupt.’
Two excellent ladies livetweeted during the trial (see end of this for links to people who know more about it than I do), including not just details of the material but the arguments from the prosecution and defence. It was utterly fascinating: we weren’t just watching people discussing what counts as obscene, we were watching an unfolding debate about whether it’s even acceptable to legislate against the very subjective notion of ‘obscenity’.
Society has always been keen on making moral judgements – it’s what society does. X is good, Y is bad. This is fun and kinky, but that’s just plain wrong. We can’t stop society from having opinions on things, but we probably should take those opinions with a pinch of salt, especially given that in the past they’ve been pretty wrong. Society used to think it was totally unacceptable to have sex outside marriage or (shock horror) be gay.
The defendant was victorious in this case, and was found not guilty on all counts: the jury saw no problem with the material as far as this law was concerned and agreed that it probably wasn’t going to deprave anyone.
This is great news for fisters, watersports fanatics, and gay guys who like to inject saline into the scrotum of a loved one, slap that scrotum around a bit, then sell DVDs of the event to people they met on the internet.
The problem’s still there
But it doesn’t really solve the ultimate problem. The law is still there, which means that we’re still reliant on society to decide what counts as ‘obscene material’. CPS guidance suggests it could include any of these things:
- sexual act with an animal
- realistic portrayals of rape
- sadomasochistic material which goes beyond trifling and transient infliction of injury
- torture with instruments
- bondage (especially where gags are used with no apparent means of withdrawing consent)
- dismemberment or graphic mutilationactivities involving perversion or degradation (such as drinking urine, urination or vomiting on to the body, or excretion or use of excreta)
Some of these are clearly extremely niche activities, which are illegal in and of themselves (dismemberment, sex with animals, etc). But some are acts which many normal, healthy people perform, film and watch on a regular basis: piss-play, coprophilia, fisting, bondage, etc.
The DVDs in this week’s obscenity trial featured acts from this list. The fact that the jury found ‘not guilty’ on all counts is a huge step forward for sexual liberties, and indicates that this list of ‘obscene’ things may well be trimmed in the future.
But we still live under a legal system that says society can judge whether sex videos made by consenting adults and sold to consenting adults are ‘obscene’ enough to warrant punishment.
So although having more liberal attitudes helps us trim the list of acts that are considered ‘obscene’, encouraging society to become more liberal isn’t the ideal solution. The solution lies in getting rid of this law.
We need to persuade society that we don’t need a law to criminalise publication of consensual sex acts. We need to tell society that lots of people watch porn and don’t turn into mad perverts desperate for their next fisting fix. We need to tell society to fuck off out of the bedroom and let us shit on each other in peace.
Over to the Obscenity Trial experts:
This is just my opinion – other people have written about the obscenity trial far better than I ever could, and with more knowledge than I have. So for the full story see any or all of these links:
For more info and ongoing awesome, check out Lexington Dymock, who was also livetweeting the trial and keeping us up-to-date on the exact nature of the filthy acts that were occurring.