IN 1778, in response to society’s disorderly proclivities, George III issued The Proclamation for the Discouragement of Vice. Shortly after the Society for the Suppression of Vice set about the important work of responding to the growing appetite for immoral and disorderly indulgences. Their concerns included limiting swearing, the printing of obscene materials, selling by false weights, brothels, gambling dens and cruelty to animals. Today, it’s clear there’s very little linking each thing, other than a group of people convened and labelled them objectionable. It was the prelude to the obscene publications acts of 1857, 1959 and 1964 – a lurch toward legal moralism and the government rather than church assuming the role as moral arbiter of society. I refer to this because it seems so quaint in its antiquity. Yet, the announced clause to the Digital Economy Bill currently making its way through parliament seems eerily reminiscent of 19th century prurience.

There has been much discussion around the Digital Economy Bill, which will see people banned from accessing websites that portray “unconventional” sexual acts – an arbitrary list of no-nos taken from the BBFC, used to classify DVDs for distribution offline. For web users in the UK, it means no images of whipping, spanking or caning that marks the body, no female ejaculation, no menstruation, and likely the application of the “four digit rule”, which as you may have already guessed, dictates how many fingers can be inserted into an orifice. The social mores of the pre-internet era are being used as a framework for controlling individual behaviours under the guise of protecting society. The government is set to decide what you can and cannot watch in the privacy of your own home, and by extension is proclaiming what’s right and wrong in the bedroom, underpinning conservative definitions of sex, pleasure and desire.

You may already be asking yourself this question – does the government have any business in enforcing societal morality? Should law exist to protect society from moral oblivion? Who gets to decide what’s immoral?

Clearly, we have laws to curtail immoral acts. This is reflected in how we deal with rape and with murder and the general consensus by the majority, that both are harmful. In the face of that evidence, it would be blinkered to proclaim that the government has no business in matters of morality. We are without question, better off as a society when we don’t do these things. But where does watching pornography featuring consenting adults fit? It does not neatly correspond to the moral/immoral classification, as it’s is largely dictated by personal preference. What is obscene and abnormal to some is erotic and normal to others.

In 1957, the Wolfenden Report concluded the function of law was “not to intervene in the private life of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour”. This was the catalyst for the decriminalisation of homosexuality – even though it took 10 more years for the passage of the Sexual Offences Act. Fifty eight years ago, the government responded to the social landscape, concluded it had no place in the sex lives of individuals, and it took action. Yet in 2016, they’re barging back into the lives of consenting adults, threatening sexual freedom. This clause will further marginalise underrepresented depictions of sexuality. And by that, I’m not talking about gimp suits and watersports (though both are fine if that’s your thing). In porn terms, underrepresented sexuality is everything that isn’t made for straight men. The majority of porn available assumes a single male viewer and depicts sex through the male gaze. Women are objects, and there’s little concern for their pleasure. This is not a realistic reflection of viewership or of sex off screen.

What the bill deems unconventional demonises the sexuality of women – particularly queer women.There would be no imagery of fisting, no face-sitting, no menstruation, no female ejaculation. For many, these are normal parts of being a woman and having sex. These are constraints on expressions of female sexuality, whichever way you cut it. If you’ve ever seen a contrived lesbian porn scene produced for straight men, I’d invite you to contrast it with lesbian sex made for gay women – they serve a different audience and feature different acts. The limitations imposed by this bill will prevent the viewing images of women indulging in realistic depictions of gay sex. In turn, it threatens the burgeoning feminist porn movement, where much lesbian porn is made, which seeks to disrupt and challenge conventional definitions and depictions of sex. A movement that upholds ethical production, expands the understanding of sexual norms and celebrates female sexuality is something we desperately need more of – not less.

WHAT’S more, widening the schism between what is legal to be practiced and what is legal to be depicted introduces risk to sexual activity. Depictions of BDSM in porn or on kink networking sites have a function in role-modelling safe play. Often when people become interested in an eroticised power dynamic, they look to porn for both gratification and guidance. The kink community has a widely accepted code of conduct that puts consent and safety front and centre, however transgressive the play. No-one goes into a scene without understanding the parameters, the limitations or without respecting the ability for either party to pull the plug at any moment. Removing visibility of kink in pornography eliminates a learning environment and access to a community of like-minded and experienced people. That means novices with access to restraints, toys and bodies, indulging their fetishes at the expense of a partner’s safety. There are few things more unnerving than finding yourself in the hands of an inexperienced partner who doesn’t understand the rules. The Digital Economy Bill is so focused on surface level “harm” that it’s blind to the harm it could introduce for the people whose sex lives are alternative.

Even if you’re not into kink, even if you find the thought of it unpalatable, I hope you will agree that the government has no place in the bedrooms of consenting adults. This bill forgets that the majority of people have sex for fun – and what that looks like should be entirely on our terms.