'Face-sitting' protest held over UK porn censorship law

Demonstrators take part in a mass "face-sitting protest" outside the Houses of Parliament in central London.

Story highlights

  • Critics say changes to the regulations governing online porn are arbitrary and sexist
  • Protesters simulate some of the now-banned sex acts outside Parliament
  • The banned acts can no longer be shown in online content produced in the UK
  • "It affects anybody who enjoys these particular activities," a protest organizer says of law
Visitors to the Houses of Parliament on Friday may have seen more than they bargained for. Protesters against new rules limiting online pornography gathered to simulate some of the now-banned sex acts, including "face-sitting."
The campaigners aimed to highlight what they say are arbitrary and sexist changes to the law that don't distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual acts between adults.
But to spare onlookers' blushes (and a potential brush with the law), those taking part in what was dubbed the #PornProtest on Twitter remained fully clothed.
The new regulations, which came into force on December 1, ban various acts being depicted in online pornography produced in the United Kingdom, including face-sitting, female ejaculation and spanking, in part to protect children from being exposed to potentially harmful content.
However, they do not make it illegal for people to watch videos produced outside Britain or to perform the acts themselves.
One of the protest organizers is Charlotte Rose, winner of the UK sex worker of the year title in 2013 and a free-speech advocate.
She told CNN that the bill could be perceived as being sexist because the banning of certain acts appears to target women's sexual enjoyment.
"This is about censorship, and what the government is doing is they're censoring our consent -- so yes, it does affect women, but it also affects every man and every woman," she said. "It affects anybody who enjoys these particular activities."
Consenting adults
Rose says she believes the law will be ineffective and will impinge on people's personal liberty and right to freedom of expression.
"The whole point of the law was to protect people against violent acts of sex, but who can state what is violence when you've got consenting adults?" she said.
The law won't stop people from performing the banned acts, she said. "All it's doing is adding more frustration and concern to the public that we are coming away from democracy" and moving toward more government control.
Her Facebook event page for the protest reminds people to bring a mat to lie on and to learn the words to Monty Python's "Sit on My Face" song.
'Canary in the coalmine of free speech'
Myles Jackman, a lawyer specializing in sexual liberties and obscenity law, has also opposed the new regulations.
"Pornography is the canary in the coalmine of free speech: it is the first freedom to die. If this assault on liberty is allowed to go unchallenged, other freedoms will fall as a consequence," he wrote on his blog.
What he describes as a "declaration of state censorship" will affect millions of consenting adults who choose to view British pornography, he said. It will also impose an unnecessary barrier to trade, hitting independent content producers within the United Kingdom and costing the Treasury tax revenue, he said.
Besides these issues, Jackman said, the law "is practically unworkable as it can be circumvented by proxy servers; and has implications for all forms of freedom of expression on the internet."
Speaking to CNN at the protest in central London, he said ideas on social values and sexual morality among the general public were about 15 years ahead of those held by those making the laws.
"Free speech is fought on the fringes, and it's the mainstream which is at risk of falling if the fringes aren't protected, so this is a very strong free speech issue," he said.
Rose also warned that the new regulations would affect smaller, independent UK pornography producers rather than the big websites.
One lawmaker, Julian Huppert of the Liberal Democrats, put forward a motion in Parliament last week calling for the new measures, set out in the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014, to be annulled.
The protesters hope that by causing a stir outside Parliament, others may back their case for it to be dropped.