Women and British Porn Laws
by Cherie Matrix
The following article is from Free
Inquiry magazine, Volume 17, Number 4.
Pornography was always accessible to me, and I took it for granted that it would be
available wherever my family lived, although sometimes it did take a bit of searching. But
because I had always had access to pornography, I used to feel that campaigning against
censorship in general was more important than focusing just on the right to obtain
My views changed after I moved from California to England. At a humanist meeting in
London I heard the views of the organization Feminists Against Censorship (FAC), and I
learned about the campaign to extend Britain's already severe legal restrictions on
pornography. I realized that an important part of my life was threatened by government
legislation. As a result, I joined FAC and became active in the fight against the
influence of anti-porn campaigners in Britain.
Britain has some of the most restrictive porn laws in the western world. It is even a
crime to show an erect penis in any publication or video. The political campaigning by
anti-porn feminists has also made it harder for women to produce their own sexual
materials. It provides an excuse for the police to raid any shop, or seize any publication
that doesn't appear to offer conventional, mainstream porn. This can leave British buyers
with no legal choice but the uninspiring (and sometimes sexist) pornographic materials
that are made for and usually by men. Images of intercourse, erections, genital contact,
and anything imaginative or mutually enjoyable go by the boards when women are reduced to
little more than one dimensional pin-ups and strippers.
Hard-core - that is, explicit material - is not legal in Britain's porn industry.
Hard-core porn shows a variety of physical types, and, since it tends to show people
together, emphasizes that women can be assertive and in control, and not just young,
passive, blue-eyed blondes. Depictions of all types of women having all types of sex help
to clear away the mysteries surrounding female sexuality.
Oddly, many anti-porn women in the United Kingdom do not realize that it is the law and
the cops that make British pornography so one-sided. They think it is something inherent
in pornography or in men's tastes that makes porn sexist. They "don't like
pornography" because there is nothing there to like - anything that is likely to
appeal to women is likely to invite police raids or boycotts by the major distributors.
In a sexist society, much media, including pornography, is bound to contain sexism. But
this makes it all the more important for women to gain access to, and control of, more
sexual imagery. We need more freedom, not more repression.
The British experience has important lessons for feminists in America and elsewhere. It
shows that women and sexual minorities are the first victims of anti-porn laws. Let's
remember that women's liberation is about opening possibilities for women. Pornography
represents one of those possibilities - we should never participate in trying to shut it
Cherie Matrix co-founded the Central London Humanists. An active member of Feminists
Against Censorship (FAC), she is the editor of the FAC book Tales from the Clit: A
Female Experience of Pornography (AK Press 1996, see review on p. 63).