Fitzroyalty

Hyperlocal news about Melbourne's first suburb: Fitzroy 3065

the government has no jurisdiction over my sexual fantasies

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For the past decade the Australian government has been quietly and steadily implementing a profoundly anti-sex agenda. The Liberal and Labor parties share a fear of sexuality and a loathing of its diversity. They aim to enforce a vanilla hegemony on us all.

The public is aware of little of this agenda or the extent to which it attempts to marginalise, stigmatise and criminalise sexual behaviour, the representation of this in pornography, and communication about it between consenting adults (often using online social media).

The government’s proposed internet censorship aims to criminalise all communications (including image based porn and text or audio conversations in websites and online forums) about kink and fetish sexuality. It may consequently (intentionally or otherwise) criminalise all non-vanilla sexual behaviour, as a precursor to having sex is communicating about it with potential partners.

We as a society are profoundly uncomfortable about the extent and diversity of sexual behaviour. The vanilla hegemony perpetuates the idea that sexual behaviour is shameful, wrong, dirty and unnatural. It claims that sex is for reproduction, not recreation, and the further a sexual act deviates from facilitating reproduction the more depraved and immoral it is. Consequently, gay, anal, kink, fetishism, BDSM, role-play and other behaviours that are obviously not going to result in babies are all rejected.

One instrument of the vanilla hegemony is the government’s perpetuation of the moral hysteria about porn. As the mediated representation of sexual behaviour, porn is not by definition any more ‘objectionable’ than the sex it represents. It is simply ‘the portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual excitement and erotic satisfaction.

Porn can only be considered objectionable if you view sex as objectionable. Given that most people are sexually active at some point during their lives, and sex is a common recreational activity, it is apparent that many people like it and do not see it, or representations of it, as objectionable or distasteful.

Porn is a form of fiction, of fantasy media or literature that many people enjoy consuming, in much the same way as we enjoy fantasies about travelling through the galaxy in Star Wars or fighting foreign spies in James Bond. Literate adults in post-industrial societies can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. The power of fantasy is that it is not our reality and we don’t expect it to be.

Australia has a history of censorship and repression of sexually explicit media, and there are several areas in which current government policy impacts on sexual freedom.

In 2006 the Liberals merged the Office of Film and Literature Classification (the Censorship Board) into the Attorney General’s office, thus reducing its independence and making it more obviously an instrument of government policy. This was done without public consultation. Classification (censorship) is now an overtly government activity.

In 2009 Labor redefined how de facto relationships are seen as economic relationships, and broadened the definition of de facto, meaning that Australian citizens will now find it harder to have sexual relationships without the government defining these as economic relationships and altering your financial and taxation status accordingly. This suggests that the government views sex as not for pleasure, but for determining your status in society.

The ISP level filtering proposed by the Liberals in 2007 before the federal election was enthusiastically maintained by Labor, which is pursuing a pervasive and intrusive examination of the sexual fantasies of its citizens. The Australian government is now proposing to harass and intimidate people entering Australia who possess pornography.

Fiona Patten from the Australian Sex Party published a press release on 19 May 2010 alerting us to the fact that the ‘Incoming Passenger Card’ travellers complete on entry into Australia asks them to declare whether they possess any ‘pornography’. Like the changes made to the OFLC, this change to customs procedures was made without public consultation. According to the Age newspaper, this question has been on the cards since September 2009.

Apart from it being a gross and unnecessary invasion of privacy, it is a meaningless question as ‘pornography’ has no legal definition in Australian law. Our classification regulations do not use the term. So what Customs are asking to see is not content deemed illegal or ‘refused classification’ but any sexually explicit content, from commercial porn to the photos you may take of yourself to include in your profile on adult dating sites.

From here on, things get weird and complicated. We already have the absurd situation in Australian law that, depending on the type of sexual act depicted, it may be legal to buy still images (such as in magazines) of it being performed, but not moving images (such as DVDs) of the very same act.

When applied to the internet, which can be used to transmit both still and moving images, this distinction becomes ridiculous. How can the representation of a single sex act be simultaneously legal and illegal due the medium it is transmitted through?

It is currently lawful to possess fetish or kink porn in Australia, such as by downloading it from websites hosted in the US. Downloading is not currently defined as ‘importing’. However, should you download exactly the same content from a US website while sitting in your London hotel room, then fly home to Australia, the law says something very different.

When you carry your laptop across the border, you have technically ‘imported’ the photos and videos on your harddrive. And possessing that material could be illegal if it is likely to be refused classification, such as if it contains representations of kink or fetish sex.

Pornography and other objectionable material‘ is listed as a restricted import on the Australian Customs website. This definition of pornography comes from the National Classification Code (209kb PDF), but there is a dangerous act of misepresentation in its use on the Customs site. The definition of pornography on the Customs site is not about porn in general, but porn that is refused classification, which is defined as content that contains ‘matters of sex… or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults.’

So when Customs says porn is a restricted import, what it appears to mean is that refused classification content is restricted, but it conflates the definitions in such a way to make it difficult to know what it really intends. Hence the legal nonsense of the Incoming Passenger Card.

If the leading academics of sexuality and pornography in Australia are as ignorant and confused about definitions of sexual behaviour as they appear to be, what hope do naive politicians, closeted in their stacked branches, have of understanding it? None. This is the problem. Where is the research or other forms of evidence that supports their policies? There isn’t any. Policy relating to sexuality is primarily made on the basis of moribund ignorance and moral hysteria.

Our classification regime supposedly has a particular issue with ‘the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner’. If this was taken seriously, why can I watch endless traumatic rape scenes in television shows like Law and Order? It’s apparently acceptable to watch realistic simulations of rape on television but not consensual BDSM on the internet. The idea that content depicting demeaning behaviour is censored is applied extremely selectively.

In the US, creators of consensual BDSM porn are being prosecuted. The law makes no allowance for the difference between fantasy and reality and insists that all fetish behaviour is akin to kidnapping and torture. Why then does it not arrest the actors in James Bond films for committing murder? The performers in porn are acting, just like other actors, however simplistic that sounds. The law is not being equally or objectively applied. It is being subjectively and selectively applied to suppress sexuality.

The connection between the fantasy representation of sexual behaviour in porn and real sexual behaviour between consenting adults is complex. People consume porn about acts they like engaging in in real ife as well as acts they have never done. They would like to make some fantasies a reality but others work best only as fantasies, so consuming representations of them is preferable to trying them in reality. The law recognises none of this complexity.

The government infantilises and victimises its citizens according to its anti-sex, anti-porn worldview. It cannot accept that individuals can actively desire and consent to behaviour that is based on fantasy and role-play, which includes consenting to being demeaned, either in the process of performing in the creation of porn or in real life. The agency of individual sexual subjects is refuted and undermined. People are not allowed to take responsibility for their own sexuality.

With its planned internet filtering, the Australian government wants to go further and ban all non-vanilla sex from the internet (at least as it can be seen by people within Australia). It claims that all the content it wants to ban is content that shows illegal or immoral behaviour (such as child abuse material or bestiality). But this is not true.

The majority of the content the government seeks to ban is simply unclassified, and it shows diverse sexual behaviour between consenting adults. Some of this content is likely to be refused classification should it be examined by the Classification Board, but until any content item is classified its status is unknown. Is porn innocent until proven guilty? Not according to Conroy. He wants to ban it before examining it.

Despite their inane protestations, this has nothing to do with the government attempting to prosecute the possession of child pornography (‘child abuse material’ is a more accurate term). It is obviously already illegal to sexually abuse children, and to create, distribute or possess child abuse material.

Making a big deal about creating separate offences of ‘possessing child abuse material while crossing an international border’ or ‘downloading child abuse material from the internet’ is duplicitous and bureaucratic. It may placate computer illiterate suburban parents, but it will achieve nothing.

As we have already determined, most adults don’t think porn (the fantasy representation of consenting adult sexual behaviour) is revolting, and in fact about 1 in 4 adults consume it (a figure in the 19 May press release). As Australian citizens, we have reasonable expectation that sexual behaviour between consenting adults, including the consumption of sexual media, is harmless and victimless, and that it is something that governments have no need to scrutinise.

As the Australian newspaper recently stated, ‘Sexual pleasure on the internet is a personal freedom that many adults will not give up lightly.‘ But the Australian government now demands to know the sexual fantasies of its citizens and visitors. Why do they want or need to know this?

Rudd and Conroy want to make Australia more like Dubai, where international tourists are told not to kiss in public, and where unmarried couples can be arrested for booking a hotel room together. How long will it be before international tourists coming to Australia are being searched and arrested for possessing pornography? What will that do to our tourism industry?

How many Australians returning home will have their laptops confiscated and held by Customs pending the classification of their content, possibly for months or years as the system becomes overwhelmed?  How many people will be prosecuted for their private sexual preferences before we start protesting against this vile, inappropriate and unnecessary invasion of privacy?

How long before the Police, acting on information seen on the internet, raid a swingers’ party and arrest everyone like they do in Rudd’s favourite country China?

12 comments

  1. Yeah, Australia is a nanny state, no two ways about it. I mean, you can get fined for crossing the road, the ticket inspectors on the tram have powers of pursuit and detention (and love using these powers) and now they are trying to lead the world in internet censorship. Its actually quite sad. The law will eventually make criminals of all of us.

  2. “Porn can only be considered objectionable if you view sex as objectionable.”
    I agree with the majority of everything else in your post, but not this statement.
    I do not support Government censorship in any way, nor do I support the banning of pornography.
    But for me, porn is objectionable, because it objectifies.
    In my experience, I cannot take pornography at face values. I cannot see the men/women who appear in pornography as mere “things” who perform for others titilation.
    These “actors” are someone’s daughter or son. And I think in many cases something very bad has happened in their lives that has resulted in them choosing this particular vocation.
    I am not a prude and I embrace freedom of expression in all forms. But for me, porn leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
    And not in a good way.

    • How do you then consider those exhibitionists who want to be seen, even objectified? Not all porn is a commercial product, and not all performers are economically exploited by porn.

  3. I agree that there may be exhibitionists who want to be seen, and who possibly on some level enjoy the work they perform. I guess my question in response would be how do you know the people you are watching perform actually want to? How can we tell the difference between the exploited, and those who are not?

    • As consumers we can’t tell, any more than we can tell whether our shoes were made by children in third world sweat shops or not. My point is that porn is a consumer product like any other. Why do we assume our shoes are made well but our porn is made badly?

  4. Exactly right; but we can choose which shoes we wear, and which we don’t. As a vegetarian, I don’t wear leather shoes. I do not support the killing of animals for food or clothing, so correspondingly I do not support this type of consumer product.

    Likewise, I do not watch pornography, as I do not wish to support the industry. If you watch or buy porn, you are effectively supporting and condoning the industry. This is an industry that is largely run by men for men, with women being exploited (willingly or unwillingly) along the way. I realise there is no way to know with certainty who is happy to be on display for all and sundry as opposed to those who have been forced into the industry by circumstance, so on that basis I would prefer to err on the side of caution. I can survive quite happily without porn (but would like to re-iterate that this is my choice and not a “choice” that was forced upon me by my government – I completely oppose such censorship).

    And yes, I know many will argue that porn stars/prostitutes etc have willingly chosen their vocation and enjoy what they do. Personally I would like to see more empirical research done before I agree with this line of reasoning. To me the “they want to do it!” argument seems a bit like a justification/rationalisation that porn viewers/buyers tell themselves to absolve any possible guilt.

    • Hmmm. My point is that as bourgeois western consumers we are rarely able to determine whether the goods we buy have been made by exploited labour or not; we simply enjoy the fact that TVs get bigger yet cheaper, and computers faster yet cheaper, but we spare little thought for the workers of the developing world. They may be near slave labour in Chinese factories or child labour; we simply don’t know.

      So why get so much more moralistic about porn than about electronics? To be a middle class western consumer is to be an exploiter. We cannot completely escape from it. We can do our best, such as by buying fair trade, and I have written about the potential for fair trade porn, but as the recent ABC Four Corners report demonstrated, the fair trade rules for chocolate are being violated and child labour continues to be used. Either live with it or go live in the desert.

      As for your heterocentric argument about men exploiting women, not all porn features women, or is only consumed by men. What about gay porn – how can that exploit women? And what about women consumers of porn?

  5. I understand your argument regarding male pornography/gay porn/female consumers, which is why I pointed out in my above post that the porn industry is largely (i.e. not entirely) run by men for men,. Women and gay consumers of porn are supporting the industry just as male consumers are. This is a choice they have made and I support their right to choose, even if I do not agree with their choice. And of course men can be expolited just as easily as women can.

    I appreciate the point you are making reagrding western consumerism, in that we can never really avoid all the ills of our society. Rather than living in the desert, I suppose the best we can do is stay true to our own personal ideals and convictions. For me, this means making a conscious choice not to support the porn industry. It may not be the solution to the exploitation of women (and men) in pornography, but at least it is not adding to the problem.

  6. Did you see today’s News.com article?

    http://www.news.com.au/travel/news/customs-pornography-brawl-continues/story-e6frfq80-1225874331299

    Is this just a delayed reaction to the press release you mention?

    • The Australian Sex Party is continuing to investigate this issue as it is relevant to their party values and because it is a public interest issue where the government has apparently made policy without consultation or consideration based on moral values rather than sound legal judgment.

      Unlike laws relating to the possession of illegal drugs, which appear to make a distinction (based on quantity) between possession for personal use and possession with intent to deal (sell or distribute), customs law seems to make no distinction between importing RC content (the possession of which is lawful) for private personal use and importing it for commercial purposes.

      The government has built policy based on a gap in existing law that polices lawful behaviour. I can lawfully buy digital copies of RC content online and possess them in Australia, but I cannot carry the same digital content across the border into Australia in a storage device such as a laptop or thumb drive. This is absurd.

      The government misinformation campaign is based on widespread ignorance of the classification regime and the diversity of content that exists. They claim that most RC content is ‘illegal’ or the result of illegal behaviour, such as child abuse, but this is incorrect.

      Most content that is likely to be refused classification is simply sexually explicit in ways that the government does not understand or accept. Such content includes fantasy representations of consensual behaviour representing BDSM and fetish sexual practices.

  7. The ever outspoken Ches Baragwanath on the front page of The Age today… “once they get into government they are fascinated by the revenue that flows from nicotine,booze and gambling – wait until they decide how to tax sex!”

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