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A British Man Is Going to Prison for Having Fish Porn on His Phone

A man in the UK is awaiting sentencing this month for having fish porn. If that suddenly got you wondering about the legalities of sex with animals and their ethical basis, you're not alone.

by Mike Pearl
Dec 4 2013, 8:41pm


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A man in the UK is awaiting sentencing this month for having fish porn, which is illegal in the UK. Outside of using it as a tired, slippery-slope argument against gay marriage, sex with animals doesn't get much discussion in the US. Meanwhile in other countries, public figures do occasionally pop up and ask whether these subjects are up for debate yet.

The fish porn fan in the UK is Shannon Johanson of Wade Meadow Court, in Northampton, UK, and he sounds like a real piece of work. In 2011, at the age of eighteen, he slashed a guy's arm with a knife, and chased him through the streets in his underwear. Now he's twenty, and back in June, he was busted for having eight blunts, and when they booked him, they found "grossly offensive" animal porn on his Blackberry. 


Johanson's neighbohood, via Google Street View

His beast porn collection sounds like it included three videos: two of women having sex with dogs, and one of a woman "performing a sex act" with a dead fish, which I assume means masturbating with it. Then in November, Johanson was charged with possessing extreme pornographic images and possession of a Class B drug, and he threw himself at the mercy of the court.

Now he's a repeat felon, awaiting sentencing at some point in December, and despite the previous wrap for assault, he didn't do anything this time that would be illegal in, say, Colorado. I checked.

But in the UK, the law they're using to bust Mr. Johanson is pretty new. The 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act bans something called "extreme porn," which interestingly enough, doesn't cover the relatively tame stuff you can see at extremeporn.com. The UK defines "extreme porn" as: 

"grossly offensive, disgusting, or otherwise of an obscene character" and "it portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following—(a) an act which threatens a person’s life, (b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts, or genitals, (c) an act which involves sexual interference with a human corpse, or (d) a person performing an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive), and a reasonable person looking at the image would think that any such person or animal was real."

So in the UK, could I watch the following clip from the award winning Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives? Would a "reasonable person" feel that that catfish is really going down on that lady?

Every so often, should we re-ask ourselves where we stand politically on human-animal sex? And can we do so (please) without comparing it to any other pressing civil rights debate? 

In a 2010 TV interview, the philosopher Peter Singer said he knew women who enjoy having dogs perform oral sex on them, saying, "The dog is free to do it or walk away. There’s no dominance over the dog. That seems to me harmless." Then all the other guests on the show got grossed out, and talked about how weird it was without weighing in on whether or not it's wrong. Granted, the dead fish on Johanson's phone couldn't consent to anything, but I don't think that's the point.

Singer's 2001 article "Heavy Petting" goes a bit further, saying:

"The vehemence with which this prohibition continues to be held, its persistence while other non-reproductive sexual acts have become acceptable, suggests that there is another powerful force at work: our desire to differentiate ourselves, erotically and in every other way, from animals."

Singer said on the talk show that psychiatrists who encounter a patient in personal turmoil over their sexual encounters with animals have sometimes given them a copy of his article, and that after reading it, they've been able to forgive themselves. 

But are people who let their dogs go down on them actually criminals? They probably are if they're in Singer's native Australia. In the UK, very much so. In the US, yes, even in Colorado. In France, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Holland and Russia, though, it's no big deal.

The UK's extreme pornography ban has been used to go after non-zoophiles, as well. In some cases, people have been prosecuted for having consensual images of acts that are legal to perform, like fisting, or putting long needles into your own urethra, but illegal to look at in photos.  

Johanson wasn't able to weasel out of a conviction on the basis of the law's in consistencies like others have. He will receive a maximum of three years in prison, even without the drug charge. If he's sentenced to two or more, he'll be added to the UK's sex and violent offender registry.

@mikeleepearl