The Future of British Wanking: Imagining a World Beyond the Tory Porn Ban

The British government is talking about blocking free porn. But how will this affect the quality and cost of porn? Is the future a utopia or dystopia for the wankers of the UK?

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27 August 2015, 5:00am

(Photo by Jamie Fullerton)

The Government have recently announced that any free porn websites which do not enforce strict age restraints could face being shut down or blocked. It has been suggested that current age restrictions are not stringent enough and that sites should force their users to go through a paywall to ensure they're over 18. If this doesn't happen, then legislation could be introduced to make it "an offence in the UK to publish pornography online without age verification controls, possibly with a regulator to oversee and enforce controls". A government spokesperson said that this regulator would have the power to tell ISPs to block websites that do not comply to the age restraints.

This comes at the end of a long line of government efforts to protect children from porn. By 2013, the UK's four major internet service providers (ISPs) had adopted a government-enforced system, with new customers having to "opt-out" of the ISPs' content filters to gain access to a wide range of blocked content, including pornography. BT, TalkTalk and Virgin have since given all of their customers an "unavoidable choice" to opt in or out. In January 2015, Sky took it even further, blocking all material deemed unsuitable for children under the age of 13 for any of its five million customers who had not already opted out.

Nobody wants their kids exposed to some of the pornographic monstrosities on the internet, but – if a blanket ban is enforced on sites without age restrictions – these measures could affect the Average Joe too, ruining our precious wanking time. And, boy, are we fond of wanking time; according to government stats, the top ten porn sites represent 52 percent of all internet views in the UK. Internet porn in the UK receives more traffic than social networks, shopping, news and media, email, finance and travel put together.

So, how will our viewing habits change if the obligatory paywall comes into fruition? It's estimated that 80-90 percent of internet porn users only watch free online material, so what will we do when that's taken away? How will the ban affect the quality and cost of the porn we're watching, and the wellbeing of the people starring in it? In order to give you a breakdown of how the future of wanking might change, we talked to some porn stars and industry experts to get their insight.

A picture of Michelle from her site

HIGH-DEFINITION PORN
If you do opt to pay for your porn, it looks like it could be the start of a premium porn age. Pornhub – one of the most popular and largest porn websites in the world, receiving over 1.68 million visits per hour – has launched a new streaming service called "Pornhub Premium", which boasts ad-free streaming, HD quality, faster playback and some exclusive titillating content. Could this be what all porn sites begin to look like?

People do pay extra for HD porn now – even if you cheapskates don't. Michelle Thorne, former glamour model and popular porn star, says that having a paywall on her site helps her afford the best equipment. "I try and make mine a bit more glamorous rather than amateur looking, to make sure people get what they pay for." She and her husband, her producer, use three different cameras including a 4K camera and a GoPro. 4K cameras first became commercially available in 2003 and are widely respected by the film industry for their horizontal resolution on the order of 4,000 pixels. Basically, they allow you to see every little detail. Maybe more porn sites would go HD in the event of a porn ban, to offer a "premium" experience and attempt to give you what you're paying for.

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BLOCKBUSTER PORN
About seven years ago, global porn revenues were estimated at $20 billion, but revenue has decreased by 50 percent since the advent of free porn sites in 2011. Porn, as an industry, will always have enormous monetary potential, and if more sites introduce paywalls and free sites are blocked in the UK, this revenue is likely to blow up in size. The more money there is in porn, the more porn sites can afford to buy the best state-of-the-art cameras, outfits, props – whatever your heart desires.

Some porn already seems to be reaching blockbuster status. Anna Arrowsmith, porn director and former Lib Dem candidate in the 2010 general election, has won six awards for her films, which she put a lot of money and time into: "I had a reality style; I would go and get the real policeman's outfits rather than just having one from Ann Summers, and I'd go to castings and get good-looking guys."

However, if you're a fan of that "home grown", as-if-you-hid-a-camera-in-the-corner-of-the-room, #nofilter kind of porn, the UK market for that doesn't seem to be dying out any time soon. Anna tells me that half of the porn market is amateur and that there is always real demand for it. Plenty of companies, like "Amateurs Fun Studio" based in Surrey and "Mature Amateur Productions" based in London, thrive on this "authentic" vibe. A vibe that you'd still have to fork out for, unless Dave shuts them down altogether.

SOFTER PORN
It's no secret that, if you venture into the deep, dark, depths of online porn, there's some pretty aggressive stuff. According to stoppornculture.org, 88.2 percent of top-rated porn scenes contain aggressive acts. Michelle told me that a lot of the free sites contain a lot harder stuff because they're filmed outside of the UK, mostly in Europe or Japan. But if the government stay true to their word and the ISPs are asked to block every site without a paywall or decent age restricting policy, then this could mean tighter monitoring on porn sites (think Sky's aforementioned censorship) and perhaps even an end to the vast swathes of misogynistic, violent and frankly disgusting porn that lives out there. Not such a bad thing, but whether it's our government's place to do so is a separate question.


A picture of Michelle Thorne from her site

FAIRTRADE PORN
Since the advent of free sites in 2008, the porn world has struggled. It's fair to say that porn stars and producers hate the free sites, so much so that they even wrote to the government about four years ago, asking that they be shut down.

As Michelle puts it, "No one wants to give anything away for nothing, why would they, that's their job?" The free sites often contain a lot of copyright stuff that users upload, or small clips from porn stars' videos, which they give away for advertising. They're supposed to be teasers – not the main basis for your daily wank. As a result of the free porn, Anna says that a lot of people in the UK, including herself, have gone out of business: "The whole industry just took a complete nosedive in 2009 and genuinely lost 90 percent of the profits. It just became completely unfeasible to do it. Everybody suffered, the television companies suffered, the DVDs suffered."

Porn producers have a number of costs to cover, including the equipment, the props and the STD checks, which cost £150 a month. Anna explains: "When there's no money, porn stars are going to take more risks with their health. The first time I saw someone in the UK fake a health certificate was in 2008, when it started to get difficult in the porn industry."

If people who are watching porn aren't paying for it, this will inevitably make porn stars take more risks. Anna had to quit because it just wasn't profitable enough for her. She tells me: "If you want quality to be held up, if you want porn stars to be safe and if you want variety for the future, you've got to pay for it, there's no other model." Nobody wants to watch an unhappy, under-paid, STD-ridden porn star have sex, do they? Do they?

SUBSCRIPTIONS VERSUS PAY AS YOU GO
Announcing itself as the "Netflix of porn", Pornhub Premium offers a seven-day free trial. Something tells me that there will be lots of people who do the cheeky sign-up-a few-times-with-different-cards to get more than their fair share of free fucking. Depending on their security, you can also bet on thousands of teenage boys sharing the same login and calling each other up in an angry rage at being kicked out of their accounts just at the point of climax due to too many people using it at one time.

Currently, Pornhub Premium charges a modest £6.42 a month. Michelle's site charges £19.28 a month and £51.44 for three months. Another porn star, Angel Long, charges £22.47 per month for one month, and £14.15 per month for a year if you buy the whole year. So, you're looking at a cheaper package if you buy for the long term. Or some sites charge by the hour, which could work out a bit more expensive.

So far the cheapest we've seen for sale is £1.58 for ten minutes on "Big Breasts", or, if you're really tight on money and it doesn't take you long, "Lustomic" offers 28p for one minute. Bargain! If the free sites do enforce pay walls, they could look like Pornhub's and undercut as a slightly cheaper option. However, these could be shut down or blocked, leaving the costs even higher. And if free porn is banned, there's always the chance that porn will become a very precious commodity and prices will be jacked up.

SO, WILL PEOPLE DIG INTO THEIR POCKETS?
The stats suggest otherwise – primarily the fact that 80 percent of porn viewed currently is free. The webcam industry is absolutely booming, with Michelle saying she can earn £150 an hour from a webcam session, so people are willing to pay. But then that's webcam, that's one step closer to being with the actual person. Michelle's husband and producer, Dean, tells me that they once gave away a small clip of Michelle's content to RedTube as a way of advertising and that day Michelle got 40,000 more visitors to her site but the day's takings were the same. With 40,000 more visitors, you'd expect to make more money, but there was a clear unwillingness to pay.

BUT THERE'S ALWAYS A WAY...
Because I knew that you might not believe any sort of network porn block could go ahead, I spoke to one of the heads of one of the top four ISPs who, wishing to remain anonymous, told me that they had been having various discussions with the government, and that if the major porn sites don't respond in the desired way, the government will legislate. They are currently looking at how a network block on free porn sites could work in practice. They tell me that such a block would be possible to enforce but that "particularly sophisticated people could circumnavigate the block".

Before you start swatting up, you should know that the government's announcement is just the beginning of a long process; if the main porn sites do not comply, a law and then a court order would have to be passed for the ISPs to block all the free porn out there. And there's a reason why it's been dubbed a money wasting, lazy and stupid plan, because it would be so easy to circumvent.

Most people I've spoken to (including the ISPs) confirm that we don't need a blanket ban, what we do need is education. The "opt-out" system seemed far more consensual and was effective for one network, namely TalkTalk, with a 36 percent take-up. Anna tells me she thinks "there's a great deal of hypocrisy, it's like, 'I'm OK to watch porn but the poor people, the young people will be damaged by it' – that's the mentality and it's quite classist and sexist."

Considering there were 250,000 attempts to access pornography from inside parliament last year, something tells me these MPs are shooting themselves in the foot.

@AmberRoberts6

Follow Anna Arrowsmith on twitter here

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