I was interviewed by Carolyn Quinn on the Radio 4 PM programme today about the implications of the verdict in the R v Peacock obscenity trial. The radio interview can be found here, 13 minutes and 24 seconds into the programme.
The background to the trial is that defendant Michael Peacock was unanimously acquitted of publishing obscene DVDs under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. These DVDs depicted male-on-male fisting, urination and consensual BDSM activities including sexual whipping, electrocution and saline injection into the scrotum.
As I identified in a comment piece for Guardian Law, urination and fisting (both anal and vaginal) are sexual acts that are legal to perform in real life. Yet when these acts were represented on film, the distribution or publication had been previously deemed to be obscene under the Crown Prosecution Service’s guidelines. Thus I was asked to appear on the PM programme to comment on this disjuncture.
However, before the pre-recorded interview was conducted, I was asked to discuss the language I was likely to deploy to describe these sexual acts. The producer explained that as the PM show is broadcast before the 9pm watershed it attracts a family audience of all ages and therefore it would be inappropriate to discuss fisting and urination without, you know, actually using the words fisting and urination. Whilst this led to a slightly uneasy and surreal conversation; we initially agreed that the blanket euphemism “extreme sexual acts” might be permissible.
It was only immediately before the recording commenced that I realised that the word “extreme” has a very specific legal context in relation to pornography; as section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 creates a specific offence of possession of supposedly “extreme pornography”. Secondly, the notion that describing a sexual act as extreme would seem to render it potentially illicit or other; and therefore prohibit it from entering mainstream discourse.
After the pre-recorded segment had concluded a number of friends enquired as to what euphemisms I had utilized instead of urination and fisting. Whilst the paraphilia of sexual urination can be described variously as urolagnia, urophilia or simply, in the more vulgar phrase, watersports; I simply did not know of another word for fisting apart from, you know, fisting.
More significantly, another friend sagely suggested that using euphemism to make “the simple obscure is one more sexual problem”. That in anonymising the names of the actual activities that the jury in R v Peacock deemed not to be obscene, it may have had the unintended consequence of rendering the entire interview absolutely opaque to the casual listener.
This also raises the issue that by not discussing legitimate sexual acts frankly, within the appropriate context, we perpetuate a lack of understanding. It could also be argued that not providing simple and easily comprehensible information on such practices does nothing to reduce potential health risks.