Why R18 movies are cut and what is removed
BBFC – What they censor
When the BBFC changed it’s stance on pornography in August 2001 it published a clear set of guidelines as to what could and couldn’t be seen. (A full version of these guidelines is available from the BBFC
). Prior to this date explicit images were rarely passed, those which were usually either being part of rare experiments to test public reaction or justified at the standard 18 certificate by being presented in an educational context.
The 2001 guidelines are based upon a number of Acts passed by parliament; these include the Protection Of Children Act 1978, the Obscene Publications Act 1959, the Cinematograph Films (Animals Act) 1937, the Video Recordings Act 1984 as well as consultation during 1999/2000 to assess public opinion on what it was prepared to look at. These Acts, as well as the nation’s attitude, were all considered when compiling the 2001 guidelines. For more information on the Obscene Publications Act and the Video Recordings Act please see elsewhere on this site.
The new guidelines for the R18 certificate allowed; aroused genitalia, masturbation, oral genital contact including kissing, licking and sucking, penetration by finger, penis, tongue, vibrator or dildo, non-harmful fetish material, group sexual activity and ejaculation and semen. The guidelines make no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual activity.
The BBFC also stated what will not be passed. Perhaps unsurprisingly this list is significantly longer than the one of permitted material. There are four main categories that are not allowed; violence, abuse, degradation/humiliation and what are called ‘legal issues’. Analysis of what actually is being cut from pornographic films submitted for classification gives an insight in to how the guidelines are currently being interpreted.
Annual statistic released by the BBFC show that they are now cutting more films than ever before and that the duration of the cuts is getting longer. However this is being blamed on the amount of hardcore porn they are now classifying which stands at around 1000 films per year. In the past distributors would pre-cut films prior to sending them for classification, hoping for a quick pass, but nowadays distributors are simply passing the BBFC the original tapes and leaving the cut to them. When cuts are recommended this can mean that distributors actually cut more than the BBFC ask for, rather than snip out the offending material they simply delete the whole scene.
Between August 2001 and March 2003 approximately 1821 videos and DVD’s were classified R18, of those 240 (13%) have been cut in some way. The length of cut differs between 3 seconds and 95 minutes. In some cases distributors substitute other material for that which is deleted in order to preserve a reasonable running time and value for money for their customers. The unluckiest distributor of all is Queensway who, out of 45 titles submitted to date, have been forced to make cuts to 33 (73%).
What is being cut
– any activity which restricts breathing or blood flow, any activity which seem to be causing distress, rape scenarios, any evidence of lack of consent, any restraint meaning consent cannot be withdrawn (e.g. ball gags), penetration by objects likely to cause harm or that are associated with violence (knives, guns etc), insertion of more than four fingers or a foot into the vagina or anus, or any activity which causes pain or physical discomfort (e.g. hot wax on skin).
– reference to, or depiction of, incestuous relationships, use of language such as teen, teeny or teenage which could encourage interest in underage sex, adult actors portraying or role-playing as children or reference to sexual development during childhood.
– defecation, bestiality, necrophilia, urolagnia (peeing portrayed in a sexual context).
– reference to illegal behaviour (e.g. underage sex), depictions of outdoor sex filmed in the UK.
Obviously many of the above subjects could fall into two or more categories, bestiality or necrophilia could perhaps fall into all four. I will explore in more detail the reasons behind some of these cuts being made in the following paragraphs.
Degradation, humiliation, violence and abuse
The principals which cause images of degradation and humiliation to be suppressed are mostly based on moral judgements, with these morals often based on the prudish stance of our Victorian forbearers. There are many individuals who get an immense sexual thrill out of being pissed on, spat on, shat on or verbally abused and equally those who are turned on by doing it or watching it. Where these images are produced in a consensual environment it is difficult to see what, other than simple moral prejudice, is forcing these activities to be cut. So far no distributors have submitted a film for consideration by the BBFC that depicts bestiality, necrophilia or defecation. Films have however been submitted that have had scenes of spitting and pissing removed.
There are those among society who enjoy more aggressive pleasures such as sadomasochism, corporal punishment or dangerous penetrative activities – where some form of violence can be actual rather than just implied. The BBFC guidelines state that some mild fetish material will be passed, but this falls well short of the mark that satisfies the tastes of many CP and S&M enthusiasts. It is this area the guidelines fail to make clear. There is a ‘grey area’ between violence and sexual behaviour which is politically not well understood and as a consequence the decision is to err on the safe side and remove material which involves violence of any kind. Until there is a better understanding of the links between sex and violence it seems unlikely that the BBFC will relax their attitude to such material. The irony is that these two themes appear alongside each other in many 18, 15 and even some 12 certificate films where it is not deemed to be a problem. So interestingly, it seems that it is the explicit portrayal of sexual imagery that is the unknown factor, that it is the sex, and not the violence, that the BBFC believe tips the viewer over the edge.
Practically any reference to children is cut on the grounds that it might encourage interest in the subject. This has led to a number of films with the word teen, teeny and teenage having their titles changes to something less referential. Incestuous relationships, straight or gay, are cut on the grounds of it being illegal in the case of heterosexuals and ‘likely’ to encourage unhealthy relationships between same sex siblings which could potentially infringe legal age of consent and become child abuse. Naturally this is a thorny area and rightly or wrongly any threat of it corrupting us is removed prior to our viewing.
It is occasionally stated that, on their arrest, violent or sex criminals had pornography in their home but usually no more is made of this other than prosecutions trying to make the owner look a little deviant or emotionally misguided. There are of course many millions of other porn owners who are not in the slightest bit deviant and have no intention of either molesting a nurse, sleeping with their siblings or exposing themselves in the park.
Pissing, female ejaculation and public nudity
Out of all the subjects likely to be cut peeing and nudity filmed externally in the UK seem the most ludicrous. There is legislation regarding public decency and indecent exposure which relates to situations where sexual activity is taking place outdoors or in public areas in the UK. This legislation prohibits such activity and therefore visual depictions of it are illegal. If a distributor/copywrite owner can provide assurance that the footage is filmed (or it is obvious) outside the UK, it is acceptable.
Peeing is removed from hardcore porn films if it is shown in a sexual context (urolagnia). If an actor is seen peeing onto their co-star this is considered to be a degrading act and consequently cut.
The fact that peeing is passed provided it is not urolagnia means that UK punters still get a chance to see it provided they buy the right tapes. Ben Dover has straddled the line as to what is permitted with two of his titles. In Royal Reamers 2 we are shown images of an actress breaking off her intercourse and dashing to the smallest room to empty her bladder. As she does this in the bath and not onto anyone it is passed, but Ben falls foul of the censor in Housewives Fantasies 2 when the star relieves herself directly above a willing Mario Pininfarina. Super-Mario seems to genuinely enjoy the experience and does not seem to be degraded or humiliated and yet the sequence is still trimmed. Whilst the guidelines are being interpreted in this way it is hard to conclude that the BBFC are exercising their power in a logical fashion or with any rational appreciation as to what the words they are interpreting actually mean.
The BBFC also fail to recognise female ejaculation as a physical process and consequently classify any scenes involving ‘squirting’ as being of urination. As ejaculation can only occur in a sexual scenario all depictions of this are bound to be cut. (The film Young Gushers is notorious as the most butchered R18 to date with an amazing 95 minutes and 15 seconds of cuts and substitutions). There has been much medical debate as to the reality of female ejaculation and as yet the BBFC remain unconvinced. This leaves us in the curiously sexist scenario of being able to watch a man shoot copious ropes of jizz out of the end of his penis whereas we cannot watch a woman perform the same function.
Is it a fair cut?
The problem with mass regulation of visual media is that the majority of us do not need to be regulated at all. As stable adults we are perfectly capable of making our own choices and interpreting what we see in a sensible and rational manner. Most of the cuts made by the BBFC are done so in order to protect those vulnerable members of the community who might be unduly influenced by images of violent or sexual behaviour. Where most adults could sit through hours of the most extreme viewing and be unaffected, there will always be those who will be, and sadly it is on their behalf that the BBFC are operating.
The BBFC often state that many of their decisions are ‘in line with the current interpretation of the Obscene Publications Act’. It would seem that the current interpretation is a little heavy handed and although there is probably good reason to trim some material there is also no justification to cut other stuff especially that which falls into the more moral arena. Whether future interpretations could be more relaxed remains to be seen. I shall keep my fingers crossed and you updated via this website.