‘She is constantly visited by amateurs of birch discipline, being always furnished with brooms of green birch and of the best quality, and is always happy to see any friend that feels himself inclinable to spend three or four guineas in her company.’
The lady in question can be found residing on Berwick Street, Soho; and if a good flogging or spanking is your bag, I’m certain she’ll be more than happy to receive you. The only snag is that she’s been dead for more than two-hundred years, with the above description of her particular talent lifted from the pages of Harris’s Book of Covent Garden Ladies, an annual publication in the mid-to-late eighteenth century that offered both resident and visitor an extensive guide to the sex-workers of Georgian London. My compilation edition of the publication offers a glossary of slang from the time that serves to translate the numerous colloquial phrases for various sexual specialities, but this wouldn’t have been necessary when the books were published as the slang used wasn’t a clandestine code ala polari; the capital’s sex industry of the 1700s was an open and guilt-free business, not to mention a booming one. Flagellation was perhaps the most flourishing branch (sorry!) of the industry, as the number of premises in and around the Covent Garden district that specialised in this specific pleasure outnumbered those that didn’t. So renowned was the Brits’ appetite for flogging and spanking that the French referred to it as the English Perversion. A long and proud history that considerably predates the Marquis de Sade should therefore count for something, but not in the sexually liberated society of the 21st century, it would seem.
Last week, an amendment to the 2003 Communications Act listed a series of sexual acts that often feature in the more obscure online pornography that are now no longer permissible in British-produced porn. Included on the list was the good old ‘English Perversion’ – Spanking, Caning and Aggressive Whipping (is there such a thing as non-aggressive whipping?). However, were this list limited to one of the oldest kinky pastimes, it would be laughable enough; but other life-threatening acts now deemed beyond-the-pale on-screen include Humiliation; Facesitting; Fisting; Watersports (apparently known as Urolagnia – I could have sworn that was a former Soviet Republic); Female Ejaculation (still okay for a woman to be splattered in the discharge of Male Ejaculation, apparently); Penetration by Any Object Associated With Violence (bang goes the old cop-and-truncheon standby, then); and Role-playing as Non-Adults (Remember, role-playing, which means pretending, just like every actor playing Demetrius or Chiron pretends to rape and cut off the tongue and hands of Lavinia in ‘Titus Andronicus’ on stage).
Perhaps best of all lewd and licentious activities viewed as unacceptable on the list is ‘Physical or Verbal Abuse – Regardless if Consensual’. Did you catch that last bit? That’s right – regardless if consensual. Where, I wonder, does that leave any movie in which two characters physically and verbally abuse each other? Mr T’s goading of Sylvester Stallone in ‘Rocky III’ includes both; the former suggests Rocky’s missus would have a better time in bed with him and then both men knock seven bells out of each other. But they are, lest we forget, actors, a label that also applies to (slightly) lesser thespians in a porn video based around role-playing.
When quizzed about these laughable new rules and regulations, the predictable response from the Department of Media, Culture and (presumably not water) Sport said imposing such restrictions was a ‘tried and trusted method for protecting children.’ Sorry? Where do children come into this? We’re not talking about child pornography, we’re talking about fully grown adults pleasuring each other for the pleasure of other fully grown adults. Why should everything involving adults today be governed by what is perceived as harmful to some imaginary child? What about those of us who don’t have – and have never wanted – children? It seems what we can or cannot watch is viewed through a prism that relegates all to the status of a child. Surely if a child accidentally accesses online porn, is that not the responsibility of its parents for not blocking it from the family computer? This is a child that can stroll into a supermarket or be entombed in a doctor’s waiting room with its mother and be bombarded by cheap and tawdry titillating magazines boasting such headlines as ‘Sick Dad Dressed As Santa and Then Raped Us’ or return home to switch on MTV and be confronted by a virtually naked pop siren gyrating around the screen whilst singing a song about masturbation.
Incidentally, I’m not and never have been a devotee of pornography. Frankly, I find it boring, repetitive and utterly un-arousing. To me, it seems to narrow rather than widen the vista of the sexual experience, reducing what the great Adam Ant once referred to as ‘the last adventure known to mankind’ to a series of choreographed clichés enacted on a tedious loop. But maybe that’s just me. I do, however, maintain it is the right of an adult in a supposedly free society to enter into a mutual agreement with other adults, and be fully aware that what he or she is about to receive is the province of those old enough to both understand and enjoy what is going on. It would appear those engaged in the cause of protecting children now regard niche markets of the sex industry that few adults, let alone children, are exposed to on a regular basis as more worthy of diverting their energies towards than the actual genuine threats to children such as ones that were allowed to take place in a certain South Yorkshire town. Well, f*** me up the arse with a red-hot poker! Just don’t film it when you do.