An independent porn revolution is kicking off and it’s proudly freaky. But new legislation threatens to whitewash the industry just as things are heating up.

Progressive porn is taking off and it’s proudly freaky, ethical and queer. But new legislation threatens to whitewash the industry just as things are heating up.

All good things start with a cup of tea. On a winter’s evening in a cosy North London kitchen, independent porn producers Pandora Blake and Blath are planning their first scene together over a good brew.

Props include a BDSM-safe ceremonial candle, which Pandora will use to drip wax onto Blath’s exposed flesh, and a medieval-style dagger which, although blunt, risks falling foul of new porn restrictions in Britain.

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“I’m into knives,” Pandora says, matter-of-factly. “In three months, I’m going to have to take my site offline in the UK, so I kind of have a fuck-it attitude right now.”

Pandora and Blath are among the most creative figures in a new wave of independent porn. They’re building on the four-decade legacy of feminist trailblazers such as Nina Hartley and Candida Royalle, shifting the narrative around pornography with an emphasis on ethical production.

They’re also determined to see all body types, races, genders, sexualities and flavours of kink represented.

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In Pandora’s darkened bedroom, Blath – who identifies with the gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ – takes charge of the lighting, spilling shadows across a metal-framed bed.

“It’s an occult scene with gothy vibes,” Pandora explains in a warm but business-like manner. “Blath is a witch who summoned me to do a favour… and my price is sexy time.”

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The pair change into dark lingerie and get into character, growing quiet with focus. After a short pause to light the candle and read a spell from A Witches’ Bible, the action begins.

Shoulders are massaged. Molten wax is dripped over breasts, solidifying into red flecks around pierced nipples. A knife is run teasingly underneath the fabric of a black thong.

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Scenes like these have begun to provide a refreshing alternative to the San Fernando Valley porn machine. But just as it has begun to flourish in this part of the world, new legislation by the UK government threatens to wipe it out.

The Digital Economy Bill aims to stop under 18s from accessing porn online through a mandatory ID verification system.

That may sound like a reasonable measure but, in practice, it could lead to an Orwellian database of every porn consumer in the UK. (It also remains to be seen how it will stop tech-savvy teens from accessing pornography through workarounds like virtual private networks.)

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And that’s not the only change. The bill will ban “nonconventional sexual acts” from adult websites, sanitising the industry.

Pandora argues that while age checks will impose a financial burden that few niche sites can shoulder, potentially forcing them to shut down altogether, the ‘nonconventional’ clause amounts to draconian censorship and an attack on sexual liberation.

Drawing from the 1959 Obscene Publications Act – enacted when homosexuality was still illegal – the bill will outlaw the filming or distribution of a long list of sexual acts, including face-sitting, spanking that leaves a mark and female ejaculation when it hits another person. (A man covering a woman’s face with cum remains perfectly legal.)

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Rather than fuelling an open discussion around sex, activists believe these sweeping measures ignore a wider societal problem – one that takes root with inadequate sex education in schools.

Blath and Pandora both found empowerment through porn and argue that it’s silence and stigma that leads to abuse and suffering.

For Pandora and many others who don’t fit into the heteronormative mainstream mould, just discovering porn as a teenager proved liberating.

“Queer and kinky porn can be a lifesaver for people with marginalised identities and sexualities,” she explains.

“I thought I was a total freak until I realised that maybe I wasn’t the only one on the planet who found spanking erotic. Aged 13 at the time, it helped me realise I might find happiness and somebody to spank me, eventually.”

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Now 32, Pandora is proud that her queer BDSM website, Dreams of Spanking, shoots explicitly for the female gaze.

“I’m intentionally trying to subvert the expectation that a straight guy is the viewer and that we have to cater towards his idea of what’s sexy,” she says.

Blath, too, is energised by the rebellious spirit of this DIY movement and the opportunity to engage new perspectives.

“Everyone in the community seems to be an activist who’s creative or politically engaged – and I wanted to be part of that,” says the 23-year-old, who began as a non-binary nude model and now directs with a distinctive emo aesthetic.

“I integrate the politics of queer porn, which I think is important to see, especially for people who don’t live in big cities where there’s a queer community to engage with and help explore yourself sexually.”

small line copyA screen flickers to life: it’s night time in Los Angeles and Vex Ashley is sitting in the back of a car, peering out the window as the glow of streetlights flash by her eyes.

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Later the scene cuts to a close-up of her and black porn star Mickey Mod grinding against each other, naked and sweating, before jumping back to Vex gazing out of the window, alone once more.

This opening to Red Shift gives a taste of how Vex’s crowdfunded platform A Four Chambered Heart blends arthouse filmmaking with porn – a combination the performer and director describes as “magical realism”.

While studying at art school in 2012, Vex joined a community of “internet naked girls” for whom webcamming seemed both fun and profitable.

After graduating, she planned to train as an art teacher but was drawn deeper into the world of porn by the creative freedom it offered and the belief that she could do things better.

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“The readily available porn I saw was very clinical, made on starkly lit sets where you could see everything – the face, the genitals, the position – all at once,” she explains.

“I saw how little the creative potential of porn was being explored; it was always designed to be a product rather than a medium for ideas. I wanted to create something that reflects the intensity of sex, while provoking the imagination and giving the mind space to work.”

Vex never became an art teacher. Now 26, she’s using Four Chambers to improve working conditions, increase representation and table a new funding model for the sex industry – all while honouring her creative influences, from storytellers like Patti Smith and Nick Cave to directors such as Chris Cunningham and David Cronenberg.

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“The most exciting thing about porn is that there is no blueprint to follow and no establishment to acquiesce to – you make your own space on your own terms,” she says.

“I’m not interested in saying the mainstream industry is bad… Porn has the potential to do and say anything. But you have to fight so hard against all of these hurdles, all of this stigma and shame.”

For Vex, porn is a place for self-expression – and she feels lucky to have found it.

“But not everyone can put their face to sex work,” she adds, “least of all those who are already the most marginalised. So I hope to make space for other people to explore it in the way I have, because we need more perspectives in porn. We need more diversity.”

Bishop Black is a queer British porn performer, now based in Berlin, who has appeared in mainstream productions as well as independent projects with the likes of Vex.

What makes the latter special, he explains, is that you get to discuss your likes and dislikes from the start, while there’s also space for crossdressing and gender play – something that would never happen in the mainstream.

“There’s more trust in feminist porn because people of colour are shown in ways that aren’t manipulative or opportunistic,” he says.

“Don’t get me wrong, there’s still under-representation. There will always be borders we have to conquer. It’s a young genre that’s still growing, but it is pushing in the right direction.”

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Pandora and Blath are coming to the end of their scene and the chemistry is bubbling. As Blath gets up off the bed, a dangling crucifix brushes over Pandora’s naked body.

“That was really nice,” she purrs. “I’m just getting into this… but we’ve been going for nearly three hours. I think we’ll have to wrap it up.”

The shoot ends as it began, over a cup of tea, with the pair discussing the future of feminist, queer and ethical porn in Britain – and what can be done to save it.

Last October, Pandora helped to organise the Kink Olympixxx, a protest which saw civil liberties campaigners join Victorian-corseted pornographers and gimp-suited sex workers for ‘squirting’ water fights and ‘fisting’ volleyball outside parliament.

_DSC7521-copyIt couldn’t stop the Digital Economy Bill passing in the Commons, but Pandora is determined to keep pushing for a rethink before it becomes law in the spring.

“Porn is an easy target, but this is a civil liberties issue and there’s no guarantee these powers of control and censorship online won’t be extended beyond porn,” Pandora explains.

“It’s framed as protecting children, but in practice it’s just going to completely wipe out the authenticity and diversity of the British porn ecosystem in one fell swoop – just as it was getting really interesting.”

This article appears in Huck 59 – The Game Changer Issue. Buy it in the Huck Shop now or subscribe today to make sure you never miss another issue.

Check out Dreams of Spanking, A Four Chambered Heart or Blath’s blog, Foxclore.

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