An Exploration of Pornography and Censorship.


Rebecca Louise Hoad



Chapter One              Legislation and Social Harm  

Chapter Two              The British Board of Film Classification

Chapter Three           Research Methodology

Chapter Four             Results and Analysis of the Questionnaires

Chapter Five              Conclusions and Recommendations

Appendix One            Questionnaire                                              

Appendix Two            Transcript of Questionnaire – Male Respondent

Appendix Three          Transcript of Questionnaire -- Female Respondent          

Appendix Four            Intimacy -- Film Review

Appendix Five            Graphs of Results (Before)

Appendix Six             Graphs of Results (After)                       






BBC                British Broadcasting Corporation

BBFC             British Board of Film Classification

R18                 Restricted Eighteen Category – BBFC’s Classification

O.P.A              Obscene Publications Act

ITC                  The Independent Television Commission

VRA                Video Recordings Act


I would like to take this opportunity to make a thank you to those who have helped me during my time at University and completing my dissertation.

Firstly to my parents, who believed in me succeeding and provided me with the financial support needed to complete my degree.

To my partner, Paul, who has given me the encouragement and support to succeed, especially over the last few months.

To all my college friends, who has been a great support and inspiration to me over the last three years.

To all the college students who gave their time to participate in my research.

Finally a special thank you goes to my lecturer at The College of St. Mark and St. John, Dave Harris, for his encouragement and assistance throughout my university life.




The purpose of this study is to discover the problems of defining and setting guidelines for pornography, by researching the BBFC and changing attitudes within society.  Historical implications were included in the study to discuss the effect these implications have towards current attitudes.

The first chapter examines the result of the implications of legislation, focusing on the O.P.A.  The social harm debate is also addressed critically within this chapter, which feminists have been debating since the 1960s; believing pornographic consumers develop unsociable attitudes and behaviours towards women and the vulnerable.

The second chapter will be contributing towards the issues surrounding procedures for guidelines on censorship, by critically discussing the BBFC, who aim to ensure, ‘fair and effective regulation,’  (BBFC 2001) within censorship laws.

Chapter Three discusses the methods and concepts that were applied throughout the study.  Chapter Four analyses the feedback from the respondents towards the viewing of the controversial film, Intimacy and explores attitudes more widely.

The final chapter of the study draws together the main points of discussion made throughout the study, following with a succession of recommendations




A pornography industry was first established in the seventeenth century, and was used in context with pictures and writings about prostitutes.  However during the late seventeenth century capitalism and the bourgeois class took hold, which created a repression of sex, and from this notion, ‘ [had] been associated with sin.’  (Morris cited in Brake 1982:248).  The State felt society needed to be regulated, including unofficial leisure forms, as by the eighteenth century the, ‘heart of economical and political problems was sex.’  (Morris cited in Brake 1982:247).     These issues contributed towards a population increase, increased birth rates, the state of health and housing to name but a few.  These attitudes and issues might still affect the topic today, which is why it is important to understand the background issues that may be affecting attitudes and opinions within this research.


‘In the U.K…pornography is big business,’  (Itzin 1992:39) and it is also a, ‘very profitable industry.’  (Itzin 1992:39).  Pornography has undergone a revolutionary change over the last decade.  By the twentieth century pornographic material had become popular and widespread, (Channel 4, 25 October 2001) beginning from main stream cinema right up to accessing it at home, via the World Wide Web.


The porn industry during the late 1960s was at its peak within mainstream cinema, (Channel 4, 11 October 2001) but this led to illegal material being made available on the market.  Censors were fighting hard at this period to censor scenes that to them were deemed offensive.  So when Deep Throat was released in 1972, it became the most talked about film and pornography became acceptable to watch in public.  However it was not long before the sexual revolution plummeted, and technology took centre stage.  The advent of the video (VHS) meant individuals could for the first time in pornography have control and interaction.  (Channel 4, 18 October 2001).  The taboo of pornography was being removed and now it could be viewed in the privacy of the home.  The advent of the camcorder in the 1980s created amateur videos, which consumers were beginning to prefer.  (Channel 4, 18 October 2001).  The last decade saw a change in the way pornography was consumed, through the Internet.  More people are consuming pornographic material than ever before, and with such a diversity of methods into accessing this material it is evident why.  (Channel 4, 25 October 2001).


To turn to specifics, a brief examination on the current picture of pornography and censorship will be addressed, considering historical implications.  It also will be defining terminology used throughout the study.


Censorship is to, ‘…suppress parts of book, films, letters etc…on grounds of obscenity [and] risk to security.’  (Oxford English Dictionary cited in McGuigan 1996:154).  Censorship laws were introduced when sexually explicit material became widespread and popular.  The 1960s were legendary as a ‘liberalism’ period, (McGuigan 1996) so the State wanted to control society by introducing, ‘moral regulation [as this] is concerned with constructing normality.’  (Rojek cited in McGuigan 1996:155).  The BBFC are responsible for the guidelines of censorship, which is addressed in chapter two.


Concerns have been expressed on this issue, that existing censorship laws are inaccurate.  The argument is two sided.  Many believe the controls implied should be liberalised, as they believe suppressing this material will only contribute to the silence on the topic, resulting in a repression of sex and a paternalist limitation of freedom.  This is believed it could cause a rise in sexual crime and issues over birth control and contraceptive practices.  However some feel pornographic material should be suppressed or censored, as it is believed to be harmful and offensive to the consumers.  Also the problem with the Internet has sparked a debate for tighter controls. 


The problem is still acute as no set definitions have been incorporated into guidelines, such as ‘when art ends and pornography begins.’  ( 12/10/01).  So far there is a variety of controls and they are measured differently.  For example licensing authorities, the police and the BBFC have different guidelines to isolate offensive material.  It has proven very difficult to determine how much protection society needs, when there are so many issues involved.


This study is a contribution to the long and current debate on whether pornography should be banned, whether it can be banned and whether a ban would infringe the rights to freedom of speech.  There is such a contrast in views, it is clear why this debate has not come to an agreement.  Chapter four contributes to this debate, where the primary research looks at a controversial film of 2001, titled Intimacy, which is currently controversial and contains sexually explicit material, and also looks at the general issue of pornography.  The research intended to discover attitudes of a group of students to establish if attitudes have changed from the past, and what, if any are the factors causing this diversity in attitudes.  The findings illustrated that attitudes towards sex and pornography have become much more relaxed within this group, but there are still concerns and a diversity of views between both genders.  The results are illustrated in graphical form, which partly can be found in the text and full results in Appendix 5 and 6.