FAQ: Is it legal to buy porn in the UK?


 Buying, importing and possessing porn in the UK

MelonFarmers   BuyingHardcore   Regulators  

Hardcore is Legal in the UK

The year 2000 was an important year for adult video and DVD, it was the year when hardcore was effectively legalised.

Read the full story about hardcore came to be legalised in the UK: The Legalisation of Hardcore

First of all lets make it clear that it is now perfectly legal to buy, import and own consensual adult porn.


What is Legal?

At about the time when hardcore was legalised, the law enforcement agencies got together and agreed that they would all adhere to the BBFC guidelines for R18 videos:

The following content is not acceptable:

  • any material which is in breach of the criminal law
  • material likely to encourage an interest in abusive
  • sexual activity (eg paedophilia, incest) which may include depictions involving adults role-playing as non-adults
  • the portrayal of any sexual activity, whether real or simulated, which involves lack of consent
  • the infliction of pain or physical harm, real or (in a sexual context) simulated. Some allowance may be made for mild consensual activity
  • any sexual threats or humiliation which do not form part of a clearly consenting role-playing game
  • the use of any form of physical restraint which prevents participants from withdrawing consent, for example, ball gags
  • penetration by any object likely to cause actual harm or associated with violence
  • activity which is degrading or dehumanising (examples include the portrayal of bestiality, necrophilia, defecation, urolagnia)

The following content, subject to the above, may be permitted:

  • 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
  • ejaculation and semen

These guidelines make no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual activity.

 

What is not legal?

Updated August 2017

The basic legal restrictions on possession of hardcore pornography is that the material should be adult and consensual. Some extreme material such as scat, golden showers and fisting is also currently legal.

Dangerous Pictures are Illegal to possess

However Section 63 of the Criminal Justice & Immigration Act passed in 2008 bans the possession of an extreme pornographic image. An image falls within this subsection if it is pornographic and portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following

See further details

Dangerous Cartoons are Illegal to possess

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Part 2 Chapter 2 introduced a ban on non-photographic pictures, eg cartoons, drawings etc, featuring depictions of people under the age of 18 (however one is supposed to judge that)

Section 62 Possession of prohibited images of children

(2) A prohibited image is an image whichó

(a) is pornographic, ie if it is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.
(b) falls within subsection (6), and
(c) is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.

Note that photographic and near photographic images are not covered by this law as they are already prohibited by other more serious laws.

(6) An image falls within this subsection if itó

(a) is an image which focuses solely or principally on a child's genitals or anal region, or
(b) portrays any of the acts:

(a) the performance by a person of an act of intercourse or oral sex with or in the presence of a child;
(b) an act of masturbation by, of, involving or in the presence of a child;
(c) an act which involves penetration of the vagina or anus of a child with a part of a person's body or with anything else;
(d) an act of penetration, in the presence of a child, of the vagina or anus of a person with a part of a person's body or with anything else;
(e) the performance by a child of an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive or imaginary);
(f) the performance by a person of an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive or imaginary) in the presence of a child.

See further details

Where Can I buy Hardcore Videos & DVDs?

Hardcore videos may now be legally bought from:

  • Any licensed sex shop in the UK
  • Any unlicensed shop in the UK (*)
  • Any UK based online sex shop (*)
  • Any overseas based online sex shop.
  • Any mail order company in the UK (*)
  • Any mail order company based overseas

(*) Note that although it is legal to buy, the seller may be liable to prosecution. In fact no UK company can legally sell unclassified DVDs or R18 DVDs via mail order. This has been confirmed by the High Court but is waiting further examination by the European Court. Note that companies are considered to be British if they are being controlled by people from Britain. The location of the web server for an internet site has no bearing on the issue.

 

Where Can I buy Hardcore Magazines?

Hardcore magazines may be bought from any UK shop. The restrictions on selling videos in licensed shops are limited to video material and do not apply to books and magazines. In fact even any 18 age restrictions are a matter of convention rather than law.

  • Any high street newsagent
  • Any licensed sex shop in the UK
  • Any unlicensed shop in the UK
  • Any UK based online sex shop
  • Any overseas based online sex shop.
  • Any mail order company in the UK
  • Any mail order company based overseas

 

Is it legal to download hardcore from the Internet?

Material that is legal to possess as specified above may also be downloaded via the internet.

 

What is Legal to Import?

At about the time when hardcore was legalised, the law enforcement agencies including customs got together and agreed that they would all adhere to the BBFC guidelines for R18 videos:

The following content is legal to import:

  • 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
  • ejaculation and semen

These guidelines make no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual activity.

What is Not Legal to Import?

At about the time when hardcore was legalised, the law enforcement agencies including customs got together and agreed that they would all adhere to the BBFC guidelines for R18 videos:

The following content is not acceptable:

  • any material which is in breach of the criminal law
  • material likely to encourage an interest in abusive
  • sexual activity (eg paedophilia, incest) which may include depictions involving adults role-playing as non-adults
  • the portrayal of any sexual activity, whether real or simulated, which involves lack of consent
  • the infliction of pain or physical harm, real or (in a sexual context) simulated. Some allowance may be made for mild consensual activity
  • any sexual threats or humiliation which do not form part of a clearly consenting role-playing game
  • the use of any form of physical restraint which prevents participants from withdrawing consent, for example, ball gags
  • penetration by any object likely to cause actual harm or associated with violence
  • activity which is degrading or dehumanising (examples include the portrayal of bestiality, necrophilia, defecation, urolagnia)

The Obscenity laws apply which theoretically defines material that juries judge to deprave or corrupt the likely audience. In practice the CPS define what is legal and what is not. Golden showers, fisting and scat are all deemed to be obscene.

Dangerous Pictures are Illegal to import or even possess

Section 63 of the Criminal Justice & Immigration Act passed in 2008 bans the possession of an extreme pornographic image. An image falls within this subsection if it is pornographic and portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following

  • an act which threatens a person's life
  • an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals
  • an act which involves sexual interference with a human corpse
  • a person performing an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive), and a reasonable person looking at the image would think that any such person or animal was real.
  • an act which involves the non-consensual penetration of a personís vagina, anus or mouth by another with the other personís penis
  • an act which involves the non-consensual sexual penetration of a personís vagina or anus by another with a part of the other personís body or anything else, and a reasonable person looking at the image would think that the persons were real.

See further details

Dangerous Cartoons are Illegal to import or even possess

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Part 2 Chapter 2 introduced a ban on non-photographic pictures, eg cartoons, drawings etc, featuring depictions of people under the age of 18 (however one is supposed to judge that)

Section 62 Possession of prohibited images of children

(2) A prohibited image is an image whichó

(a) is pornographic, ie if it is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.
(b) falls within subsection (6), and
(c) is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.

Note that photographic and near photographic images are not covered by this law as they are already prohibited by other more serious laws.

(6) An image falls within this subsection if itó

(a) is an image which focuses solely or principally on a child's genitals or anal region, or
(b) portrays any of the acts:

(a) the performance by a person of an act of intercourse or oral sex with or in the presence of a child;
(b) an act of masturbation by, of, involving or in the presence of a child;
(c) an act which involves penetration of the vagina or anus of a child with a part of a person's body or with anything else;
(d) an act of penetration, in the presence of a child, of the vagina or anus of a person with a part of a person's body or with anything else;
(e) the performance by a child of an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive or imaginary);
(f) the performance by a person of an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive or imaginary) in the presence of a child.

See further details

What about unclassified videos and DVDs?

Videos and DVDs do not have to have a BBFC certificate for them to be legal to import. As long as the content is in line with the R18 guidelines then it totally legal to import them.

How can I import Hardcore videos and magazines?

Hardcore videos may now be legally bought from:

  • Any shop abroad and hand carried back into the UK
  • Any overseas based online sex shop and import via mail
  • Any mail order company based overseas

What about import duty?

Customs VAT/duty may only be charged on orders from outside of the EU. Orders below £18 are exempt (£36 if an unsolicited gift). If the order exceeds this limit, the VAT/duty will apply to the entire order. The net result of the charge is about 25% of the total order plus a possible Royal Mail charge for opening and resealing the packet. This charge is extracted via the Royal Mail who will refuse to deliver the package until the charge is paid.

 

Is it legal to publish hardcore on the Internet?

There is now a unified approach to all media amongst the enforcement agencies, eg police, CPS, Customs, Trading Standards etc. The BBFC R18 guidelines are used to define what is legal to publish  over the Internet. So now it is perfectly legal to publish hardcore in the UK. And in fact UK publishers can legally provide streaming or downloadable video without the need for a sex shop licence.

However the Obscene Publications Act still applies to internet publishing. It is currently considered illegal to publish extreme pornography such as scat, bestiality, fisting and pissing. Theoretically it is up to a jury whether such material is actually considered obscene, but in reality, the prosecutors have stitched up the law to maintain their view of what they consider obscene.

Updated August 2017: Internet VoD Censor

Ofcom is the UK internet censor tasked with policing child protection on UK adult websites that carry video hardcore porn. Ofcom has instigated strict and economically unviable age verification rules that have just about wiped out all UK adult websites with video. Ofcom required that hardcore material can only be viewed after providing the website with credit card details. Debit cards are not accepted.

The rules may have wiped out the UK trade but worldwide porn is still readily available so the UK Government has pass the Digital Economy Act 2017 which will enable the blocking of foreign porn sites (now with an extended definition to include hard and soft core, as well as video and non video content) that do not implement strict age verification. These new rules will start from April 2018. The Government looks set to appoint the BBFC as the censor in charge of approving age verification measures and on identifying errant websites, but work on this seems to be slipping.

Updated February: Internet Adult Porn Censor

The BBFC has been appointed as the UK internet adult porn censor. The censor will require UK ISPs to block specified any international porn websites that either include 'extreme porn' as defined under UK law, or else do not impose strict age verification for UK viewers. This requirement is expected to be in force by the end of 2018.

 

What do the BBFC Certificates Mean?
 

R18 cert

Issued by the BBFC to indicate that a video/DVD maybe legally sold in a licensed sex shop. All R18 videos classified since August 2000 contain hardcore material.

The majority of R18 videos are the same versions as sold in the US or Europe. The only common prohibition not made clear in the guidelines is that the BBFC do not like 'rough sex'. Spitting, hair pulling and partial asphyxiation are all routinely cut.

18 cert

18 rated videos may be sold in any shop in the UK and are softcore. There a few exceptions for 'worthy' films and sex education videos where 18 videos may contain some hardcore scenes.

No Certificate

There are no legal problems in buying uncertificated videos from abroad or from foreign websites as long as they are with in the BBFC R18 guidelines detailed above. Videos featuring pissing or fisting are considered outside of the BBFC R18 guidelines and are liable to confiscation.

One can also purchase uncertificated videos from UK shops, UK websites or via UK mail order companies. The seller is liable to prosecution but the buyer is not breaking any laws.

 

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