Life

Everything You Need To Know About The UK Porn Block

Guille Faingold/Stocksy
Updated: 

There are no to ways around it: the pandemic has changed everything. Though necessary for public health, lockdowns and safety restrictions have not been conducive to busy sex lives; the massive increases in sex toy sales notwithstanding. If you’re single or don’t share a household or support bubble with a sexual partner, then getting intimate with someone IRL has been a serious negotiation. Despite the challenges, people aren’t giving up on orgasming altogether. Research has found that “is it legal to watch porn?" is one of the most commonly searched questions in the UK.

Sexual pleasure can be a great stress release and if you like to watch porn when you’re getting intimate with yourself or a partner, then you’re not alone. According to The Recovery Village, 25% of search engine requests are related to adult or porn searches. In 2020, Pornhub ranked as the seventh most visited website on the internet, and sex toy boutique Self & More reported 783% increase in sales in the first COVID-19 lockdown.

Watching porn is pretty private, but is it legal? It may seem like a silly question but over the last decade adult content has been top of the agenda for the government as policies to restrict access to porn have come into place.

Is it legal to watch porn?

The short answer is yes, watching porn is legal in the UK. However, there are, of course, conditions that must be observed. Content that portrays abuse or rape, as well as any content that involves anyone under the age of 18, is illegal. Content that is filmed or posted without the consent of the person or people involved (commonly known as Revenge Porn) and is also illegal. There are other laws against extreme pornography, which covers beastiality, necrophilia, threats to peoples lives, and more.

BONNINSTUDIO/Stocksy

What was the porn block?

It may seem a little nonsensical to search "is it legal to watch porn” as it’s so easily available online in the UK. However, in the past five years, the UK government has made moves to introduce policies that would change how people are able to access adult content online with something that has since been dubbed the “porn block.”

Plans for the porn block date all the way back to the 2015 election when David Cameron pledged to change the way that adult content can be viewed online. First introduced in parliament in April 2017 as part of section 14(1) of the Digital Economy Act, the porn block wouldn’t have made adult content illegal, but it would have introduced more rigorous measures to ensure people under the age of 18 were not able to access it.

According to the BBC, it was suggested that users could have been asked to upload scans of their passports or driver's license. It has also been reported that some newsagents may have sold "porn passes" — cards given to people to access porn sites after they have proven they’re over 18.

Under the proposed new rulings, if adult content sites that ran as a business and made money didn’t introduce “robust” age-verification procedures then they would have been blocked by internet service providers and fined up to £250,000, the BBC reports.

Speaking about the policy, Chief Excutive of Childnet Will Gardner said in a statement he hoped “that the introduction of this age-verification will help in protecting children, making it harder for young people to accidentally come across online pornography, as well as bringing in the same protections that we use offline to protect children from age-restricted goods or services.”

Bankrx/Shutterstock

Why didn’t the porn block come into effect?

The proposed porn block came up against a number of legal and logistical difficulties. Almost immediately, a number of campaign groups expressed fears about privacy. Opponents were concerned about where people’s personal data would be stored and how it would be protected. Jim Killock, of the Open Rights Group told The Independent, “due to the sensitive nature of age verification data, there needs to be a higher standard of protection than the baseline which is offered by data protection legislation.” On top of that, activists argued that blanket age verification will have a disproportionally negative impact on online sex workers and sex bloggers.

In Oct. 2019, the government announced it was dropping the porn block. According to the Guardian, the government spent £2.2 million on developing and researching the policy before calling it a day.

Upon dropping the porn block, the Culture Secretary at the time, Nicky Morgan said on the Guardian, “the government’s commitment to protecting children online is unwavering. Adult content is too easily accessed online and more needs to be done to protect children from harm.”

This didn’t mean that the government completely let their focus on explicit content online go. In Dec. 2020 Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden and Home Secretary Priti Patel outlined new rules for tech and social media companies.

The Online Harms White Paper proposes a legal duty of care that platforms have for young people. They said that tech firms, including the likes of Twitter and Instagram, needed to do more to protect children against harmful content “such as grooming, bullying and pornography.” This new legislation meant platforms could face fines or legal sanctions if they didn’t take their duty of care seriously.

This article was originally published on