A think tank has called for the government to scrap its "ineffective" and "absurd" extreme pornography laws in a report released today.
The new study from the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) claims the laws can be used to incriminate thousands of innocent people, particularly gay men, and are a "blunt tool" for enforcing presumed moral values that are at odds with the "real sexual desires and practices" of Britons.
Obscenity laws need to be redrafted, starting with extreme pornography legislation, the ASI report argues.
At present, the laws are so sweeping as to allow those who receive unsolicited images on WhatsApp groups to be charged with possession of extreme pornographic images.
Sam Bowman, executive director of the Adam Smith Institute said:
Most people don’t want the government in their bedrooms, but that’s what extreme porn laws do. This report highlights just how bad these laws really are – they turn millions of law-abiding adults into potential criminals simply for enjoying consensual spanking or dressing up in the bedroom.
The evidence is very clear that pornography does not drive violence, and indeed it may reduce it. These are badly drafted laws that should never have made it to the statute books, and this report confirms the urgent need for the government to scrap them.
A survey of 19,000 adults in the UK found that 86 per cent of men and 56 per cent of women admitted to having viewed pornography, while a third of adults said they fantasised about playing a dominant or aggressive role during sex, and a third fantasised about being submissive.
Six per cent of UK adults, or approximately 2.9m men and women, admitted to privately having violent sexual fantasies of some kind, meaning that hundreds of thousands of normal people who pose no specific risk of committing sexual offences could be targeted as criminals under the extreme porn law.
The current law could even be used as a "blackmailer’s charter" in the same way as homosexuality was before it was legalised in 1967, the study claimed.
"Completely consensual acts between sexual minorities are being blamed for all manner of social ills, and the individuals themselves are being punished for wider harms for which they are not plausibly responsible," the institute said in a statement.
Nick Cowen, author of the paper, said: "The extreme porn ban criminalises depictions of sex acts even if they are safely performed by consenting adults. We have seen the law used, in particular, to target and expose gay men.
"Each such case represents a personal tragedy and a disgraceful use of our criminal justice system's scarce resources. The costs of the law are disproportionate to any public benefit, and as implemented cannot plausibly protect women’s interests for which the ban was supposedly introduced."