The legal availability of hardcore pornography in the United Kingdom is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until 2000, the year in which hardcore was effectively legalised, the rather nebulous benchmark for what constituted hardcore was an erect penis and penetration, and any depiction thereof in print or on film was taboo. Possession itself was not an offence, but the means of obtaining it generally was. Hardcore pornography under British law could not be imported, published, sold or distributed.
As they do today, sex shops prior to the legalisation of hardcore required a license. The magazines lining the shelves in some of these establishments may have looked like the real thing, with covers bearing titles recognisable as the European trademark of porn quality (such as Color Climax or Rodox), but in reality it was often a deception. Contrary to the promise, these tended to be substandard reproductions of magazines available in more liberal countries, like Denmark or the Netherlands. Sometimes the covers were the most hardcore element of the whole deal, having been removed from the genuine article and pasted onto softcore magazines of a sort readily available from any high street newsagent. The price would be inflated accordingly.
The videos in licensed sex shops bear the R18 certificate. As with most material released theatrically and on video in the UK, these were films passed by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The sale of R18 was restricted to sex shops only, but their content still adhered to strict guidelines and in reality this was only marginally more explicit than regular 18 rated films, available anywhere.
This was the licensed sex shop. Unlicensed sex shops were an altogether different matter — they operated within a twilight outside the law, beneath the veneer of legitimacy in as much as they didn’t call themselves sex shops.
In order for a shop to avoid being branded a sex shop it had to display a proportionally larger stock of non sex material. The ratio works out at about ten per cent smut to the banks of dusty old novels, racks of hobbyist magazines and boxes of long playing vinyl at the front of the shop.
The porn on sale in unlicensed sex shops was the real deal: uncut, unrated and unlawful. That was their appeal; unlicensed sex shops didn’t conform, and the promise of hardcore and a diversity of it drew the customers.
This is where I come in...
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