Ofcom has found Channel 5 in breach of Broadcasting Code rules on offence and explicit content over the broadcast of three episodes of The Sex Business in December 2018.

The first episode, Pain for Pleasure, carried a warning that it was “not for the faint hearted” and that viewers should be “prepared… for… dangerous consensual sexual violence, ball nailing, fisting”.

It included a long-shot of a dominatrix stapling a client’s genitals and describing it as a “chastity device”, and a mid-shot of a dominatrix anally fisting and penetrating a client with a prosthetic strap-on.

The second episode, Trans On Demand, also carried a warning about its content.

It included a sex worker urinating onto a client, “electrical play”, and the insertion of a metal ball into an anus (although the insertion point was not shown).

The third episode, Orgasms for Sale, also carried a warning about its content.

It included a male sex worker massaging and penetrating a female client with his fingers and a sex worker inserting his fingers into, and penetrating, a woman’s vagina repeatedly.

Ofcom considered that the sexual material in the episodes raised issues under rule 2.3 of the Broadcasting Code, which requires that broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context, as well as under rule 1.19, which requires that they must ensure that material broadcast after the watershed… which contains images and/or language of a strong or explicit sexual nature, but is not ‘adult sex material’, is justified by the context.

In relation to rule 2.3 Ofcom considered that the sexual content featured was particularly extreme, graphic and explicit, and that only some of the images were shot at a distance or from behind so as to limit their graphic and explicit nature.

Ofcom took into account the warnings given at the start of and during the programme, but decided that the potentially offensive content in these programmes exceeded generally accepted standards, in breach of Rule 2.3.

In relation to rule 1.19, Ofcom noted that this does not provide broadcasters with unlimited licence.

Although this was a serious observational documentary and the inclusion of sexual content supported the editorial purpose, the strong sexual content was explicit, and insufficient masking and close-up shots resulted in sexual material that was extreme, graphic, prolonged at times and prominent.

In light of the available audience data, Channel 5 had not ensured appropriate protection was provided to under eighteens and had not reduced the likelihood of children viewing content that was unsuitable for them.

Scheduling this series of programmes at 22:00 did not limit the likelihood of children viewing strong sexual content and Ofcom concluded that this series was also in breach of rule 1.19.

The decision recognises that where sexually explicit material and other material raising harm and offence issues is to be shown on television, context and the protection of Under 18s is key even after the 9pm watershed.