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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Makes Porn Legal, but Expensive

The State Duma set out to clean up Russia's sex industry Thursday, passing a law that for the first time puts pornography on a legal footing, but also tightly restricts its sale.


Pornography, defined by Russian law as "products of a sexual character that include detailed depiction of the anatomical and/or physiological details of the sexual act," has until now been illegal, although it is sold freely.


The new law, drafted by nationalist film-maker and now chairman of the Duma's Cultural Committee Stanislav Govorukhin, permits the sale and distribution of pornography.


However, only those with a special license will be able to sell pornographic material, and according to the committee's deputy chairman Mikhail Men, that license will not come cheap. The license's cost could force retailers to double or triple their prices, Men said Thursday.


Foreigners, convicts currently in jail, and citizens who have been convicted of sex crimes are not allowed to apply for the license. Furthermore, Govorukhin's law stipulates that pornographic material cannot be sold in apartment buildings or within 500 meters of schools, places of worship and historic monuments.


The Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, passed the law in its first reading Thursday. It must be voted through two further readings before moving on to the upper house and the President.


Businesses offering "services and entertainments of a sexual character" -- in other words, sex shows and erotic massage -- are also given legal status under Govorukhin's law, but will have to conform to the same restrictions as for pornography. Prostitution is unaffected by the law and remains illegal.


The law does not apply to mainstream "erotic" publications such as Playboy and Speed Info, as these are officially registered as "lifestyle" or "erotica" publications.


Moscow's sex shop king, Ethiopian Asrad Legesse, has alleged that the restrictions on the location of sex shops is specifically designed to put his five outlets -- all of them in the basements of residential buildings -- out of business.


However, another sex-shop proprietor welcomed the law Thursday, arguing that it would at last bring the industry out of the shadows. "We are delighted [by the law]. Now we ourselves can sell pornography," said Vladislav Goncharov, co-owner of the Casanova shop on the Old Arbat.


He added that the high cost of the license would only help his business by forcing part-time purveyors of pornographic material out of the market.


The Duma voted the law through with considerable reluctance. Leftwing hardliners, led by Agrarian faction head Mikhail Kharitonov, said pornography should remain outlawed altogether.


"This law tramples on the cultural and ethnic traditions of the Russian people, who never accepted promiscuity," said Kharitonov.


Kharitonov and his ilk are holding on to the mentality of the Soviet Union, in which the very existence of sex was never officially acknowledged, said Men, who is also a theater director.


"That situation suited those deputies who spoke out against the law. If you don't talk about a problem, then it doesn't exist," Men said.