Sex establishment licensing

Sex establishments are defined in law as sex shops, sex cinemas or sexual entertainment venues. 

Southampton City Council first adopted the licensing provisions (in schedule 3 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982) in 1983, readopted them in 1995 and adopted the provisions for sexual entertainment venues on 11 July 2012 following the amendment of the legislation by the Policing and Crime Act 2009.

Sex shops

Sex shops are any premises, vehicle, vessel or stall used for a business that consists to a significant degree of selling, hiring, exchanging, lending, displaying or demonstrating sex articles. "Sex articles" are further defined by the legislation.

The main purpose of applications for sex shop licences is to permit the sale of videos or DVDs classified as "R18" by the British Board of Film Classification (the BBFC) to be sold. The R18 category is a legally restricted classification primarily for explicit videos of consenting sex between adults. Such video recordings may only be supplied to adults from licensed sex shops.

Sex cinemas

Sex cinemas are any premises, vehicle, vessel or stall used to a significant degree for the exhibition of moving pictures, by whatever means produced, which are concerned primarily with the portrayal of, or primarily deal with or relate to, or are intended to stimulate or encourage sexual activity or acts of force or restraint which are associated with sexual activity or are concerned primarily with the portrayal of, or primarily deal with or relate to, genital organs or urinary or excretory functions. This does not include a dwelling-house to which the public are not admitted. Such premises would show R18 films to persons over the age of 18.

Sexual entertainment venues

Sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) are any premises where "relevant entertainment", such as lap dancing, is provided. There is an exemption for premises providing such entertainment on an infrequent basis only.

An SEV is defined as "any premises at which relevant entertainment is provided before a live audience for the financial gain of the organiser or the entertainer" and "relevant entertainment" is "any live performance or live display of nudity which is of such a nature that, ignoring financial gain, it must reasonably be assumed to be provided for the purpose of sexually stimulating any members of an audience (whether by verbal or other means)". An "audience" can consist of just one person.

The following are not sexual entertainment venues for the purposes of the legislation:

  • sex cinemas and sex shops;
  • premises at which the provision of relevant entertainment has not taken place:
    • on more than eleven occasions in the past 12 months; and
    • on such occasions has not lasted for more than 24 hours; and
    • on such occasions has not begun within the period of one month beginning with the end of any previous occasion

The Home Office has issued guidance on the legislation which is designed to answer most questions about the intent and operation of the legislative framework. Guidance and information on sexual entertainment venues

Applications for licences

Application forms, guidance and an example of the required public notice

Please see Public Access  for the register of licences issued and applications in process.

Public Access


The legislation is complex and has been subject to considerable attention by the courts. Anyone considering applying for a sex establishment licence is strongly advised to take competent specialist legal advice at an early stage to ensure that their application is properly made. 

Licensed premises are inspected on a frequent basis to ensure their compliance with the legislation and the licence conditions. It should be noted that the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981 prohibits the public display of any indecent matter unless access is only on payment or the display is in a shop that can only be accessed by passing beyond a warning notice. No person under the age of 18 may be permitted to enter such licensed premises.

Determination of applications

All applications for sex establishment licences, except uncontested renewals, are required to be considered by the council's Licensing (General) Sub-Committee. All applications are determined on their merits, subject to statutory criteria, but certain additional factors will need to be considered, including the location of the proposed premises and their visual impact. Objections on moral grounds alone are unlikely to result in an application being refused.

Other information

Data Protection

Please note that the licensing authority may be required by law to disclose to the appropriate authorities, from time to time, further information relating to applications and licences for the purposes of law enforcement and the prevention of fraud.