Content note: This post discusses rape
There have been a fair few debates about rape porn since campaigners have called for it to be banned. It is a thorny topic, and one where, unfortunately, a lot of people are saying some dodgy shit.
One of the biggest problems with this conversation is everyone seems to be talking at cross-purposes about what rape porn actually is. As far as I can unpick from the original statements, the campaigners have been talking about porn with simulated rape scenes, rather than filmed images of rape and abuse. The latter is already highly illegal, and I cannot in good conscience refer to what that is as “rape porn”, much as I wouldn’t refer to images and video of child abuse as “child porn”. To do otherwise completely elides the nature of what it really is: a cinematic trophy of a violation. There is nothing defensible about such double vi0lations: the rape, and then the publicising it.
Rape porn, the simulated stuff, is distinct from this, as it can be consensual. I am not saying it always is, as goodness knows there can be a terrible attitude towards workers’ rights in the porn industry which is something that needs tackling (and cannot be tackled with stigma towards the work that they do. When it is not consensual, it falls under the category above). However, it can be consensual. In private life, people explore rape fantasies fully consensually. In porn, this fantasy is also explored, and porn performers are perfectly capable of consenting to the work they do, about as much as anyone is capable of consenting to anything under capitalist patriarchy.
But what of the audience? As Emily Rose points out, it’s not just rapists who get off on rape porn. And does rape porn really contribute to a culture of normalising rape more than anything else? I am not so sure: part of the way rape porn is packaged is often with the hook that this is wrong, and this is taboo, and that is what is supposed to make it sexy. And yes, of course, our culture is steeped in rape, a background drone of violence and a dismissal that any of it is a problem. I am not sure why the focus of this campaign is on porn with simulated rape: why single this out when one cannot turn on the TV without seeing rape everywhere, when one cannot load up the internet without seeing jokes about rape, when one cannot walk through Bloomsbury without seeing posters advertising a conference organised by rape apologists? I do not see why there is more of an objection to people getting off on fantasies about rape rather than laughing about it, rather than trivialising it, rather than dismissing it as an entirely normal part of sex. Sexual violence is fundamentally about an expression of power rather than the sex itself.
I am not suggesting we should ban all of these things along with rape porn. Sadly, things will never be as easy as a simple demand to ban this or that. It changes nothing, it just pushes it out of sight. Furthermore, bans on specific types of porn do little to actually stop it from happening. The first porn I ever saw, when I was wee and the internet was a newfangled thing to have in one’s house, was of a man having sex with a cow. This is illegal in the UK, but it was quite literally the first thing I stumbled upon when I went looking for porn. The way that the bans are deployed to often as a weapon against people society doesn’t much like anyway. The queers and the kinksters and the porn performers themselves. For a fine example of this, look no further than the recent fisting trials. So I am highly dubious that a ban would do anything to solve the problem of cultural acceptance as rape, and, if anything, may exacerbate problems for those who society would rather look the other way from anyway.
So what might work instead? My ultimate solution is the same as ever, and the one which is unpopular among liberals: we need that fucking revolution. Capitalism, rape culture, patriarchy, they all need to go. I understand that this might take a while, so I also have a transitional demand.
When people play with power dynamics, negotiation is utterly crucial. A conversation beforehand about what everyone involved wants, what their boundaries are, a safeword when “no” and “stop” are to be ignored. These are measures which are vital for safety of everyone playing, but they are also pivotal in helping everyone involved enjoy the scene as such negotiation ensures that people are getting what they want. Often, BDSM porn features an interview with the participants before and after, talking about what they want and what they enjoyed about the scene. Sometimes, the process of negotiation is shown.
Showing this process of negotiation would go far to mitigate some of the problems within porn. And not just in the edgy BDSM porn, but to extend this practice to vanilla porn. To normalise the process of negotiation and enthusiastic consent by embedding it in the porn we watch. For the stuff wherein non-consent is the fantasy, this can go at the beginning. And in vanilla porn, wouldn’t it be nice to see the ongoing process of enthusiastic consent through communication during sex? The performers could decide what they would and would not like to do, and we would all be party to this dialogue and begin to use it ourselves.
And then we smash everything, because that revolution still needs to happen.