cn: Porn, rape, and exploring the mindsets of perpetrators.
So, I’m not especially interested in talking about my porn consumption habits, but let’s just say that one of my interests is comic porn. This includes bara (link is to tvtropes), which is a homoerotic genre of manga from Japan. My observations can be taken to apply to this area, and I don’t presume to know whether it also applies to other kinds of porn.
One thing I don’t particularly like about comic porn, is that comic porn is often very violent. Most of the stories are basically rape narratives.
There are, of course, different levels of rape narratives. To borrow language used in fanfic, “rape” is when it’s treated as traumatic within the story. “Noncon” is when it’s treated as sexy within the story. And “dubcon” is when characters consent, but are obviously not in a position to give proper consent (e.g. coercion, drugs, magical manipulation). Really, all of these are stories about rape, but some stories use suspension of disbelief to ignore that it’s rape.
As part of that suspension of disbelief, these stories tend to be full of rape myths. For example, a guy might protest, but if he has an erection, that must mean he likes it, which must mean it’s all justified. And honestly, this stuff worries me. I suspect most artists are aware that these are rape myths, but I worry about younger consumers. They would surely recognize it as fiction, but some of the myths could slip through the cracks.
At the same time, I do find it personally helpful, to see all these rape myths so plainly illustrated. When read critically, I feel like it gives more insight into rape culture. For example, one reason I think it’s so important to say that erection does not equal consent is that this is a ubiquitous trope in porn.
But the whole reason I brought this up is to talk about a different trope in porn, one that I think often gets overlooked. That is, the connection between dominance and pleasure. Now, you might think that I’m talking about the narrative in which a person uses dominance over another person to get pleasure. But I’m talking about a rather different narrative, one where forcing someone to feel pleasure is an act of dominance over that person.
This is counterintuitive because we normally think of pleasure as a desirable goal, but here we are talking about characters who don’t want to feel pleasure, but are made to feel pleasure by an act of dominance. When they do feel pleasure, this may cause a great deal of shame. Sometimes causing shame is explicitly the goal of the dominating character. The experience may also rock their entire world, e.g. by causing a “mindbreak” or triggering a realization that they’re not straight after all.
I’m not going to criticize or comment on the… logic of this as a sexual fantasy. What I’m interested in is the grain of truth behind the narrative. Specifically, the way that perpetrators of sexual violence sometimes want their victims to feel pleasure against their will. And the way that victims sometimes feel shame about having felt any pleasure.
Why would a perpetrator want to make their victim feel pleasure? It’s difficult to make guesses from fictional narratives, but maybe it’s a way of getting reciprocation from a person who doesn’t want to reciprocate. When they force a victim to feel pleasure, they imagine that the victim is therefore “into it”. A perpetrator might believe they are doing the right thing, possibly even “helping” their victim, and when their victim feels pleasure that feels like a vindication.
As for the victims… I’ve heard a lot of personal stories from survivors of sexual violence, and a few of those have included admissions that they felt pleasure while they were violated. I get the sense that it’s a somewhat more common experience than people let on, because people who do have that experience find it deeply embarrassing, and easy to omit. And when people do admit to having felt pleasure, you can count on rape apologists to jump on that as a reason for why it couldn’t have been rape. (And how do you know what rape looks like if you only believe the accounts that fit your preconceptions?)
I also find connections to other cultural narratives. One of the most violent threats to LGBT people is “corrective rape”, i.e. forcing a person to have sex in order to “correct” them to be cisgender or heterosexual. The idea is that forcing a person to experience pleasure is thought to be a way of gaining power over them, and proving them wrong. There are also the many narratives surrounding fake orgasms, which um… gay men don’t really talk about fake orgasms so maybe someone else could finish that thought.
The main takeaway is that feeling sexual pleasure and feeling sexually violated are not mutually exclusive. I believe survivors who say that they felt pleasure when they were violated, and I don’t believe perpetrators who use the pleasure felt by their victims as an excuse.