Dominance and pleasure

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.


  1. Aapje says

    It’s not surprising that some perpetrators may (prefer to) have the other person feel pleasure, when the reason for the rape is a very strong desire for self-pleasure, which makes the person very unwilling to recognize a lack of consent, but where they still fundamentally frame the event as ‘romantic’ in their own narrative.
    I wonder if your framing of giving pleasure as an act of dominance is not a convoluted attempt to fix a broken model of rape where rape is framed as always being solely about power, so any incongruous behavior then has to be rationalized to be about power as well.

  2. says

    I do not believe in the “rape is about power, not about sex” line. And for reasons that go beyond the scope of this post, I positively oppose it.

  3. sennkestra says

    I have more thoughts later but wanted to note an issue with the definitions given here for fanfic tropes – noncon definitely doesnt always mean “rape when it’s treated as sexy”. Though some people prefer to make finer distinctions in their own works, in actual practice it’s more of a general term/content warning for any content that includes nonsexual content, including rape but also sexual assault and attempted sexual assault, groping, etc. It includes both sexy and non-sexy stories (including a lot where it is depicted as straight up trumatic and not sexy at all), so you usually need to look at additional tags and author know the difference. There are also a few writers who use terms like rape!fic for the sexy variety as well (though it’s less common) so that furthers the overlap.

  4. sennkestra says

    re: “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.”

    I was about to object to it being overlooked, since it tends to be one of the most commonly discussed tropes in the context of women’s erotica/romance novel/slash fandoms, but then I realized I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it discussed much in the perspective of non-female dominated fandoms (like bara or even het porn), so it’s interesting to see a different perspective

    In my impression, discussion in more female-heavy fandoms (even if the characters are male) talk a lot about how rape-fantasy is sometimes not so much about the nonconsent itself, but rather the fantasy of someone who does all the work (both mental and physical) – in counter to the trope of womens pleasure being “not important” or “too difficult” or “too taboo”, now there’s someone who is in fact so good at it and so invested in it that they know what you want before you even know it and all you have to do is react and experience it without worrying about violating taboos! etc. But in these context there isn’t much thought about why the perpetrator would do it, because it’s assumed that it’s just a blatant authorial tool rather than a depiction of any kind of real-life thought process (and hence there also lies the difference between rape-fantasy and rape-reality).

    But I’m not sure that applies as much in less female-influenced fandoms – after all, I wouldn’t expect bara tropes to reflect women’s frustrations, so it’s interesting to see contrasting analysis there.

    I also get the impression that the use of shame as a trope is different in bara – in the BL counterpart, for example, non-con induced shame is often introduced not necessarily as a sexy kink itself but as a source of angst so that another character can step in and heal/comfort them (the real kink) to the point where they had to make up a new genre – hurt/comfort – for this trope. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that particular trope in bara or other male-oriented content, though my exposure is limited.

    (it probably doesn’t help that like 80% of translated bara is all from Gengoroh Tagame, which probably ramps up the prevalence of that trope – other authors don’t seem to have as much of a fixation on that particular shame kink imo)

  5. says

    sennkestra @5,
    Clearly I don’t follow any sort of fanfic discussion.

    As I said in the OP, I wasn’t speculating on why this is a sexual fantasy in the first place. I don’t know why. However, it does seem to me that if we wanted to explain why it was a fantasy, we’d first have to ask: is the reader relating to the dominating character, or the dominated character (or neither, or both)? In het porn we might guess that the reader relates more to the character who shares a gender, but in m/m porn? Readers are probably mixed. I’m not sure I believe the theory about wanting someone to do all the work for you. Maybe for some readers.

    Tagame is definitely not 80% of bara, nor is he strongly representative of the genre.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *