It will soon be illegal to watch so-called rape porn in the United Kingdom, according to several news reports. Prime Minister David Cameron, who has already launched a massive anti-porn effort, is expected to make possession of such material punishable by up to three years in prison, the argument being that this explicit niche causes real-life harm to women and contributes to a culture of sexual violence.
Here is the thing: We aren’t just talking about images that depict actual rape. We aren’t just talking about videos that depict real-life crimes. The law will reportedly apply equally to videos of actual rape and simulated rape. That is to say: The U.K. will be making it a crime to watch pornographic material in which consenting adult performers enact a fantasy scenario of sexual assault. This could include anything from the lightest of power play and dominance to a staged man-with-a-ski-mask “rape” performed by, again, consenting adults.
In general, the BDSM scene, which deals in power play, is smarter about consent and negotiation than the vanilla world. As feminist writer Zoe Stavri wrote this summer in the Independent, “Within BDSM porn, there is often a short interview between the performers discussing what they would like to do, and what they would not like to do, and how they can signal that they want the scene to stop if need be,” she said. “After the scene has finished, the performers talk about the scene in a debrief.” Consent, communication and boundary-setting! That is the opposite of rape.
What’s more, research shows that rape fantasies are common among women: Roughly four in 10 report having them. One study found that 52 percent of female respondents reported fantasizing about being “overpowered by a man.” This does not mean that four in 10 or 52 percent of women want to be raped; it means that they have enjoyed the thought of being overpowered within the fantasyland of their own brains. That is the contradiction of rape fantasies: They represent a faux-violation, a powerlessness that is paradoxically controlled by the fantasizer.