In January the Conservative Party’s latest attempt to legislate the morality of others comes into force. From January possession of ‘rape porn’ will carry the possibility of a three year prison sentence. Let’s be absolutely, abundantly clear here, this is not talking about recordings or images of actual rape, but rather recorded rape/rough sex imagery made by consenting adults for consenting adults.
The basis of this, like the rest of the Conservative plans for anti-porn laws and ‘safeguards’ is sold on the absolutely unproven assumption that consumption of media will somehow turn people into rapists or make them hate women. Needless to say this is not shown to be any more true for pornography than it was for comics, Elvis, Judas Priest records or computer games. Yet the claim persists and somehow people need to buy it, apparently needing something – anything – to blame other than the simple fact that some people are simply nasty, sociopathic or messed up in the head.
Defending people’s right to express themselves in this way, or to consume this material is… shall we say… difficult. As I have discovered to the cost of my mental health in the past. People have a visceral reaction to the word and the deed that renders some of them incapable of telling the difference between reality and fantasy. This is dangerous, because it is via this route that censorship comes in. The misunderstanding of some, the hatred of others and the shame others are made to feel because their tastes and proclivities (estimates have suggested that more than 60% of women have forced-sex fantasies) run against what many people deem acceptable, right or proper.
BDSM, consensual non-consent, rape-play and so on already have somewhat dubious legal status in the UK, it just doesn’t often come up because it takes place in private between consenting adults. Not everyone is part of a ‘scene’ though, not everyone has a partner, not everyone is comfortable enough to practice what turns them on. The internet and ‘extreme’ pornography has allowed many kinky people to discover that they’re not alone, to find others like them and to find satisfaction and acceptance. That is now threatened and, in effect, a whole wing of sexuality is being criminalised.
Imagine depictions of homosexual acts being banned, or the act of buggery being re-criminalised and you may gather some idea of the impact of this.
The law is, also, typically cack-handed. What constitutes pornography is up to the magistrate. Where there’s question, it’s context that counts. If, for example, you had a folder of pornography on your computer and in amongst it was a still image of Monica Bellucci’s rape scene from Irreversible, that might be sufficient to establish a context that could land you three years in jail.
What constitutes ‘extreme porn’ is equally ham-fistedly defined, loosely aligning with ABH (actual bodily harm), which would include anything that caused harm or discomfort to the person on the receiving end. Needless to say, discomfort is pretty integral to sado-masochism and bondage.
This is a hard thing to speak up for, a hard thing to defend and because of that it is an easy target. We should have a right to our own sexual expression and consumption of erotic materials. It’s unclear, as of yet, whether these laws will apply to erotic fiction, but that is really beside the point. We have to speak up and make our voice heard, even against ‘icky speech’ because eventually these restrictions will impede upon other areas of expression.
Please speak up.
On a more personal note, dominance fantasies and desires are something I have struggled with since adolescence, at great detriment to my mental health and my love life. I was, in effect, terrified of my own sexuality suppressing it and living in a comfortable haze of obliviousness rather than having to face it. The internet, BDSM erotica/pornography and BDSM themed fantasy novels helped me discover that I was not alone and that I wasn’t some sort of monster for feeling the way I did – though I think it’s much harder for men to admit this side to themselves than it is for women who are ‘empowered’ to make that choice. This self-discovery, this healthy realisation that one is not alone is put at risk by these changes. Before your knee-jerk reaction that this is ‘disgusting’, please have a good long think about how you would feel if this were bisexuality, homosexuality, transgender or any other marginalised group who, acting within the context of consent, harm nobody.
Just like us.