Shaping Our Sexual Scripts

Rough Sex and Pornography

In the past couple of decades, internet pornography has not only gone mainstream – it’s also got a lot more hardcore. Dr Gail Dines of the campaign group Culture Reframed explains: “to differentiate their products in a glutted market, producers have created niche products – like teen sex, torture porn and gonzo [wall-to-wall extreme, hardcore pornography]– in order to entice a generation of desensitized users… images today have become so extreme that what used to be considered hard-core is now mainstream pornography and acts that are now commonplace in much of online pornography were almost nonexistent a decade ago.”1G. Dines. (2010). Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality (2010 North Melbourne, Vic.: Spinifex Press)

“Hypersexualized media and porn work to groom young people into internalizing the belief that ‘rough sex’, is [normal], legitimate, and an accepted form of sexual play. Boys learn this from media, video games, and mainstream hardcore porn, and girls use porn as a guide to what boys and men want.”2Culture Reframed (28.08.2020) Girls Are Posting TikTok Memes of Supposed Sex Injuries

Dr Gail Dines, Culture Reframed

Porn isn’t just fantasy – something we can watch and then forget about. It changes the way we think about men, women and sex. It also changes the way we have sex. It’s no coincidence that many of the popular sexual trends of today are prominent in mainstream pornography – and most involve men’s domination over women and often involve risk for the woman.

A 2021 study on sexual violence in pornography found that one in every eight porn video titles advertised to first-time users in the UK describes sexually violent, coercive or non-consensual content. Dr Fiona Vera Grey, who co-led the study, writes: “Descriptions that mock or belittle acts of sexual violence and endorse the use of physical force and aggression against ‘teenage’ women in particular are commonplace. This is not about a causal connection; it is about acknowledging that pornography has a social function in setting out the boundaries of what counts as acceptable or desirable sexual practice.”3Leverhulme Trust Durham researchers found sexually violent porn promoted to first time users of top sites, cf. F.Vera-Gray, C.McGlynn et al. Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography, British Journal of Criminology.

“Pretending to strangle me or things that I could tell they’d seen in pornography… spanking me and hitting me…”

Female contributor, BBC documentary Brought Up On Porn

Strangulation: Choking or strangling is likely to be one of the first sex acts a child sees when he or she views porn for the first time, which we know is getting younger.4Ibid Today, a quick internet search will tell you everything you need to know about engaging in this ‘exhilarating’ experience. The turn-on lies in its raw show of male dominance, as popular blogger Mike Cernovich explains: “If you are an alpha male, a woman will crave your domination and show of strength. If women do not regularly let you choke them, your game is weak. You are giving off a weak, beta male vibe and are lucky to be getting any sex at all.”5Danger and, M.Cernovich How to choke a Woman

Researcher Dr Elizabeth Taylor explains: “[S]exual negotiation is inherently incompatible with the aura of confident, masculine dominance that is necessary for ‘ravishment’ narratives. Pausing to ask ‘Excuse me dear, but do you mind if I choke you now? Is that alright? Too hard?’presumably defeats the object of the exercise.” The erotic success of strangulation  “depends at least on the illusion of lack of female consent”. 

This is a risky game – and of course, the main risk is carried by the woman. Choking features in 16% of domestic violence cases in which women need hospital treatment. Its use in sex dangerously blurs the line between experimentation and abuse.6Ibid On average, one woman in the UK is strangled to death by her partner every two weeks. ‘It is a frequent feature of non-fatal domestic assault, as well as rape and robbery where women are the victims. It is striking how seldom it is seen in crimes against men.’’Women’s Aid, reporting in The Guardian.7The Guardian, A.Moore and C.Khan (25.07.2019) The fatal, hateful rise of choking during sex

“He could see on my face I didn’t like it, but I brushed it off because I felt naive. My priority was pleasing him. I thought: “Are my tastes too boring? Is this what people do?”8The Daily Mail, T.Carey (04.12.2019)  The terrifying sex trend being FORCED on young women: How the murder of British backpacker Grace Millane exposed a dangerous change in sexual behaviour fuelled by online porn

Anal sex: The popularity of heterosexual anal sex has soared in recent years. Today, 40% of 20-24 year olds have tried anal sex, up from 16% in 1992. Despite this, anal sex remains extremely risky for women, leading to physical consequences such as anal tears and prolapses, and to STDs such as HPV (linked ot anal cancer), HIV, gonorrhea, herpes and hepatitis.

A 2014 UK study of anal heterosex among 16–18-year-olds noted that the 130 teenagers interviewed frequently cited porn as the motivation for anal sex. They considered it normal to have to keep badgering women for anal sex, and would refer to “slips”, when women were “accidentally” penetrated “to gloss over the possibility that penetration was deliberate and non-consensual.”9BMJ, Journal of Sexual Health Blog (21.08.2014) Young People And Their Experiences of Anal Sex

“Perhaps what’s most worrying is the evidence that some men felt that they had a right to coerce partners into trying anal intercourse, despite holding the belief that female partners would find anal sex painful.” 10Ibid

‘Rough sex’: In June 2020, changes in the UK law meant that men could no longer use the ‘rough sex’ defence. In the past decade, there had been a 90% increase in a certain type of justification used in court cases relating to the deaths of 57+ British women: “Sex games gone wrong.”11The Guardian, A.Moore and C.Khan (25.07.2019) The fatal, hateful rise of choking during sex Thankfully, in July 2020, the law abolished the provision against the rough sex defence, which normally rests on the notion that women consented to engage in high-risk, ‘kinky’ sexual activity such as fisting, strangulation and even rape simulation.

Online pornography, in other words, has played a big part in normalising these things. Louise Perry from the campaign group We Can’t Consent To This explains how it drives cultural trends: “We can’t really ignore the porn factor. It’s there at a click of a button and can be accessed at such a young age. And the algorithms push you into a rabbit hole of more and more extreme stuff.”12The Independent (07.07.2020), S.Gallagher Rough sex defence: What will a change in the law mean?

A 2019 BBC study found more than a third of UK women under the age of 40 have experienced unwanted slapping, choking or gagging during consensual sex, with 20% saying they had been left upset or frightened.13BBC, A.Harte (28.11.2019) ‘A man tried to choke me during sex without warning’

“He hits me again… this is getting harder to take. My face hurts, it’s screwed up so tight. He strokes me gently and then the blow comes. I cry out again. ‘No one to hear you, baby, just me.’ And he hits me again and again. From somewhere deep inside, I want to beg him to stop. But I don’t. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction.”

50 Shades of Grey

The sexualisation of violence in pornography makes it not only invisible but also normal. It’s become so ubiquitous in today’s society that we often fail to notice its influence. The fantasy of porn works like a distorting mirror that reflects who we are, but that also shapes who we are becoming. Porn is changing us, and it’s changing our world. It has crept into our homes, our minds and our culture, and it is acting like an invisible toxin, subtly shifting our norms, ideals and behaviours in a way that puts women and girls at greater risk of sexual violence. 

“It makes no sense for our society to accept the messages of porn, while at the same time calling for full gender equality and an end of sexual assault. A large portion of the porn consumed by millions of people every day is reinforcing the message that humiliation and violence are normal parts of what sex is supposed to be.”14Fight the New Drug (23.08.2017)How Consuming Porn Can Lead to Violence 

Fight the New Drug, Campaign group