Sexualized Saturdays: Non-Con, Dub-Con, or Just Rape in Fanfiction

“I know fanfic authors, well, I know what they like.”

[Irene Adler Pic: Mature Content Ahead]

Trigger Warning: Rape, Incest, Sexually Explicit Material

MadameAce: Rape appears in just about every media, especially in fanfiction. Every once in a while, a fic will come out that not only portrays rape, but does its utmost best to treat the situation with the respect that it deserves. In the end, the story becomes complex and has a lot of development, and it’s easy to tell that the author knew how to treat the situation at hand.

One such fic can be found here. Written by Turkaholic on adultfanfiction.net, Tseng’s Company begins with the Turk Reno being blackmailed and raped by the Shinra company vice-president, Rufus. This story in particular sticks out because it’s one of the few I’ve come across that can give an accurate portrayal of rape. After the assault, Reno has to come to terms with what happened, and even questions whether or not it could be considered rape. After all, men can’t be raped, right? That’s one of his struggles, because there is this societal view that rape is something men cannot experience. Furthermore, the event in question causes some sharp personality changes in him that all the other Turks notice. No longer is he some drunken playboy who doesn’t like doing his paperwork and just wants a good time. Now he’s bitter, self-loathing, and lashing out at everyone.

That said, this story does have its faults—but it’s still rare that a story like it appears at all.

Over all the years I’ve spent on fanfiction.net, I’ve noticed a few different terms given for rape stories, and unfortunately, due to these different terms, there can arise some problematic issues in the real world, especially when people forget or are otherwise unaware that fanfiction normally has very little to do with reality. The terms are:

  • Rape
  • Non-con
  • Dub-con

Now, there’s nothing really wrong with having a rape in a story—see Tseng’s Company—but I did mention that it can become problematic very quickly.

Lady Geek Girl: The biggest debate in fandom is over the three categories listed in the title. Very rarely will someone warn for rape in a fanfic, but it will almost always be labelled non-con. Non-con is a shorten form of “non-consensual sex” (aka rape), but because it gets shorten to non-con, many people new to fandom don’t realize what it means until they accidentally stumble onto a fanfic with that warning.

Another big debate is whether or not dub-con or dubious consent (another category you wouldn’t know if you’re new to fanfiction) should just be considered non-consensual or rape. The reason for this is because dub-con implies that consent is dubious or hazy, and the reader isn’t sure if the victim is really giving consent or not. This is problematic because it can perpetuate rape culture, meaning you would have people that believe there are certain times that consent is hazy and therefore not rape.

Let’s be clear in any real world situation: if there is not informed consent, it is rape. Period. This also leads to the argument that categories like non-con and dub-con should be done away with all together in favor of just calling it rape. However, there is no unifying body controlling the internet and fandom, so it’s unlikely those categories will change.

MadameAce: Furthering the “haziness”, what some non-con stories do is follow a mindset that it is okay to rape someone in special circumstances. This is also a problem, because it’s something people in real life think, and it is applied to people in the real world every day. Some people actually believe that if something good comes out of it, or if the one person really loves the other, that the other person just needs to be shown and taught how to love. I briefly talked about this in my The Morality and Commonplace of Mind Rape post.

One such fic I found, which I won’t link to, takes place between Princess Zelda and Ganondorf. I’ve found a lot between these two, and they all more or less follow the same route in the relationship. So in this fic, Ganondorf kidnaps Princess Zelda, because he wants the satisfaction of dominating her. During the rape, Zelda actually starts to enjoy the experience.

Now, this is not that uncommon. A lot of rapists will knowingly pleasure their victims in order to confuse them and make them less likely to report the rape. Tseng’s Company also calls attention to this to an extent, by having Reno become confused since on some level it felt nice. What’s Tseng’s Company doesn’t do, however, is have Reno turn around and confess his love to Rufus for it. In the Zelda story, though Ganondorf also does not purposefully pleasure Zelda, she thinks his forceful penetration is so wonderful and good that the next day she willingly has sex with him again, and now she wants to take his pleasure into account.

I suppose we could argue that maybe the story is a rape fantasy, but I’ll be perfectly honest when I say that I disagree with this being a fantasy in any way. None of this comes across to me like a fantasy. It comes across as an abduction and one of the worst experiences anyone can have being muddled into something unrealistic. Furthermore, the story isn’t about two characters just having kinky sex and acting out a rape with a safety word already picked. It’s about a sadistic man actually raping another person.

Even throughout the second intercourse, which Zelda willingly participates in, Ganondorf makes it clear that it would happen regardless of her feelings. Following that, she gives him a hand job. Though probably the worst reason—and the main reason that I see all these kinds of stories give—for wanting to stay with the abuser is contained in this line:

“I don’t think anyone else could satisfy me!” she blurted out, lost in the moment.

I find it hard to believe that a rape would be so fantastic to nullify the fact that it is rape, regardless of how pleasant some of this physical sensations may be. Furthermore, this perpetuates a mindset that some people just need to be “fixed”. If a person doesn’t want to have sex, he or she just needs to be set right, and the act will be so wonderful the person will question why he or she didn’t just agree to it in the first place.

Lady Geek Girl: So Ace mentioned rape fantasy, so let’s talk about that a little for people who don’t know about it. First, I should state very clearly that people who have rape fantasies are not people who actually want to be raped. Whether people who act out rape fantasies in the bedroom with their partner or people who write rape fantasy fanfics, I can promise you that if you asked those people if they would enjoy being raped for real they would say “no!” And they would probably be offended you would even ask them such a question.

I read one fic that was an alternate universe where one character was a prostitute and the other paid for his services. What followed was very intense and degrading sex. Where the character not only was forced to perform some violent sex acts, but was also degraded verbally. However, at the end of the fic, the character that paid for sex leaves the motel they rented only to return later with Chinese food and nervously asks the other character if he enjoyed himself. This was probably one of the first times I have actually seen rape fantasy played out in a real way in a fanfic. For people who enjoy rape fantasy there is always, always, ALWAYS consent. This is something that two lovers discuss beforehand to make sure that there is no way either of them can be hurt physically or emotionally by the role play. Furthermore, rape fantasy has little to do with actual rape. The few people I have talked to that do enjoy rape fantasies say that it more so has to do with control. They like losing that control when having intercourse to be forced to feel pleasure and not be able to escape it, so a rape fantasy develops, but as I stated before, both partners discuss things beforehand and it is entirely consensual. Rape fantasies are not like real rape; it is usually less violent, and consent is always given.

This brings me to the category of dub-con or dubious consent. I tend to be of the belief that dub-con reflects rape fantasies in many ways. Dub-con usually follows these guidelines:

Character A likes Character B, but for whatever reason does not want to admit or cannot admit that they like Character B. Character B knows Character A likes them but won’t act on it, so Character B forces them into a sexual situation hoping that Character A will be forced to face their feelings and admit that that they like Character B.

Now let be very very clear: in the real world THIS IS RAPE. It is never okay! In a fanfic, I think it is trying to play into the rape fantasy. Dub-con tends to stress way less that someone is being forced into something since both characters actually like each other and often the character admits to liking the other one not long after a rough romantic kiss. So usually consent is given for the sex anyway, sometimes its given during sex or foreplay, or something. The point is, usually dub-con doesn’t look very much like real world rape. The author makes a point to put you into both character’s heads and show you that they both want this relationship. Unlike the first fic I reference, there is no end scene where you find out it was really a role play, but I think dub-con often comes off as a rape fantasy, because it rarely portrays rape in any sort of real way and there is almost always consent given.

That doesn’t mean it’s not problematic. People who read dub-con may regard it as something more real. I would hate for someone to think forcing themselves on someone they think likes them is okay, or that if they are raped by someone they kind of liked it’s not real rape. So dub-con could potentially negatively influence people and perpetuate rape culture, but I don’t think that is the intent of the authors, nor do I think they would condone the actions happening in their fics in the real world (outside of, obviously, a rape fantasy role play were consent is already given).

MadameAce: The dub-con issue has been the debate of the internet for some time. And while I can personally understand the fantasy part Geek Girl just talked about, it can very easily stop being a “fantasy” and also become a rape in the fic as well. And while I also agree that there may be many people writing dub-con fics as a form of fantasy, there are also probably many other people who write them from the viewpoint that maybe what’s happening might not necessarily be rape, and that’s another way it can perpetuate rape culture.

The biggest difference between dub-con and actual rape is how well someone can separate a story from reality. If written as a fantasy and everyone reading it knows that in the real world it’s rape and takes it as a fantasy, I suppose there’s not a lot of harm being done. Unfortunately, that’s not the world that we live in.

However, some of you may be wondering what the difference between non-consensual sex and rape is. And I can’t tell you, because I honestly didn’t realize that some people consider them two different things until recently.

One person—who I agree with—quoted online:

Seriously, what the fuck is “non-consensual sex?”

There is no such thing. Sex is something that happens when the parties involved are all consenting. Rape isn’t sex, it’s an act of violence, and if there’s no consent it’s rape.

Though this quote was in no way directed at fanfiction, the author makes a point. But people do claim there is a difference. Another person online said that non-con is what happens when two characters are under an influence and have sex with each other, and thus it was non-consensual in that both become rape victims, and therefore the line of guilt is blurred. While this may be that one person’s definition for, I do see a lot of non-con warnings on fics outside that scenario, where the one character—normally male—is completely in charge of his actions while he forces sex onto another character—who, in the world of fanfiction, also has a high probability of being male. Though, I should make it clear, that while we’re talking about rape, or whatever people call it, gender doesn’t matter.

Some sites, like fanlore, give this definition to the difference of rape and non-con:

Some fans who enjoy creating or consuming such fanworks make the distinction between the aesthetic of “non-con,” which eroticizes elements of non-consensual sex such as aggression, helplessness, and power imbalance, and an aesthetic that treats rape more realistically.

If you’re like me, you immediately thought something like this: so, rape isn’t realistic rape?

However, fanlore further says this:

Other fans feel this is a meaningless semantic distinction; non-con is just a dressier word for rape. They may feel that rape should always be treated realistically or that it is an inappropriate subject for fanwork.

Lady Geek Girl: The debate continues to rage and I’m not really sure where I fit in it. I understand the argument for dub-con though I admit it is problematic. Non-con I view strictly as rape and I can’t really see any of the distinctions other fanfic authors explain. However, I think it is important to point out that most, not all, but most fanfic authors are women, and women have dark sexual fantasies just the same as men. If Fifty Shades of Grey taught us anything, it’s that. However, the idea of consent in fanfiction is problematic, because as Ace said, its hard to tell if this is just an erotic fantasy being written or something really problematic that perpetuates rape culture.

Author Maya, from Feministing.com, had this to say in response to Katie Roiphe about Fifty Shades of Grey and rape fantasy:

Roiphe: Rape fantasies! Women still have them and feminists are perplexed and appalled.

Maya: Really, I’m not perplexed by this. And I am in no way appalled. I am fully in support of anyone doing whatever (safe, consensual) thing that want to do to get themselves off. Feminists for Orgasms! And Katie? The reason those psychologists are reluctant to talk about these fantasies as “rape fantasies” is because they know people like you will take their findings and act as though these fantasies mean more than they do. A rape fantasy, by definition, isn’t really about actual rape, because we’re in control of our fantasies. As for women who like being sexually submissive, or are into hard-core S&M, or just like the occasional spanking, that’s cool. Yep, even women who are very powerful and in control in real life–still not surprised. Please put me down as “not appalled” and, for the love of God, stop asking.

Maya also has this to say:

Maybe, as women have more equality in the real world and create partnerships with men who respect them as equals, socially, professionally, and romantically, they are more willing to explore sexual power play of all kinds. Maybe women feel more comfortable acting out some of their more taboo fantasies when they’re with men they trust know (sic) that it’s just play.

Maya is talking about how these fantasies often play out in the bedroom and in writing, but since she is talking about Fifty Shades of Grey which is basically a fanfic, I think we can apply it here. As women become more equal perhaps they just feel more comfortable discussing these taboo sexual things and writing about it in fanfic. It may have less to do with thinking certain types of rape are okay or excusable and more to do with finally feeling comfortable exploring fantasies they couldn’t before.

That doesn’t mean these fanfics still aren’t problematic or couldn’t be taken in the worst ways, but I think it is important to understand that the issue isn’t black and white, but more…well, grey.

5 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: Non-Con, Dub-Con, or Just Rape in Fanfiction

  1. Having read this for the first time since I wrote Tseng’s Company, I wanted to say how flattered I am that you used my fanfiction as an example in the argument over non-con and rape fiction. It’s a debate that has always given me a great deal of food for thought, and writing that section of Tseng’s Company was my late-teenage, confused way of putting a point across about rape fics at large.

    I know it’s… oh, about 2 years since this blog post was written? I normally avoid Googling about my own work, since I’m something of a writing recluse, but finding this stunningly well written entry, detailing exactly the point I was trying to make is wonderful; even nearly 10 years on. Thanks so much for including it.

  2. I know I’m three years late to the debate, but I just wanted to say that although I agree with every aspect of this article, I have once listened to a HP fic which I’d argue you could label as non-con instead of rape. In this fic someone (I don’t remember who) wanted to take revenge on Draco Malfoy and cursed him with the imperius curse and told him to make Harry Potter fall in love with him and make it seem like he enjoys everything they do. So for a year or so, Draco and Harry were in a “relationship” with Harry thinking they were in love and Draco was happy, while Draco was suffering and couldn’t communicate it. When Draco’s attacker died and the curse was broken, Harry was horrified to learn that all this time, Draco had felt violated by him and never wanted to see him again. So, although you could argue that technically Draco’s attacker raped him by cursing him, Harry did not. I’d call that non-con, but there probably aren’t many fics that you can apply that logic to.

    • That was also when I learnt what the warning “non-con” means. So if someone who had experienced rape had listened to it, not knowing what non-con means, that could have been really triggering for them.

  3. Pingback: Sexualized Saturdays: Fanfiction, Porn, and the Bigger Story | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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