A third of UK women under 40 have experienced unwanted choking, slapping, gagging, and spitting during consensual sex.
“Women don’t die from rough sex. Women die because men are violent to them.” Karen Ingala-Smith, chief executive of the domestic violence charity Nia.
Violence during consensual sex is becoming more and more normalised, with a third of women under 40 experiencing unwanted choking, spitting, slapping, and hair-pulling, according to research for BBC Radio 5 Live. Psychotherapist Steven Pope said: “It’s a silent epidemic. People do it because they think it’s the norm but it can be very harmful”.
The rise in violence during sex can be partially linked to the increasing popularity of internet porn. The culture of male-centric sex is perpetuated by greater accessibility to internet porn sites and a lack of proper sex education for young people. Daily statistics for PornHub include 92m visits a day and 33.5bn visits per year, with the UK providing the second-most daily traffic on the site. The majority of videos found on sites like PornHub are catering to the male audience and setting different expectations of what they’re supposed to do in bed. In turn, women are pressured to accept violence as a natural part of intercourse and do things that would have been considered extreme a couple of years ago.
Porn categories include “rough sex, hardcore, bondage, gangbang, fisting and BDSM” - with bondage increasing in popularity by 14% from 2018 to 2019. This is especially frightening considering that a 2019 survey commissioned for the BBC Three series Porn Laid Bare revealed that 55% of men aged 18 to 25 said porn had been their main source of sex education. This essentially means that over half of young men today grow up with an unrealistic perspective on sex and are desensitised to sexual violence from a young age. These statistics also highlight the failure of the education system to provide satisfactory information on consensual sex as young people rather turn to porn for a template on sex.
However, it’s not just the porn industry who can be blamed for the rise in unwanted violence during sex. Recent elements of pop culture such as the Fifty Shades of Grey book series, meme culture, and even fashion, all play into the normalisation of sexual violence to the point where women are portrayed as frigid or prudish if they don’t enjoy being dominated. Campaigner Fiona McKenzie said in an interview to the BBC that she regularly hears from women who have been “choked, slapped, spat on, verbally abused and punched by men they have otherwise been having consensual sex with,” and that “in many cases, women weren’t initially able to recognise this as the traumatic assault it is.”
Fiona founded the campaign We Can’t Consent To This in response to the increasing number of women and girls being killed and injured in what the accused men claim was consensual sexual violence. The recent murder of backpacker Grace Milane is one of the cases Fiona’s organisation is trying to shine a light on. Her murderer is part of the growing number of men attempting to play the judicial system by claiming a “rough-sex” defence. We Can’t Consent To This found that 59 UK women have been killed by men who claim a sex-game-gone-wrong in the last five years. The defence was successful in nine of the 18 killings of women that reached trial, with the perpetrator being found not guilty or receiving a manslaughter conviction.
Currently, the UK government is implementing a broader sex education curriculum arriving in schools from September 2020 that will potentially improve the current material available to children. The new material will include lessons such as how to recognise ways the internet can encourage unhealthy perspectives on sex. Not only that, but the UK is set to be the first country to require age verification for online pornography. According to the government website, “websites that fail to implement age-verification technology face having payment services withdrawn or being blocked for UK users”. And while these measures are a step in the right direction, there is still much to be done.
In a society where girls are conditioned to be ashamed of their bodies and are taught from a young age not to talk about their sex life, the most important thing is to encourage women and girls to speak out and let their sexual partners know about their preferences. Consent to sex is not an invitation for sexual violence nor should it be taken as a permission to choke or otherwise harm someone. The idea that all women must enjoy being dominated in bed is harmful, misguided, and frankly sexist.