I commented on a blog the other day, a post about warnings in fiction, and I wrote: “I think sometimes the big stuff (rape, especially rape for titillation) should be warned. I honestly feel there is NEVER a need to explicitly describe rape in fiction, and especially not in Romance. Rape happens, sure. It is unfortunately a reality of life. Talk about it, let the characters deal with it, that is all great. But to write out detailed rape scenes? I question the author on that, and I feel a warning is the least they can do.”
Then I was on Scribophile, and I read a thread where a writer was asking if he posted a non-con fantasy, would anyone be willing to critique it. Most people said yes, that they enjoy his writing and like him as a person, and would be happy to read his work even if it pushed their boundaries a bit. I read the thread but didn’t reply.
Those two conversations, happening within hours of each other, made me think.
Saying “not consensual” is basically a fancy way of saying rape. I know this, and I think everyone who writes it does as well. But usually, in the context of erotic fantasy, we indulge this trope as harmless; a fictional exploration of a real-life horror. Some people claim they use non-con erotica as a way of working through their own traumatic experiences, of re-claiming ownership of their own sexuality and sexual fantasies. I get that, and I think it is wonderful that erotic fiction can serve that function. Others simply admit to harboring a rape fantasy, in a controlled fictional environment at least. They say they understand the seriousness of rape, but see no harm in enjoying all varieties of sexual fantasy in fiction. Some people (me) see few positives about non-con erotica, but fully support the author’s right to freedom of expression.
I think anyone who has read a fair amount of erotica will understand that almost anything can be sexy, in the hands of the right author. But a non-con sex scene is probably not ever going to be okay with me, personally. Although… thinking back, I have certainly read a few that I thought were hot, when the participants were werewolves. Wolf/shifter stories often play on the edges of rape fantasy, using the “animal instinct” or the “mating urge” combined with pack hierarchy to tip it just onto the acceptable side of erotic fiction. What makes that “better” than a straightforward rape fantasy? Is it? Or is it the same thing with another name?
Someone commented on that scrib thread that they could read a non-con fantasy, if it was made very clear in the narration that the “victim” was actually an enthusiastic participant, and was enjoying being “taken.” The literary equivalent of “I know you want it,” I guess. But maybe that is what makes non-con erotica acceptable: we CAN look into the head of all the participants, we can know what they are thinking and feeling. When we say “I know you want it” we actually do KNOW they want it. Which gives us the illusion of consent.
In other, non-erotica, stories, where the rape is an act of violence and not some sexual fantasy, using too much description in a rape scene feels wrong. But then, I also wouldn’t want to read a detailed murder scene, or a torture scene. To me, that crosses the line. It feels like something included purely for shock value, and honestly I lose respect for an author when I read something like that.
What do you think? Is there a difference between non-con and rape? Is there a place for either in fiction?