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Porn Site xHamster Is Shaming Users For “Rape” Searches

Calling it the “Brock Turner Rule,” the porn site xHamster is telling viewers with rape fantasies that they need help

INTERNET
Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Jun 09, 2016 at 9:37 AM ET

In response to media coverage of the recent, high-profile Stanford University sexual assault case, porn giant xHamster is taking on rape fantasies. When a user searches for the term “rape” on the site, they are greeted with a pop-up window reading, “If you are searching for this category, probably it’s time you consulted with a professional psychologist.” It then links to a free online therapy website.

Tube sites like xHamster often feature videos depicting actors simulating rough, coerced or non-consensual sex. These videos might include the word “rape,” “forced,” “taken,” or “tricked”—but they are not videos of actual sexual assault. Instead, they are videos that cater to the fantasy of rape, with consenting actors performing a scripted scene.

Now, xHamster is scolding those who seek out these so-called “rape” videos. The wildly popular tube site is calling this “the Brock Turner rule,” in reference to the assailant in the Stanford case, who was found assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Turner was convicted of sexual assault earlier this year and sentenced to just six months in jail, which has resulted in widespread outrage and a petition to have the judge in the case removed from the bench.

“We are shocked and appalled by the miscarriage of justice that transpired in the Brock Turner trial,” said xHamster spokesman Alex Hawkins in a press release. “xHamster, while an advocate for free speech, does not condone any type of non consensual sex that further propagates rape culture.”

But some sex experts say this is a well-intentioned misstep. David Ley, a clinical psychologist specializing in sexuality and author of the upcoming book, “Ethical Porn for Dicks: A Man’s Guide to Responsible Viewing Pleasure,” says it’s true that some people who search for “rape” porn are at risk of committing sexual violence. “However it is a gross exaggeration to suggest that all people who have a fantasy regarding rape or forced sexual behavior are at risk or psychologically ill,” he said.

In fact, such interests—which are sometimes more accurately described as “forced seduction” fantasies, as they frequently involve eventual consent or pleasure—are incredibly commonplace, particularly among women. One study famously found that more than half of women have fantasies of being “overpowered” by a man. It’s crucial to understand that these fantasies do not mean that women actually want to be sexually “overpowered,” but merely that they fantasize about it. “Sadly, this effort by xHamster may in some cases backfire and lead to people with this fantasy or interest experiencing greater levels of shame,” Ley said.

Columnist Dan Savage, who has answered people’s questions about sex for 25 years, agrees. “I get letters constantly from women who feel deeply conflicted about having rape fantasies while viewing themselves as feminists, progressive and opponents of rape culture—and to shame people, I don’t see that as helpful,” he said. Some of those women are themselves survivors of sexual assault. As Savage explains, “a lot of people process trauma and fear through their erotic imaginations.”

He compares it to how early gay porn “created erotic archetypes out of gay bashers”—sailors, truckers, and cops, for example. “Those are the people we turned into fetish objects,” he said. “It was a way of processing that fear and that terror. I think it’s analogous that many women process the fear and terror they have to live with day in and day out constantly of sexual violence in a similar fashion.”

“They don’t need to be told that they’re sickos,” he said. “It’s a sick culture, perhaps, that scripted these fantasies for them, it’s growing up in a sick and misogynistic and violent world that carved this groove into them, but then what are you supposed to do with that?”