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Knives, Blood, Blank Stares: The Dark World Of Fake Death Porn

Communities devoted to erotic death fantasies swap porn of make-believe murder and sex with pretend corpses

SEX
Illustration: Tara Jacoby
Oct 21, 2016 at 12:37 PM ET

Anna Tyler, a 22-year-old with blond hair and blunt-cut bangs, is an adult actress with an unusual skill: She has perfected her death stare. Several times now, Tyler has performed in what you might call faux snuff porn. She has writhed as though being strangled, laid naked covered in fake blood, and kept her eyes unblinking while a co-star had sex with her — all for the enjoyment of those with erotic death fantasies.

As dark as these scenes may sound, Tyler says the mood on set is surprisingly lighthearted. “When the camera’s off it’s just really campy. The P.A. will come and wipe blood off my belly and we’ll just be, like, hanging out,” she said. “It’s a much different environment than what you actually see. It’s like, ‘What are we gonna get for lunch?’ in between scenes.” In one scenario, she pretended to be kidnapped and strangled to death. “It was really fun to be able to act that out and get in touch with my inner scream queen,” she said with a laugh.

Tyler’s performances ended up on PKF Studios, one of a couple handfuls of sites that cater to this fetish. Some focus on images of sexily dressed or nude women who have been made to look like they were killed — there are fake bullet holes in buxom breasts, simulated ligature marks around delicate necks, and a whole sub-genre of beautiful women’s faux death stares. Other sites feature hardcore porn — essentially fake snuff films — involving real sex and simulated necrophilia, from a scenario involving a morgue worker who rapes dead bodies to one featuring a man who kills his ex-girlfriend and then molests her body post-mortem.

These websites — which exist separately from the online universe of gore, where people share photos of real crime scenes and the like — typically feature only images of fake death. Sexualized conversation about real murder and real death are strictly banned. But eroticizing even make-believe death deeply violates social norms. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more taboo sexual fantasy. These desires are not only culturally proscribed, but also are seen as potentially dangerous — after all, what if someone acts on them? In this way, these sites raise tough questions about the morality of sexual desire, and the boundaries between fantasy and reality.

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PKF Studios is one of the most challenging of these sites and specializes in hardcore videos featuring sex with limp, seemingly lifeless women. Sometimes, these women are imagined to have been rendered immobile thanks to a special watch with the power to freeze people. Other times they are imagined to be dead — often from murder, which, frequently enough, is depicted. They are shot, hanged, stabbed, strangled, asphyxiated, decapitated — you name it. One video depicts a man pretending to repeatedly stab a sex worker in the chest and then rape her while she dies.

The website Dead Skirts, a message board for those with erotic fantasies about murdering women, is much tamer. It lets users link out to hardcore images, but doesn’t allow them to be embedded on the message board. That’s because Gene J., the website’s proprietor, has a fetish revolving around fantasy death, not around sex with a dead body. Spy scenarios are a favorite of his and he’s role-played these many times — both with girlfriends and sex workers in a BDSM dungeon. The charge for him is in the moment that he pretends to shoot. He will use a toy gun and even make a “ch-ch-ch-chew” shooting sound (he demonstrated his very accurate impression of a silencer).

He describes these scenes in great deal, obviously relishing the details of how a woman might go limp after being shot, the way she will “slide slowly down to the floor.” In fact, it’s hard to keep him on track answering questions instead of diverting into role-play scenarios. He especially has fun with the dialogue: “I might say nice things like, ‘Golly, these spies are getting more gorgeous and more pretty every time they try to break in here. What a waste of such a lovely woman.'” Then he will masturbate and fondle her while she plays dead, but that’s it. “I don’t want to spoil it with any sex or any type of exchange of bodily fluids,” he said.

The first time Gene became aware of his fetish, he was just 12-years-old. He was playing a game of cops and robbers with a female friend. She was pretending to be the robber and he was playing the part of the homeowner lying in bed with a toy gun tucked under the blanket. “I slipped the gun out and shot her, and she fell down onto the floor,” he said. “She had a dress and as she slid down the side of the bed, it came up high enough there that I could see her pretty panties peeking out as she laid down.”

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Occasionally, over the next couple years, he got other girls to act out some version of this game with him. When his friends got too old to play cops and robbers, he turned instead to images of women being gunned down in television and movies. He can still detail, with great enthusiasm, what the female victim in 1967’s “King Kong Escapes” was wearing when she was shot, how her body jerked left and right, the way she died with her eyes slightly open, and those “tiny red dots on her dress up there towards the breast area.”

Now, at the age of 51, Gene is an armed security guard in Los Angeles. He’s also deeply religious, conservative and pro-life.

Gene says he has no interest in actually murdering women. He doesn’t see a connection between his armed security work and his favorite role-play scenarios, even though many of them “have police and security overtones,”  as he puts it. “I really don’t want to have to shoot anyone,” he said. “Wowee, it’d probably be very messy. We’re talking about dying and rigor mortis setting in and just generally feeling bad, even if you are justified in your shooting.”

He sees fake death as the “ultimate form of submission.” Gene compares it to female rape fantasies, which studies have shown to be incredibly common. Women who have these fantasies don’t actually want to be raped — often, they are simply enthralled by the powerlessness, submission, or sense of being desired that a make-believe rape scenario provides. For him, fantasy murder and female death is just one extreme expression of dominance and submission. Some people like ropes and floggers; he prefers fake guns.

This separation between fantasy and reality is something that most of these sites make clear: their interest is in make-believe female death, not actual female death. DDG Bluestone, the owner of Femme Fatalities, a message board very similar to Dead Skirts, says his fetish “has nothing to do with hatred of women or true violence” and emphasizes that only fake violence turns him on. “Real violence is disgusting and vile,” he said.

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Bluestone sees fantasy violence as “a substitute for sexual excitement.” He points to the “phallic symbol” of a knife and says a woman’s reactions to being stabbed are “akin to her reactions to a sexual thrust.” Guns are another phallic object, and bullets are “like ejaculations,” he says. Strangulation, his preferred fantasy, “is well known to be used in consensual sex to heighten the sexual experience for the woman,” he argues. And, of course, there is the French phrase for orgasm: “la petite mort.”

Fred Berlin, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins who specializes in abnormal sexual desires, says it shouldn’t be assumed that faux snuff fans pose a real danger. “Many people enjoy playing war games,” he said. “And yet the overwhelming majority of these people are not going to go out and murder other people.” There isn’t much research on the association between erotic death fantasies and actual murder, but he says, “It’s probably going to turn out to be like the relationship between heroin and marijuana. If you look at heroin addicts, many of them used marijuana, but if you look at people who use marijuana, hardly any of them end up as heroin addicts.”

The way Anna Tyler sees it, “porn can be a safe way to express your strange fantasies and get that out of your system.” She explained, “It’s its own expression within itself, something forbidden and daring — you know, just exploring a dark part of your mind.”

In the decade-plus that Dead Skirts has been around, Gene has only truly worried about one poster who went by the name “bellystabber.” He was going into threads seeking out contact information for fetish models “and he would talk about stabbing them.” Gene heard that another website where bellystabber was posting had contacted the authorities and that he later disappeared from the community.

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It’s not too hard to find posts on other sites that raise alarm — for example a post on Dark Fetish Net that asks whether it’s possible to start a group for “serial killers.” But someone quickly shuts the poster down, responding, “You joined a social network site, which is meant to be for fetish fantasies, with the emphasis clearly on FANTASIES, remember? And we intend to keep it that way.” In the infamous case of the so-called “cannibal cop,” New York City police officer Gilberto Valle was prosecuted and convicted on conspiracy charges after posting cannibalism fantasies to Dark Fetish Net. But his conviction was ultimately overturned and replaced with a lesser charge by a judge who ruled that his postings represented only fantasy.

That prosecution aside, there is nothing illegal about faux snuff, according to Jeffrey Douglas, a lawyer with The Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry’s trade association. That is, as long as the participants are consenting and of age. Theoretically, this material could be exposed to an obscenity prosecution, given that obscenity law is extremely broad and relies on the vague test of whether it meets “community standards,” but such a prosecution is incredibly rare these days. That said, sometimes just the threat of prosecution is what matters. “If you’re a commercial producer you don’t really care what can win in a court battle — economically, you don’t want to be prosecuted,” he said. “So if there is any risk of prosecution and you are primarily motivated commercially… you are going to stay on the right side of whatever line you perceive there to be.”

That partly explains the dearth of this content on mainstream porn sites — even those that seem intent on exploring every sexual taboo imaginable. It’s also, says Douglas, that death porn has “a relatively narrow audience.” But, thanks to the internet, it exists. “You have represented on the internet material that would was inconceivable that you could get producers to create and put in the marketplace a very short time before,” he said. When porn went online, it both broadened and constricted — the audience became vastly bigger and the content narrowed into every niche imaginable. That’s partly because people could start making and sharing their own porn, targeted at their own special interests.

Faux death porn is just one example of how the Web has allowed even the most taboo of turn-ons to suddenly exist concretely beyond our imaginations and individual minds. It’s made our fantasies richer, realer — and more public. That means it’s easier than ever to be squicked out, or even deeply troubled, by the contours of someone else’s fantasy. The flip side, though, is that people who otherwise would have been alone with their taboo fantasies now find themselves in good company. “In my early years, of course, I had guilty feelings,” said Gene. “I wanted to give people an outlet there for someone who had a similar fantasy [to me] and start a community where they don’t feel so alone and devastated and don’t get these ideas that maybe something’s wrong with them.”