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When I was a young fan, I remember reading a bunch of posts that said something like this: “When you write fanfic, warn for rape if you’re treating the subject seriously as something that traumatizes the victim. Warn for noncon if it’s treated as sexy or if the victim starts consenting part of the way through. Warn for dubcon if the characters’ ability to give consent is dubious– for instance, fuck-or-die, sex pollen, one character being another character’s boss, emotional coercion, or sex where one character is extremely drunk. Of course, in the real world, all of those are rape!”

And the thing is… this isn’t really a message I got anywhere else. My parents never talked about sex; my middle school sex education mostly covered all the different kinds of horrifying STIs you could get; my high school sex education was Catholic, and so was mostly themed around how sex outside of marriage inevitably doomed one to unwanted pregnancy, HIV, heartbreak, low self-esteem, inability to bond with one’s future partners, and becoming a metaphorical cup of water everyone has spat in. And, frankly, the less said about mainstream media’s ideas about how consent works the better.

And then there was noncon fanfic. The porn itself was laden with rape myth after rape myth, of course: from “he secretly likes it!” to “erections mean consent!” to “sometimes people just get so horny there’s nothing they can do!” But the discourse around the porn was some of the most anti-rape stuff I’d ever read.

For one thing, it had the category “dubcon.” It didn’t treat emotional coercion and people technically consenting to sex they don’t want as a normal part of how sex should go; it treated it as a separate thing, clearly distinct from ordinary sex. It treated dubcon as disturbing! As something it would be perfectly reasonable to want to avoid reading about! And the message was clear and unanimous that in real life dubcon is rape.

Now, I want to be clear that I’m not applying this analysis to everything. In particular, I’m not sure it applies to porn that doesn’t have a culture around it of obsessively discussing the porn, and non-fanfic porn has this depressing reluctance to tag its dubcon. And it’s perfectly plausible to me that I happened to find a remarkably anti-rape corner of fandom, and many others are far worse.

But… I see a lot of writing about noncon fanfic that says something along the lines of “it’s all very well if adults want to get off on this, but what happens if someone underage and vulnerable finds it? What if shipping Reylo makes them think that that’s how relationships are supposed to work in real life?” Well, I’m only one person, with only one person’s history, but as someone who read a lot of noncon fanfic when I was underage:

What happened is that I learned how consent worked. I learned that if someone makes you have sex you don’t want, it’s rape. I learned that the rape myths used in our stories aren’t true: that a man with an erection can still be raped, that the physical pleasure some people experience during rape doesn’t make it not rape, that being led on is no excuse to rape someone. I learned that sex needs to be between people who want to have sex with each other. And if I hadn’t learned it there, I’m not sure where I would have.

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