With porn consumption on the rise during lockdown Britain, women are more at risk than ever of deadly male violence. In this guest blog by Natalie Collins, she highlights the links between pornography and abuse in relationships. 

In “normal” times, BBC Scotland’s Disclosures would have made national news with their Sunday evening programme on the prevalence of “rough sex”.  Their research with 2000 men under 40 found that 71% of participants have slapped, choked, gagged or spat on their partner, with 33% admitting that they never ask their partner whether she wants to be violated. 57% of these men said their sexual violence had been influence by porn.  His anonymity assured, “George” admitted to choking and slapping women during sex, saying that violence in pornography “looks class” but that “when you try it in real life you’re disappointed.”

What does this mean during a lockdown? The single largest pornography site in the world, PornHub, is offering free premium membership to those in countries on lockdown.  While UK companies Wetherspoon and Sports Direct were digging in their heels, PornHub is playing the long game; hoping to induce a long-term reliance on pornography, and as porn-induced erectile dysfunction is on the rise amongst young men, this becomes an increasingly rapid downward spiral.

There is also the harrowing exploitation that goes unnoticed by users. It was only in October last year that a mother found her missing teenage daughter via sexual images of her daughter uploaded to PornHub.  There’s no guarantee when taking advantage of PornHub’s “generous” (profit-driven) offer that the images and videos won’t be of a trafficked and raped teenage girl.

But men’s erections are not the main casualty of pornography consumption, the UK’s femicide census reported that at least 11% of men who killed women in 2018 were known to have consumed pornography and/or women exploited in prostitution.  As the campaign group We Can’t Consent to This have made clear, there are deeply concerning links between pornography consumption and men subjecting female partners to serious (and deadly) sexual violence.  In my work responding to men’s domestic violence, many women have shared with me how their partner’s pornography consumption fuelled his violence and abuse.

A couple of weeks ago, Deputy Medical Chief Officer Jenny Harries joked that she was “clearly going to be starting a new career in relationship counselling” when responding to questions about how non-cohabiting couples can survive the lockdown.  But for up to 1.5 million women in the UK (and their children) there is the terrifying prospect of weeks alone with an abusive partner.  Refuge have reported a 120% increase in calls to their domestic abuse helpline, and there’s been a 25% rise in those calling the Respect phoneline for perpetrators.

Women already facing weeks alone with a violent or abusive partner will also have to reckon with the increasing normalisation of sexual violence as men watch violent porn and then demand to enact those scenes on their partner’s body.  She knows if she says no, he’ll hurt the children or smash up the house.  And anyway, maybe he’s right, maybe she’s just being boring and prudish, after all, how bad can it be?  But as she passes out, when he’s choked her for the seventh time in two weeks, her body bearing the marks of his slaps and bites; she knows this time she won’t come back round.

For those tempted to consume more pornography over this period, research suggests that the porn you watch can influence your sexual interests, just like it did for “George”.  And could potentially lead you to seriously harm or even kill your partner.

For women suffering in lockdown; if your partner is pressuring or forcing you into sexual activity; please ask for help.  Being hurt sexually is the least talked about, but most shame inducing part of a relationship with an abuser.  Even if you don’t feel able to talk about what he’s made you do, reach out and ask for help.  You are not alone.  The people who love you and women’s charities are waiting to support you.

Rape Crisis: https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-help/want-to-talk/

Find your local domestic abuse service here: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-abuse-directory/

Respect Perpetrator Phoneline: https://respectphoneline.org.uk

Natalie Collins is a Gender Justice Specialist. She is the author of Out Of Control; couples, conflict and the capacity for change and the Interim CEO of The Women’s Liberation Collective.  She set up Spark and works to enable individuals and organisations to prevent and respond to male violence against women. She is the Creator and Director of the DAY Programme, an innovative youth domestic abuse and exploitation education programme and of the Own My Life course, for women who have been subjected to abuse.  She has written a short Book on Gender Aware Youth Work, and her book was been published by SPCK.  She speaks and writes on understanding and ending gender injustice nationally and internationally.