Dub-con

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: Dubcon (no hyphen)
Related: Non-con, Sex pollen, Aliens Made Them Do It, Incest, Fuck-or-Die, Mind control
See Also:
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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Contents

"Dub-con" refers to sex involving dubious consent in fanworks. This indicates that consent is unknown or uncertain, and this is distinguished from consent being definitely absent, as in non-con or rapefic.

Often, a character involved is uncertain about whether he or she wants to participate. Unlike the real world, where "lack of yes means no" is a more-than-reasonable statement, in fiction, the author can show the character's internal thoughts, and a tangle of yes-no-maybe-Idon'tknow feelings.

Dub-con can also be used for stories from one character's point of view, in which he or she does not know for certain whether the other character is consenting. This is common in Sex pollen and similar stories, where some kind of external mechanism is requiring or forcing the characters to have sex. Dub-con can be used to explore the differences between physical pleasure and emotional enjoyment without the trauma involved in violent forced sex.

Dub-con is also used to indicate a relationship (or incident) that precludes the ability to give meaningful consent, such as student/teacher, prisoner/guard, patient/doctor, or child/adult. In these situations, the character with less authority, even if an intelligent adult, is presumed incapable of giving informed consent to a sexual relationship, because the power imbalance is too prone to abuse.

The phrase is unusually not used outside a fandom context and may be more commonly used in the US media fandom tradition. A unscientific review of porn sites reveals that "rape" or noncon is the tag most typically used.[1]

Not all uses of dubcon include sex - for example on AO3 some fics have been bookmarked under the tag dubcon cuddling, which is often described as one partner cuddling a reluctant other partner.[2]

History

(need links to fandoms where it's common, etc.)

The earliest use of dub-con as a distinct tag is hard to pin down. In a search of public Google entries, the term was used in 2003 by both Harry Potter fans in Keeping Him Safe[3] dated November 9, 2003 and in The Cat and the Ferret dated October 10, 2003[4] and The Phantom Menace story Be Careful What You Dream Of dated July 11, 2003.[5]

In April 2004, again in Harry Potter fandom, the phrase "dubious consent" was used in switchknife's stories.[6] In November 2004, a Harry Potter Livejournal used both "ambiguous consent" and "dubious consent" to describe stories in Scouting for Ron: 6 New Fics; x-posted to fic_fairy.[7] Other fandoms also used the phrase "dubious consent" such as The Lord of the Rings story Warmth dated April 2004.[8] By December 2004, a fan discussing the TV show Sentinel on the Prospect-L mailing list used the phrase "dubious consent" when describing Blair's decision to give up his academic career and become a police officer.[9]

By 2005, many fans had shortened the phrase to its current form "dub-con" as in "In the realm plausible of Snarry, non-con and dub-con are my friends."[10] In the 2005 pornish pixies Fantasy Fest, one fan reported there were 46 requests for "dub-con/coersion (sic)".[11]

By 2006, the term had been defined on Urban Dictionary as: "Used in fanfiction to describe sexual situations of "dubious consent", where it's not exactly noncon (nonconsentual, e.g. rape), nor is it consentual."[12]

Complicating dating is that many authors back-date their warnings, so a master list of fan fiction dated 2003 which lists a dubcon tag, may be referring to story written in 2010. See a post for J-Rock fan fic that listed "Hakuei (Penicillin) x Byou (SCREW), various others implied // [NC-17] Alice in Wonderland AU, not-quite-dubcon, (s)light humiliation" with a date of October 28, 2003.[13] Since most early fandom mailing lists and forums were subscription only, the term may certainly have been in use much earlier than 2003.

Controversy

Some fans feel that dub-con, like non-con, is a meaningless term, and should be labeled rapefic. They believe all sex without conscious consent is rape, and "non-con" and "dub-con" are just euphemisms attempting to gain public acceptance for a sharply stigmatized kink. Some claim that dub-con and non-con are harmful genres, in that they promote the idea that sex doesn't need to be consensual.

The debate over the dub-con tag and its use began to crystallize in 2008. For example one fan writer argued that what actually qualifies as "dub-con" is actually much smaller than how fandom often uses it. Also, fandom's familiarity with the characters sometimes allows writers from showing the readers the necessary explicit consent "....because we already "know" that the character involved is someone who wouldn't rape." [14]

Others argued that dubcon is rape by any other name:
"What bothers me the most about this situation, and what I think you are partly getting at here, is when people say that their fic isn't "noncon" or they say it is "dubcon" or "noncon depending on your point of view." Come on! Have the guts to admit that what they're writing is rape.

Dubious consent bothers me as a qualifier because if you aren't sure whether someone is consenting, you don't do it or it's rape. No excuses. So, I think that people should just bite the bullet and say, this is a rape fic....

If people want to write rape fic, go for it, and I will probably read it, but let's step up and acknowledge what it is we are writing. I take issue with these qualifiers because I think that it is far more insidious than out and out rape porn. At least when we say it is rape, then we can move on to the next step: saying it's wrong, just a fantasy, etc. But avoiding the label perpetuates the rape myths that have had such a damaging effect on victims and justice: did she enjoy it, she didn't really say no, she was a tease, they've done it before. None of those things matter, and when a person labels their fic, they need to stop pretending they do."[15]

Yet others seemed to be calling for fandom to realize that their "dub-con" story is most likely going to seen as a rape story by readers, no matter how they position it:

"'I'm not asking for anyone to stop writing rape-recovery fic. Or sex pollen stories. Or pon farr stories. Or...anything. Because I love rape-recovery fic. I love sex pollen stories (particularly bad!fic sex pollen stories). The first slash story I ever wrote was in answer to a pon farr challenge (the aforementioned LotR fic Secrets and Pleasure *). I'm not saying that writing non-con is dirty!bad!wrong in a not!good! way. I've written it. I read it. I collect it, in many flavors, as evidenced by the many folders of various fanfic saved on my laptop.

I'm not even asking for more realistic portrayal of rape, or recovery, or effects. Realism has its place, but fandom is, above all, about having fun, and spreading the squee, and the love of whatever fandom we're into.

What I'm asking for is this:

First, that authors be a little more aware of what is and is not consent within our social norms (legally and socially). Second, be aware of the social framework within which a given work is set, and the shift in perspective on what is and is not consent that may occur. But most importantly, to be aware that boundaries exist, and that if your story is going to poke holes in or disregard those boundaries, you'll have to be able to redefine them to support the situation you're trying to present."[16]
And, even in 2008, writers struggled with how to label a story that, when taken out of context, could be erroneously labeled as non-con when it was, in boththe writer's as well as the character's minds, dub-con:
"....Which is why I come to another dilemma with my un_love_you stories. The term "dubious consent" automatically has a negative connotation attached to it; the story I warned for is dub-con because of the initial scene - she wakes up with his hand inside her panties. However, the entire series centers around the push-pull of the characters' relationship, and this particular story takes place after they have stopped fighting each other (and using sex as a weapon in that fight). It's actually the most forgiving of the stories, even though it contains the most dubious scenario consent-wise. So I guess the question then becomes how do we warn (or do we warn at all) for a potentially dub-con scenario when we, the authors, know that it's not dubious because of the background story?"[17]

Many of these early discussions focused on non-con and dub-con equally as both readers and writers navigated their way through the unfamiliar trope terrain.

More recently, in June 2013 thingswithwings, the moderator of kink bingo, a kink meme hosted on Livejournal and Dreamwidth argued that fandom was 'misusing' the dubcon tag and that was (a) harmful to readers who were trying to avoid being triggered by depictions of sexual violence and (b) was harmful to society as a whole.

"...However, not everyone in fandom uses those terms in those ways. And I think that's a problem that we need to fix. Because, especially when situations that exist in real life and that would be called rape in real life are labeled "dubcon," I think it does real harm to us all.....We currently live in a culture where not fighting back - because, for example, the rapist has threatened to kill you, or someone else, or your pet, if you don't go along with it - will very often get a rape case overturned in court. Where judges and juries and god knows the popular media will pick out and analyze every detail of a person's life to determine whether they were asking for it, whether they secretly wanted it, whether they could have conceivably fought back more than they did, why they didn't scream, why they didn't report the blackmail that was used to control them, whether or not their "consent" might've been implicitly given by winks or nods or secret handshakes or a general miasma of sexual invitation. In other words, we live in a world in which rape culture, a thing we all unwittingly participate in at one time or another, works very very hard to label things dubcon when they're really noncon."[18]

The discussion spilled over to many other journals, including a thread at fail-fandomanon. Below are a few randomly selected comments from those discussions to illustrate the diversity and complexity of the debate.

"Well, noncon used to be what dubcon is today (a term for "issues of consent" fic that is not rapefic), so I'm not really surprised that dubcon has started to shift too."[19]
"I think that this construction loses a lot of my understanding of dubcon, though. Like, I think of dubcon as used for those situations where, IRL, where it is impossible for us to know what people are thinking except by what they tell us, it is rape, but because this is fiction and I actually do know what is going on in the protagonists' heads, I can know this sex was actually desired. I would also use dubcon for those instances where someone is unable to give meaningful consent because of their status, like slavery or age, or because they're in an altered but coherent state. And I realize that, yes, in real life, those should all be treated the same, but, in fiction, in a situation where we as a community are making finer grained distinctions, the part that is important to me is the feeling of the person whose consent is being interrogated by the story."[20]
"So, basically, never use "dubcon," except for situations that are ambiguous to the writer, or in situations that could be ambiguous to the reader, or in totally unrealistic fantasy situations, or in realistic ambiguous situations. And... in my experience, that's 95% of fics tagged "dubcon.".... My main issue with erasing "dubcon" as a tag and saying it's only useful in a few rare edge cases is that you've basically just collapsed two completely different fictional genres, "the pornographic, romantic fantasy where the point is that everything turns out all right between the OTP," and "the brutal violation where the point of the story is (usually) H/C and recovery." Right now the dubcon/noncon labels are what distinguish these two literary genres. I don't read "dubcon" and "noncon" to mean their actual, literal meanings any more than the "First Time" tag is supposed to apply to stories where someone milks a cow or sings karaoke for the very first time."[21]
"I read, write, and enjoy dubcon, noncon, and stories about rape. I am not ashamed about this. I have never felt shame about tagging or warning appropriately; I'm very grateful that fandom provides a good structure for giving detailed tags and warnings, to give the authors the ability to be precise, and the readers the ability to choose fic that they want to read from a range of works, some of which might be powerfully triggering.

I greatly resent the idea that these very useful distinctions should be collapsed, and that what I create and enjoy should all be lumped together as noncon or rape, whether or not I feel that label is fitting. There's a strong, visceral, kneejerk reaction of "oh, hell, no" I have to that.

I think your issue is with people who mistag, and people who do not use the same definition of "consent" that you do (there is some overlap between these two). Unfortunately, you are taking that frustration out on people who create and enjoy dubcon fanworks. This post comes across very strongly as a condemnation of dubcon, whether or not you intended that, and all the comments expressing strong agreement reinforce this. The example you gave is not what the majority of people consider dubcon, and it seems disingenuous to use *that* to then proclaim that the problem lies with the dubcon genre."[22]
"I often see the label "dubcon" on stories where the sex is actually rape, but written in a kind of fantasy way--where the person who is raped "secretly wanted it" or ended up enjoying it--rather than in a way that's realistic about someone's reactions to being sexually assaulted. "Noncon" seems to be more often found on stories where the rape is presented as a violation and a trauma. So although I agree that that use of "dubcon" should be avoided for all the reasons you name, I think (some) people who use the "dubcon" label are trying to draw a distinction that is also useful, although not politically important in the same way as the proper distinction between dubious consent and lack of consent. As a reader, I avoid fics with realistic depictions of rape, because they often trigger me. But I am very seldom triggered by the fantasy scenarios I've seen mislabelled as dubcon, and sometimes they're a kink for me. So that's a distinction I'd like to preserve, but in a different wording that keeps the consent issue clear."[23]
"But the thing is that your proposed solution (have people relabel coercion stories as "noncon" rather than "dubcon") then generates this exact same problem for the people who want to read the coercive stories but not actual noncon (in the "forcible rape" sense).

Like, broadly speaking, there seem to be three types of stories:

- stories where the characters' ability to consent is impaired and/or the power balance isn't totally equal, but they both enjoy the sex and are not traumatized by it (currently labeled "dubcon")

- stories where the characters' ability to consent is impaired and/or the power balance isn't totally equal, and the sex is upsetting and some degree of traumatic, but they don't recognize it as being non-consensual (currently labeled "dubcon")

- stories with forcible rape where one of the characters is clearly not giving their consent and the other character knows it but they rape them anyway (currently labeled "noncon")

Your problem as far as I can tell is that you like the first type but are upset by the second, so would like it to be relabeled "noncon" so that it can be grouped with that genre of stories that you're already not interested in reading about. But the problem for some of us is that we like the second type but are upset by the third, so having it be labeled "noncon" rather than "dubcon" and having them all get grouped together makes it harder for us to find the stories we want, in the exact way that it's hard for you to find the stories you want now.

To me, it seems like we should maybe be splitting the currently-labeled-as-"dubcon" stories into two different types of fic, rather than trying to lump one of them in with noncon."[24]
"Impaired consent" [equals] consent is dubious because of sex pollen, aphrodisiacs, etc

"Uninformed consent" [equals] consent is dubious because one or both characters are not cognizant of certain circumstances

"Coerced consent" [equals] consent is given but due to grooming/stockholming/etc

I'd still like to go with the line between dubcon and noncon being whether the characters feel they consented to sex vs. didn't though. Maybe additional tagging can reflect whether it's going to a happy, "we had sex under dubious circumstances and now we can admit our love" place or a trauma recovery place."[25]
"this isn't as academic as you guys think it is, and saying "for us it's kink, for you guys it's faux-feminism" is a disingenuous misrepresentation of the situation. It might be an unintentional disingenuous misrepresentation - I do believe you and others who support your view truly believe that the motivation is kink shaming or misunderstanding of fandom - but maybe, just maybe, it's time to pause and realise that no, it isn't, and that there are people who want to read kink as much as you guys want to, thank you very much, it's just that our kinks align differently. I've been in fandom quite a while, too, but unlike you, I rarely sought out my kinks before AO3 allowed me to narrow down on what I'm actually looking for, because experience has taught me that I am more likely to not find them and instead find a bunch of things I really don't want to read. And I'm not the only one because this argument keeps on popping up. Maybe this consensus - these 'separate genres' - have existed so long because the people who don't benefit from this system have either given up or resigned themselves to either not read or to take super extra care and odd interpretations of what's in front of them to avoid what seems to us like mixing up of separate genres. The fact this argument is becoming more and more common only means that people are tired of being quiet about it."[26]
"But it strikes me that tags don't only function to warn readers. They also serve to prime a reader and guide them to interpret a fic in a certain way. So choosing to tag something as "dub con" might be a means for the author to signal "I don't think of this as rape and I don't want you to read it in that way either." (Not defending this approach, just saying it might offer an explanation.)"[27]
"I LIKE THIS POST. I'm really glad that you made it. I get very frustrated by the conflation of dubious consent with non-consent for exactly the reasons you give here. Especially In other words, we live in a world in which rape culture, a thing we all unwittingly participate in at one time or another, works very very hard to label things dubcon when they're really noncon, because THIS. It makes me so uncomfortable to think that noncon is too often reserved for situations where a person physically and/or loudly fought back, for situations of violence, while all these other nonconsensual situations are "something else" that gets labeled under the umbrella of dubcon, because it all just comes so close to the horrible line we always have to confront in mainstream culture/media/politics between "rape"--like technically rape but not really because it wasn't physical violence and a stranger in a dark alley with lots of fighting and screaming--and "real rape?" And I do get that fiction is different and people want and need space to explore these issues, but the ways dubcon-not-noncon can reinforce really problematic cultural narratives can be really troubling to me.[28]
"I wonder if we're coming at this from completely different angles. I've no interest in applying the real world logic to each definition for dubcon and noncon, because for me IRL they would all be rape. Nobody I know who uses the rape, noncon, dubcon lables in different ways because they think that IRL the scenarios would have dubious consent or are not really raperape. We're using the labels to help readers identify how the rape will be handled in a fic. Stepping away from the bright line of real world definitions is a positibe for many of us, as it helps readers find what they want to read. Your using the terms like they're legal defintions, whereas I think most of us disagreeing with you are using them as kink labels. It's not about standards bring different (and way to bring moralising into this debate yet again) it's exploring the nuances of how the acts are depicted. So that someone who has a kink for straight up rape fic, but who is triggered by noncon fics where the rape is written erotically can easily see which fics are for them. Same thing with the divide between noncon and dubcon. If we go with yours and twings arguments and just lump them all together under noncon, then people who read noncon but are triggered by dubcon scenarios are going to be finding a whole bunch of triggery shit under a label they thought was safe. And the dubcon people who find noncon triggering are going to be missing out on a lot of fic they could enjoy because it's labelled by their trigger."[29]
"Female-Dominated Fanfic Culture is the least rape-culture-y place on the internet. We obsess about consent. We agonize over labeling. Outside of feminist activists and writers, you will not find more people who are thinking deeply and sensitively about consent, even the writers who are just throwing quick lulzy kinkmeme fills out there. Fandom has a lot of things it deals with very badly. This isn't one of them."[30]
"It seems to come down to her wanting us to change our usage of words in a way that (in her opinion) makes a more palatable political statement, but that is simply not how I choose what content warnings to put on my fics. I'm trying to communicate what the hell the story is about so that people will understand me, and that means using words the way they're commonly used. I'm not going to label things in a way that I know is going to be confusing just to score points with the SJ set."[31]
"Call me a cynic, but I think the use of 'non-con' is less to avoid being triggery and more to avoid having to face up to writing rape scenes (especially when it comes to rape porn). Dub-con to me is an even further distancing, though I've also seen it applied to "aliens/sex pollen/magic/alcohol made us do it." So, you know, I could see people dubbing that one skeevy relationship in Wishful Thinking as dub-con, but on the whole, I think I'll fall back on "something people don't want to call rape."[32]

Additional Reading

  • Thoughts on "dub-con" as a fanfic kink dated June 26, 2008 ("There's an obvious conflict here betwen "dub-con" as a warning of potentially triggering material, and "dub-con" as a kink.")[33]
  • Fandom Warnings Wank: A Comprehensive Linkspam dated June 23, 2009 [34]
  • I Can See the Wank at the Doorstep, but I Just Gotta Ask... dated June 23, 2009 ("With regard to dub-con, I feel like my sense of the word is a bit nebulous. It's a bit like the Supreme Court on pornography--I can't tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it")[35]
  • AoOO Thoughs dated Nov 17, 2009 ("I'm very uncomfortable with the implication, given by the existence of the primary warning tag "noncon/rape," that dubcon isn't rape.")[36]
  • Fandom Definitions: Noncon vs Dubcon dated March 2, 2011 (""Dub-con" is something I had never heard of before fandom. )[37]
  • Force Me, Please: On Noncon and Noncon Play in Fanfic posted at the kink bingo community dated May 31, 2011 ("This is an essay about nonconsensual sex (noncon) and noncon roleplay in fanfic, why I love them, why they may work for other people, and how approximately one zillion kinks complement them. With 45 recs sprinkled throughout.")[38]
  • Dub-con or not? post in the avengersanon meme dated September 18, 2012 ("A prompt just got reported for unwarned dub-con. Do you agree with the need for warning?")[39]
  • Dubious speculation on dubious consent dated Feb 20, 2013 ("In the infamous tumblr ‘disturbed by the amount of noncon in our fandom’ debacle, I recall reading a comment stating that dubcon didn’t exist. There was only consent or not.")[40]
  • The Consent Debate dated Nov 18, 2011 ("In real life dubious consent can’t happen.....It cannot happen in real life, because the narrative in our heads can’t be shared. We can’t know if our partner is conflicted, or not comfortable, unless they tell us.")[41]
  • The difference between dub con and non con. dated May 31, 2013 ("I know dub con doesn't exist in real life. It's a fic-only term that exists only because I can get into a character's head and not only know what they're thinking, but also make them think whatever I want.")[42]

References

  1. Alt.sex.stories archive accessed June 20, 2013.
  2. reference link (accessed June 21, 2013).
  3. reference link (accessed June 21, 2003).
  4. The Cat and the Ferret used the phrase "dubious consent"; reference link (accessed June 21, 2003).
  5. reference link (accessed June 21, 2013).
  6. Weapons of Choice entry page] which lists fiction by date; reference link. The phrase "ambiguous consent" appeared in one of her earlier stories in 2002, but since many authors add warnings when they post their fiction to website or archives, dating is difficult. In switchknife's case, the website was last updated in May 2004 which helps with dating.
  7. reference link (accessed June 21, 2013.
  8. reference link (accessed June 21, 2013).
  9. Source: Morgan Dawn's personal notes (accessed June 21, 2013).
  10. Ship meme. Part one. dated March 25, 2005; reference link (accessed June 21, 2013.
  11. The poster admitted that distinguishing between dub-con and non-con was difficult: "When a requestor said "coersion" I ticked dub-con, and when they said "rape" I ticked non-con, but people can argue over the precise meanings of these terms all day." From Tally ho! (or, the kink count) dated May 9, 2005; reference link (accessed June 21, 2013.
  12. reference link (accessed June 21, 2013.
  13. J-Rock Directory; reference link.
  14. comment in Fanfic pet peeves #4: Rape fics dated July 2008, describing Thoughts on "dub-con" as a fanfic kink dated June 26, 2008; reference link; reference link.
  15. comment in the Fandom tropes, consent, and boundaries thread dated June 2008; reference link.
  16. Fandom tropes, consent, and boundaries dated June 2008; reference link.
  17. I wish I had a thinky icon, but this one will do dated June 24, 2008; http://www.webcitation.org/6HYMwLZwH[ reference link].
  18. noncon, dubcon, and fannish standards dated June 18, 2013; reference link.
  19. comment in the noncon, dubcon, and fannish standards post dated June 18, 2013; reference link.
  20. comment in the noncon, dubcon, and fannish standards post dated June 18, 2013; reference link.
  21. comment in the noncon, dubcon, and fannish standards post dated June 18, 2013; reference link.
  22. comment in the noncon, dubcon, and fannish standards post dated June 18, 2013; reference link.
  23. comment in the noncon, dubcon, and fannish standards post dated June 18, 2013; reference link.
  24. comment in the fail-fandomanon thread dubcon, noncon, and rape culture, dated June 20, 2013; reference link
  25. comment in the fail-fandomanon thread "So if one did hypothetically want to subdivide the "dubcon" label...." dated June 20, 2013; reference link (accessed June 20, 2013)
  26. comment in the fail-fandomanon thread dubcon, noncon, and rape culture, dated June 20, 2013; reference link
  27. comment in the noncon, dubcon, and fannish standards post dated June 18, 2013; reference link.
  28. comment in the noncon, dubcon, and fannish standards post dated June 18, 2013; reference link.
  29. comment in the fail-fandomanon thread dubcon, noncon, and rape culture, dated June 19, 2013; reference link
  30. comment in the fail-fandomanon thread dubcon, noncon, and rape culture, dated June 19, 2013; reference link
  31. comment in the fail-fandomanon thread dubcon, noncon, and rape culture, dated June 19, 2013; reference link
  32. comment in Fandom Definitions: Noncon vs Dubcon dated March 2, 2011  ; reference link.
  33. reference link(accessed June 21, 2013.
  34. reference link (accessed June 20, 2013).
  35. reference link (accessed June 20, 2013).
  36. reference link (accessed June 20, 2013.
  37. reference link.
  38. reference link; reference link (accessed June 20, 2013.
  39. reference link (accessed June 22, 2013).
  40. reference link; reference link (accessed June 20, 2013).
  41. reference link (accessed June 20, 2013).
  42. reference link; reference link (accessed June 20, 2013).
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