Accounts and depictions of violent sex have thrilled and appalled us since Sodom and Gomorrah. The internet has given it a new twist, lifting the veil on human sexuality and normalising behaviour previously thought scandalous. In our panel debate Venus In Furs, former editrice of the Erotic Review, Rowan Pelling, Sunday Times columnist Minette Marrin, and German psychosexual social theorist Andrea Beckmann consider the relationship between desire, violence and restraint.
"I don't think you can police the imagination. I don't think you can police the sexual imagination, and I don't think you should police it. I think it's incredible that we have this capacity to create these scenarios in our mind, some of which we may act out, some of which we may not. But this is an adult choice." Rowan Pelling
"Repression within a society of certain things, like extreme sadomasochistic violence which is also unhealthy and wounding, exists not just because of the rights of those people to do what they want, it's because of what happens to the rest of society when certain things become permitted." Minette Merrin
The popularity of E. L. James's 50 Shades of Grey trilogy has reopened the debate on the social acceptability of extreme sexual practices. From De Sade's and Von Masoch's novels, violence, submission and pain have traditionally been relegated to the category of sexual perversions and have been actively persecuted and censored. In the age of sexual liberation previous taboos such as birth control, monogamy and homosexuality are being challenged, yet BDSM struggles to achieve mainstream recognition.
Are there risks in popularising sexual habits which can be harmful and wounding, even when practised by consenting adults? Is there a danger for society as a whole when violence and pain leave the realm of perversion and become 'normalised' as just another aspect of human sexuality? Or was De Sade right in arguing that social order at the expense of liberty is hardly a bargain?
What do you think of our panelist’s conclusions? Join the debate using our our comment thread