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Romanticized Abuse

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The suffering of other people can be appealing, even exciting — as long as it's all made up, of course. And since there's a market for it, many authors will happily provide works where the main hook is that the characters inflict abuse on others or are made to suffer it themselves. This can happen on four levels:

  1. Civilization: The setting is a Planet of Hats, grim Fetish-Fuel Future, or just a Crapsack World that runs on the brutal exploitation of others.
  2. Organization: The work features a religious cult, criminal network, or even a respectable corporation with a secret (or not-so-secret) ulterior purpose.
  3. Couple: The work involves two persons in a loving and respectful relationship who enjoy torturing a third party — or even each other.
  4. Individual: One character is a Fetishized Abuser. A character who abuses another character outside of a romantic relationship (especially if they make that character into a woobie) also counts.

The husband and wife of a Romanticized Abuse couple should normally only be mentioned here in the supertrope — it's redundant to also mention them in the gendered subtropes, unless they also have individual adventures where they are effectively single or in another relationship with a different dynamic. For individuals who represent a civilization or an organization, it's a matter of whether they act as individuals, as representatives, or both.

When combined with Evil Is Sexy, or any other of the Evil Tropes, Romanticized Abuse is likely to lead to Draco in Leather Pants. However, Draco in Leather Pants may be justified if the group or person whose abusive behavior is romanticized is not necessarily portrayed as evil at all.

A subtrope of Fanservice: Sexual abuse not designed to be sexy & appealing is not this trope. Compare and contrast Casual Kink as well as Safe, Sane, and Consensual, for characters who live out BDSM fantasies and show the kind of ethical restraint needed in Real Life. Note that abuse played for fetish appeal is rarely played only for fetish appeal. It is often a mix of fetish appeal, Nightmare Fuel, Fetish Retardant, and so on, and the fetish appeal component is sometimes calculated to maximize the horror value depending on what the creators are going for.

A stock trait of Succubi and Incubi, or at least the evil ones. Compare Friendly Tickle Torture and Power Dynamics Kink for the PG version. Contrast Idealized Sex, since Romanticized Abuse is clearly... well, abusive; however, the sex in these stories tends to drift toward Idealized Sex as the character relationships develop. There can also be some overlap regarding physical safety and such. Contrast Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny. Compare and contrast Destructive Romance.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Actually gets invoked (and Played for Laughs) in MM! when one of the love interests, Arashiko, gets accused of being a Domestic Abuser. She actually has a phobia of males and reacts violently when touched by one. Her love interest, Taro, ironically happens to be a sadomasochist, so Arashiko argues that it's just how their relationship is.
  • Beware the Villainess! is a Deconstruction: Melissa makes it her mission to protect the female lead of the romance novel she transmigrated into from her four abusive suitors, demonstrating to them time and time again how their irresponsible and creepy behavior is in fact not romantic but horrifying. For instance, one of them is a Stalker with a Crush, and he's polymorphed into a rabbit and hunted, being told it's for his own protection, to make him realize how he's making his crush feel.

    Comic Books 
  • The second and third issue of Lou Kagan's Perils of Penelope features a religious cult whose religious doctrine seem to be limited to the ideas that pain is spiritual and that brainwashing people by tying them up and spanking them is the best way to get new converts.

    Fan Works 
  • Vow of Nudity: Inevitable when so many of the sex scenes are nonconsensual and involve slaves. While the narrative casts the Genasi Empire as villains and paints their sexual exploitation in a negative light, Haara never seems to suffer any lasting psychological damage and the rape scenes are still clearly written to titillate.

    Film — Live Action 
  • 1934 film Smarty is Romanticized Abuse: The Movie, with Vicki needling her husband into striking her and, after they break up, saying "If he'd loved me he would have hit me long ago." The film ends with Tony tearing Vicki's dress off, slapping her in the face (which causes her to light up with glee), and throwing her on the couch. Vicki gives Tony the "bedroom eyes" look, and as the Sexy Discretion Shot pans behind the couch, the last line of dialogue is:
    Vicki: Tony...hit me again.
  • Passengers (2016): One of the main criticisms against the film. Jim for all intents and purposes stalks Aurora and then he wakes her up, telling her that her pod malfunctioned and romancing her under that pretense, which from an ethical standpoint makes their sexual relationship akin to rape—no different than if he had kidnapped her while hiding his true identity and then proceeded to woo her without her knowing he was her kidnapper. She understandably calls his action murder after finding out. However, it never portrays Jim as having been right in doing this, and he himself says this was wrong. Aurora reacts realistically and nearly kills him over this. It's only after they save the ship together that she finally forgives him. Even so, Jim is meant to be the hero and we are meant to root for him and the relationship is supposed to be a story of true love.
  • Story of a Prostitute: Mikami slaps Harumi (the prostitute) across the face when she impugns his manhood for not having sex with her. Later, she tells him that at that moment she realized she loves him.
    Harumi: When you hit me, in your angry eyes, I saw that. I am in love with you.
  • Return of the Hero: Pauline, seemingly a sweet, innocent young woman, actually gets off on being slapped. She demands Capt. Neuville slap her when they're about to have sex, and she can't stand her mild-mannered, gentle husband Nicolas. Nicolas and Neuville wind up in a Duel to the Death which Pauline interrupts, but she starts ranting at her husband for being a weakling...until he slaps her. She walks off hand in hand with him, clearly turned on.

  • The point of Iason's use of Riki's Pet Ring in Ai no Kusabi, which takes place in quite a Fetish-Fuel Future and Dystopian Crapsack World.
  • Slave World covers all four levels. On the civilization level, the entire slaveworld is this kind of grim Fetish-Fuel Future. On the organization level, the army of England is designed to maintain social order by turning uppity serfs into Sex Slave cyborgs. On the couple level, Prince Samuel and Lady Isobel have this as their mutual hobby. On the individual level, most aristocrats qualify for the appropriately gendered trope.
  • Most civilizations on Gor seem to be built with this as one of their basic premises. note 
  • Most novels by the Marquis de Sade (the guy "sadism" is named after) stays strictly in Romanticized Abuse territory, being about unrestrained sadism rather than mutual sadomasochism. It's tinged with political satire about how hypocritical, oppressive, and unjust the socioeconomic system really was, but mostly his work is chock full of fetish appeal and Author Appeal and is generally not considered to rise far above the level of pornography.
  • A lot of people claim that Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey do this. Edward and Bella are less aggressive (stalking, obsession, and abandonment are a thing but still), but Anastasia and Christian are noticeably more abusive (ranging from outright raping to the incorrect use of BDSM).
    • In Fifty Shades of Grey, there's the treatment of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, which is portrayed as a straight romance between Tess and Alec, although this is completely missing the point — Tess of the d'Urbervilles is actually about how Victorian double standards and the Defiled Forever trope mean that Alec's rape of Tess ruins Tess's life, despite it not being her fault. Alec is less Byronic Hero and more Dastardly Whiplash.
  • The "four marks" in the Anita Blake stories enable a vampire to turn a person into a "human servant", whether the person wants to be or not. In addition, these marks force the person to fall in love (and in the Anita Blake universe, Sex Equals Love) with the vampire who has, effectively, mind raped them. There's no way to break the bond without killing the person, either. So vampires can turn human beings into sex slaves. And they do it with no one punishing them for it. On the contrary, such permanent sex slavery is seen as a good thing. Oddly, the 4th mark that Jean Claude gives Anita makes you immune to a vampire's powers.
  • The Sheik is a textbook example. Young, rebellious heroine is captured and repeatedly raped by a cringing racial stereotype until the (unintentional) Stockholm Syndrome kicks in and she falls in love with him. What makes it worse is that the psychological trauma the rapes inflict on her is not glossed over; they're quite close to an accurate portrayal of PTSD. It makes her "change of heart" all the more jarring, and we're meant to root for a relationship between a rapist and his mentally broken victim.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit sometimes go for having their cake and eat it too, denouncing the horrors of sexual abuse by displaying it in almost pornographic details.
    • One episode, named "Slaves", revels in the details of how a young Romanian woman has been imprisoned, brainwashed, and used as a sex toy by an American couple. Lots of neatly presented details about the horrors she endured makes for a strange mix of fetish appeal and Nausea Fuel. Surprisingly, the detectives let the wife off the hook in exchange for selling out her husband, in spite of the fact that she murdered the girl's aunt without even informing her husband about it afterward.
    • Another episode, named "Spectacle", runs on the principle that no one can resist watching a good rape. The episode starts with a video broadcast of a woman getting raped by a masked man popping up on the intranet of a university campus. It turns out that the guy who had the woman kidnapped and raped lost his little brother a long time ago. The brother was kidnapped, and the police gave up searching after a little while. After this cold case is solved, the unsurprising reveal is made that they were simply playing make-believe rape as a little Activist-Fundamentalist Antics plot to get the police's attention.
  • iCarly has Freddie and Sam. Even though the abuse between them is Played for Laughs, fans started shipping them after the first episode aired. The romanticized abuse becomes more evident when Sam starts beating up Freddie later in the series. The writers even have Sam say that she started developing feelings for him after he was run over by a biker and was lying on the ground, bleeding from his ear. Yikes.
  • In Doctor Who, Peri, a companion added as Parent Service, spent her tenure being molested by virtually every single villain, bullied in a vaguely sexualised way by the Doctor and eventually given a Traumatic Haircut and a Mind Rape by a sadistic slug monster before marrying a nasty warrior king at the last minute. Between the attractiveness and portrayal of the actress and the fact that the audience was meant to think the new, Darker and Edgier Doctor was totally cool, it ended up coming across as titillation. (In a children's show, no less.) Doctor Who had long been known for sexy companions and putting pretty characters in danger for the audience's amusement, but Peri's treatment still stood out as much more extreme than anything that had come before and is one of the more controversial elements of that era.
  • The Vampire Diaries features many dark relationships among supernaturals.
    • Katherine compelled, had sex with, and fed on human Stefan in the past.
    • Fans ship Damon and Caroline, even though he raped her at the beginning of the series.
    • Damon has physically assaulted Elena and murdered her brother after he tried to force himself on her. It is the most popular relationship on the show.
    • Klaus tried to kill Caroline many times. Despite her rejection of his advances, it is one of the biggest pairings.
  • In Gossip Girl the abusive relationship between Chuck and Blair is often portrayed through romantic lenses, to the point the creators of the show said 'It's not abuse if it's Chuck and Blair' after he tried to hit her, resulting in a cut on her cheek.
  • Supernatural has copious amounts of this.
    • Early seasons introduce demons, some of whom possess attractive female bodies. They are strong, amoral monsters, and the show often either portrays these characters beating up people or outright killing them. The Winchester brothers have no problem smacking them around, often using misogynistic language while they are doing it. In Seasons 4 and 6, the demons Ruby and Meg, both portrayed by very petite, attractive women, are tied up and sexually tortured by other demons. It's heavily implied that they didn't mind or even enjoyed it.
    • One of those demons possesses Sam Winchester and s/he goes on to tie-up/threaten to rape/generally menace a young female hunter. It's not portrayed as a good thing, but there's a mighty amount of fetish fuel in the way it is shot.
    • Ruby seduces/assaults a grieving, drunk Sam in Season 4. Their "love" scene shows him clearly saying no but her continuing to kiss and touch him until he kisses her back.
    • Season 6 has a storyline where Sam loses his soul and engages in sociopathic behavior. This is portrayed as catnip to the ladies and results in Sam getting laid often. Fans reacted so poorly that the storyline was cut short.
    • Early Season 13 has Sam captured by an attractive female agent of the British men of letters and her butch female torture technician. Sam is tied up and tortured, taking pride in how much abuse he can take. He's also given a hallucination in which he is having sex with his captor and enjoying it.
  • True Blood: Bill and Sookie's relationship. Bill was sent by the Queen of Louisiana to procure Sookie for her. To this end, Bill allowed two psychopathic drug addicts to beat her to death so he could use the situation to pretend to play hero, drug her with his blood (which is both a powerful aphrodisiac and a tracking device), and manipulate her emotions and sexual feelings. Even though he ultimately doesn't go through with delivering her to the Queen, he still tried to control Sookie, gaslighted her into believing he had her best interests in mind, and tried to cover up his crimes so Sookie wouldn't find out about them. At one point, he tried to bully Jessica into turning Jason (Sookie's brother) into a vampire without his consent. Overall, Bill has lied to Sookie, betrayed her, manipulated her, and hurt her in ways that many fans considered unforgivable. In spite of this, their relationship still gets romanticized.
  • There are several examples in Yellowstone, though usually not in the "romantic" variety. Instead, abuse and bullying is justified by the narrative as necessary to turn boys into men.

  • "Crazy Chicks" by Ken Ashcorp is a song describing a Yandere... from the perspective of a guy who finds her murderously possessive antics hot.
  • Several Blutengel songs go along these lines—often on a gender-neutral and structural level, talking about the lifestyles of vampires in general rather than about the actions of individual vampires.
  • "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)" by The Crystals is about a woman romanticizing her abusive relationship. After her jealous boyfriend hits her, she argues that his jealousy shows that he cares about her.
  • Katy Perry spends the song "E.T." portraying the concept of Alien Abduction as this trope.
  • "Kiss with a Fist" by Florence + the Machine is not literally about physical abuse, however it uses violent imagery to explain the Belligerent Sexual Tension she has with her lover.
  • "The Hurt Makes it Beautiful" by Hugo.
  • "Ain't Nobody's Business if I Do" by Billie Holiday, where she defiantly declares how happy she is with her abusive husband. Yes, it was Truth in Television.
  • "Sweet Pain" by KISS.
  • Lana Del Rey does this a lot. Most of her songs feature emotional abuse, such as "Lolita" and "Carmen" from Born to Die, where she portrays herself as a girl hopelessly following older men who don't give her the time of day. Even her music videos show men wrapping their fingers around her neck while they have sex with her. Ultraviolence also features the heavy implication of domestic violence, with the lyrics dressed up in typical ballad prose. Needless to say, she's drawn a lot of criticism for this.
  • "Bed of Nails", by Alice Cooper, alludes heavily to a mutually abusive relationship.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Geist: The Sin-Eaters supplement Book Of The Dead is about realms of the dead. One of them is a very friendly place called Oppia, which offers an abundance of food and Sex Slaves. Of course, it's very easy to break a rule and get enslaved yourself. Some of the slaves chose to remain slaves after they have served the term of their punishment.
  • The New World of Darkness book Inferno, covering demons, is based on the seven deadly sins, and the "lust" part is designed for creating characters (of either gender) who fit this trope.
  • In the Vampire: The Masquerade supplement Ghouls: Fatal Addiction, the Camarilla was played straight as this kind of organization. The theme of playing the social structure between Vampires and Ghouls as Romanticized Abuse is hinted at in the core rule book as well as many other supplements, but it's much more blatant in "Ghouls". (In this setting, a "ghoul" is a human who drinks vampire blood. The blood makes them superhumanly strong, makes them stop aging, lets them heal faster, and increases their sexual urges, but it also enslaves them under the Vampire's will.)
  • The Dark Eldar in Warhammer 40,000 take this to its logical extreme: they literally survive on the pain and suffering of others. Other races tend to inflict a great deal of abuse on their captives. The Dark Eldar eroticize it.

  • The musical Carousel and the play it's based on, Liliom, feature a character asking her mother if it's possible for "a man to hit you ... hit you real hard ... and have it feel like a kiss." (In both, the mother answers "yes", because that's exactly the relationship she had with the girl's father.)
  • The musical version of Spring Awakening depicts the Questionable Consent of Wendla to Melchior's advances in a less disturbing and more sweet light. However, some productions hone in on Wendla's reluctance to emphasize the themes of sexuality and especially sexual violence towards women that the show presents.

    Video Games 
  • Basically everyone in Metal Gear has weird sexual issues about war and violence. Of course, this is played for horror/drama as well as for fanservice, but at the end of the day, sexualising violence is mostly about making all the people really attractive, putting them in ridiculously tight suits, having lots of close-ups on the crotches and butts, inserting gratuitous Ho Yay, and playing enemyship as if it was heart-shatteringly romantic melodrama.
  • Umineko: When They Cry: Bernkastel and Lambdadelta are all-powerful witches who will do anything to avoid boredom, so a regular "punishment game" for them will involve things like locking each other up at the bottom of a hollow tower, turning all the stars in the sky into diamonds and dropping them, one by one, onto the other one until they are crushed into a pulp.
    • Considering the end of Episode 6, Battler and Beatrice seem to be heading in this direction. Back when Beatrice was pretending to be a Card-Carrying Villain, they definitely were.

    Web Original 
  • Todd in the Shadows frequently complains about songs that sound like this. In addition to the above mentioned "E.T.", there's "Tonight (I'm Fucking You)", "Give Me Everything" ("Grab somebody sexy, tell 'em hey \ Give me everything tonight!") "Blurred Lines", "Gorilla"...
    Why does, like, every third song I review on this show sound like a sex offender wrote it? Is Billboard secretly sponsored by roofies?
  • The Nostalgia Critic has this as a character trait thanks to his past. One good example of it just being in-character is the Starchaser review, where Critic's only complaint about the robot turned into a Sex Bot is that it's unsuitable for kids, but Doug in commentary complains about how sexist it is.

Alternative Title(s): Romanticised Abuse, Abusively Sexy