SOMETIMES you read a statistic so shocking that you are forced to pause, digest, and read again to check you have understood it correctly.

According to research published by the BBC, more than a third of women aged between 18-39 have experienced violence during consensual sex. Women report being slapped, choked, gagged and spat on without their consent.

Campaign group We Can’t Consent To This says that violence against women during sex is becoming normalised, amid concerns about the rise of “rough sex gone wrong” defences being used by men in cases where a woman has been killed.

Founder of the campaign Fiona Mackenzie spoke about her own experience of being choked by a partner during sex.

“I’d like to say it was a long time ago but I think even at the time I blamed myself, I thought it was something that I was responsible for.”

She went on to describe how violence during sex is putting some women off dating altogether.

“Many of these women live with quite extreme trauma. They can’t wear clothing that’s close to their neck or jewellery. Many of them say they just don’t date men anymore because it’s too scary and they’ve been assaulted too many times. Being subjected to that kind of assault is absolutely terrifying.”

READ MORE: Rough sex’ must not give men a licence to kill women

The group says that the brutality depicted in mainstream pornography could be partly to blame for the shocking levels of violence that now seem to be prevalent in sexual relationships.

From speaking to friends about this research, it appears as though this creeping normalisation of degrading treatment is just as common as the figures suggest. Women speak of instances where they have been bitten so hard they have been left bruised. Of having their hair pulled and being slapped.

So, what has gone wrong? How have we got to a place where sex has become such an unenjoyable – and dangerous – experience for so many women?

The rise in easily accessible, hardcore pornography has played a part.

In lieu of comprehensive and ongoing sex and relationships education – both at home and at school – pornography is filling in the gaps and giving young people an unrealistic perception of what sex is, and what it should be. Consent – an essential component of sex – isn’t a feature of pornography. Consent is assumed. Often, it is disregarded entirely.

Pornography teaches us that sex is something done by men to women. Women play a decorative role, never articulating their preferences or desires. They are little more than a vessel for his pleasure.

In pornography, sex is rarely a happy occasion. You get the sense the people involved don’t like each other very much. It’s an angry, disconnected act where few words are spoken and even fewer laughs are had. If pornography is the first introduction young people have into sex and relationships, then many must feel utterly terrified at the prospect of doing it themselves.

While we should acknowledge the part pornography has to play in these alarming statistics, we should also be cautious of over-estimating its influence and – in turn – minimising the culpability of those men who deem it acceptable to hurt women for their own pleasure.

Not all men who watch pornography act out the violent and degrading treatment of women they see on screen in their real lives. To do so is an active choice and if their consumption of pornography has led them to believe that spitting, choking or slapping a women without her consent is OK, then they should stop having sex until they have spoken to a few more women in real life.

That gap between the fictional depiction of sex and the real human interaction is also part of the problem.

We see women’s sexuality exploited for profit in advertising and the media. The objectification of women is rife, yet the concept of female pleasure is still somewhat taboo.

Our society is hyper-sexualised up and until the point where it looks like women might want to enjoy themselves too.

You need only look to masturbation to see the squeamishness that surrounds female pleasure. It isn’t spoken about with the same openness, humour or normality as male masturbation is.

The colour and richness of sex, be it an act of love, lust or – whisper it – fun, has been replaced with a monochrome range of motions, where women are often left unsatisfied and in some cases hurt.

The campaign group We Can’t Consent To This is looking to see what legislative changes can be made to better protect women who experience violence during consensual sex. They should be applauded for this, as well as the awareness they have brought to this important issue.

Legislation can only go so far in tackling what – quietly and quickly – has become a significant cultural problem.