Rape Fantasies

10 Sep

This post is about erotic rape fantasies. Although real rape is not discussed other than in passing, I’m putting this below the fold for those who prefer not to read about sexual assault.

Did you know that close to 60% of women report having has a rape fantasy at some point? 55%, to be exact.

When I learned this statistic, I was absolutely floored. Because – as I’ve mentioned before – for many, many years, the only way I could orgasm was by way of a rape fantasy (that makes me like the 9-17% of women who say that it’s their “preferred” sexual fantasy).

And honestly, I thought that made me a horrible person with a broken sexuality. Did it mean I hated myself? Was this a secret vein of misogyny? Did this make me callous to the true suffering of rape and abuse victims? Was I complicit in rape culture?

The wonderful Susie Bright has this to say about being a feminist with rape fantasies:

I didn’t acknowledge having perilous fantasies until I was in my twenties. In a women’s studies college course, our teacher asked us if we had experienced arousing “rape fantasies.”

One girl tearfully raised her hand and said this was true for her .. Our professor was quite kind to her, if misinformed.

Our professor comforted the girl by saying that, as women, we had been brainwashed by the patriarchy to eroticize our subordination to men. She said these fantasies were very common, which is true, and that we could “overcome” them by exposing our fantasies to feminist analysis and by our increasing self-esteem.

She was wrong on that count … Despite my assertive self-confidence, rock-hard feminist analysis, and weekly shift at the rape crisis hotline, I could still crawl into bed and successfully masturbate to the same disturbing fantasies that had aroused me since I was a child.

Really, my fantasies just put me on one end of a spectrum of “normal.”

There’s a lot of debate about why rape fantasies are so common. One popular theory is that, in a sex-negative society, rape fantasies are a way for women to fantasize about the kind of sex they want without guilt. This sounds convincing, but some studies have shown that rape fantasies are actually correlated with more sex-positive attitudes and sexual confidence.

Then there was the New York Times article claiming it’s all about women feeling desired. These researchers claim that women primarily get off on being the object of desire and speculate that this is why romance novels and written erotica are so popular with women – they can imagine themselves in the role of the heroine. Rape fantasies make sense in this context – what’s more proof of a person’s desire than the fact that it overcomes morals and serious consequences? – but sort of ignores the fact that men like to feel desired, too.

Of course there are others who claim this means that all women are submissive, but I’ve already made my thoughts on that topic known.

I’m glad this is getting more attention, but sometimes I worry that these fantasies are sugarcoated in a way that will leave many of us still feeling like freaks. For instance, the common claim that most women’s rape fantasies are actually “ravishment” fantasies: the male is so overcome with lust for the female that he overcomes her feeble no and takes her in an aggressive but loving manner. This might be true – I’d love to see more research on the actual content of rape fantasies – but it feels to me like a way to sanitize these fantasies and make them seem less threatening.

And that’s not what my fantasies were like. In my fantasies, the women (sometimes it was me, sometimes it wasn’t, and that caused a lot of guilt too. How messed up it seemed to fantasize about other women being raped.) definitely did not want it. They were humiliated, degraded, physically hurt. The men were sadistic and cruel.

According to this definition, that would put my rape fantasies in the category of “aversive” (characterized by fear) rather than “erotic” rape fantasies. “Aversive” fantasies are  described as being ones in which “the male is more likely to be older, unattractive, and a stranger” and which contain “coercive and painful violence, and little or no sexual arousal.”

But of course, my fantasies were erotic and did arouse me. It’s just that my wiring’s a bit different, and so the pain and the degradation were erotic to me. That was really hard for me to accept and so, for a long time, I kept these fantasies shuttered, walled off. They’d come out late at night, and then, as soon as I got off, I would feel ashamed and disgusting. I would sometimes even cry, wondering if I’d always be so fucked up.

And then one day my “kinky lightbulb” went off, and I realized what my fantasies had been trying to tell me for years.

Here’s the funny thing. Almost as soon as I accepted my kinks, rape fantasies lost their allure. Pretty soon, I wasn’t even getting turned on by my old standbys anymore. Because I had a brand-new bag, and in that bag contained a delightful array of consensual BDSM-flavored fantasies. My fantasies still include a lot of the same elements as my old rape fantasies, but they are consensual (even when it’s of the “wanting what I don’t want” brand of consent). And with a partner, not, you know, a schoolteacher or a pirate or a boss. Yes, there is still some “cruelty,” but it’s cruelty that I want.

So maybe, for me at least, there is some truth to the idea that women fantasize about rape so they don’t have to feel guilty. I couldn’t imagine myself taking a submissive role willingly, so I had to imagine being forced into it.

Dan Savage said something similar in a recent podcast. Someone called him about the problems she was having “believing” her partner when he would play-rape her. He pointed out that many people want the experience of erotic surrender, but they don’t feel comfortable surrendering willingly – they want it taken from them. But he pointed out that surrender can often be so much more satisfying when it’s given.

And it’s true for me that these consensual fantasies are so much more satisfying. For one thing, I can think about them in the light of day without hating myself.

But even more, these fantasies make me feel good. They don’t just turn me on, they give me that warm, glowy feel in my stomach. They make me feel hopeful.

I wish I’d known this earlier.

Most of the research in this post comes from this amazing survey of research about erotic rape fantasies. It’s super-long but very interesting and pretty accessible for the non-academic reader:

Critelli, Joseph W. and Biovana, Jenny M. “Women’s erotic rape fantasies: an evaluation of theory and research.” Journal of Sex Research. Feb. 2008

10 Responses to “Rape Fantasies”

  1. tomio_of_delila September 10, 2011 at 3:11 PM #

    I’m glad this is getting more attention, but sometimes I worry that these fantasies are sugarcoated in a way that will leave many of us still feeling like freaks

    Well, there is a large swath of the population that actively considers consensual BDSM to be freakery. We are only one generation away from it being a legitimate, diagnosable mental disorder.

    I don’t think that the attempt is to sugarcoat fantasy so much as it is to set aside the word “rape” to actually mean the crime of sexual assault with active penetration. From that perspective, the fantasies to which you refer are not actually “rape” fantasies because, from a psychological standpoint, you are in control of your fantasies, so it is sort of impossible to force yourself to enjoy things you don’t want to enjoy.

    I can assure you that at least some men have the same sort of fantasy. I believe it really is targeted, as you state, at the loss of control. It’s very difficult to fantasize about someone else controlling the action because (as I said above) you are actually completely in control. So, I believe the brain goes into a creative mode where it envisions things that you “can’t possibly” enjoy in order to achieve the illusion of non-control.

    It gets difficult to wrap one’s brain around. I hope this explanation makes as much sense outside of my head as it does inside of it.

    • lee September 3, 2012 at 7:07 AM #

      or maybe some people (men as well as women) just get turned on by the FANTASY of being raped. it doesn’t mean anything. it’s just a FANTASY. simples

  2. feministsub September 10, 2011 at 3:57 PM #

    It’s very difficult to fantasize about someone else controlling the action because (as I said above) you are actually completely in control. So, I believe the brain goes into a creative mode where it envisions things that you “can’t possibly” enjoy in order to achieve the illusion of non-control.

    I really like this! It makes a lot of sense to me. Even now, my consensual fantasies usually involve some element of punishment or having my boundaries pushed in a way I consent to but don’t necessarily like (in the fantasy). Your explanation makes a lot of sense in this context.

    I don’t think that the attempt is to sugarcoat fantasy so much as it is to set aside the word “rape” to actually mean the crime of sexual assault with active penetration. From that perspective, the fantasies to which you refer are not actually “rape” fantasies because, from a psychological standpoint, you are in control of your fantasies, so it is sort of impossible to force yourself to enjoy things you don’t want to enjoy.

    Yeah, I definitely understand the argument about rape fantasies not really being about “rape” since the fantasizer is in control.

    But on the other hand, the one thing that always made these fantasies so hot was the imagined element of nonconsent. I would read consensual BDSM erotica and it wouldn’t do anything for me. So these were fantasies about rape.

  3. RogueBambi September 11, 2011 at 2:07 AM #

    I couldn’t imagine myself taking a submissive role willingly, so I had to imagine being forced into it.

    Exactly. And I think almost every budding submissively inclined (feminist) woman would have too. I know I did a lot of things to erase my need or to answer to it without facing it.

    To me (sexual) violence actually isn’t such a turn on in fantasies, it’s even scary and a turn off, but it is hot in real life, when I actually get to experience it. Although I of course wouldn’t call it violence in real life, but some more specific term like spanking or forcefully holding down. Maybe this just goes to show that someone who has actually been physically abused cannot fantasise about violence even if it is their kink. There was no way for me to see it in a positive light because of my experiences.*

    My kink is also non-consent, but with a different twist. They’ve always been about the subject not being able to consent. They might be sleeping, drugged, drunk, but not tied down for example (too scary, violence etc). These would all also go under the same umbrella of rape in the research, wouldn’t they?

    I needed to taste the submissiveness in way, where the one submitting didn’t really submit (she was sleeping!) or couldn’t really submit (she was “too young to understand”) but was dominated either way. This because I wasn’t ready to face my submissiveness; I didn’t even relate to the submissives but the dominants and for the longest time thought that’s what I’m into.

    My stance hasn’t changed. My fantasies are the same even though I have this wonderful relationship where I get to submit sexually and play out incest, bondage and rough rape scenes. We actually don’t play with consensual non-consent in those situations, because I can say this is enough, I can’t take more, and he will stop. But the fantasy that gets us both so aroused is that I couldn’t. The consensual non-consent is somewhere else in our relationship, like in the fact that I’ll not say no to his sexual advances.

    Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that…

    They are rape fantasies. But that doesn’t mean the one fantasising about rape would ever want to be raped. Of course we can and will have all the roles in fantasies and so “it’s not real”. That doesn’t in my mind empty the meaning of these fantasies. They would be meaningless without the non-consent. They are in fact trying to deal with the issue of non-consent.

    Saying rape fantasies aren’t about rape reminds me about the discussion on 24/7 TPE relationships and how they are “really just role play”, because the sub could get out of them. The situation or the fantasy is no less than it is. People can fight their way out of rape, but that does not somehow erase the rape itself any more than not being able to consent or deny consent does.

    *I’m not trying to generalize here that not being able to see violence arousing in fantasies, but enjoying some aspects of the same acts IRL, is always a result of abuse or corporeal punishment. Just that maybe in my case it is.

    • feministsub September 11, 2011 at 8:38 PM #

      They would be meaningless without the non-consent. They are in fact trying to deal with the issue of non-consent.

      Yes, exactly. The lack of consent was always pretty key.

      That is really interesting about how your non-consent fantasies manifested. For me, the kind you described were never appealing, but I can definitely see how they would be, especially with experiences of real-life violence.

  4. freeadviceblog September 11, 2011 at 9:09 AM #

    Great post. For me too, entering the D/s world with Him helped me create some brand new consensual fantasies, equally if not more so satisfying. Yes, ever since I was young I had those “aversive” fantasies and felt like a bit of a freak for them, like I should never ever ever tell a soul about them. It is a huge validation to find others like me.

    • feministsub September 11, 2011 at 8:39 PM #

      It is validating, isn’t it? I’m glad you’ve also been able to find more satisfying experiences/fantasies.

  5. romanticme September 21, 2011 at 2:33 PM #

    My lover and I also have been very open to experiencing with fantasies. However, it is interesting that you hear on talk shows that you should talk about them – which we don’t do. Most of the time we have a had a fantasy, my lover has asked me to do a particular thing. I was actually surprised by her fantasies which come to life as we have intimate moments because in the real world she is very shy and conservative.

    I honestly think that this is healthy and it keeps the relationship alive. I do wonder about those who experience with threesomes because there may be a level of jealousy or trust that may inspire to wonder but that may be another subject.

  6. Mary December 5, 2011 at 1:04 PM #

    I found this article by chance on the internet and thought it would criticize some male behaviour. Suprisingly, I found out something I had no idea: I’m normal. I never talked about that to anyone, being a feminist I felt as desgusted as you described, and used to think I was so disrespectful and sick. This article really introduced me into a whole new picture of what it really might be and how to deal with it. It feels much lighter.

    • feministsub December 12, 2011 at 6:48 PM #

      Wow, thank you so much for sharing that. You have no idea how much it means to me to hear it. This was a big reason I started the blog – I didn’t want other people to have to feel the same way I did. Cheers!

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