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?
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