Rape fantasies. Many of us have em, and don’t know what to think about them, though most of us probably think they are inappropriate. One article published in 2009 in the Journal of Sex Research found that 62% of women in the University of North Texas fantasized about rape, 91% of whom said those fantasies were entirely or somewhat “erotic.” (1) So what’s the deal? Rape is absolutely repulsive, so what about it in fantasy makes it so sexually charged?
Have you ever kissed someone and felt…well, nothing? That’s because it’s not our lips that makes us feel excited, it’s our brain. If we’re not attracted to someone, we can feel their lips touch ours — and YES there are receptors on our lips — but that doesn’t mean the sensation is going to transduce into the perception of excitement. But what about when we feel that the other person has got it going on? What is it psychologically that makes us really like kissing them? An article in Psychology Today says, “…a good deal of our excitement has nothing to do with the physical dimension of the act: It stems from the simple realization that someone else likes us quite a lot” (2).
So perhaps this is the key to understanding rape fantasies. Maybe we just like being wanted — reaaally badly.
But something’s wrong here. Rape is not about thinking a woman is so sexy that one just can’t keep his hands off of her. In fact, a debate in the discourses on sex is whether rape is an act to achieve penetration or whether it’s an act of violence. The truth is, many rapists have distorted perceptions and believe that the women or children they rape actually wanted to participate in the act. In an interview with PBS, author and scholar Michael Ghiglieri says, “Many of the rapists have what we call thinking errors or criminal thinking, where they have a tendency to distort reality. For instance, they might interpret the way she responds to them in a very friendly manner by saying “Hi”, they might interpret that as that they’re interested in him, as having sex with him to be blunt” (3). Additionally, most rapists are antisocial, are often sensitive to rejection, and have problems with insecurity. Not exactly the kind of people you’d like to get with even if they’re not rapists.
It seems that these men are NOT thinking, “That woman is so sexy, that I must violate her.” But maybe that’s what we imagine when we fantasize about rape. Does that distort our definitions of rape and make the act acceptable on some level? I wouldn’t imagine so. There is a terrific difference between rape fantasy and rape, and it’s important to distinguish between the two so that we can be free from the guilt that tends to accompany these fantasies.
There are various dimensions to sex fantasies among women. Rape is despicable and disgusting and punishable, in some cases by death; so just the act of wanting it defies pretty much everything anyone would think is logical. (And that’s the logic to it!). Sometimes rape fantasy can also be a way of taking our minds off of our insecurities and things we usually think about during sex, i.e. “crap I left my clothes in the dryer last night…” or, “I wonder what my face looks like from down there.” Instead, after consenting, our partners treat us as what we think is them “uncontrollably desiring us.” The mixture of breaking taboos, psychological clarity, feeling incredibly desired, and being with the one you love can make people feel incredibly sexually satisfied.
And it’s okay to explore. Maybe you realize you didn’t like it, but at least now you don’t have to fantasize — you’ve made advances in self-awareness, and better know what you like and don’t like. Maybe you find that it turns you on, and have an orgasm for the first time ever, or you have a mind-blowing orgasm of unearthly dimensions. Or maybe perhaps you now feel more comfortable with your partner because you’ve crossed some line by engaging in the act, and have actually taken your relationship to the next level. But I can’t stress enough that mutual consent is required, even though it’s obvious enough.
So now you’re about to grab those handcuffs from your closet and you’re ready to go out there, or into the bedroom, or kitchen, or laundry room, and ready to do it. But wait, have you asked your partner how they feel about it? Some women think that their partners are “obviously” going to be up for it, but that’s simply not true. Despite popular belief, many men are intelligent, emotional, ethical, and aware, and may not want to participate, and it may be that they will have trouble saying no to you. So give them the mental space to consider it as well as the reassurance that it is something that you definitely want to try, without question. And if they decide to say no, just understand that he has his reasons, which are as good as any of those of women who decide performing rape fantasies aren’t for them.
Rape fantasies, actually, should be recategorized as “Culturally inappropriate sex” (CIS). Women are not fantasizing about rape — they’re not thinking, “Oh I wish violence and trauma upon myself,” they’re thinking along the lines of, “Oh, I can imagine my boyfriend wanting me so badly that right when I get home he starts ripping my clothes off.”
The actions involved may be the motions of what rape may look like, but the psychology behind is absurdly different. Comparing rape to CIS is like comparing being forced to travel to a concentration camp to having a romantic getaway to the Bahamas. Yes, traveling is involved, but to vastly different places under vastly different circumstances.
So when you have a partner you like and trust — key words here — feel confident in the fact that you are not diluting the terror of rape, but rather finding new ways to enjoy your sexuality.