Policing Our Desires: Are Rape Fantasies Acceptable?

10 years ago

For the last few years, I’ve subscribed to a magazine that is more or less about what’s going on in New York City. Every year, the magazine publishes a sex issue. Makes sense – New York City is a pretty sexy town, full of all kinds of people who are into all kinds of things. Usually, it’s a fun read, so I hesitated slightly when the cover promised that this was their “most explicit issue ever” and “undercover your fantasies,” with a flap covering a naked woman as part of a threesome. It’s not like I’m a (total) prude, but I am not subscribing to Hustler for a reason. The issue sat around on my coffee table for a week before I finally perused my “fantasies.” That’s when the trouble began.

In an article called, “I Want to… be raped, a pseudonymous writer named Tess wrote, “When I want to come, even with a gentle lover, I imagine his hand covering my mouth as he forces his erection inside of me. This sends me over the edge.” I found that disturbing, but I didn’t want to judge. Fantasies are just that – fantasies; most of us don’t act on them. Plus, women’s rape fantasies are not uncommon. As Nancy Friday discovered in her 1973 groundbreaking book, My Secrect Garden, many women fantasized about forced sexual contact. In her follow up book, Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Sexual Fantasties, Friday wrote:

[In 1973] The most popular guilt-avoiding device was the so-called rape fantasy — "so-called" because no rape, bodily harm, or humiliation took place in the fantasy. It simply had to be understood that what went on was against the woman's will. Saying she was "raped" was the most expedient way of getting past the big No to sex that had been imprinted on her mind since early childhood. (Let me add that the women were emphatic that these were not suppressed wishes; I never encountered a woman who said she really wanted to be raped.)

Certainly sexual guilt hasn't disappeared, nor has the rape fantasy. There is something very workmanlike and reliable about the traditional bullies and bad people whose intractable presence allows the woman to reach her goal, orgasm.

Ranty McRanterson (so love the name!) can relate to Friday’s findings. In her self-titled blog's rebuttal to The Female Thing, a book about feminism by Laura Kipnis, McRanterson, wrote:

… I have the rape fantasy, I'm gonna come out and say it because I can actually explain it. It is incredibly common to sexualize fears. All kinds of fears. Just because I fantasize this doesn't mean that I actually want it to happen. Think about it physically for a second, fear creates adrennaline, and adrennaline is exciting and that helps get you off pretty damn quick. It's also common for sexually abused children to fantasize about rape as adults, does that mean they want to be raped? NO! I also believe that the media is much to blame for this. Growing up and being subjected to images of dominated women. Women who kinda "fall" into sex rather than actually go for it. Women who are being saved and then the hero wins a kiss?! These are all images of dominated women where things happen to them, they don't actually do anything. One can also blame religion for the rape fantasy. Growing up as a Christian I learned that women aren't sapose to enjoy sex or even want it. It's a neccessary function that happens to a gal when she's married and one should be ashamed of their sexual desires. Therefore, if sex just happens to you, then you didn't really do anything wrong, did you? It's a very twisted thought process but quite true to someone who's been taught to suppress their natural urges.

However, what distressed me about Tess’s article was not so much that she fantasized about being raped, but that she took the next step. She wrote, “Being sexually adventurous, I had asked a lover or two if they’d consider raping me. They demurred. Rape – even consensual rape – remains a huge taboo.” Can rape be consensual? No, I don’t think it can. If it is consensual, I think it is maybe rough sex, but not rape, and to even use the term “consensual rape” seems extremely dangerous to me.

So long romance takes Tess’s more extreme view of rape fantasies, although even she does not call it “consensual rape:”

I read an article that listed rape as one of the top three sex fantasies that women have. Rape. I heard a feminist justify this by saying that all rape fantasies, at some point, become consensual mid act because no real woman would ever want to be dominated. Well, I don’t know what women she talked to, but my rape fantasies stay about rape all the way up until the point where he spits on me and walks away. Dominate me, baby.

Now men, I am not saying that you should go out and rape a woman. Like most fantasies, the whole scenario is sexier in our heads than it’d be in real life. All I’m saying is that your woman wants a little aggression, a dash of force! Use good judgment!

Zenobia at British feminist group blog Mind the Gap, as part of a post about stopping rape and properly punishing rapists, noted:

…as feminists, we’re not supposed to be the side who’s afraid of ideas. We’re supposed to be the ones demanding the right to discuss them openly, to sort out the huge fucked-up muddle of gender relations. This is especially important because men and general very fierce bad people don’t have the monopoly of rape fantasies. Women also have them, which doesn’t mean they want to be raped, or even rape anyone. Only, attempts to discuss this are more often than not prevented, usually by feminists.

Back to Tess’s story, she starts dating a guy named Victor. “While our sexual encounters always featured rough sex, rape – our ultimate fantasy – was something we put on the back burner until we truly trusted one another.” And here’s where I truly freaked out. First of all, if anyone ever confessed that they fantasized about raping me, I suspect that I would be afraid and want to stay far away from them. Maybe this is very judgmental of me. If it is OK for women to have fantasies about being raped, should it also be normal for men to have fantasies about raping a woman? (And what about men who fantasize about raping other men? Or women who want to force themselves on other women?) At what point does the reality of the violent world we live in, as well as brutal statistics about sexual violence against women (and homosexuals) turn a fantasy into a dangerous perversion?

In Women on Top, Friday wrote that, “today's woman is just as likely to flip the scenario into one in which she overpowers and rapes the man.” I’m not sure how I feel about that, either. Since we know that rape is hurtful, painful, and destructive, I don’t think it says anything positive about women’s progress if we find ourselves wanting to be rapists.

The remainder of Tess’s article described what happened when she and Victor decided to enact their rape fantasy. It was violent and scary (he held a knife to her throat and she was “frightened enough” that her tears turned to “wrenching sobs” even though she knew he “wouldn’t really hurt” her), and Tess wrote, “I remember thinking how awful and terrifying this would be had it been real, a true crime of rage and violence, and not something that had been agreed to.”

While the whole article repulsed me, I also feel guilty in many ways for judging another woman for her desires. It seems to me that regulating which desires are acceptable and which are transgressions is a slippery slope. (While my fantasy of Daniel Craig wading out of the water in those Casino Royale ads, through my TV, and into my living room naked seems pretty boring, some might find it objectionable, and I hardly want others condemning me for my desires.) And yet, I had a hard time falling asleep after I read the article because it upset me so profoundly. Zenobia is right: the more we talk about these things, the closer we come to finding ways through “the huge fucked-up muddle of gender relations” that govern our most intimate thoughts, actions, and sexual urges.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants

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