Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader of the blog who was wondering whether the content of their sexual fantasies was “normal.”
Is it normal to have sexual fantasies that involve forced sex?
Rest assured, you are not the first person to ask about this. However, before I give you an answer, let me begin by saying that I try not to use the word “normal” very often when describing sexual behavior. Instead, I prefer to talk about things as being more or less common to avoid implying any kind of value judgment one way or another. That said, when it comes to fantasies about forced sex, they do occur with some frequency in both men and women, so it would not be unusual for someone to fantasize about this (as some evidence, check out A Top 10 List of Readers’ Sexual Fantasies).
Let’s talk about women’s forced sex fantasies first. If you look across all of the research on this topic, the prevalence of “rape fantasies” (i.e., forced sex against one’s will) is quite high, with 31% to 57% of women reporting them.1 Among those women who report such fantasies, somewhere between 9% and 17% indicate that this is one of their favorite and/or more frequent fantasies. Of course, keep in mind that the exact nature of these fantasies varies considerably in terms of the amount and type of force, whether the resistance is genuine or token, and so on.
Given what a repugnant act rape is in the real world, many psychologists have wondered why any woman would have fantasies about it. Does it reflect past experience? Not likely. Women who have rape fantasies are no more likely to have been victims of sexual assault than women who have never had such fantasies.2 Another common theory is that women may fantasize about forced sex rather than consensual sex as a way coping with societal gender roles that restrict female sexuality. In other words, whereas a fantasy about consensual sex might evoke feelings of personal guilt because the woman is participating in her own sexual gratification, forced sex might not induce such feelings because she is being taken against her will and therefore cannot be blamed for it. However, research has found no support for this idea either.3 Instead, the explanation that seems most viable suggests that forced sex fantasies are simply a byproduct of greater openness to sexual experience. Women who have the most positive attitudes toward sex and the most sexual experiences have the most fantasies, and as the number of fantasies increases, so does the range of content.3 Thus, forced sex fantasies may just be a sign of a broader sexual repertoire.
What about forced sex fantasies among men? Men do indeed fantasize about being forced to have sex, but not nearly as often as women. Instead, when men have forced sex fantasies, they are usually forcing sex on someone else rather than having it forced upon them. Studies have found that anywhere from 13% to 54% of men have had fantasies about forcing sex upon women.4 In explaining why men have such fantasies, researchers have speculated that it may simply be a reflection of traditional gender roles of male dominance and female submissiveness; alternatively, perhaps they serve as a psychological mechanism for affirming men’s sexual desirability and power in the sense that these fantasies usually involve the woman being resistant initially but eventually becoming aroused and giving in.4
As you can see, forced sex fantasies are common among both men and women. In closing, I should note that although the research I reviewed above was focused on heterosexual individuals, forced sex is a common fantasy theme for gays and lesbians as well.4
For past Sex Question Friday posts, see here. Want to learn more about The Psychology of Human Sexuality? Click here for a complete list of articles or like the Facebook page to get articles delivered to your newsfeed.
1Critelli, J. W., & Bivona, J. M. (2008). Women’s erotic rape fantasies: An evaluation of theory and research. Journal of Sex Research, 45, 57-70. doi: 10.1080/00224490701808191
2Gold, S. R., Balzano, B. F., & Stamey, R. (1991). Two studies of females’ sexual force fantasies. Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 17, 15–26.
3Bivona, J. M., Critelli, J. W., & Clark, M. J. (in press). Women’s rape fantasies: An empirical evaluation of the major explanations. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi: 10.1007/s10508-012-9934-6
4Leitenberg, H., & Henning, K. (1995). Sexual fantasy. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 469-496.
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