Sex Question Friday: Why Am I Turned On By Rape Fantasies?

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a female reader who wanted to know more about the topic of so-called “rape fantasies”:

“How is it possible that rape is my greatest fear and yet a sexual fantasy that I find arousing?”

I completely understand where you’re coming from here—if rape is such a repugnant and terrifying act, how could it possibly come to be something that any woman would fantasize about? There are several different schools of thought on this. For instance, sex columnist Dan Savage has theorized that people eroticize their sexual fears. In other words, we try to cope with the things we are most afraid of by sexualizing them. So, a straight guy who is fearful that his wife will cheat on him might develop “cuckold fantasies,” in which he gets off on the idea of watching his wife sleep around. Alternatively, a woman might cope with her fear of rape by fantasizing about some type of forced sex.

Despite the intuitive appeal of the eroticization of fear hypothesis, I don’t know any psychologists who advocate for this position and I’m not aware of any research backing it up. As a result, I’m a bit skeptical of it.

Where else might rape fantasies come from? Some have argued that these fantasies stem from previous experiences with sexual victimization; however, research has found that victims of sexual assault are no more likely to have rape fantasies than other women [1]. Another theory is that women sometimes fantasize about forced sex instead of consensual sex in order to cope with societal gender roles that restrict female sexuality. The thought is that while fantasies about consensual sex might produce feelings of guilt because the woman is participating in her own sexual gratification, forced sex might not result in the same 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 [2].

The theory that appears most viable is that forced sex fantasies are a byproduct of greater openness to sexual experience. Research has found that women who have frequent rape fantasies tend to have higher self-esteem, more positive attitudes toward sex, and more sex fantasies in general (including more fantasies about consensual sex) [2]. What this suggests is that the women who fantasize about sex most often also show the most range and variability in the content of their fantasies. In other words, rape fantasies may simply be a sign of a more active sexual imagination.

There’s one other thing I’d like to say on this topic, which is that rape fantasies generally don’t resemble an actual rape. One of the biggest ways fantasy differs from reality here is that in the fantasy, you are in control. That is, you decide who the perpetrator is, the amount and type of force that is used, and the outcome. So, the fact that someone might have rape fantasies does not mean that this person wants to be sexually assaulted in the real world nor does it mean that they find the idea of rape inherently arousing. There’s a world of difference between fantasy and reality in this case.

For previous editions of Sex Question Friday, click here. To send in a question for a future edition, click here.

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[1] Gold, S. R., Balzano, B. F., & Stamey, R. (1991). Two studies of females’ sexual force fantasies. Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 17, 15–26.

[2] Bivona, J. M., Critelli, J. W., & Clark, M. J. (2012). Women’s rape fantasies: An empirical evaluation of the major explanations. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 1107-1119.

Image Source: iStockphoto.com

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