It’s always the same. The topic of rape fantasy comes up in a workshop and a palpable sigh of the relief ripples through the circle, as each woman realizes she is not alone.
A study in the Journal of Sex Research has estimated that up to 57 percent of women have fantasies of being raped or overpowered. From my experience working with sexuality over the past ten years and speaking to many women, I believe the number to be much higher than this.
“For as long as I remember, I have always fantasized about being forced to perform sexual acts by a dominant male or being used and objectified by several men at the same time. I’ve never told my partners this – it’s something that has always remained in my fantasies, never played out in real life” says Sarah, a previous client of mine.
Some of us have had a history of sexual abuse, many of us haven’t, but what we all share in common is that while we might fantasize about being overpowered, it is exactly that: a fantasy, not something we actually want to experience in real life (without consent anyhow – but more about that later!). Or, as feminist writer Catherine Scott puts it: “While a woman being dominated in a BDSM scenario and a rape scene may look similar to the untrained viewer, they’re about as different from each other as skydiving and being shoved out of an airplane.” (BDSM stands for the consensual practice of Bondage, Discipline, Dominance & Submission, Sadism & Masochism)
Unfortunately, many women remain unaware of just how common their fantasy is, and like Sarah, have never told anyone, including their partners. Many feel burdened with the shame of feeling something is wrong with them and confusion as to why this is such a turn on for them.
While I think it’s wonderful that books such as 50 Shades of Grey have brought the theme of erotic power play into the mainstream, thereby helping many to realize they are not alone, I don’t think it’s contributed towards a lucid understanding of kink (and to the despair of many, has even perpetuated myths such as kinky people having unhappy childhoods and being unable to love or experience real intimacy).
In my work with sexuality and shadow healing, I’ve always been fascinated by why we have the kinks that we do, and how we can explore them in ways that are healthy and beneficial to us, and learn and grow from them.
Discerning why we have the kinks that we do is no simple feat! Our sexual psyches are a complex interplay of a variety of different elements, from the biological to the learned. Although there may be a genetic component to enjoying rape play (it could be, for example, that we have a gene that causes a predisposition towards enjoying intensity), I’m going to argue that the fantasy for women of being overpowered has a strong learned component.
In his book ‘Arousal: the secret logic behind sexual fantasies’, Dr Michael Bader proposes that our fantasies are not random, but sophisticated puzzles our unconscious minds put together in an attempt to create the safety needed for arousal. They contain a huge amount of information about our upbringing, our conditioning and the challenges we faced to get our needs met.
We grew up in a world in which even if we didn’t receive overtly negative conditioning about sex from our parents, society is full of mixed and confusing messages. The cultural narrative most of us received was that it is less ok for women to be sexual than men. For many women, being sexually expressive or assertive has often resulted in us being labeled slutty or in intimidating or threatening men. This creates quite the (often unconscious) psychological dilemma for young women – we feel ourselves awakening as sexual beings with the desire to experiment and explore, and know that to do so freely will be met with the risk of judgment (and often punishment) from the outside world.
If our fantasies are creative ways to deal with such anxiety-provoking dilemmas, then a possibility may be that by creating a fantasy scenario in which I am overpowered against my will, I remain ‘innocent’. This dynamic allows me to let go of my fear of the danger of risking judgment or intimidating a man and creates the psychological safety needed to become aroused. “Rape does for a woman’s sexual fantasy what the first martini does for her in reality: both relieve her of responsibility and guilt. By putting herself in the hands of her fantasy assailant – by making him an assailant – she gets him to do what she wants him to do, while seeming to be forced to do what he wants. Both ways she wins, and all the while she’s blameless, at the mercy of a force stronger than herself” Says Nancy Friday in her book on women’s fantasies ‘My Secret Garden’.
Again, it’s a complex issue and this is one possible explanation, which I believe often plays a significant role. The human mind and our erotic psyche are deeply mysterious, and there is much we cannot explain. Why is it that someone can develop a fetish based on an early experience they had, but someone else who had the same experience doesn’t develop the fetish? Why is it that women can grow up with similar sex-negative conditioning but one is turned on by rape fantasy, and the other by turning the tables and her being the one in control?
Here is Something To Try At Home…
If you are curious to explore what may lie behind your fantasy, I recommend paying extra careful attention to what goes on during the next time you indulge in your fantasy! See if you can go more deeply into your desire and the qualities you long for, feeling all the different nuances and layers. What is the exact texture, the quality of what you long for? What do you feel like you receive when you’re given what you long for? Perhaps it’s shame- and guilt-free arousal. Or intensity that can match yours. Or finally letting go of your role as responsible care-taker. Perhaps it’s the feeling of being wanted and irresistibly desired.
Looking at the feelings and desires underneath the fantasy and understanding what they might be giving us and realizing our fantasies are ways to help us feel safe can help us to let go of some of the shame or feeling of being wrong that many people have. It’s often easier to feel more self-acceptance and love for ourselves, or even celebrate our kinks, when we understand why we have them and just how sophisticated and clever our brains are!
Some fantasies are just that – fantasies, and we have no need or desire to act them out. Sometimes, however, it can be healing (and not to mention very sexy and intimate) to play out our fantasies in a safe, consensual and connected way. Especially if it’s something we feel self-judgment around, giving suppressed parts of ourselves a loving space to be met in a safe way can be a powerful way to let go of shame and embrace ourselves in our entirety. It can feel very vulnerable exposing hidden parts of ourselves to our partners, but there are many rewards: the feeling of permission to be ourselves with all our quirks, the possibility to learn and to grow, discovering new ways of experiencing pleasure and deepening intimacy with our partners.
Here are some tips if you want to engage in erotic power play/a rape fantasy with a partner:
- Sometimes it can be a good idea to make an agreement in advance with your partner about what roles you will play, how long you will play for and what will happen. Framing your play this way can give the feeling of safety and permission to go deeply into the experience, and also a sense of closure when it ends.
- What are your boundaries? Does the receiver want to be pushed and shoved and pinned down to the bed but doesn’t actually want to be penetrated? Would hearing how your partner can’t resist you turn you on, but being called a slut not feel good? Sometimes we only learn about what we don’t like through experiencing it first, but it’s a good idea to be as clear as possible about boundaries within your selves and each other in advance. Remember both of you will have boundaries, not just the person on the passive end!
- Often what we actually do during play is less important than how we want to feel. Especially if it’s the first time you are playing with erotic power play, speak openly to your partner about how you want to feel during your play. Desired? Objectified? Helpless? Humiliated? Or perhaps there are certain ways it is important for you not to feel. Sometimes subtle things can be very powerful – a certain look in your partner’s eyes, a hand gently placed on your throat… often certain key feelings we want to explore can be lost through larger actions or speeding things up through being nervous, so remember to slow down and try and be present in every moment.
- Especially if you have a hunch that your wish to be overpowered has something to do with not feeling entirely comfortable with your own sexual desire, being expressive about what you want and don’t want before and even during playing can be a great challenge and step towards owning your desires!
- Agree in advance on a safe word like ‘red’ for stop or ‘orange’ for ‘I’m heading towards my limit’ or ‘green’ for ‘let’s take it up a notch!’ These are better than choosing a word like ‘stop’ as it can be fun to say things like ‘stop’ during play and not actually mean them! Remember these can be used by both of you, not just the passive person.
- It can be interesting to explore the difference in being passive and fighting back and often it’s a good idea to clarify how you will react in advance.
- Be awake when it comes to the difference between being a victim and playing a victim. Even though in rape fantasy roleplay we might enjoy pretending we are a victim, we are still ultimately responsible for our wellbeing. If you start feeling like things are turning and it’s not serving you, or you start to float away and dissociate, then say stop… or rather ‘red!’ Remember, the sexiest play is the play where we are connected to our partners. If you start feeling disconnected or unsure of how the other person is feeling, then check in with them. It’s always ok to take a time out!
- Be prepared to be surprised! Just because it’s always been a fantasy, doesn’t mean it will be exactly like in your fantasy when you play it real. Again, stay present, pay attention to what’s going on. If you feel like things are turning, then take a time out, stop and talk about how you feel and what’s going on. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed! On the contrary, it can be a profound moment of closeness and growth.
- Take time afterwards to come down, connect, take care of each other and share about your experience. Remember that the person who did the overpowering may need just as much aftercare too!
What do you think about rape fantasy? Is it too edgy for you? Did you try it at home? Leave your comments below!
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