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For a number of very good reasons, psychological research examining women's rape fantasies is very seldom publicized. Responsible writers usually do not report on these studies for fear of creating a rationale for a horrific, criminal act.

Why psychological research does not examine women's rape fantasies?

But equally responsible writers believe it is best for the public to know about these studies so that women can protected against accusations of complicity in their own victimization.

Two scientists at the University of North Texas, Jenny Bivona and Joseph Critelli, published a meta-analysis of twenty studies of women's rape fantasies in the Journal of Sex Research in January 2010. The idea behind using the statistical tool called meta-analysis is that it helps researchers eliminate erroneous results due to sampling error, their inability, in this case, to ask questions about rape fantasies to a genuinely representative sample of women in society as a whole. Of course, even this methodology cannot account for the reality that people tend not to reveal their true feelings to pollsters--but it is the best statistical tool social scientists have to account for their methodological limitations.

Bivona and Critelli found eight overlapping, and sometimes contradictory, explanations of why up to 57 per cent of women have rape fantasies, and up to 19 per cent of women report enjoying them. (In their own research, a separate study, college age women report that 9 per cent of rape fantasies involved violence alone, 45 per cent of rape fantasies were strictly erotic, and 46 per cent of rape fantasies were a combination of violence and eroticism. Women surveyed reported having rape fantasies an average of four times a year, but 14 per cent of women reported having rape fantasies at least once a week.)

The explanation of rape fantasies in women

Their explanations of rape fantasies in women include:

  • Adversary transformation. These women nurture the fantasy of transforming a brute into a gentle lover.
  • Biological predisposition to surrender. These women have the idea that their sexual pleasure is too complicated for them to manage for themselves, so they need a more experienced male partner to achieve sexual ecstasy.
  • Desirability. These women like to think of themselves as so desirable that men will be compelled to "take" them.
  • Guilt or shame avoidance. Much as the teenager who fears parental condemnation for her first sexual experience might claim she was raped, women who have rape fantasies feel that this form of pleasure involves no wrongdoing on their part.
  • Male rape culture. These women have been acculturated to the idea that men take and dominate women sexually. Male-dominated sex is simply the way sexual relations occur. Although male rape culture does exist with public approval in some societies, the idea of "taking" women has become far less socially acceptable in the US and Europe but the prevalence of rape fantasies in women has persisted.
  • Masochism. Women who prefer masochistic sexual experiences enjoy suffering. A rape fantasy is a safe way of experiencing suffering.
  • Openness to new experiences, thrill-seeking. These women enjoy a variety of sexual experiences, but include rape only in the safety of fantasy.
  • Sympathetic activation. For these women, the pleasure of entertaining a rape fantasy is similar to the pleasure of watching a scary movie. Fear and pleasure go together whenever thoughts make the heart race, the hair stand on end, the skin crawl.

Another possibility: women who prefer rape fantasies may have actually been raped

Bivona and Critelli do not mention another possibility, that women who prefer rape fantasies may have actually been raped. These women may indulge in rape fantasy as a way of controlling their memories and feelings about the experience. The problem is that women do not necessarily have conscious memories of their experiences of sexual abuse, and frequent rape fantasies may just repeat a repressed memory that has never been processed through the steps of grief.

The University of North Texas researchers had to use meta-analysis to deal with the fact that women are not usually forthcoming about the subject of rape, especially about their preferences for fantasies of rape. But outside of the academic setting, is it ever wise for a woman to share her fantasies with the men in her life?

The danger of male masochism. A woman in a long-standing, supportive relationship might safely discuss her fantasies of being raped with her partner. A woman with a sadistic partner is in far greater danger discussing her rape fantasies, since this man might seek to give her the real experience of being raped.

But a perhaps more dangerous situation occurs when a woman who has not resolved her feelings about rape fantasies discusses them with a masochistic male partner. This may be someone who also needs the dominance and humiliation of rape, but experienced vicariously through her. A couple who acts out their mutual masochistic tendencies is in particular danger of being made the real-life victim of a sadistic third person, or multiple sadistic persons outside the relationship.

There is a difference between rape fantasies and rape realities

There is another current of thought that women don't really have rape fantasies at all, that the sexual experiences women fantasize about are so different from the real experience of rape that they cannot be fairly described as fantasies about rape.

"Rape" fantasies, these psychologists state, involve an attractive man who, in the words of one expert in the field, "must have divided his time in prison between working out in the gym and reading the love poems of Browning to his cellmate." In erotic rape fantasies, the rapist is an attractive man the woman would want to have sex with, who arouses her desires. In aversive fantasies, the rapist is an ugly, violent man who does not care about her desires.

One kind of fantasy could be fairly described as a "take me" seduction. The other fantasy still could be described as rape. Both fantasies involve passivity, coercion, and nonconsent, but one fantasy is about a desire to achieve sexual pleasure without having to play the seductress, and another fantasy may be about processing fears of sexual experience that may, or may, not be based in the woman's real life history.

Psychologist Paul Joannides even goes so far as to label these fantasies as "control fantasies," in which women have complete control over the outcome of events in the safety of their own minds. Science journalist Matthew Hutson believes that assertive women like the fantasy of handing over control of their relationships as an outlet for the need for sexual variety. Whatever the reality of rape fantasies, women who have them should exercise considerable care in choosing the men with whom they share them.

  • Bivona J, Critelli J. The nature of women's rape fantasies: an analysis of prevalence, frequency, and contents. J Sex Res. 2009 Jan-Feb,46(1):33-45
  • Critelli JW, Bivona JM. Women's erotic rape fantasies: an evaluation of theory and research. J Sex Res. 2008 Jan-Mar,45(1):57-70. Review.