Let’s talk a little bit about rape fantasy and guilt.
Defining Rape Fantasy, or Consensual Non-Consent
In order to talk about these things, we need to clearly define what I mean by rape fantasy. It’s a phrase that causes some dissonance because they involve two inherently contradictory words – rape implies a lack of consent, whereas fantasy implies willingness. Similarly, the synonymous consensual non-consent is equally conflicting, but is a little clearer about the concepts involved.
In a New York Times Magazine interview with Bergner (2009), psychology professor Marta Meana discusses the inherent contradiction in the phrase “rape fantasies”:
The appeal is, above all, paradoxical, Meana pointed out: rape means having no control, while fantasy is a domain manipulated by the self. She stressed the vast difference between the pleasures of the imagined and the terrors of the real. “I hate the term ‘rape fantasies,’ ” she went on. “They’re really fantasies of submission.” She spoke about the thrill of being wanted so much that the aggressor is willing to overpower, to take. “But ‘aggression,’ ‘dominance,’ I have to find better words. ‘Submission’ isn’t even a good word” — it didn’t reflect the woman’s imagining of an ultimately willing surrender.
I approach rape fantasy by modifying Critelli and Binova’s (2008) definition to be gender-neutral:
[F]antasies that involve the use of physical force, threat of force, or incapacitation through, for example, sleep or intoxication, to coerce a [victim] into sexual activity against [their] will, that is, against the will of the [victim] in the fantasy. Thus rape fantasies contain three key elements: force, sex, and nonconsent. (p. 58)
Then, in order to fully define rape fantasy, consent must be defined. The definition of affirmative consent given by the State University of New York (”Definition of Affirmative Consent”, 2018) serves as a good framework:
Affirmative consent is a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
The difference for me between affirmative consent as defined above and consent is that consent is an idea and affirmative consent is an action; a person can be consenting without outwardly indicating it, whereas affirmative consent must be clearly and unambiguously communicated. Rape and sexual assault, then, are defined broadly in contrast as sexual activity lacking consent, affirmative or not.
Consenting Person vs. Non-Consenting Character
There’s a key concept in the Critelli and Binova (2008) definition, which is the desire of the victim in the fantasy. The original (which concerns male-on-female rape fantasies from the perspective of a female fantasizer) reads:
[T]he will of the character she identifies with in the fantasy[…] Because individuals exert control over the contents of their own fantasies, many rape fantasies involve sexual activities that take place consistent with the will and desire of the fantasizer, even though these activities are against the will of her self-character in the fantasy. From the point of view of the self-character, there is nonconsent, and these are rape fantasies. (p. 58)
We can extract from this that there are various levels of cognition at play in constructing a rape fantasy. There is the fantasizer, the actual person in whose imagination the scenario is playing out; the fantasy-victim, the fictional character who is the object of non-consensual sexual activity; and the fantasy-aggressor, the fictional character who is violating the consent of the fantasy-victim (any or all of these can be singular or plural, depending on the scenario; the singular will be used for simplicity).
Without these three key components, a rape fantasy cannot be constructed: without a fantasy-victim or fantasy-aggressor, there is no rape; without the fantasizer, there is no fantasy. Rape fantasy becomes a narrative construct, with fictional characters who may or may not be based on the fantasizer or their experiences, separate from reality and requiring willful suspension of disbelief.
Consent occurs at the level of the fantasizer, whereas the non-consent element occurs at the level of the fantasized, comprised of the fantasy-aggressor, fantasy-victim, and fantasy scenario. From the conversations I have had, the most common causes of guilt over rape fantasies I have seen are when the consent becomes blurred between the fantasizer and the fantasized: when the fantasizer and fantasized cross over and become difficult to clearly delineate between each other. This could be, for example, when the fantasy-victim is a fictional recreation of someone who has experienced traumatic rape or sexual assault – especially if that person is the fantasizer (as per the top ask in the attached photo) or when it is difficult for fantasizers to separate the realms of the fantasizer and the fantasized (as per the bottom ask in the attached photo).
Sidebar: Women’s Sexual Arousal by Rape Fantasies
Critelli and Binova (2008) lay out eight potential reasons for why women may have and enjoy male-on-female rape fantasies, based on the prevalent theories of the time from researchers and clinicians:
- Masochism: she has an innate desire for pain and suffering (pp. 62-63)
- Sexual Blame Avoidance: she wishes to escape blame or responsibility for sex (pp. 63-64)
- Openness to Sexual Experience: she has an open and accepting attitude toward sex, including rape fantasies (p. 64)
- Desirability: she wants to feel too attractive to resist (pp. 64-65)
- Male Rape Culture: she is influenced by the cultural and ideological prevalence (p. 65)
- Biological Predisposition to Surrender: she has an innate biological desire to surrender sexually to a dominant male (p. 65)
- Sympathetic Activation: a fear response may stimulate her sexual arousal (pp. 65-66)
- Adversary Transformation: she wishes to tame a rapist and make him fall in love with her (pp. 66-67)
These categories are specific to women having male-on-female rape fantasies, and as a result, are lacking in full coverage of reasons why people may have rape fantasies in general, and also fails to account for different types of rape fantasies. Some of these dimensions that are not covered include, but are not limited to:
- Gender of the fantasizer(s)
- Gender, age, and composition of the fantasy-victim(s)
- Gender, age, and composition of the fantasy-aggressor(s)
- Power relations between fantasy-victims and fantasy-aggressors
- Nature and degree of non-consent in the fantasy scenario
- Nature and degree of violence in the fantasy scenario
- Nature and degree of fantasy-victim’ cognitive arousal in fantasy scenario
- Self-projection of fantasizer to fantasy-victim and/or fantasy-aggressor
As well, the intricacies of the interplays of these dimensions are lost, as well as their composition and frequency for individual or aggregate fantasizers. Therefore, I see Critelli and Binova’s (2008) categories as a good starting point and basis for discussion, but incomplete in terms of fully capturing the range of possibilities in the generation and enjoyment of rape fantasies. Enumerating a more comprehensive list of why people may have and enjoy rape fantasies, and offering explanations and justifications for them, is beyond the scope of this post.
A follow-up Binova, Critelli, and Clark (2012) study examining a survey of 355 female undergraduates found no evidence to support that women have rape fantasies as sexual blame avoidance (the avoidance of the perception of promiscuity), but found moderate support for sexual attractiveness/desirability and strong support for openness to sexual experiences, as explanations for why women may have and enjoy rape fantasies (pp. 1116-1117).
Attempting to find trends is a worthy endeavor, but it is perhaps misguided in this case. The conversations I have had with people with rape fantasies leads me to a view of the nature of rape fantasies that is multi-faceted, where generalizing trends apart from their commonality is potentially damaging. For example, to falsely generalize that women do not have rape fantasies as sexual blame avoidance could stigmatize and cause self-doubt in women whose motivations for rape fantasies include sexual blame avoidance.
Therefore, my recommendation in terms of approaching enjoyment of rape fantasies and guilt is to look at the various reasons a person may have for being aroused by rape fantasies without trying to legitimize or discard specific ones. In the cases of reasons where the bases may be scientifically unsound, e.g. the idea that women are biologically predisposed to sexually surrender to a dominant male, it is still useful to examine the psychological and sociological factors of why the reason may be perceived as valid by a fantasizer.
Other studies were examined but not included as they had sampling and methodological issues which made them weak candidates for inclusion.
Enjoying Rape Fantasy is not Enjoying Rape
Does fantasizing about, and being sexually aroused by, the imagination of a victim unwilling or unable to consent mean that people who have rape fantasies secretly desire or support rape? This is, I think, at the heart of the issue of guilt over rape fantasies. The messages I get often concern difficulties reconciling rape fantasies with the real injustices and violence happening in the world; real, perceived, or internalized harm to survivors, loved ones, and/or equality movements; or the contradiction between personal experiences and fantasies.
Critelli and Binova (2008) address this question as part of their conclusion:
Because fantasies often involve a wish fulfillment, does this mean that many women want to be raped in real life? […] Viewing rape fantasies with a simplistic model of wish fulfillment assumes that what is important is what the fantasy reveals about real-life desires. It also assumes that rape, as a fantasy event, corresponds in toto to actual rape. These assumptions may lead to a misinterpretation of rape fantasies. Fantasies are powerful emotional experiences in their own right, and the aspects of rape fantasy that do apply to wish fulfillment may involve an aspect or component of fantasized rape rather than a desire for actual rape. (p. 67)
Bergner’s (2009) conversations with Chivers also suggest some motivations behind rape fantasy:
We spoke, then, about the way sexual fantasies strip away the prospect of repercussions, of physical or psychological harm, and allow for unencumbered excitement, about the way they offer, in this sense, a pure glimpse into desire, without meaning — especially in the case of sexual assault — that the actual experiences are wanted.
“It’s the wish to be beyond will, beyond thought,” Chivers said about rape fantasies. “To be all in the midbrain.”
Taken together, the idea is that rape fantasies do not correspond in whole to rape, rape fantasies do not necessarily indicate a desire to rape or be raped, and that even a wish fulfillment component of rape fantasies should not be extrapolated wholesale to indicate a desire for rape. The component of fantasy necessarily creates the theater of rape fantasy as performance, disconnected from (but in conversation with) reality.
So where does that leave us in terms of rape fantasies and guilt?
My interactions on and off this blog indicate that the guilt component of rape fantasies comes from the aforementioned difficulty in separating the realm of the fantasizer from the realm of the fantasized. When the realm of the fantasizer appears to merge with the realm of the fantasized, the dissonance is that the fantasizer actually wants to experience a real-world situation of non-consent (fantasizer->fantasized); when the realm of the fantasized appears to merge with the realm of the fantasizer, the dissonance is that the fantasizer is aroused by actual non-consent (fantasized->fantasizer). These are subtle but important distinctions, and one is not exclusive of the other.
To put this idea into application: part of the reason for my hiatus is that I felt that these realms were becoming largely blurred, not necessarily on this blog, but in society at large. This put me in the position where the fantasy captions, which sit in the realm of the fantasized, had what I felt now was a much higher risk of being perceived as existing in the realm of the fantasizer, whether that fantasizer was taken to be the reader, the actual author, or the implied author, caused by exposing instances of the fantasized to a large number of fantasizers.
The reason I have laid out so many definitions in this post is because I hope that they will help people to approach their cognitive conflicts by applying them to their own dissonant situations. By clearly identifying the realms of the fantasizer, the fantasized, and the situations of consent within each realm, as well as understanding some potential motivations behind rape fantasies, my hope is that people will be able to apply these definitions and gain clearer insight into the nature and cause of their guilt.
Furthermore, I hope that the outside perspective will help them to resolve it, or at least find new ways to think about and reason through it. Identify who and what is in the realm of the fantasizer and the fantasized, and the types and levels of consent associated with each one. Making affirmative consent absolutely clear in the realm of the fantasizer is critical to safe, conscientious rape fantasies.
The key takeaways are:
- Rape is non-consensual; rape fantasy is consensual
- Different people have different reasons for having and enjoying rape fantasies
- Enjoying rape fantasies does not mean you enjoy rape
- Many instances of cognitive dissonance over rape fantasies involve transgressions between the realms of the fantasizer and fantasized
- These dissonances can be approached using the definitions and frameworks in this post to resolve the levels of consent in each realm
Bergman, D. (2009, Jan 22). What Do Women Want? The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 21 Feb, 2018 from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25desire-t.html
Binova, 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(5), 1107-1119. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-9934-6
Critelli, J.W. & Binova, J.M. (2008). Women’s Erotic Rape Fantasies: An Evaluation of Theory and Research. The Journal of Sex Research, 45(1), 57-70. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490701808191
Definition of Affirmative Consent (2018). Retrieved 21 Feb, 2018 from http://system.suny.edu/sexual-violence-prevention-workgroup/policies/affirmative-consent/