I discovered far more information than I was able to include in the brief 1000-word entry for the EofR, of course. I'd like to share some of it with you here in upcoming weeks in a variety of posts. The first topic I want to tackle is the surprising (at least to me) fact that in real life, many women have erotic fantasies about being raped.
Why would women fantasize about being sexually violated, and be sexually turned on by such fantasies? Critelli and Bivona describe eight possible explanations previous scientists have theorized, and comment upon the likelihood of each:
1. Women are Masochists
|Must be a girl snake...|
2. Avoiding the Blame
The most frequently cited explanation for rape fantasies is that they are a way to avoid blame. In societies that frown upon female sexuality, women might fantasize about rape in order to experience sexual feelings without having to take responsibility for them, or be blamed for them. I remember reading this explanation in Nancy Friday's books about women's sexual fantasies (My Secret Garden, 1973; Forbidden Flowers, 1975). The evidence to support this theory is decidedly mixed, leading Critelli and Bivona to suggest that explanation might be true for women with "high sex guilt," but not for the population in general.
3. We Love Sex, All Sex
By the late 1980s and 1990s, the discourse about rape fantasy had begun to shift, with several researchers suggesting that rape fantasies reflected a relative openness to and acceptance of sexual experience. As women have more sexual experiences, the diversity of their fantasies increases, research shows. But researchers have not be able to explain the most paradoxical aspect of rape fantasy: why should women who would not find being sexually violated in real life find fantasies about the experience erotically pleasurable?
4. Do You Really Want (to hurt) Me?
5. My Enemy, My Lover
Another possible explanation also stems from the romance novel, or of critics' interpretation of it. Helen Hazen's Endless Rapture (1983) argues that for a romance novel's heroine, the challenge is to overcome an apparently evil man, "conquer his heart, seduce him into falling in love with her, have him voluntarily make a lifetime commitment to her, and transform his apparent evil and cruelty into something more socially acceptable without diminishing his masculinity" (Critelli and Bivona 67). In such novels, rape is used as a tool to create "excitement and dramatic tension." No one has asked women who fantasize about rape, though, whether their fantasies include the transformation of their rapists, so again this explanation lacks credible supporting evidence.
6. Brainwashed by Rape Culture
7. That Primitive Brain...
The final two theories are not psychosocial, but biological in nature. One suggests that since in many species, the male must put on a show of dominance or pursuit before copulation can take place. Perhaps this predisposition lingers in "primitive brain regions that have evolved to insure successful mating in reptiles, birds, and mammals.... females may have a natural desire to surrender to a selected, dominant male. If so, humans may also have a corresponding tendency to portray this ritual in fantasy," although they have no actual desire to experience rape itself (65). A lot of "perhaps" and "may" in this theory....
8. Scare Me, Turn Me On
Recent scientific studies on "sympathetic activation"—the physical manifestations of the "fight or flight" reaction—show that sympathetic activation can enhance sexual response. If you frighten me, you might also sexually excite me. But you can't scare me too much; while moderate levels of fear can increase pleasure, too much is simply "disruptive" (66). Roller coasters, yes; Freddy Krueger, no.
Critelli and Bivona conclude their article by suggesting that a combination of biological predisposition to surrender fantasies, sympathetic activation, and adversary transformation (7, 8, & 5) provide the most likely general explanation for women's rape fantasies, while blame avoidance, openness to sex, and desirability theories (2, 3, & 4) might best account for a particular woman's attraction to particular types of rape fantasies.
What research would you want scientists to undertake to help explain women's rape fantasies? Can you think of any other explanations for why women would fantasize about rape, and take pleasure from such fantasies? And which of the above explanations do you think best accounts for the prevalence of rape and/or forced seductions in romance novels?
*Published in the Journal of Sex Research 45.1 (2008): 57–70.
Journal of Sex Research: Taylor and Francis Group
Tread on Me flag: Althouse
Culture Club record: 45cat
Roller Coaster: Flaguide.org
Next time on RNFF: Battle of the Sexes in the Courtroom: Julie James' Practice Makes Perfect