The Problem of Careless Language & the Deconstruction of Rape Fantasies

I’ve been doing a lot of interviews with fellow writers on the subject of restrictions in erotic fiction.  With a few exceptions, most erotic fiction writers write about the things that turn them on. This makes sense. It’s very hard to ensure that you are going to write about something you don’t have fantasies about in an arousing manner.  The few erotica writers who do venture into areas of kink that are not their particular flavour tend to do it as a challenge to themselves. I admit that I have written certain pieces of, for instance, F/m FemDom – which is not generally something in my briefcase of kink – because I am interested and compelled by the dynamics of it. But I worry that behind the words, there just isn’t enough heat or desire in the story.

It’s difficult to understand a kink that doesn’t arouse you. But as erotic fiction writers, if we have any obligation at all, beyond being eloquent writers, I think it is to be extremely careful with our language when it comes to kinks that squick us. It is very easy to misrepresent, generalize, or denigrate things that don’t arouse us.  I feel an obligation to be careful, for instance, in how I talk about sexual humiliation. Because I really don’t ‘get’ it in my gut. I don’t know why it turns people on. I struggle to get there intellectually.  But there are some very cool, very sane human beings for whom it is a serious turn on, and I must respect that part of their erotic imagination – even the places I cannot go.  I don’t assume that because someone finds humiliation arousing, that they approve of bullying or nonconsensual humiliation of people in the real world.

Madeline Elayne, a fellow erotica author who nestles between the pages of Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Please, Ma’am anthology with me, has written a blog post in response to my questions about non-con in erotic fiction. It’s an interesting post and anyone who is considering writing non-con in their fiction should read it.

However, Madeline, like a lot of people who don’t have rape fantasies and don’t write non-con erotic fiction, is a tad careless with her language.

“I don’t write about adult baby play, either. Contrary to rape, which I am very much AGAINST, I think AB play is very much okay, it just squicks me.  Sorry AB players!”

Elayne, “My Bruised and Battered Psyche Revealed, or Why I Don’t Write Non-Con

Please note that here ‘adult baby play’ is specified as play. She’s making a clear distinction between this and pedophilia in the real world by using the term ‘adult baby play’. But she doesn’t contrast it with ‘rape play or non-con roleplay’. She contrasts it with rape – real rape. This is contrasting apples with freight trains.

The inference, the suggestion, the assumption is that people who have rape fantasies or write erotic fiction which includes non-con are in any way complacent about actual rape, or seem to feel it is okay, or are ambivalent about it.

(and just about now – you can imagine – I’m doing my best to hold my temper)

So, let me state the bloody fucking obvious (which is in my manifesto, if you care to look): Rape is a reprehensible, disgusting, cowardly, brutal CRIME. It is prosecutable as a crime in almost every country on earth and rightly so. Anyone who commits it, regardless of circumstance, should be prosecuted and should feel the full weight of the law upon them. No civilized society and no civilized person condones or is even ambivalent about rape. My less civilized and emotional side would not be at all adverse to imposing the punishment of castration.

I am not sure why Ms Elayne seems to be able to make a clear distinction between ‘adult baby play’ and its real world counterpart – which is pedophilia – but seems unable to afford that clear distinction to people who indulge in sexual fantasies about rape, but I see this sort of careless psuedo-logic all the time.

One of the major problems, perhaps, is a simple linguistic one. The commonly used term for sexual fantasies involving sexual force, non-consensual sex, etc. is ‘rape fantasy’. Research indicates that very few people who have rape fantasies actually fantasize something that approaches a realistic depiction of rape. Seldom is the fantasy rapist ugly. Seldom do people fantasize about the extreme violence that often accompanies rape in the real world. This is also true for depictions of non-con in erotic fiction. Certainly the non-con sex in Gaijin doesn’t come close to depicting real rape. Neither does my depiction of the rape in Click. I have read a couple of books containing non-con, such as Pretty When She Cries, by Sarah Kate that might be, to some people including myself, slightly too realistic. And there is clinical evidence that some women have rape fantasies that include extreme levels of realism and still find it intensely erotic to imagine. I’m not making any judgements about what level of realism you like in your rape fantasy. I personally like a bit of violence in my fantasy, but have a big thing about hygiene. My fantasy rapists are always immaculately bathed.

In order, I think, to understand why non-con in fantasy or fiction is so completely unrelated to rape in reality, it may be of use to examine why people have these fantasies. Sadly there is very little data on male rape fantasies – either as victim or perpetrator. It’s a testament to how political correctness has allowed us to be willfully ignorant. However, Bivona and Critelli’s extensive study of rape fantasies in women outline the various theories on what purposes rape fantasies serve.

The earliest attempts to explain the phenomena of rape fantasies were penned by the early 20th century psychoanalytic community. In 1944, Helene Deutsch posited that rape fantasies were evidence of women’s innate masochism. (Deutsch, H. The psychology of women (vol. 1). Grune & Stratton, 1944 – accessed from Archive.org). This, thankfully, was later completely refuted by numerous studies. However, I find it ironic and absurd that many feminists in the 1970s and 80s who would otherwise find Deutsch’s conclusions of the psychology of women  abhorrent, so readily embraced her opinion on women who had rape fantasies – that they are mentally ill masochists.

The most commonly referenced explanation for why women have sex fantasies is in order to overcome sex-guilt. This theory was popularized by Nancy Friday in her book Women on Top (1991). She based her conclusions on interviews with women in the 1960s and 1970s, but this work has been heavily criticized for its lack of scientific rigor. In contrast, there are some robust studies that actually refute the sex-guilt theory quite categorically, where no relationship at all between levels of sex-guilt and sexual force fantasies was found.  And interestingly enough, a number of studies showed a strong co-relation between women who were more sexually experienced and rape fantasy.  The more sexually active and willing to experiment a woman is, the more likely she is to have sexual force fantasies (and the more likely she is to simply have a wider repertoire of sexual fantasies in general). (Shulman and Horne, ‘Guilty or Not? A Path Model of Women’s Sexual Force Fantasies’, Journal of Sex Research, 2006).

Personally, I don’t think this refutes the sex-guilt theory completely. It presupposes  that women who have more and more varied sex have lower levels of sex guilt. Although this seems a sensible conclusion, I’m not entirely convinced it’s accurate.  My evidence is sadly, only anecdotal, but when I was young I did have quite a lot of sex guilt, and I had a LOT of sex – specifically in order to purge it – and I’m happy to report that my efforts were very successful.

On the darker side, the same study revealed that there is a very clear co-relation between sexual force fantasies and women who have experienced sex abuse in childhood.  One explanation for why this occurs is that early childhood sexual trauma may teach a young person to associate sex with force and colour their understanding of sex for life.

Adult survivors of sexual abuse or rape do not seem to exhibit the same propensity for rape fantasy. They seem to be no less and no more likely to have sexual force fantasies than any one else. I find this is very interesting. One might easily assume that women who had experienced rape in adulthood would find fantasies about force the least arousing thing in the world. But it is not always the case. There is an excellent, sensitive and very personal paper on how to cope with having rape fantasies as a rape survivor. “Dealing with Rape Fantasies as a Survivor of Sexual Violence” by Kate, 2009 is free and in pdf form.

The same study found that women with self-identified feminist beliefs were less likely to suffer from sex-guilt, exhibit higher levels of erotophilia.

(Erotophilia is a term used by psychologists to describe sexuality on a personality scale. Erotophiles score high on one end of the scale that is characterized by expressing less guilt about sex, talking about sex more openly, and holding more positive attitudes toward sexually explicit materialwikipedia entry)

As a Foucaultian aside, don’t you love how scientists have managed to make a sex-positive outlook sound like a disease?

The irony of this is that, although self-identified feminists are more likely to indulge in wide range of sexual fantasies, including rape fantasies because they have less sex-guilt, they are more reluctant to admit to it because they have feminist-guilt. It may be that they consider their rape fantasies as a betrayal of popular and long-held beliefs within the feminist community that rape fantasy is a social pathology which requires eradication (S. Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, Bantam Books, 1976).

Another theory is the one of desirability.  And this is so well described in the Critelli and Bivona paper, that I’m just going to quote it:

The essential idea here is that the rape fantasy portrays the woman as so attractive, seductive, and desirable that the man loses control, breaking core expectations of civil decency in order to have her (Hariton, 1973; Heiman et al., 1976; Kanin, 1982; Knafo & Jaffe, 1984). In this way, the rape becomes a testament to her sexual power. Kanin (1982) suggests that such a fantasy not only enhances the female’s self=esteem, but also generates excitement as she feels the extent of the man’s desire.

Critelli and Bivona, ‘Women’s Erotic Rape Fantasies: An Evaluation of Theory and Research‘,
Journal of Sex Research, 2008

There are a number of other theories, most of which are very well summarized in the above linked study. However, all of the credible ones lead me to the same conclusions. That ‘rape fantasy’ is for the most part completely unrelated to real rape in any form at all.

As a writer of erotic fiction, these studies inform me. They help me ask questions about why rape fantasies are so erotic to some of us and why, when I incorporate them into my fiction, so many readers find it arousing. What is the mechanism of arousal? Is there one, or many? What is the fantasy rape a signifier for? Perhaps it’s the idea of choiceless, guiltless surrender to pleasure? Perhaps it is an act of stroking of our own egos about our desirability. Perhaps it is history haunting us about our male-dominated past? Perhaps it nothing more than a semiotic symbolization of the way sexual desire seems to overwhelm us, overtake us, blow away our good sense and our hesitations?

Perhaps there is some truth to the sex-guilt theory. Not in the sense that we feel guilty about having sexual feelings in general but in that we desire to imagine doing certain things, or having certain things done to us that we are shy, even in our own minds, to fantasize about experiencing consensually? Maybe the fantasy rapist in our mind is the braver, bolder part of us – the enabler who pushes us through the door into imagining the edgier side of sexuality?

There is nothing fundamentally non-consensual about rape fantasy. The fantasizer almost always creates the fantasy willingly and, often, eagerly. We are the creators of the fantasy rapist’s character. We direct him or her. We dream up what he or she will make us do and we allow ourselves the luxury of being the ravished victim who screams no, no, no even as we orgasm.  It is entirely about self-consent. And no one should ever have to feel guilty, or dirty, or bad about indulging in them.

And consequently, erotic fiction that includes scenes of non-consent is the same. If I write an eroticized rape scene and  you, as a reader, agree to suspend disbelief and indulge in the fiction of it, it is essentially a shared rape fantasy. As a reader you do not have to enter, no one is forcing you to read this. I, and most other authors and publishers of erotic fiction that contains non-consensual erotic scenes, are scrupulous in our labeling of it.

So, although the fantasy or the fiction may contain elements of non-consent, the fantasizer and/or the reader are fully in control and consent to either imagine or to read. This has nothing to do, ultimately, with non-consent. It is all about the permission to imagine.

N.B As an aside, if you find that you are experiencing persistent, frightening and upsetting rape nightmares, daydreams or persistent intrusive thoughts that make you feel uncomfortable – please take this as a sign that you need to see a mental health professional and speak to them about it.

 

 

 

 

 

  18 comments for “The Problem of Careless Language & the Deconstruction of Rape Fantasies

  1. November 4, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Interesting, RG. I wonder how close “Rape Fantasy” and “Sex-Slave Fantasy” are?

    One question: You refer to “sex-guilt” above. I don’t understand the term, could you elaborate please?

  2. November 4, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    Beautifully put. To be sure, even “lovingly” molesting small children is just as evil as actual, real world rape. (Do you suppose that we could call for castration for both?) I regret that my careless wording created that implication, because that is very much not my point of view. To say that people who enjoy sex-slavery or non-con fantasies are in any way endorsing actual rape is as ludicrous as saying that people who participate in adult baby play endorse paedophilia. I appreciate you calling me on it.

  3. Morag
    November 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Very interesting, as usual, RG; and – as ever – well researched and thought out.

    From my own experience, I am pretty experienced and sex-guilt free. I have fantasies, when I’m in the mood, and they often involve non-con sex, with me as the “victim”. It is rarely about violent rape, but something a little less extreme. As my own eroticism works through my ears, I like a good talking session while I’m having sex. Not doing the stuff we’re talking about, but both imagining it. Nothing like being told by my new Master that interviewing as a chambermaid involves servicing his needs and those of any of his friends. Luckily, my lover is quite happy to join in, though he doesn’t have a Dom bone in his body.

    I also find that I can’t talk out the fantasy with him as the victim, because he would not be able to play along. That doesn’t mean I don’t have them – he just doesn’t know the details.

    As you say, no-one should ever imagine a person’s rape fantasy means they want to be raped. Rape is a crime of violence, not of sex. It’s very important to know that.

  4. lil
    November 4, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Very interesting and thought provoking post.

  5. November 5, 2011 at 4:45 am

    Perhaps it nothing more than a semiotic symbolization of the way sexual desire seems to overwhelm us, overtake us, blow away our good sense and our hesitations?

    For what it’s worth, I’d put my money on this.

    I think it has to do with the environment a lot of people grow up in: here’s this culture that doesn’t even tell us about sex, or represent it truthfully, or represents it as a product and something to be consumed. So whole generations of people grow up trying to make sense of how sex feels without any guiding narratives. Layer the commercial representations of sex on top of that, take intersectionality into consideration, and you’ve got a whole bunch of youthful minds building their sex narratives—because when we don’t have a myth, we make one—onto the things we see in the media. Which is a problem, because lots of times representations of sex in media aren’t really about sex at all but are about reinforcing certain social mores.

    Disclaimer: I am American, and my experience is with American culture, but what I’m saying could probably be applied to most industrialized Western societies.

    I think a huge amount of our sexualities, even the ones in our heads, are performative, because the sexual narratives we build for ourselves are assembled from bits of sexual information that are intended to be performative.

    God I hope this makes sense.

    • November 5, 2011 at 4:54 am

      …and because we don’t have truthful sex narratives passed down through families or most Westernized cultures, we try to reconstruct the experience on the page using images cut and pasted from media representations of sex. Western media is saturated with violence, it’s ridiculous, there’s blood flying and guts flying and realistic depictions of decapitations (all things that many Westerners will live an entire lifetime without seeing firsthand), but mainstream movies are re-cut so that orgasm scenes are under five seconds long, so that intercourse scenes contain three thrusts or less, and we never ever see an erect penis.

      I guess it’s not shocking to me that people might appropriate various types of violent imagery. Out of the most widespread and commonplace imagery in Western media, violent imagery most closely approximates the way sex feels, even if it’s not at all like the way (traditional, “vanilla”) sex actually looks. When you’re in your formative years, you’ll work with what’s there.

      Of course none of this explains why rape fantasy is as old as literature, but who knows. I’m not culture was a whole lot different back then.

      • November 5, 2011 at 5:30 am

        have you ever read the Heptameron? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heptam%C3%A9ron
        It was published in the 16th Century and it has some pretty broad hints about ‘ravishment’.
        Also, early Gothic romances like The Monk? There is definitely a undertone of erotic thrill to the rape in the novel.

        I notice that my students here – both the female and the male – will also write stories that include rape with a certain amount of frisson and gusto. And they’re never very realistically represented. So, I have no proof, but my gut says this is actually a pretty universal meme. And it’s definitely not just women who have it. There is an equally strong meme of being male and being forced, against your will, to be seduced and er…taken advantage of by whomever.

        And it can be pretty subtle, especially in men. You see narratives that speak about them being forcibly aroused, against their will, by some sexy evil seductress. I’ve noticed in a lot of the alt.sex.erotica and literotica stories of, for instance, incest. The daughter is the vamp, the seductress, who pretty much forces her father. Of course he gives in and likes it, but there is no question that there is a delight in fantasizing a lack of choice on his part. And these are written by men.

        My gut says these themes of ‘helpless’ surrender lie on a continuum – from the mild sort of pushy seduction all the way to outright and quite violent violation. But the underlying theme is the same… the victim is not responsible for his or her sexual reaction because they are not the initiators.

        • November 5, 2011 at 7:33 am

          I have not. There is so much that I haven’t read, seriously.

          I think it is largely about surrender, and trying to find artistic ways of expressing that feeling. Writing about sex, when you get past the category of acts, is murky and difficult. It’s slippery. Describing a character’s inner landscape during sex is incredibly hard, so you reach for closely aligned concepts and images.

          I still think that the power of rape imagery in fantasy is related to the treatment of sex in culture, and that representations of rape fantasy are always going to be prevalent in cultures where sex/marriage is treated as a material transaction and women are treated as property. Since those ideas aren’t exactly new ones, it’s not exactly shocking that it would be a very old meme.

    • November 5, 2011 at 5:14 am

      Well, this doesn’t explain why women were having rape fantasies back in the 18th Century, though – and there are hints and sort of jokey references to it in literature even then.

      I remember being very young and seeing the old version of Casino Royale – the opening sequence in that silly Scottish castle, with the mature vamp looking at Bond and proclaiming ‘Ravish Me Jimmy’. I get the sense that we’ve been having these fantasies a long, long time.

      • November 5, 2011 at 7:18 am

        Nope, you’re right, it doesn’t. Maybe it’s more how rape fantasies have been perpetuated through the generations. Maybe rape fantasies are like water and will find a way to go wherever they can. I don’t know. It’s clearly more thinking than I should be doing on a Friday night.

  6. Maxine Marsh
    November 5, 2011 at 5:24 am

    “Maybe the fantasy rapist in our mind is the braver, bolder part of us – the enabler who pushes us through the door into imagining the edgier side of sexuality?”

    This is a fucking awesome concept. People seem to consistently ignore the fact that they live as vicariously through the villain as they do through the victim. But you can’t really rape yourself, can you?

    • November 5, 2011 at 5:35 am

      No! Exactly.

      And I do find that, in my particular rape fantasies, I use that character to get me to places I’m a little shy or scared or hesitant to go. That might just be me, but I bet it isn’t. I’m willing to bet most women don’t fantasize about their fantasy rapist doing them with gentle care in a missionary position. Hehehe.

  7. Shar
    November 6, 2011 at 12:42 am

    “Perhaps it nothing more than a semiotic symbolization of the way sexual desire seems to overwhelm us, overtake us, blow away our good sense and our hesitations?”

    This comes closer to my attraction to rape fantasies. I don’t have guilt over sex, and I wasn’t abused as a child (or an adult). I like the idea of over-riding passion, that sweeps away “rules” and conventions. A man knows he should get consent. A man who wants me so badly he won’t wait for that–that’s arousing to me. It’s immediate, it’s animal, it’s raw and honest. It isn’t about negotiating wise life choices or working out whether we could have a sensible dating life together. It’s pure lust. I think my fondness for fantasies of anonymous encounters or “stranger sex” are along that continuum. That we could cut to the chase, as it were, without a lot of conversation and negotiating.

    In my own fantasies, I’m often struggling or fighting back (although I play to lose!). But it doesn’t feel like I’m fighting him, but more things like my own pride, self-control, and barriers against intimacy. Definitely not shame or guilt, though. It’s not a feeling that sex is wrong or dirty or not allowed, but more a feeling that I don’t wish to reveal myself or to connect. And his lust takes that matter out of my control; and it’s to my betterment.

    • November 6, 2011 at 1:27 am

      Hi Shar,

      I think you make a really interesting point when you say that for you it is not about shame or sex guilt, but about transcending self-control, pride, etc.

      I have to echo that – or rather something similar. If I had to put a finger on what I found deeply satisfying about non-con fantasies, it would be that they provide a mechanism for me overcoming a deeply ingrained fear of identity loss. And I notice that most of my non-con fantasies involve ‘fantasy rapists’ who don’t acknowledge my identity, or mistake it, or override it. And, underlining this theory, one of the central dilemmas in all of my non-con erotic writing is the issue of identity erasure. In Gaijin, the character is just that to him – a gaijin. She is a symbol of western superiority he can defile, of a type of women he doesn’t really feel he deserves. He doesn’t really see her. In Click, it is even more extreme. Carl with a C’s victim is the embodiment of a humanitarian ethos he has walked away from. In The Voice, the perpetrator projects an ideal onto his victim that cannot possibly exist in the real world. I hadn’t really thought about it until you posted your comment, so thank you. Wow. I have learned something new about myself and my writing!

  8. December 15, 2011 at 12:20 am

    I so completely agree with you on this issue – mostly thanks to you! – and think it is so very important to allow and enjoy where our erotic minds take us, provided we are actually enjoying it. And I’ve been considering a small piece of personal action here; namely, blogging about my fantasies so as not to perpetuate the idea that I’m hiding them because I think what I imagine is in any way real. (That’s not very eloquently put, but I hope you understand my point.)

    Also, reading this, I wondered if there have been m/any good studies done on those who had rape fantasies before (and after) they were actually raped, and how those fantasies effected the experience, and how the experience effected the fantasies. Do you have anything that specifically deals with this issue?

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