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Why women have ravishment and rape fantasies

We wrote a post a few weeks back about research into men’s and women’s fantasy lives — and in particular, how often this sort of research is willfully misinterpreted. That got us wondering what other new fantasy research might be out there… and we came across a fascinating study about why women have rape fantasies — or ravishment fantasies, as we prefer to call them (more on that issue below).

Previous research into this topic found that between 31% and 62% of women have rape fantasies. The authors of the new study posed the following question: “To be sexually aroused by such an imagined scenario represents a psychological mystery. Why fantasize about a criminal act which in reality is repulsive and harrowing?”

The researchers, based at the University of North Texas and the University of Notre Dame, studied 355 young women. In one of the exercises, the women’s arousal levels were studied as they listened to a ravishment fantasy scenario over headphones (gotta love audio erotica!) — and we say ravishment in this case because the scenario was pulled from the kind of story lines typical to romance novels… i.e. it was very clearly an erotic fantasy and not an actual account of a real-life rape. The women listening were told to imagine themselves as the woman in the narrative.

So why are women turned on by this kind of scenario? In the past, the theory went that women didn’t want to be perceived as “slutty” for enjoying sex, and so rape fantasies were a way to avoid taking blame for their sexual desires. We’re delighted to report that the researchers of this new study found no such thing! (Though they say that this theory may have held more water in the past, when attitudes toward women’s sexuality were more uptight.)

On the contrary, in fact: This new study found that the less repressed about sex women said they were and the more positive attitudes they had about sex, the more likely they were to fantasize about rape or ravishment. It makes sense, when you think about it: These women are more open to fantasy in general, and are less likely to feel guilty about their fantasy lives.

According to the study, women who reported frequent rape or ravishment fantasies were also more likely to enjoy fantasies about “overpowering or forcing a man to surrender sexually against his will.” Oh yeah, and they were also more likely to fantasize about being a stripper. And just in case that doesn’t completely shut down the slut-shame theory: Women who reported more rape fantasies were more likely to have high self-esteem.

So, back to the rape vs. ravishment thing. A reader once called us out for our use of the term “rape fantasy,” claiming that “no one wants to experience what actually being raped would feel like… Women might have fantasies about someone taking control (generally someone they find attractive and of course should trust) but as far as I believe, never about someone forcibly using their body against their will. If anything it should be called a ‘ravishment fantasy’ because the word ‘rape,’ especially in context with women, creates a greater possibility for people to take rape less seriously and, disturbing as it is, to take the idea that women have ‘rape fantasies’ to mean that it’s OK to rape someone… Find a new language to speak about this kind of fantasy.”

Some readers responded positively to that comment — one man said that he’d feel much more comfortable using the term “ravishment” to explain his fantasy to his girlfriend. But some women said, no, this isn’t true for all women, and “ravishment” is too romantic a word for what they fantasize about.

So clearly there’s a broad range of rape and ravishment fantasy. Some people want the romance-novel style fantasy, and others want something much darker… but the one thing these scenarios all have in common is consent. So we understand why the word “rape” offends people — especially when a reader of our site writes, “My fiancĂ© raped me. It wasn’t play, wasn’t a scene. It was rape. But the police didn’t believe me because of such things as rape fantasy. They told me that it’s not his fault that the fantasy got out of control and to just calm down.”

The last thing we want to do is prescribe rules for people’s fantasy lives. After all, the sex you have in your own head is the one time you get to break all the rules — rules of law, rules of morality, of monogamy, of hygiene, of gravity…

So if you want to fantasize about the kind of rape that would be more fitting on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit than in a romance novel, go right ahead. And if, in the privacy of your own bedroom, you want to call it a rape fantasy, then go right ahead with that, too. But understand that when you’re talking about these fantasies outside the bedroom, the language you use has consequences. Sure, “ravishment fantasy” might sound a bit too purple-prose for your tastes, but if it helps preserve the rights of actual rape victims in the real world, we’re sure you can suck it up.

(And if you’ve got a better idea for a replacement term, please do let us know!)

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