The Nature of Women's Rape Fantasies: An Analysis of Prevalence, Frequency, and Contents
Bivona, Jenny, Critelli, Joseph, The Journal of Sex Research
Women's rape fantasies pose a special challenge for researchers, as there is something about these fantasies that does not seem to make sense. Why have a fantasy about an event that, in real life, would be repugnant and traumatic? Current evidence indicates that there is nothing abnormal or even unusual about women having rape fantasies (Critelli & Bivona, 2008; Leitenberg & Henning, 1995). For example, romance novels, which are extremely popular forms of literature written for women, allow the reader to participate in a structured fantasy. In these novels, rape of the lead character is a common theme (Thurston, 1987).
The level of confusion on this topic can be illustrated by noting that the two leading explanations of rape fantasy stand in direct contradiction to each other. One states that rape fantasies allow women with high sex guilt to avoid the blame and anxiety that would accompany a consensual sexual fantasy. Because the fantasy involves force, she cannot be blamed for its sexual content (Moreault & Follingstad, 1978). The other leading explanation is that rape fantasies are just the natural expression of an open, accepting, and guilt-free approach to sexuality (Pelletier & Herold, 1988).
The scientific challenge for psychology is to find out why women have rape fantasies and to determine how these fantasies inform our understanding of female sexuality. The foundation for this work lies in determining what goes into a rape fantasy. What type of force is typically used? How much resistance is offered? Is the non-consent real or token? Does non-consent change over the course of the interaction? What is the perpetrator's primary motive? What is the dominant emotion at the end of the fantasy? This investigation is designed to answer these questions.
Before dealing with the typical contents of rape fantasies, we will clarify our use of terms. Following Leitenberg and Henning (1995), we use the term sexual fantasy to refer to almost any conscious mental imagery or daydream that includes sexual activity or is sexually arousing. Sexual fantasies are acts of imagination rather than direct observations of external events or thoughts directed at solving a problem (Singer, 1966). A sexual fantasy can be an elaborate story or only a fleeting thought (Wilson, 1978). It can involve memories of past events or be completely imagined; and it can be intentionally imagined, occur spontaneously, or be stimulated by other events. Consistent with usage in this area of research, the term fantasy does not necessarily imply a desired experience or a pleasurable event.
Rape fantasies are a subset of sexual fantasies. The term rape fantasy follows legal definitions of rape and sexual assault (Corpus Juris Secundum, 2002). As such, it refers to women's fantasies that involve the use of physical force, threat of force, or incapacitation to coerce a woman's self-character in a fantasy into sexual activity against her will. As rape includes the use of force or incapacitation to coerce sex against a woman's will, rape fantasy also includes each of these components. In this sense, rape fantasy is a behaviorally accurate descriptor for these types of fantasies. At the same time, this terminology can be misleading, as it may connote a realistic depiction of violent stranger rape, which in reality is not typical of most actual rapes (Koss & Oros, 1982). In addition, many rape fantasies are not realistic depictions of rape. They are often abstracted, eroticized portrayals that emphasize some aspects of actual rape and omit or distort other features (Kanin, 1982). With this clarification, the term rape fantasy is used in this investigation.
The Content of Rape Fantasies
Kanin (1982) reported the only systematic empirical observations of rape fantasy content. He asked women to describe their rape fantasies and classify them as either sexual, fearful, or a combination of both. …