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Of Rape and Rape Fantasies

Note: This reader emailed me yesterday and wanted to share this story with me. I didn’t think it belonged in the comments even though the topic of this piece is on point.  I also thought we should post it today rather than allow another week to pass because of its relevance. Without further ado, from Reader A.

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I’ve wondered sometimes whether the fact that I’ve been raped was the impetus for my interest in rape fantasy fiction.  It’s more of an academic question since it’s impossible to really know, seeing as I can’t go back and relive my life without being raped.  Plus, the answer doesn’t matter.  Even if I knew for sure that was the cause, I would still read and enjoy rape fantasies.  This is who I am – the sum of all my experiences.

What I can tell you is that rape fantasy fiction is just that: fantasy and fiction.  For me, rape fiction is nothing like rape and maybe that’s why it is acceptable to me.  It’s, for lack of a better word, romanticized.  Even when it’s explicit and forced and violent, it is still fundamentally different from the actual experience, at least to me.  When I read rape fantasies, I get turned on, similar to reading a regular sex scene but more intense.

I like reading rape fantasy fiction because it gets me hot.  I’m not exclusive to it, I enjoy clean romance and vanilla erotica and all the other sub-genres (gay, BDSM, etc).  In fact, my widespread tastes lead me to think that my enjoyment of rape fantasy may not have anything to do with my experiences.  I’m an avid reader.  Rape fiction isn’t my vice – my Kindle is my vice, at least to my finances.

Out of many erotica stories, I have read one erotica scene ever that left me chilled instead.  Ironically, it was actually consensual rough sex scene, not a rape scene.  I actually felt cold and violated after reading it.  I can’t even define what it is that made this scene different from the rest – it wasn’t the most humiliating or most demeaning or even very much like my personal experiences.  I do know that I won’t ever reread those particular scenes, because I don’t enjoy that feeling.

In case you are wondering, the book in question was Mercy by Annabel Joseph.  I want to stress that I don’t have a problem with the book or the author, despite my reaction that scene.  In fact, the book has an actual rape scene later on that didn’t bother me.  By this I mean, if it happened in real life, of course it is wrong, but in the book it didn’t inspire bad feelings.

No one wants to be raped, pretty much by definition.  Most people will agree with that statement vehemently.  Those same people will condemn a woman for reading rape fantasies or playacting rape with her lover.  After all, despite our earlier assertions, they must want to be raped.   But reading rape fantasy doesn’t promote rape or imply that we secretly want it anymore than watching CSI promotes crime or playing water balloons promotes bombing.  It’s entertainment, or a game, not a cry for help.

The other argument against rape fiction is that it promotes rape culture.  I don’t know whether is true but it makes sense that it could be.  Just like video games and action flicks and so many other aspects of popular culture promote violence and gratuitous sex.  Being in exalted company still doesn’t make it right, but asking those of us who enjoy rape fiction to abstain while basking in their own vices is a tad hypocritical.

Still, it gave me pause.  Not only do I enjoy reading rape fantasy, but I occasionally write it, just for fun.  It makes complete sense to me to share it with readers who may enjoy reading it, just as I enjoy others’ work.   So I had to think hard about whether I wanted to read and write rape fantasy, and possibly contribute to a rape culture.

If I get raped or someone I know, will some small part of it be my fault?  I’m pretty sure I would feel that way.  It’s been years but I still feel the guilt of all the actions leading up to my rape, even though intellectually I know I didn’t do anything wrong.  I should have been more careful, I should have known, I should have fought harder.  It’s a vicious, crippling line of thought and by now I don’t think it will ever go away completely.

I don’t claim to be anything close to a therapist, what a laughable thought, but I have learned to do what works for me.  In the end, that’s why I’ve decided to continue reading and writing rape fiction.  I know that I enjoy it.  I know that it doesn’t hurt anyone directly.  I know that it might hurt people indirectly in a vague, small way, but I learned long ago that I can’t be everyone’s protector everywhere.

I could abstain and still lead a pretty great life, but the fact that I’d rather read not means something would always be missing.  I rather think this is what it would feel like to be gay and to have to deny that part of me.   These are my preferences.  It’s not for another person to decide whether I should prefer something else.

I am far from a rape fiction champion.  Among people I meet personally, I’ve adopted a don’t-ask-don’t tell policy about my reading habits.  It’s not because I am ashamed of what I read, but merely because I don’t want to have to defend myself against possibly rude comments.  Similarly, I don’t usually volunteer the information that I am a vegetarian or that I still nurse my three year old.  I am perfectly comfortable with my choices, but these all fall under the umbrella of things-people -feel-entitled-to-berate-you -for and that’s something I’d rather avoid, honestly.

This article is the result of seeing rape fiction and the people who read and write it vilified more than a couple of times.  I know that some people will always be accusatory but I also think that some people are genuinely puzzled.  I wanted to explain my personal reasoning to those who want to understand.

And in those threads, despite the telling sales numbers of rape fiction, I almost never see any readers fess up, perhaps out of fear of condemnation.  If you read rape fiction, I don’t want you to feel like you have a dirty, shameful secret – unless that’s what you’re going for, of course.

If you don’t personally enjoy rape fiction, I hope you’ll see it as something that is not to your tastes, without passing judgment on the reader who enjoys it.  There are thousands of sub-genres out there: gay, interracial, action, BDSM – and rape fantasy is just one more.

– your friendly reader next door

Guest Reviewer

40 Comments

  1. Merrian
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 05:44:21

    Dear friendly reader next door,
    Thank you for this thoughtful response to the complex discussion thread on DA about sex and violence. I appreciate your open-ness about how your own life experiences have shaped your thinking.
    My own views are pretty much a mix of what you outline for yourself in the post. ‘Mix’ I think is the operative word because I mix feeling with thought and seemingly contradictory things together in my response to these discussion threads. Much of the discussion I have read seems to present absolutes about good – bad – right – wrong – should and should-not when in my experience so much is determined by context and consequences.
    I am old enough to have read old skool romances as new books and know that they reflect the times in which they were written and women’s responses to the choices and contradictions they had to negotiate in creating their identities, relationships, hopes & dreams and the limited agency that women had in their lives and opportunities in those times. The context of the times is very important to how these stories were read just as the times we now live in make them almost unreadable in many cases.
    Gaffney uses consequences to shape the redemptory story in THATH which acknowledges that bad things happen to people who don’t deserve them and sometimes we are not all good ourselves and in both cases we have to learn how to live with this and through this reality.
    But we are not really talking about old skool here we are talking about the novels published in the many romance genres today which means we are also talking about the variety and intensity of the sexual imagination and the power of imagining experiences that we would not wish on ourselves or another in real life. We would not read our romance stories and would not favour particular tropes and in this instance that of forced seduction, if they did not provide something material for us. I have no specific answers about what a rape fantasy may give others or even me, though as I am typing this I am thinking about catharsis and ‘doing’ not ‘thinking’.
    I am not saying in justification for my reading that it is OK because in some way our fantasies may help us to live our real lives. I am saying that our fantasies are part of us and they represent who we are and how we are in the world and the difficulties of negotiating the tensions and the possibilities. I am also saying, at the end of the day these are stories and fantasies – acts of imagination and I am going on reading them.

  2. Estara
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 05:54:34

    Well, I never was raped just flashed at when I was a 12-year-old and alone in a forest (my family having gone on ahead for probably no more than 5 minutes) – and no, you never forget the feeling of helplessness, etc.

    I do think that novels and stories should have a clear sign (warning?)/tag – whatever works (like in fanfiction for example), so that a person who KNOWS they will be triggered if they read about a certain violent/sexual behaviour can avoid it.

    Hitler’s Mein Kampf is legal to be published outside Germany. It’s illegal to own and publish in Germany. Neither the US nor Germany have had a second Hitler until now – both have NeoNazis, though.

    I guess what I’m saying is that people need to be able to make up their own minds?

    But if I am saying that why did I agree with Amazon.com removing that how-to-book for child molesters which we discussed not too long ago?

    I have no clear answer, it’ll be on a case by case basis for me.

  3. M
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 06:10:38

    Um – how does a romance novel in any way compare to a how-to book for pedophiles or Mein Kampf? Comment two and we’ve already hit Godwin’s.

  4. Julia Broadbooks
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 06:28:21

    I am very conflicted on this topic. I don’t enjoy rape fantasy as a trope. I won’t say I’ve *never* enjoyed a scene in a book(I did grow up in the 80s after all), but on the whole not my thing. But I try and allow other people their own kink with passing judgement.

    But if we accept that women are entitled to rape fantasy in their reading, do we have to accept that men are entitled to the same fantasy? Is that more uncomfortable?

  5. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 06:47:24

    Just – thank you for sharing. Your post was incredibly well thought out and written articulately and with a great deal of logic and reason.

    Yes, of course men have the right, too. Should the majority be punished by having their reading matter of choice refused them because of the very few? Besides, although it’s often been mooted that what you read affects how you behave, it’s never been proved. As long as our educators and people in authority show a good example, I think we’re good. Although I hasten to add, I have absolutely no expertise or qualifications in that direction.

    I write for Ellora’s Cave, and their rules about rape are clear. We can show “true” rape, but never by the hero, or protagonist of the book, and never for titillation purposes. However, rape fantasies are allowed (a “scene” involving simulated rape, with the prior consent of all parties involved). Or rough sex, if both parties give their clear consent. I think that’s more or less the same as most publishers of erotic romance hold. Erotica is different, but since I don’t write it, I can’t say what the “rules” are.

  6. Lori
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 08:45:54

    Wow. What a thoughtful, insightful and true commentary.

    I grew up with a pedophile father. I’m a parent now and would rather be strung up and tortured to death than ever touch my child in a sexual way. And I do not see children in a sexual way and am squicked out by the very idea.

    Yet I am turned on by the older guardian and younger woman trope. Icky? A little bit. Maybe even more than a little bit.

    I think one of the things about the fantasy/reading is the ability to control it. When something happens to you, a violent act or an act that plays on your vulnerablity, you know that you never had control. You couldn’t turn the page or put the book down. You couldn’t do anything but be a victim.

    The fantasy is taking the situation and not being victimized by it. Whether it becomes a revenge trope (which I love love love) or even something sexual, if I can see it and the power has some sort of shift to the heroine than there’s something I gain from it.

    I’ve worried in the past about whether or not its healthy to enjoy reading a rape or having a sex fantasy about one, but as a responsible adult and a damned good parent, I know that it’s a part of how I process what happened to me.

    I also sometimes wonder if my siblings (both male and female) experience somethng similar and work it out in the same ways. I wish I could ask. (Maybe I will one day.)

    Thank you Reader and Jane for opening this door of discussion. It’s a difficult thing to talk about but one that I imagine many of us have experienced and processed in similar ways. We just wouldn’t know because we don’t really talk about it for fear of being judged.

  7. Jane
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 08:49:45

    @Lori:

    The fantasy is taking the situation and not being victimized by it.

    I think this is it exactly. Rape in real life is about power and not sexual pleasure. In a fantasy, it is about exacting pleasure from a situation that you might not ordinarily have power over.

    Robin has a great piece we are posting on Tuesday about sexual agency and women. If you carry the feminist manifesto over into the bedroom, it is about women owning and enjoying their own fantasies. I think that is one reason I enjoyed Willing Victim by Cara McKenna so much. The heroine was able to give up control while still maintaining power. I think, too, that is the concept behind BDSM and perhaps why that trope is so popular amongst female readers.

  8. May
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 09:00:49

    Love your comment, Lori. I do think there’s a lot positive power in a fantasy – just as you say.

    I’m sorry you had to endure that kind of abuse, but I’m in awe of your ability to carry on and process it. Both you and your friendly reader next door are brave to tell your stories. Thank you.

  9. Kristen Callihan
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 09:25:26

    I think the problem with understanding rape fantasies, or any other sexual fantasy, is that there is still a huge amount of guilt associated with sex. One tends to feel guilty about being turned on by certain things. The thing is, a fantasy is something under your control. Literally, because you are the one doing the fantasizing, and or reading, viewing of said fantasy. It is your choice. Same with bedroom activities. Rape, on the other hand, by route, is the forcible removal of control. You have no choice in the matter and degrades the victim’s soul.

    But why be turned on by such an act when it comes to safe bedroom practices or fantasy? Often, the forbidden turns us on. But the key to me is that what we do in the bedroom, or in the safety of our own minds, isn’t usually indicative of what we desire in real life. My husband might like me to dress up as a school girl (off the top of my head (g)). Does that mean he wants to molest a child? No. It’s the idea of the woman he’s attracted to wearing an outfit that titillates. OTOH, maybe I want to be dominated during sex. That doesn’t mean I want my husband to dominate me in any other area of my life. No WAY would that fly.

    The list of what turns people on is endless and creative, and I’d never condemn anyone for their desires. Now, if they sought to act on those desires with an unwilling participant, then that’s another story.

    That’s my two cents on the matter. I’ll just end by saying that women often worry that if they enjoy a rape fantasy it somehow means they secretly want to be raped, or fear that some strange karma might bring actual rape to their doorstep. Just as many hetero men fear that being turned on by watching/reading homosexual sex makes them gay. Yet I think many women would view *that* fear as plain silly.

  10. Isobel Carr
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 09:49:29

    I guess I’ve never seen my dislike of rape fantasy tropes as a slap at those who enjoy the fantasy or even the writers who write it. For me, the thing that make it unacceptable isn’t so much any real world implications (I’m not even sure there are any, and I think this point may have been lost yesterday), but the implications for the HEA. The reason rape fantasy doesn’t work for me in books is that when the hero shows that he’s willing to use his superior strength and size to get what he wants sexually, I just don’t trust that when push comes to shove he won’t do it again, and not just in the bedroom. Basically it ruins the fantasy of him being the kind of heroic figure I can root for.

  11. Janine
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 09:51:38

    Thanks to everyone who has spoken from their personal experiences. Several people I know personally have been raped. I also enjoy some books like the ones that have come up in this thread and the other one — books like Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold, some of Anne Stuart’s, and Cara McKenna’s Willing Victim (I hasten to add that “willing” is the operative word in the latter book).

    I have conflicted feelings about enjoying this fantasy even though I know it’s just a fantasy, not reality. I have seen, up close, the suffering that real life rape causes. I know how horrible it is. It is hard for me not to feel at all guilty for enjoying, even in a reading context, a scenario portraying something that causes so much pain in real life.

    But I don’t think we choose our fantasies, and I don’t think suppressing them is a good thing, either. As I get older, I get more accepting of myself, including this part of myself.

    The fantasy is taking the situation and not being victimized by it.

    Speaking from my experience of having enjoyed some books with hero/heroine rapes in them (Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold is my favorite book in the genre), I think the fantasy is about having power and control. Not only is the reader choosing to read the book, and has the power to stop reading whenever she wants to, but also, whether the reader identifies with the hero, the heroine, or both, each character has power over their relationship situation at different points in the story. And what begins as a conflicted situation ends up resolved into a happy ending. The heroine may be victimized in the beginning, but she ends up with a lot of power over the hero’s happiness at the end.

    It’s a controversial fantasy in part because it takes something so painful, ugly and unromantic in real life and turns it into something we readers can at least tolerate and in some cases even enjoy, but that is what a lot of fantasies do.

    In the pages of romances we’ve seen romantic relationships with alcoholic and addict heroes, heroes who suffer from PTSS, heroes who are out for revenge against the heroine, etc., all turn out well.

    I think that on some level, one of the functions these fantasies serve is to take a situation that may feel painful and unsafe and make it, at least in the context of reading, safe.

  12. Moriah Jovan
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 10:14:04

    I like this fantasy and I have no shame for reading (or writing) it.

    What I have is great annoyance that so many women are so willing to impose their mores on what I (a woman) do in my head. How is this any different than one faction of society imposing its mores on what people do in their bedrooms?

    Actually, it’s worse. It’s in my head.

  13. Tracy Cooper-Posey
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 10:24:29

    As a rape victim myself, I have to applaud you, Reader, for your courage to speak up.

    Jane summarized the issue very neatly, I believe, and I must concur. Using rape as a fantasy is very much about shifting the balance of power back to the rape victim. Converting fear to pleasure is a matter of empowerment and rape fantasy is a way to do that.

    I was very angry for over a decade before I learned to let go of the issues surrounding my own incident. Perhaps if I had learned this power balance back then, I might have been able to resolve my anger much sooner.

    BTW, I don’t find rape fantasies appealing, and I don’t read them, or write them (as positive erotic experiences). So I don’t think it’s a universal reaction for rape victims. But it’s certainly a very interesting way of recovering one’s dignity.

    Tracy

  14. Christine M.
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 10:28:57

    *waves* Another here who’s into this fantasy big time. The “loss of control” is a big turn on for me since I tend to be bossy day in and day out in all the spheres of my life.

  15. jl
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 10:38:44

    As a feminist and a reader, I’ve really appreciated the articulate discussions on this topic. Admittedly, I’m new to reading romance, and tend to read a lot more urban fantasy where rape is an all-too common theme and usually portrayed in a non-sexy way (but that’s a different conversation). I think people could argue endlessly about why rape fantasies and/or vigilante justice do or do not work for them. But, I think Jane’s original question of why we judge people who enjoy one over the other by a different standard is an entirely different discussion than why one works for someone or doesn’t.
    We suspend a lot of disbelief when we read stories, and yet sometimes random things will stick out and bother people to the point of DNF. I read a review somewhere (can’t remember what site *sorry*) where the reader couldn’t finish a Jennifer Estep book because the way she described a particular state driver’s licence was apparently inaccurate. Point is, sometimes there is no reason why someone can read a rape scene without thinking about the gruesome reality of actual rape or while others can’t. Doesn’t make either one an idiot or a bad feminist.
    I do hesitate when it comes to the question of contributing to rape culture because of the ‘she just didn’t know how bad she wanted it’ issue, but I think the question of audience and tone. Books are one of the safe places to explore our fantasies, and I think most readers and authors of romance novels understand this and actively contribute to a healthy community where this can happen without suggesting rape is a good thing. But, if the rape fantasy was such that the victim was portrayed as deserving it, shamed over it, etc., I would have a different take all together. If a rape fantasy written by a man and geared toward male readers involved the protagonist raping a woman until she ‘realized she wanted it’, I would suspect it contributes to a culture of rape justification and victim blaming at a wider social level. I guess in that regard, I do think there needs to be a trust between reader and writer that ‘consent’ is given through the reader’s willingness to engage in the fantasy of forced seduction, which won’t necessarily occur if the victim in the story isn’t the main protagonist. If it were a young adult novel, I would hold a rape fantasy to a different standard as well (although I’m wading into dangerous territory there, too, since YA readers are intelligent people).
    Coming back to the question of why vigilante justice is seen as more acceptable, I do wonder if it’s because so few people have the ability to sympathize with what it’s like to be at the receiving end of it. We can picture ourselves as being victims of violence, but it’s rare that people consider themselves ‘bad’ enough to do something that ‘deserves’ someone else’s revenge being taken out on us.
    Personally, though, I think shaming people over their sexual fantasies that are practiced in safe, consensual environments (whether books, role play, or whatever), has a much greater likelihood of contributing rape culture than people enjoying their fantasies. I know no one here has suggested that someone deserves to have something terrible happen to them because they enjoy the fantasy of it, but when we shame people over their reading habits, we’re inadvertently suggesting that the line between real life and fantasy is blurred for that reader.
    Thanks for letting me share my two cents.

  16. Jill Sorenson
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 10:43:10

    Thank you Reader A for a wonderful, insightful post.

  17. Debra`
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 10:47:55

    I have read books with rape scenes in them, and I will be honest they have never bothered me. I have always loved how the author shows the H/H working it out and how it seems to make them stronger for it happening to them. I know that in real life that isn’t always the case. But I do know how to separate the fact from the fiction.

    SO Dear Friendly reader, thank you for your post it was very well said.

  18. P. Kirby
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 11:35:32

    “I read a review somewhere (can’t remember what site *sorry*) where the reader couldn’t finish a Jennifer Estep book because the way she described a particular state driver’s licence was apparently inaccurate. Point is, sometimes there is no reason why someone can read a rape scene without thinking about the gruesome reality of actual rape or while others can’t. Doesn’t make either one an idiot or a bad feminist.”

    Yup. I agree.

    I’m a horse person and stickler for equine details. I bailed on a novel where the riders were always shaking the reins to signal the horse forward. (Huge pet peeve of mine; annoys much.)

  19. Annabel
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 12:17:35

    *I’ve wondered sometimes whether the fact that I’ve been raped was the impetus for my interest in rape fantasy fiction.*

    I wonder this too. As I said on the other thread, I liked rape fantasies before I was raped, and I still like them.

    I can say that Mercy was very biographical, at least in the way Lucy tried to exorcise her own demons of being previously raped by engineering her own brutality and rape at the hands of someone she trusted. I know that mindset. I tried to do the same thing.

    I know that as a writer I have the power to write these traumatic experiences and make everything come out all right, whereas in my own experience things did not. That is a very giddy thing. I think that is a lot of the power of the rape fantasy. The safe exploration of things that really aren’t safe, and the softening and even beautification of something that is so, so ugly in real life.

    I don’t often analyze my feelings about rape and rape fantasy because I think they are too complex for me to ever really come to grips with, but these threads have been interesting.

  20. k reads
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 14:05:49

    I like reading rape fantasies. Or at least I did. I don’t read them as much any more. When I was still trying to figure out things in my own past, I read more of them. Since then my tastes have changed. Since then, I’ve made some peace with my past. Have my tastes changed because of that? I don’t know. Correlation is not causation. I used to read a lot of erotic romance but not so much any more though my views on sex have not changed. (For the record, I really really like it)

    When discussions about rape fantasies have come up around the web in the past, I have always found it somewhat difficult to take part in them. While I find it interesting to discuss why people read the type of books they do, when it comes to discussing rape fantasies, it seems to me that those of us who enjoy them are expected to justify why. I don’t think anyone should have to justify the type of books they read. Discuss it, sure but defend it, no. All that does is shut down meaningful conversation and the chance to understand is lost.

    (Wow, it is much harder to get my thoughts down coherently than I expected.)

    If rape fantasies don’t work for you (generic), fine. But please don’t assume that the reason why you don’t like them are the same reasons why I do. It’s way more complex than that. At least it is for me.

  21. cs
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 17:43:27

    In all honesty I don’t see how rape fiction is the same as action or BDSM or interracial. No one on this earth could ever make me see it your way. However, your bottom line was no one should judge you (or others) who happen to enjoy this trope. I agree with you. I have my own opinions in this matter and I would never read a book where rape is romanticised, heck I can’t read a book where rape is shown what it truly is. But for me it becomes murky for what should/should not be written.

    Are you (or other writers) hurting someone by writing this trope? Who knows. Maybe a rape victim would. Maybe someone will pick up the book and say it’s okay to go and rape someone, since it looks cool in this book. We don’t know, and really anyone can take whatever they want from whatever they see or read. As you said you cannot protect the world, but you’ll always get flack and judgement for writing something like rape and especially in a romanticised context.

    A month ago a young girl got raped in front of her two young children. I can’t separate rape in fiction/fantasy from reality no matter how it is written. I’m just giving you an example of my own mindset (not to make anyone feel bad). I just know I don’t ever spend my time judging the people who enjoy whatever they enjoy.

    P.s. your comment was a good read.

  22. cs
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 17:52:57

    @Julia Broadbooks: Your last comment about if women have rape fantasies is it fine for men as well? Can I say this gave me pause, because it rings very true. I’m assuming this is what you mean (and I apologise if I have taken your comment out of context) – but if a man said I have rape fantasies to a woman, how would a woman react? No scientific data behind me, but I’d probably say most women would go spare.

    I’m just wondering if any women here would judge a man if he said that. Is it easier to accept if a woman says it compared to a man? For me neither, but I’d probably be more angry towards a man.

  23. dm
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 19:22:08

    @cs

    As you said you cannot protect the world, but you’ll always get flack and judgement for writing something like rape and especially in a romanticised context.

    I doubt this will always be the case. The backlash against rape in romance is a very recent phenomenon. A surfeit of books in which rape was substituted for consensual sex appeared in the 70s and 80s. You can spot these books a mile off, because the rapes do not function in the story as rape. You can change them out for a consensual sex scene and you have the same book. This is what makes these books so uncomfortable to read. The idea that we aren’t allowed to enjoy consensual sex, that force is a necessary component of sex for good girls.

    Maybe someone will pick up the book and say it’s okay to go and rape someone, since it looks cool in this book.

    When readers no longer needed rape to give the heroine permission to enjoy sex, the rape her till she loves you plot lines largely disappeared. Now we have forced seduction, or give her orgasms until she begs for penetration scenes, which also have little resemblance to real rape, and a lot more in common with glossy magazine how-tos on female orgasm. Quite honestly, the outrage is bound to peter out because it’s tough to worry too much about heroines who come three times while saying no, then say yes. The “forced” component of the seduction largely serves to motivate the hero to heroic acts of orgasm giving. Better not let any men get hold of these books, or they might get ideas.

    Oh, wait…

  24. Julia Broadbooks
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 21:34:12

    @cs: It is interesting, and more uncomfortable, when you start including men and their fantasies in the picture.

    This has been a really fascinating couple of days. I have read all of the comments and really been forced to confront some beliefs – maybe even prejudices – I have about these tropes in romance novels. At the end of the day though, I think I’ve decided my real problem with rape fantasy has less to do with violence against women than it does the revenge fantasy. I don’t care for either.

    Yesterday my husband was rewatching Quantum of Solace for the thousandth time and at the end of the movie, Bond doesn’t kill the bad guy. He leaves him in the middle of a desert but he doesn’t put a bullet in him. And I know some of the heroic shine would have dimmed for me if he had made another choice. I would have thought less of him.

    I do read outside of romance, but when I read romance, I’m looking for a hero and a heroine, not just protagonists. I want those characters to have an admirable and honorable core, even if they sometimes make mistakes. The bigger the mistake, the harder it is for me to see a HEA for the couple that I find satisfying.

  25. k reads
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 23:16:47

    I don’t think I have ever wondered if men have rape fantasies before. I bet some do. But I can also believe that some of them have no desire to rape a woman in real life. Real life rape is about power and violence and a deep hatred of women. I’m not sure what male rape fantasies are about but if I had to guess, I’d say that the women in these fantasies are not viewed as people but objects to be conquered.

    So I don’t know how I’d react if a man told me he has rape fantasies. It would depend on the man and the context and the tone he used when telling me.

  26. Nat
    Apr 21, 2011 @ 07:04:15

    I find it curious that some say if they hadn’t been raped, they don’t know whether they’d like this type of fantasy in fiction. I guess it’s a case of you read what you know.

    As an avid reader when I was child, my first experience of rape in a romance was in a bodice ripper. I think I may have burned the book (threw it in Dad’s BBQ). I was only about 8 years old, but I had never encountered anything more harrowing and simply awful. There was no way to romanticize it for me. But that’s just my opinion.

    I was molested as a teenager by an uncle (however my father and brothers were always ALWAYS 100% protective and caring). My father taught me what a real man should be.

    I couldn’t forgive myself for that attack in some ways and joined a martial arts club, training myself to never be without the knowledge to fight back. You name it, I did it. Therapy, fighting, and teaching myself how to survive in a world that wasn’t so nice.

    I now love female characters who are strong and can fight or who have this steel integrity that forces them through life. These females don’t take BS, they stand up for what they believe in.

    So I guess I’ve gone the other way and my fantasy is a strong female who can almost, and often does, beat the male (as in can outrun him, outbox him, outsmart him) because that’s what I know.

    Sex in real life and our inherent guilt that we feel in our youth and adulthood never to do certain things makes us rebel in other ways. Sex is the procreation of the species and you will never win against a power as strong as that.

  27. Heidi Cullinan
    Apr 21, 2011 @ 08:46:00

    Excellent topic, and I applaud A.

    I fall into the more “molestation” camp than rape victim, but yeah, that feeling of violation still applies. And I share A’s feelings about rape fantasy fiction, down to the occasional “wait, that one upset me.” The one I didn’t like was in Iron Kissed. That really, really upset me, I think because I didn’t see it coming and it didn’t feel processed to me. I can’t read any more of the series because of it, unfortunately. But I also accept that this is my personal reaction and no one else’s.

    I’ve written rape scenes several times, though since I write m/m fiction, it’s always male/male rape, and interestingly they’ve all been historical or fantasy. And never by the hero. I do think for me it’s processing, taking back control. And yes, the distance of not having a female in the equation helps. I can read non-consent stories on Literotica about females being raped, but not romances somehow. I didn’t go anywhere near The Lovely Bones.

    It all makes a lot of sense to me, though. Rape isn’t about sex. It’s about power. Having been touched by rape in any way can make one want to explore that dynamic, to better understand it, or simply to relive it and be in charge this time. Or to experience it and take pleasure from it–and therefore not be claimed by it. But I also understand a victim and a non-victim being unwilling to read rape. A victim who doesn’t want to process that way or isn’t ready wouldn’t want to read it. A non-victim may fear being a victim or just find the concept very distasteful, not having a direct need to explore that struggle.

    Fascinating post. Thanks for posting it, Jane. It was a good brain breakfast.

  28. anon1
    Apr 21, 2011 @ 10:04:19

    @cs:

    My current bf has rape fantasies. So do I. We tolerate each other very well. :)

    Rape fantasies are huge for me–and no, they’re not simply bodice-ripping fantasies where the woman (I rarely make an appearance in my fantasies) is secretly enjoying it and consenting. Those do make appearances in my fantasy life, but a lot of my fantasies are nonconsensual from beginning to end, with lots of resistance on the part of the woman, and some violence from the man (harm no, hurt yes).

    I think many would assume that it’s reflective of some weakness in me, but I think it’s actually the opposite. When I think of a lot of the things I’ve had to do in my life and have done without flinching, I know the last thing I am is a weak person. My last bf used to call me Athena, ffs. And one of my laments over the course of my history with men is how hard it has been to find a man who is “more man” than I am. It’s one reason why in every other relationship I’ve had, I’ve stopped wanting sex very early on. While I like the idea of being competent and confident and in charge of my life, it’s a very difficult realization to live with that you outmatch the man you’re with in pretty much every way. And I think that’s the root of my appreciation for rape fantasies and my impatience with BDSM.

    I’m a masochist–not an extreme one, but I do enjoy a little pain. And I’m strong, and in a sexual context I want the man I’m with to be stronger than I am, and demonstrate it. I would never consent to being tied up, and I kneel for no man…not unless he can make me.

    I discussed this idea once with a man who was trying to woo a military officer. Over the course of our discussions, I realized her lament was largely my own–strong woman and a lifetime of sex with men who were not strong enough to dominate her sexually. He mentioned that she’d commented to him that he could expect her to resist quite vigorously, and that concerned him. He had a very difficult time, as someone coming from a BDSM background, understanding that she wanted neither Master nor Daddy–what she wanted was Caveman. For him to behave like a Dom with her, and expect her to behave like a sub, was something she would find degrading. She was no more submissive than I am–what she longed for was someone who could *make* her submit, because (to her and to me) willingly kneeling feels degrading, but there’s no shame in succumbing to someone who’s stronger than you are), and that as long as they had a safeword and he respected it, he had no need for concern.

    My guy and I met online, and had a great deal of back and forth before we met. He was very clear that the idea of actually harming a woman, or forcing a truly unwilling woman, made him physically ill. But that yes, he liked to be physically dominant, and at times he enjoyed the idea of a woman resisting him and him physically overcoming that resistance. The women he’d been with to that point had enjoyed being held down, enjoyed a little light spanking, enjoyed that feeling of succumbing to someone stronger than them, but their desires weren’t very extreme, and that’s as far as his interactions with them ever went. While they seemed to regard him as some kind of “amazing lover” I can tell you, he has no special moves or skills. What he does is what *he* wants, he takes his pleasure without much thought for foreplay, or what the woman he’s with would enjoy. And for some women, this being rendered down to a vessel upon which a man takes his pleasure is incredibly freeing, and incredibly arousing.

    We arranged to meet, decided on two safewords (one for slow down/ease up and one for stop), and we’ve been together for almost 6 months now. Our sex life is varied, but for the most part it’s about him taking what he wants from me, and that’s what gets me off. Sometimes we get very tender with each other, and every once in a while, I’ll struggle and make him earn it (he was quite surprised by how strong I am physically–he was a wrestler in school and said I was stronger than a lot of men), but not often.

    I think a lot of people would misconstrue my sexual desires and fantasies–tack it up to low self-esteem or battered woman’s syndrome or some inherent weakness. But I was married to an abusive man (verbally and emotionally), and his abuse killed my love for him rather than the other way around. The few times he raised his hand to me, I didn’t flinch, just looked him in the eye until he backed down. I have no fear whatsoever of being physically hurt, and I think he realized that, that my reaction to his threat was, “I’m not scared of you. Go ahead and see what it gets you.” And I do know that if a man attacks me, I may come out on the losing side, but he’ll regret picking me to attack, for sure, because I am far from weak.

    I’ve been the white knight riding to the rescue of a friend when her prison-guard husband turned abusive, even knowing it could get me shot or worse. I euthanized my beloved dog with my bare hands when she was dying, in pain, and the vet’s office was closed, and I didn’t shed a tear for hours. I’ve been through some serious shit and dealt with it and come out on top, and I’m raising three kids without any help or support from my ex.

    I am a strong, capable, competent, independent woman. I’ve never backed down from doing what’s necessary, no matter how challenging or scary it might be. And it’s really, really nice to know that, at least in the context of sex, I am not the stronger one the way I am and have always had to be in every other area of life.

    That, after a lot of thought and introspection, is what my rape fantasies are about. About allowing myself to be the weaker of two people, in bed if nowhere else.

  29. Amber Shah
    Apr 21, 2011 @ 13:22:53

    If you’re wondering about guys with rape fantasies, you should check out Willing Victim by Cara McKenna. No actual rape happens anywhere in the book, by the way (ie. nonconsensual sex, just playacting).

    Another good one where the H has rape fantasies is My One by January Rowe. There they don’t call it rape fantasy, they just all it role playing and BDSM.

    In both of these cases, the H is not apologetic about his preferences, but he is very careful and respectful of the h. Even if it’s not your thing, it’s a good example of how a non-creepy guy can want that and be satisfied without ever actually committing rape (these guys never EVER would).

  30. Kaetrin
    Apr 22, 2011 @ 03:07:55

    I haven’t read all the comments from the other thread (yet). I hope this isn’t off topic. I don’t enjoy reading about rape per se – ie I personally don’t find it sexy. But I do like reading about heroic rescues and beyond – the process afterward – gack! I’m not expressing myself very well today I don’t think. Frex, in the Mercy Thompson series, **Spoiler alert** I hated that Mercy got raped. I was sad and angry and twisted up inside but I loved how Adam came in and ripped the guy to pieces (and I loved that Mercy killed him). I loved watching how Adam and Mercy moved forward – how he cared for her afterward and all that. That’s the part I love reading about – whether it’s rape or some other trauma, the angst and the aftermath with the HEA, make it worth my while as a reader.

    But that’s a personal choice for me and I get others dont’ want to read that and I get others want to read rape/rape fantasy for a variety of other reason.

    Willing Victim was a great book and I liked it – I wouldn’t have liked reading about something non-consensual with the hero but WV was really good and I didn’t have any trouble with it at all. It was so NOT rape – there was no powerlessness involved or anything like that which I perceive actual rape to be.

    I read old skool romances when I was about 12 and frankly, I don’t think I processed those books as rape whereas, now I so would and I would not enjoy – I liked Sweet Savage Love when I was 13 – now I don’t think I could find much heroic about Steve. On the other hand, I still like Stormfire by Christine Monson – perhaps the difference there is that Sean always acknowledged what he did but it’s possible I’m just a hypocrite! :)

  31. Hvitveis
    Apr 22, 2011 @ 06:29:34

    Reading the comments, I find it interesting that the concept of “rape fantacy” seems to imply (for most of us, myself included until I stopped and thought about it) that if a woman has them it is herself as the victim and if a man has them, he is the perpetrator in his fantasy.

    It has been a really intresting thread to read, and with intelligent comments. Thanks!

  32. cs
    Apr 22, 2011 @ 18:59:07

    @Julia Broadbooks: If I’m being honest I’d hardly be interested and more uncomfortable when adding men and rape fantasy. That’s just me though.

    @k reads: I understand adding fantasy to the end of rape obviously changes the whole dynamic. Maybe if the word rape wasn’t used, I wouldn’t be cringing so much. However, you breakdown was pretty nail on the head. I don’t know if all rapes are due to a deep-hatred of women. I think the general idea that it is, but it’s not so black and white. Plus let’s not forget women are more the capable of raping as well.

    @anon1: Thank you for such an insightful comment. You mentioned the word weakness in your comment. I agree some people would judge someone for being weak for having those thoughts. Though if a woman thought it she’d probably be considered weak, but what about a man? Is he considered weak?

    You both obviously have a great understanding and what you guys need, want and enjoy. I may be totally ignorant and I do apologise if I cause any offence, but your comment also read a lot like how BDSM relationships are. Forgetting all the labels, the biggest theme if theme is complete domination in the bedroom. I understand the domination in BDSM comes in all shapes and form, and it’s not just being collared or calling someone ‘daddy/sir/master’ some are 24/7 and some are just in the bedroom. To me as someone way outside in the sidelines it has similarities.

    You also mentioned your friend would find being a sub degrading and you and her would find kneeling as such. Obviously you guys can think that all you want, but don’t you think it’s a tad offensive? For some kneeling and being a sub is liberating for them as well. You mentioned a man being able to *make* you submit, but does that only go to the physical side? Does a man being able to hold you down vs. a man who says to you to submit less? You say there is no shame in succumbing to someone strong than you, but again are we simply talking physical strength?

    @Hvitveis: I personally don’t view a woman who has RF’s as a victim or man who has them as a rapist. I do however (as hypocritical as this reads) would cringe if a man admitted that to me as opposed to a woman.

  33. anon1
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 00:37:42

    @cs:

    Hi, cs

    No, I don’t think it’s offensive for me to say that *I* would feel degraded if I willingly knelt. And I am a bit of an extreme case. For me, it *is* largely about physical strength, but it’s also about the strength of a man’s will to get what he wants.

    I’ve had a lot of men bring up the topic of restraints with me, and if we’ve talked about sex at all, they’re always a little shocked by my emphatic “no effing way will anyone ever tie me up”. #1) When you’re tied up, any man can dominate you. A 12 year old could dominate you. And #2) if you’re tied up, there’s no way to make him stop if you want him to stop. If I’m not restrained, and he doesn’t respect my safeword, I can do something about it. I’m a physically strong woman–if I can’t make him stop, I *can* make him seriously regret it.

    I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong or debasing about willingly kneeling if that’s what you like. But consider the hierarchy of that dynamic–you *first* agree to submit, only then does the man dominate you. I’m not a submissive woman. I’m kind of 3/4 guy in a lot of ways. I won’t agree to submit, because I can’t. It goes against everything in me.

    I do kneel for my guy quite often (not the bowed-head, respectful, submissive kneeling, but the “I’m doing this because I concede you could make me do it if you wanted” kind). But there is an element of earning it for him. I want to KNOW he can and is willing to deal with my resistance, if I choose to resist. And if I do resist, he’s just as likely to get hurt in the course of events, and it’s nice to know that’s a risk he’s willing to take.

    BDSM is too formalized for me. Everything is agreed upon ahead of time, scenes are orchestrated and choreographed. They’re largely about the Dom pleasing the sub. I’d really rather my pleasure not be the focus of things–not because I don’t feel my pleasure is unimportant, but because that’s what turns me on.

    I don’t want to give myself up, I want to be taken. All my guy and I have to formalize our arrangement is a default state of implied consent–that is, he’s welcome to initiate sex whenever he wants, and the onus is on me to say no, rather than yes–and two safewords, one which I occasionally use, and the other never thus far.

    I think it would surprise all the alarmists out there who talk about “rape culture” that in my experience, there are really very few men who are willing to keep going in the face of a little resistance. I’ve come out and told 7 men that I wouldn’t object if they slapped my face during sex, and the only man who’s ever done it is the one I’m with–and I didn’t have to ask him. The others were appalled at the very idea, even though I insisted repeatedly that I’m not made of glass, and it would please me if they did it.

    So yeah, I don’t think there are many men out there who can give me what I need, and I honestly don’t think I’d find them in a venue where women must first agree to be submissive before men are willing to dominate.

  34. Anon76
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 11:35:32

    Both threads on this topic have been very thought provoking. My thanks to all posters for embracing this topic and sharing why’s and why not’s.

    When it comes to rape fantasy, I admit I enjoy it when done well. I get no thrill if it is a villain doing the act. In that instance I want him to be on the receiving end of some sort of justice. Okay, I want him nutted.

    But in a well written romance I know very quickly who is the “hero”. That there will be an arc that leads to a HEA. That the rape itself actually steals his power when it comes to the woman he eventually can’t live without. She now has much more control because the act dinged his psyche. He’s not a serial rapist. When the book is complete, the author leaves no room for him to ever do this again. HEA.

    And many women (myself included) love to read about the “prince/rich man finds a simple girl and lavishes her with love and the good life.”

    Is this a fantasy? Yes. In our real world we need look no further than Prince Charles and Dianna. A tragic situation. I doubt Grace Kelley’s situation was as wonderful as we all dreamed about.

    Did any of us want to root for Camilla rather than Dianna. Camilla, a woman perfectly suited for Prince Charles and in a love affair with him for years? And now his wife? No. But if written from Camilla’s perspective, she could be the heroine who overcame everything to keep her Prince Charming.

    And now we have William’s upcoming marraige…

    The thing is, I guess, is that we all have fantasies but the realities don’t fit into our daily lives. We are intelligent women and are fully capable of discerning fact from fiction.

    If my husband wants to dream about being a Major League baseball player, who am I to take that away from him?

  35. sol
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 06:33:12

    i’ve read all the posts in this thread and all make interesting points, and all strengthen what i long believe that ‘rape fantasy’ is really a misnomer for control fantasy.
    It seems to me that its about allowing someone else to take control of you.
    I’ve no problem with sex to be shown in this way in books however i dont enjoy rape (ie explicitly non-consensual)in books.

  36. Jeri Cafesin
    Jul 22, 2011 @ 13:07:45

    Reverb is about a man who was raped and tortured and his awakening because of it. Would love you to review Reverb, since you’ve said you enjoy that sort of thing.

    Read the first chapter here:
    http://jcafesin.com/PreviewReverb.html

    Please email for full novel! Love to hear what you think!!

    Thanks,
    J. Cafesin

  37. Anne
    Dec 13, 2011 @ 01:46:24

    Wow on anon1’s posts! Equally wow on Reader A’s initial one. I can fully second both, and I intimately understand what anon1 refers to.

    I’m a switch, identifying as a sadistic top and a masochistic bottom only related to actual sex. By which I mean that as a top I am comfortable with a wide sexual and non-sexual array of sadism and sadistic play, including quite a few feelers into bondage, chastity and asexual service as well. As a bottom I am exclusive talking about sex done to me and yes, that’s preferably precisely in the manner anon1 describes. I take pain upon penetration, especially forceful penetration and get off on it, but not a sliver of D/s and even less humiliation (yes, kneeling belongs to that, but for me e.g. also slaps to the face).

    I love reading rape fantasies, preferably the kind anon1 describes, where it’s non-consensual and brutal start to finish (and HEA doesn’t even figure there, this isn’t about romance, it’s about sex). Unfortunately I haven’t found any publisher publishing those, so I am astonished at how many people claim here that any takes those on? All I find are fanfiction stories or freebies on a variety of pretty dire BDSM sites. None of which are written well enough really.

    Just a side note though:

    No, rape (real rape) is NOT just about power. That’s unfortunately a misconception few people realise they live under. There are at least 4, some say 5 different kind of basic motivations for rape, and among them are motivations which found in sex and sexual gratification. Denying this is not going to help combat rape and rape culture, on the contrary.

  38. Clarissa
    Jul 01, 2012 @ 18:24:22

    Thank you anon1. I feel exactly the same as you, as you’ve so beautifully articulated in your two posts. And to the person who called your feelings that “submission” as per BDSM is personally degrading to you “offensive”, I would say that it is entirely a personal thing for anon1, and not really your concern what she or her acquaintance feels about it. I find the idea of BDSM submission repulsive, for me personally. Other people find it sexy, and that’s great, but I’m just not built that way. No judgement implied, but it’s not my thing.

    Because of my n/c fantasies, a hell of a lot of tiresome BDSM Doms I’ve chatted with have tried to persuade me at length that I’m really a sub deep down. I am categorically not, not when that means, as anon1 says, that I have to willingly give up control and act a formalised role with rules I didn’t agree to and put myself into a situation that I don’t identify with. Precisely one other woman on the BDSM scene that I’ve spoken to admitted that she felt the same. So we do exist, but either there aren’t many of us, or we’re pressured into something that isn’t really what we want. but maybe better than vanilla sex.

    And btw, I’m also a rape survivor, and read and write n/c scenes. I do have issues with these things which are maybe for another post, but I mainly wanted to respond to the BDSM/rape fantasy issue.

  39. Dear Em & Lo, Are Rape Fantasies Normal…If I’m a Rape Survivor? | Em & Lo: Sex. Love. And Everything in Between.
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 14:01:52

    […] Of Rape and Rape Fantasies: This is a thoughtful letter sent into Dear Author (a romance review blog for readers by readers) from a survivor of rape about enjoying reading and writing rape fantasy fiction — and accepting it with grace. […]

  40. F is for Fuck’s Sake, Frankly, My Dear | Olivia Waite
    Apr 07, 2014 @ 13:26:19

    […] is the Save the Pearls-type backlash to this book and others like it? Or the thoughtful critique, as we see with depictions of rape and dub-con? Is the book’s light tone really a good […]

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