Women’s SexualFantasies – the latest scientific research – World Exclusive

A team of psychologistslead by a woman has uncovered some surprising findings on one of the mostsecret aspects of female sexual fantasy

Dr Raj Persaud and DrJenny Bivona

While almost everyone hassexual fantasies, previous research into the subject has found between 31 and62% of women have rape fantasies. To be sexually aroused by such an imaginedscenario represents a psychological mystery. Why fantasise about a criminal actwhich in reality is repulsive and harrowing?

To investigate these and other riddles at the heart of female eroticfantasy, a team of researchers based at the University of North Texas and theUniversity of Notre Dame studied 355young women.

A part of the research involvedthe participants being read a rape fantasy scenario over headphones, toinvestigate how aroused they became.

In the study, publishedin the academic journal ‘Archives of Sexual Behaviour’, participants were instructedto close their eyes while listening and to try to imagine themselves as thewoman described in the narrative. This scenario was derived from story lines typicallyfound in much women’s romance literature, so it portrayed an erotic rapefantasy, rather than a literal portrayal of actual assault.

This was the scenario:a male acquaintance is strongly attracted to the female character. He expressesa yearning for sex with her, but she’s clearly unresponsive. He attempts withoutsuccess to convince her. When she continues to openly refuse, he overpowers andrapes her. The female character is resistant throughout the interaction and atno time gives consent. However, as the man is attractive and he provides eroticstimulation, she does experience gratification from the forced sex. The scenarioplaces more emphasis on the use of coercion than on the sexual pleasure.

The results of thestudy, (which also explored other sexual and aggressive fantasies, self esteem,attitudes to sex and other personality testing) are that 52% of the women hadfantasies about forced sex by a man: 32% had fantasies about being raped by a man:28% – forced oral sex by a man: 16% – forced anal sex: 24% – incapacitated: 17%- forced sex by a woman: 9% – raped by a woman: 9% – forced oral sex by a woman.Overall, 62% reported having had at least one of these fantasies.

The team of researcherslead by Dr Jenny Bivona, based at the University of North Texas found that overall,62%of participants reported having a rape fantasy of some type

Of the women whoreported having the most common rape fantasy rape fantasy, ‘‘being overpoweredor forced by a man to surrender sexually against my will,’’ 40% had it at leastonce a month and 20% had it at least once a week. The authors conclude theseresults indicate rape fantasies play a significant role in the sexual fantasy livesof many women.

It’s important to notethat while headline writers may focus on the fact women have sexual fantasiesabout coercive sex, this research finds it’s an occasional daydream, not apreoccupation. It would be similarly unfair to tar men with the brush of anoccasional fantasy they may have. When these female fantasies are erotic incharacter, the male protagonist is always described as highly attractive orotherwise desirable.

According to this study,entitled ‘Women’s Rape Fantasies: An Empirical Evaluation of the Major Explanations’,a previous common psychological theory as to why women should fantasise aboutrape or forced sex was termed ‘sexual blame avoidance’. This theory was aboutwomen avoiding taking responsibility for sexual desires. The hypothesis arguedthat women have been socialized by our culture to work hard at not beingperceived as promiscuous or overly sexual. For example, stigmatising labels, suchas ‘‘tramp’’ and ‘‘slut,’’ are invoked which control or restrict femalesexuality.

‘Sexual BlameAvoidance’ theory argues that, for some women therefore, fantasies ofconsensual sex could generate self-blame, guilt, and anxiety. So by letting thefantasy take the form of rape, the woman in the fantasy is being forced to dosomething she doesn’t want to. It follows then she can’t be blamed for theoccurrence of sex. In contrast to a consensual sexual fantasy, a forced sextheme enhances sexual gratification by allowing the fantasizer to avoid blameand guilt.

The results of thisstudy found no support for this theory.

The authors of this new ground-breaking research concede that’sexual blame avoidance’ may have beentrue in the past when we lived in more sexually repressed times, so it’s possiblethat over recent decades changes in attitudes to sex means the stress for womenof being viewed as overly sexual has disappeared. Now few women appear to haverape fantasies to avoid blame from having openly consensual sexual fantasies.

In direct contrast to ‘sexualblame avoidance’, is the ‘openness to sexual experience’ theory. Instead ofbeing driven by repressed sexuality, this supposition is rape fantasies derivefrom a generally open, tolerant and guilt-free attitude toward sex. It was thistheory which received the strongest support in this new research by Dr Bivonaand colleagues.

A notable finding isthat women who reported being less repressed about sex were more likely to haverape fantasies, but were also more open to fantasy in general, more likely tohave consensual fantasies, and more likely to report a higher level of arousalto rape fantasies. Interestingly, the women who reported having frequent rapefantasies were also likely to report having fantasies about “overpowering orforcing a man to surrender sexually against his will.”

Fantasising about beinga stripper also predicted a tendency to fantasise about rape. Anotherintriguing result is women who report rape fantasies were more likely to havehigh self-esteem.

These results suggestthat having fantasies about things we would never endorse or choose to do inreality, are not necessarily signs of psychological disturbance. In fact, accordingto this research, women who have rape fantasies also tend to have more positiveattitudes toward sex, high self esteem, and more frequent consensual sexualfantasies.

This study in no waycondones or tries to justify rape, which remains a violent and reprehensiblecrime no matter what the research on sexual fantasy of either gender might turnup. While some may even believe that publishing results such as these is goingto assist some rapists in justifying their actions, the reality is theseviolent criminals are not scanning erudite academic research searching forjustifications for assault. The editors and armies of academics who considerresearch submitted for publication in academic journals such as ‘Archives ofSexual Behaviour’ also clearly believe this kind of study deserves publication,and wider dissemination in the field.

Fantasy is a deeplyproblematic area for many people and for psychiatry and psychology – why dosome people convert strange ideas into actual deeds – as in the case of Brievikthe Norway Mass Murder scenario (seehere for a link to articles on this) – while others just enjoy their vivid,creative and somewhat unusual imaginations without taking action. Why do variousindividuals become disturbed about fantasies of which they don’t approve? As aresult much psychosexual therapy involves exploring and confronting themysteries of sexual fantasy.

We don’t yet know theanswers to many of these questions, but this kind of scientific investigationis assisting in our search for understanding.

Dr Raj Persaud is aConsultant Psychiatrist based in London, Dr Jenny Bivona graduated from theUniversity of North Texas and now works as a clinical psychologist.

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