May 14 2012 1:00pm

Fifty Shades, Willing Victim, Beg Me: Why Is the Rape Fantasy So Appealing?

Willing Victim by Cara McKenna

A rape fantasy or a ravishment is a sexual fantasy involving imagining or pretending being coerced or coercing another into sexual activity. In sexual role-play it involves acting out roles of coercive sex. One form of sexual roleplaying is the rape fantasy, also called ravishment or forced sex roleplay. Ravishment has become a more preferred term in BDSM circles, as it makes a distinction between consensual role play and non-consensual assault. Though consensuality is an important component of sexual roleplay, the illusion of non-consensuality (i.e., rape) is important to maintaining the fantasy. Crossing the line may constitute an assault and result in arrest and conviction.


Rape fantasy role-playing has become a hot topic with the unexpected popularity of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades trilogy, as well as all the subsequent articles explaining and judging this popularity. When first hit with the notion that someone actually thinks about having forced sex, what comes to mind is, “Why would you fantasize about something so repugnant and possibly life-threatening?” It’s a touchy subject that requires some careful consideration. 

Some women and men feel that even entertaining thoughts of a rape fantasy is wrong and they are twisted for even thinking of it. Personally, I don’t like the term “rape fantasy.” Rape, in the eyes of the law, is forced non-consensual sexual contact. The key word being non-consensual. In rape fantasy role playing, the acts are 100% consensual. You and your partner are just pretending to the non-consenting.

What’s the appeal, you ask? I think it’s the taboo factor. Women are often taught that sex is dirty. Women shouldn’t demand sex, initiate sex, or even want sex. When we first start to date, how often do most wait a suitable time frame or until we are in “love” before taking that next step? How many times have we read a book with a woman engaging in sexual relationships right after meeting a man, with more then one man, or engaging and enjoying kinky sex and in the back of our mind we think, “slut?” I’m guilty of it.

Lately, however, women have stopped apologising. We like sex and refuse to feel guilty for reading about it, fantasizing about it, having it, and enjoying it. The rape fantasy gives the illusion that the choice is taken from us and therefore we can’t be held responsible for what happens. Yet we are responsible through the act of consent. We control every aspect of it. Fantasies are nothing more than a way to expand our comfort zones, using our imaginations to take us places that we would otherwise never explore in real life. With fantasies, everything is permitted and nothing is denied.

The key here is “consensual.” There is nothing wrong with consensual adults indulging in their sexual fantasies. While I like to read rape fantasy erotica, a man attempting to do this in real life without my permission would not be acceptable. It would not be sexy or arousing because I wouldn’t be in control of my fantasy.

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaughtRape or ravishment fantasies are not a recently discovered trope. The mainstay of many historical romances, recently being referred to as mommy porn or porn for women, revolve around this trope, using it as the baseline in which the hero and heroine find their way to their happily ever after. The common plot is a devastatingly handsome rake becomes so overcome by his attraction to the virgin heroine that he loses all control and takes whatever steps necessary to ensure she becomes his. Though she refuses in the beginning, she will eventually submit; her feelings of anger and hatred morph into desire and eventual fulfillment. The ending gives us a happily married couple for whom the hero is redeemed and the heroine remains unsullied because the choice of sexual congress was take out of her hands. Judith McNaught’s Whitney, My Love and Catherine Coulter’s Devil’s Embrace are prime examples. VC Andrews created a literary empire based on rape, pedophilia, and incest fantasises. There wasn’t a trope she didn’t try, and even made some of her own up.

The difference between those storylines and the emerging ones is many authors are now making sure that BOTH participants know it’s a fantasy in which they are engaging. The trope is not used to gain power, marriage, or a permanent sexual submission.  It is simply a form of sexual role play. When the playing is done, so is the fantasy.

One of my favorite books, Cara McKenna’s Willing Victim, is based on a relationship that starts with a rape fantasy. Our heroine Lauren seeks to have a relationship with the hero Flynn. Flynn warns her that his sexual appetites are not for the weak and invites her to watch him and his current partner engage in a fantasy rape role play session and judge for herself if this is something that interests her. It does, and soon Lauren and Flynn embark on a sexual relationship that examines their needing this type of sexual fantasy in an engaging and sexy erotic story. What takes the story beyond a simple erotic is that while their relationship is started because of the rape fantasy, it isn’t defined by it. The fantasy never leaves the bedroom and Flynn remarks in the book that he doesn’t need to engage in this fantasy every time in order to have a fulfilling sexual relationship. It’s just a kink he likes to indulge in.

Beg Me by Shiloh WalkerShiloh Walker’s Beg Me addresses a BDSM lifestyle between a husband and wife, and what happens when that lifestyle is violated. Tania, our heroine, was viciously raped by a friend after losing her husband and it turns her sexual fantasy into an act of terror. She asks a friend to help her overcome her fear and take back her sexual freedom once and for all.

Prior to the traumatic event, we see Tania and her husband in a solid established relationship—and they also happen to engage in rape fantasy. When that fantasy is violated, becoming a real act of rape and destroying the nature of the fantasy for the heroine, we watch as she struggles to get back to the place before sex was used as a weapon against her. Beg Me is an emotional story that addresses a painful subject with dignity.  Both of these books take the sexual rape fantasy and incorporate them into storylines where the fantasy is revealed and acted on by two consenting adults.

As Fifty Shades’s popularity grows, some will cheer its emergence as popular fiction and others will bemoan that women are degrading themselves by reading and/or engaging in it.  Either way, I can’t say if rape fantasies are right or wrong. I can’t tell you reading them is right or wrong. That is an individual choice that needs to be made by you. What I can say is you don’t not need to feel ashamed and you’re not alone.


Tori Benson, Smexybooks and at Twitter.

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Vanessa Ouadi
1. Lafka
Personnally speaking, I'm not into rape/ravishment/forced sex fantasies. Tried it once or twice, but it's just not my stuff.

I really don't mind reading about it, though. But, it must be well-written, in a way that highlights the consensual presupposition, or I'll find it downright creepy and it'll make me feel uncomfortable.

For instance, I remember a sex scene in a book I've read lately in which the hero tells the heroine he's going to force her and she's going to resist but she'll like it. And so he does, despite the heroine saying no since the very beginning and all throughout the scene. The fact that the heroine indeed loved it didn't help me from feeling uncomfortable with that scene. Because both "parties" hadn't agreed beforehand to the fantasy made it creepy. It reminded me of all those forced seduction scenes in historical romance _ it sometimes is worth reading because it brings something to the story but still, creepy.

Cara McKenna’s Willing Victim was very good because I didn't question one moment while reading the consensual aspect of the ravishment scenes :)
2. Miss_D
It's been a while since I've read a VC Andrews book but I did often wonder about the inspiration for the main themes in her works.
3. EA
Not a fan of the forced sexual scene - I think this type of fantasy, or whatever you want to call it, really gained more mainstream notice or even acceptance with the whole Luke & Laura storyline on GH back in the 1980's putting a visualization to the whole thing - yes bad boy hurts heroine and love redeems them but there is a brutality to forced sex that makes it hard for me to read. Now I have to go back to Whitney and re-read the book as its been sooooo many years! Maybe my thoughts will change.....
Megan Frampton
5. MFrampton
I know I might sound like a perv and all, but when it's consensual--as Tori points out--I like reading rape fantasy. Willing Victim has recently vaulted up to the top of one of faves, and now I want to read Beg Me. But it's the consent that is, of course, important.
Perhaps I'm also inured because I cut my romance teeth, my adult romance teeth, at least, on the bodice rippers of the late 70s, where rape was a reality, so it's not that shocking for me to read.
Lime Cello
6. Limecello
Hi Tori,

Interesting post. Rape fantasy and forced seduction go hand in hand right? Would you say they're interchangeable or that rape fantasy is a bit "more"? I see the sexy appeal of it - being "forced" to want it because of the chemistry and the feelings and sheer physicality of it all. Sometimes that's great.

I disagree to a degree with Beg Me being a good example though, of the rape fantasy. Yes, Tania wants it, and asks for it... but here, Drake doesn't. I think what adds that extra "ouch" layer to Tania's actual rape, is that it's her deceased husband's (identical) twin brother that did it - because he grossly misinterpreted Tania and her husband's sex play.

With Beg Me, Drake doesn't want to, but yes, he agrees but he does it for Tania to heal. It's about sex, yes, but in a way that act I think is more as therapy for her. In general. It's a way to move on/get better association with rougher sex, and to allow her to definitely reclaim her sexuality. Tania takes it too far though, with Drake not enjoying himself, and feeling awful at the end. Tania even knows that she takes it too far, but she doesn't care exactly. Because this scenario is about her. I know that, but I don't know that I'm okay with that.
It even says that Tania is hurting him - breaking him. That's what made me uncomfortable. He even says for her to not ask him to do that again.

So... I don't know. Just that I don't know that I'd agree with putting that book into this post.

I'd disagree with that being a rape fantasy. Unless... that is one - where it's really not what one of the parties wants. And if this last statement... then no. Not my thing.
7. Isobel Carr
I'm one of those who just doesn't grok the rape fantasy. Maybe this is because I was raised in a sex positive house and have never found anything about sex “dirty”, nor have I ever felt shameful about it (and based on the studies I’ve read, I’m WAY outta the norm when it comes to number of partners, but then so are all of my friends). I don't know. But when I encounter non-con sex in books (actual rape as opposed to a consensual fantasy or a misunderstanding), I don't want an HEA, I want an evisceration. Cutting off his balls would be the HEA I’m seeking.
8. Isobel Carr
And to be clear, I think there are two issues under discussion here:

1) Reader-based rape fantasy wherein the reader likes books that feature actual rape.

2)Consenting rape fantasy scenarios between characters.I find these to be VERY different issues.

I don’t understand the attraction of #1 at all, but totally get the heat factor of #2.
Tori Benson
Lafka-Im not big on non consensual rape or forced seduction in books anymore. I admit to reading it in the 70s-80s, but no a days, it's a distasteful trope for me.

Miss_D-LOL I don't even what to know. She went places no one should ever go.

EA-Whitney still hurts my feelings. I don't like those sort of story lines anymore. I always want to go into the book and put a hurt on the hero.

Akinna-Thank you

MFrampton- It's funny but what was ok in those types of bodice rippers not makes me feel skeevy and angry.

Limecello-I think they started out the same, a rose by any other name is still a rose, but have branched off due to the consensual aspects and the availability of romances where the h/h have sexual relations without the necessarily of marriage and such. I added Beg Me because to me there are aspects of the rape fantasy even if it is just on the heroines side. Yes, it's emotional, angsty, and sticky with all the issues addressed, but it does play into the rape fantasy genre.

Isobel Carr-Oh, agree. It's VERY hard for me to ever forgive the hero for raping the heroine no matter his excuses. What I was trying to show is rape fantasy is not a new trope but we have gone beyond the non consensual to consensual in romance and that to read either is ok.
Laura K. Curtis
10. LauraKCurtis
Here's the thing I always say when this topic comes up:

When people sky dive, bungee jump, or ride a roller coaster, no one says "oh, you're suicidal and need to be in therapy." Everyone understands that what those people are after is the *thrill* of being out of control with the deep-in-the-heart *security* of knowing you're not going to actually go splat.

Like Isobel, I don't understand anyone wanting to read about forced seduction or rape. But I totally understand wanting to engage in—or read about others engaging in—a consentual fantasy of loss of control. Because if you trust your partner, you know that nothing truly bad will happen. It's not a fantasy of being raped. It's a fantasy of trust.
Jessica O'Brien
11. JLOBrien
For some people it breaks down to a basic biological response. Adrenaline= aphrodisiac. Aphrodisiacs makes you wanna to the horizontal mambo with the "stranger" who picked you up at the trashy bar..or the "stranger" who just broke into your hotel to "force" you to do naughty things.

In the end, it's all about one thing. It's all consensual.

What goes on in your your business. You are not advocating a heinous crime by engaging in your fantasy. Nor are you supporting the crime by liking to read about characters engaging in the fantasy.

I have read a few myself..and while the "forced seduction" doesn't trip my trigger, I am sure some of the things that do it for me would have people going "Really?" :)
12. Janet W
Tori, when I read your comment about Fifty Shades, I was a little puzzled. There was no rape fantasy role-playing in Fifty Shades, no non-con sex, no contract signed ... did you mention the book because you see it as opening the flood gates for a more open conversations about books like Willing Victim? A book which I really must read, by the way: everyone recommends it so highly.
Tori Benson
LauraKCurtis-I like that term-A fantasy of trust.

JLOBrien-Exactly. It's your choice and your not doing anything wrong.

Janet W-Yes, part of the reason I mentioned is because 50 Shades seems to have blown open the erotica door wide open. Also, I always thought that the sex scene in the second book, right after she drops her top, was not a rape but it felt forced. Christian wasn't making love to Ana. He was using sex and bondage to punish her for disobeying him.
Lindsay Beeson
14. lindsayb
As a survivor of rape and incest I can't imagine anyone fantasizing about what I've been through.. so I have a hard time viewing it as a 'rape fantasy' and tend to see women's interest in these types of stories as more of a dominance fantasy. Real rape is horrible, soul crushing, and pretty much destroys who you are as an individual. It's not something that you would want to have happen. I can see a woman being turned on, in a healthy way, by dominance and aggression. Then again I don't think I've read any of the books you all have mentioned aside from 50 shades. I have read some old school romance that I think was borderline rape- but then the heroine always internally thinks "yeah, I want this" even if she's saying "no way buddy!"
15. Athena Grayson
I think part of it is our understanding of what real rape actually is has grown and evolved. Experts will tell you that rape is very often not really about the sex at all, it's about power over another person in the most intimate and horribly violating way. It's an act of destruction, made out of what should be an act of creation.

But with the fantasy aspect of forced seduction, it *is* about the sex. Forced seduction fantasies as played out in romance stories often have a component of "swept away" which plays more with the emotional component of sex--that abdication of responsibility (and therefore, consequences) of the seductee. Usually it's the heroine, who is prohibited by either her society, her mores, or the mores of the readers from willingliy engaging in sex or the type of sex proposed by the seducer, who takes on the job of forcing the heroine (removing her choice, and thereby her consequences of acquiescing) into a situation she can derive somewhat guilt-free enjoyment of, without the threat of harmful consequences, to either her moral code, her social code, or the social code of the readers (because yes, there is an element of audience participation in there).

Good discussion, though! It's healthy to revisit the larger "meta" dialogue that is going on in terms of women's sexuality that's being expressed and hashed out through fiction.
Pamela Webb-Elliott
16. Spaz
Wow Tori, awesome post. I need to check out the one by Shiloh Walker, that sounds emotionally gutting, just the way I like it. And I've always wnated to try out Willing Victim. Thanks!
17. willaful
Isobel Carr: exactly what I was thinking. There are two separate things being talked about here. Everything that happened in WV was specifically consensual, whereas quite a lot of what goes in in 50SofG seems to not be. (I say seems since I didn't get very far in it.)
Janet Richardson
18. SoCalGal52
Thank you! This article is spot on!
We (women) enjoy the FANTASY of rape; often in a trusting relationship. We are provided the opportunity to completely abdicate control and remain the "good girls" we were raised to be. It’s FUN and EXCITING for a brief period of time.
Many - men and women - don't want to recognize that women today have needs and desires and are now more willing to act upon them; as men have traditionally done. Changing the dynamics of male and female relations.
An actual sexual rape is brutal, violent and a form of dominance – taking ALL sense of worth and control away from the victim. The emotional return itself can be devastating. None of us has the right to judge what form that journey takes. What we can do is cheer on the survivor.
Well done for such a thorough and honest article!
19. Truthbetold15
Fantasies are harmless to an extent, but nobody on here can trully say they would not be aroused during real rape, unless you have been subjected you can't say for sure it wont happen. Studies have shown arousal and more poignantly orgasm during. The sexual revolution is blessing and a curse in my opinion. Too many women promote dangerous fantasies and when it happens in a situation you are not in control, you cry wolf. At the end of the day women having a say about the sexuality is great but that should be meant ofr its intended recipient and thats your partner, but too many men and even women just broadcast their fantasies publicly without thought or discretion and to warped minded individuals thats just a homing beacon and they will preceive that every woman thinks and feels like that about fantasies especially RAPE fantasies. However I believe erotic literature reveals a lot about the darker side of womens personalities especially the arousing nature of non concenseual sex and I believe some rapists have latched on to this concept, which can explain go a long way to explain some aspects of arousal during rape and orgasms during rape.
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