If 30-something Britni’s husband touches her neck during role play, she immediately shuts down, putting an abrupt end to the fantasy. “My husband and I have a safe word," she says. “If I feel triggered, I use it and everything stops. Safe words should be established before anything happens—they're really important in trauma recovery.”
Britni, who requested her last name be withheld, is a three-time rape survivor. However, in past relationships and occasionally her current one, role play and her fantasy life have involved her being 'raped.'
Britni joins a legion of people who routinely have rape fantasies and play them out in the bedroom. According to one study, 62 percent of women report rape fantasies. But researchers suspect that number is actually much higher, with many people too ashamed to admit they are aroused by such scenarios; in particular, women who have been assaulted and raped in the 'real' world.
Clinical sexologist Dr. Claudia Six says first and foremost it's important for rape survivors to know there is nothing shameful about having rape fantasies. “Rape is an act of violence. It’s not a sexual act. This is something that happened to you—you’re not responsible for what that person did.”
“If you’re turned on by being taken,” Six adds, “there is a way you can create that without putting yourself in [psychological] danger.”
In Britni’s case, she had had rape fantasies since her teenage years (although she didn’t quite understand what they were. She'd just pretend strong men were kidnapping her and using her for sex). Her current fantasies are therefore a continuation of that experience, rather than a product of her assault.
Sex therapist Dr. Madeleine Castellanos says this is typical of survivors who had already flirted with the idea of "rape play" before their actual rape occurred: their fantasies simply remain unchanged.
But understandably, the real-world experience of rape can complicate role play. Britni didn’t actually share or act on her fantasies until after she had been raped, and despite trying to help herself heal by doing so, she initially endured more grief.
“Because I'd never really done much to process my trauma, I don't think I was emotionally in a place where I was able to consent to what I appeared to be consenting to,” she reflects.
“The result was that my boundaries got pushed to incredibly extreme places I wasn't prepared for. In the end, I think that traumatised me even more. I can forgive the people who assaulted me much more easily than I can forgive myself for the trauma I allowed to happen to myself under the guise of sexual liberation.
"For a long time," Britni continues, "I used BDSM and the playing-out of rape scenes as a way to try to take back my power. I hoped that willingly giving up control would help me feel liberated.”
Six and Castellanos say enacting rape fantasies in search of liberation is not uncommon among rape survivors, who try to master their trauma by turning it into something positive. And it can yield positive results: “If they play out a rape fantasy and don’t get hurt or scared, [and] they only get aroused, it creates a positive interpretation of the action,” Castellanos says. "The fear and uncertainty gets replaced with an erotic association.”
“It’s a way of rewriting history and claiming it,” says Six.
But Six also emphasises that everyone should process their trauma, and attempt to overcome it, in their own way. Some people, like Britni, need to have talk therapy first; for others, just acting on their fantasy helps them feel a sense of control.
The role the rape survivor plays in the fantasy is important, too. Six says it probably wouldn’t be as empowering to play the role of the person doing the raping, for instance. “I don’t think somebody putting themselves in the position of being a violent, violating, boundary transgressing person is the best way of empowering themselves. Rewriting or reclaiming the event is more powerful than putting yourself in the skin of someone who’s violent and evil.”
After therapy and discussions with her husband, Britni is finally on a path to healing that allows her to partake in rape-fantasy power play. Before, she would put a stop to anything that caused the least bit of pain, but now she can express a desire to be degraded and held down. She stresses that it’s a work in progress, though, and she still chooses to keep some of those desires to herself, as what she dreams up is pretty violent and "extreme."
“There's a part of me that hopes to incorporate some of that into my sex life down the road, but for now it stays in my head,” Britni says. “What I ask for in bed now is still not [totally] in line with what I fantasise about. I don't know if one day the two will meet, but it's still a process for me.”
What she does know is that having these fantasies as a rape survivor is normal. It doesn’t mean you’re “sick,” or a “bad feminist,” she says. Most importantly, "There's no shame.”
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