Truth is Stranger than Fiction: BDSM & Rape Fantasies

This week’s Truth is Stranger than Fiction comes from a post on Feministe, There It Is. It’s ostensibly a post about why those of us who argue that BDSM is not an “equally valid” sexual “choice” are wrong, but in reality it’s a post about the author, and it reveals a lot about the way sexuality is defined in our society, BDSM, and her psychological state.

I’m a bit hesitant to pick apart a female blogger I don’t know, who had the courage to post her name to something very private and personal, knowing that many people out there would take issue with her statements in one way or another. On the other hand, I think she unintentionally reveals just what is so wrong about embracing BDSM as sexual liberation or feminist, and I’d like to point out at least a few of those things.

She begins by talking about how prostituted women (or as she calls them, as a class, “sex workers”) are considered a front line in protecting “other” women from rape and assault, because men can “act out” their abusive fantasies (“consensually”) with prostituted women. The article even begins with a quotation describing how one particular woman, who had been abused as a child, would “get her clients off” by telling them how she had been assaulted.

The author of the article says she knows about the violence men do to women (though cautions that she is concerned about “problematic negative stereotypes of men”), as she faced some of it herself:

Like any woman, I’ve got my stories of male sexual co-option. My experiences have been mild compared to the rape and abuse that are too many people’s awful reality, but my experiences are also real, and shaped me profoundly. The stereotypes of sexuality that made me into a teenage girl who couldn’t seem to think or communicate my way out of giving blowjobs to a man who categorically refused to return the favor. Who faked orgasms because I couldn’t figure out how to have them, and because I felt that I had to give the fragile male ego the all-important reassurance that I was coming “for him”. Who just smiled when a boyfriend I’d actually been honest with told me how convenient it was that I didn’t know how to come: I was good in bed, he informed me, partly because “I don’t even need to give you an orgasm.”

[...]
I wrote a whole 20-page paper at age 18 about what I referred to as the “self-guilt-trip”: what many women end up doing to ourselves in a society where sexual stereotypes have nothing to do with what we want. I spent so long guilt tripping myself into having — even initiating — sex I wasn’t that into, because that was the image of sexuality that I had. What I thought was expected. What I thought I had to do, had to be, in order to be sexual with another person; to be sexually liberated; to “earn” a sexual relationship.

She’s right that her experiences were “mild” in comparison to many (such as, perhaps, the experiences of prostituted women being pimped out a similar age…but I digress). Throughout the world, a large percentage of women by the age of 18 have been raped, tortured, forcibly married, forced to bear children, endured fistulas, and assaulted with venereal diseases and HIV. The author, I’m sure, knows that. I don’t need to tell her what happened to her was “mild” – she knows it was “mild”.

It was still fucking awful. She still endured systematic and systemic efforts to brainwash her, corral her, manipulate her, subdue her, shackle her, and mangle her brain, her emotions, and her sexuality. Part of that was knowing what was happening to other women. Rape is not an amorphous thing, vaguely feared; it is the proverbial sword above our necks. Some part of us knows it is random. It is an accident of fate that I was born here and not in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is happenstance that I walked down this street instead of that street; that my parents moved us next door to these neighbors instead of those neighbors; that I was friends with a girl who had that father in elementary or middle school instead of that other father. There are things which would have increased the statistical likelihood of rape, but even those are often a result of circumstance, like the choice to run away from home (AKA “being born into or placed in a home which would have prompted me to run away”).

Trivia question: what well known psychological syndrome can occur when a person lives through a traumatic situation (whether brief or extended) which results in death or serious injury to others?

The colloquial term is survivor’s guilt (which has more recently been recategorized as part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

I’ve already posited in a previous post that what’s often termed “female sexual dysfunction” may be a result in part of PTSD rates among women. We’ve established that the author of the Feministe post had difficulties achieving orgasm; that she felt a lack of control over her sex life; that she was conscious of social pressures regarding her sex life; that men were emotionally and sexually abusive to her; and that she feels that this is normal or “mild” in comparison to what other women experience.

What is BDSM but an eroticization of what she and other women have experienced?

I posit that BDSM, like rape fantasies, are a coping mechanism. They are a way to deal with fears and anxieties about rape, sexual abuse, and submissiveness in a “safe” environment:

There it was. I felt the tears building, gasps torn from my throat, I felt myself starting to fall apart and reform: around him, around his guidance and force and demands. Almost unable to think. Until finally he relented and said my name, and said softly, “Come back,” and ran his hand reassuringly down my hair.

There it was: the reason I want it so much.

(A lover asked me recently to describe how it feels when I go under. It took me a long time to come up with words. I feel blank. I feel dark. Desperate. Engaged. Transcendent. If it’s good enough, I can’t communicate. If it’s good enough, then it becomes hard not to fall in love. [...])

The author discusses this feeling of “transcendence” briefly, but doesn’t really go into it. She later writes:

And there it is. There, right there. In the way it makes me feel. In the connection it creates. That’s why BDSM is worth it. [...] It’s worth the emotional energy and determination required to maintain my wholeness when people try to tell me this is wrong…

She is obliquely talking about feelings of security, of “connection” with a man, and feeling as if she’s falling in love with him. I suspect this is what happens with many straight women who were taught first-hand that men will be emotionally and physically abusive. We have, after all, been more or less explicitly told from the time were we kneehigh to a grasshopper that we have to trust men; that it’s in our nature; that it’s the only sure path to financial, social, physical, and emotional security; and that male approval is the end-all-be-all of female existence. Sexual submissiveness and rape fantasies are at the psychological juncture between knowing that you can’t trust men, but feeling that you have to, and sexualizing it. It brings you right up to the brink – almost experiencing those terrible things you’ve heard about, almost like that thing that happened to you those years ago – so you can just begin to look it in the eye. But you’re safe. In the end the pain will go away, you’re still alive, you feel a sense of deep connection to the man and a sense of relief, and you’re not sure why.

In other contexts, this type of situation might be referred to as a betrayal bond (in which a trusted figure betrays the victim, either in a single traumatic event or over multiple events). The blog PTSD Me had some discussions about the topic. The key here is that many straight women are not just bonding with individual men, but with men as a class, and a paradigm of sexuality which is all but defined as a play of dominance and submission.

She closes with this thought as to why anti-BDSM feminists are “wrong”:

Because nothing consensual that feels so good, that creates such a connection, that is so genuinely transcendent … nothing with such potential should be so hated and feared.

The cake is a lie.

There is no connection. There is no transcendence, except temporarily and from something no women should have to deal with in the first place. And the potential is the continued re-wiring of your brain’s circuitries. When does the fiction become the truth? When does the lie become real?

I suppose there shouldn’t be any surprise that a large percentage of the commenters at Feministe heaping praise on the author are male.

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7 Responses to Truth is Stranger than Fiction: BDSM & Rape Fantasies

  1. Damn, sister, you are SO GOOD.

    Sexual submissiveness and rape fantasies are at the psychological juncture between knowing that you can’t trust men, but feeling that you have to, and sexualizing it. It brings you right up to the brink – almost experiencing those terrible things you’ve heard about, almost like that thing that happened to you those years ago – so you can just begin to look it in the eye. But you’re safe. In the end the pain will go away, you’re still alive, you feel a sense of deep connection to the man and a sense of relief, and you’re not sure why.

    You’re not sure why…hmmm.
    I was thinking about *misplaced gratitude* when I read that. Like, he COULD hurt you…he COULD be like all those other men… But he doesn’t. It’s over. And you feel misplaced gratitude for his mercy. What a Nice Guy! Oh, *this* is sooooo different. I feel relieved. I think I’m in love with him! And I’m not sure why…??

    And “continued rewiring of your brain’s circuitries.” OMG, yes! The brain is plastic, people. You keep creating surges of endorphins during pain, or during your precious BDSM fantasies, you’re DAMN RIGHT the body is going to crave the association again (and again and again). DUH. The cake is a lie.

    I am truly, deeply disturbed by the nonchalance with which RAPE FANTASIES are treated. Rape is WRONG. And yet, rape fantasies are VERY COMMON. This says something very disturbing about our collective sexuality. It is NOT OK. Not OK for people to sincerely desire being *forced* into sex. And not OK for other people (men) to create an environment where violence is sexualized to such an extent that RAPE fantasies seem normal or unproblematic.

  2. pisaquari says:

    BDSM and rape fantasies, as you explain, involve powerful concoctions. Stimulating powerful nerves and then mixing that with and life-threatening fear is a monstrous arousal. They all spark off each other in a clusterfuck-trigger that abandons true origin. What is what anymore?

    Which is why the last of her statements you quote it so ironically telling:

    “nothing with such potential should be so hated and feared.”

    It’s that relived HATE and that relived FEAR that BDSMers and rape fantasizers use-no, *need*- to achieve their psychological and physiological orgasms. If the hate and fear weren’t there it wouldn’t be sado-masochistic sex. She hates and fears what she’s doing. She’s just learned, through the unfortunate situation that is The Fucking Patriarchy, that it’s to be desired.

  3. m Andrea says:

    Okay, I feel the urge to interrupt my reading of your lastest brilliance to inform you of your latest brilliance. Or something. But I’m just really impressed no end. Thanks for being so amazingly perceptive and eloquent. After being mired in sexism and especially subject to the constant apologia for male entitlement by “feminists” all day long, it is so incredibly refreshing to read your blog.

  4. m Andrea says:

    So how insulting can I get around these parts, anyway? Because the “feminists” seem like nothing more than good-time party girls. Their ideology is built upon the assumption that they can do whatever makes them feel good, and whatever makes them feel good must be valid. Except emotional responses to an activity is not how reasonable people determine validity, and so they search around for a way to transform their feelings into something which other people will respect. So they call themselves feminist and everything they do is feminist. Breathing is feminist, if THEY do it.

    Er. People who have a reason to distrust poisonous spiders usually do not cover themselves with poisonous spiders as a way to “work through their issues”. Mentally healthy people just avoid the spiders and realize that soaking in poison simply for the thrill of soaking in poison has only one result and one result only: desensitization. (And eventually, as already mentioned, a “re-wiring of the brain” to where they think soaking in spider venom is pleasant.)

    Is that why they do it? Do they believe that they are trapped in an environment of poisonous spiders and their only choices are to either learn to love the poison, or else — what? What do they think their other choice is, if they even assume other choices exist? I remember one well-known, pro-porn, pro-torture, pro-traffic, etc etc etc blogger said once that she quite honestly in all sincere thoughfulness didn’t think sexism would ever end. But that’s precisely why I’d dump their Y chromosome out of the gene pool in a heartbeat, hello! And I’d talk about that option until I was blue in the face and everybody either agreed with me or came up with a good reason which explained why we shouldn’t.

    Notice how I drag that into every conversation. B’wahahaha. Ah you might be feeling the need for some rules for this blog right about now. lol And I would be happy to adhere to them. :) Apologies for my exuberance, your blog just makes me too happy.

  5. FAB Libber says:

    Thank you ED, two particular quotes from you that deserve some applause:
    “Sexual submissiveness and rape fantasies are at the psychological juncture between knowing that you can’t trust men, but feeling that you have to, and sexualizing it.”

    “There is no connection. There is no transcendence, except temporarily and from something no women should have to deal with in the first place. And the potential is the continued re-wiring of your brain’s circuitries.”

    All of us females have been brainwashed from birth to be submissive and compliant, even radfems spend years personally unpacking all the bullshit brainwashing that we have been through. It looks to me that this young woman, instead of putting the proverbial two-and-two together and getting four, she comes up with 57!!! Perhaps because the actual answer; that half the population are in general, very damaging and dangerous to the other half, is a frightening reality to live with; so instead trauma bonds with the abusers, in order to feel safe and protected. It is in the hopes that if she “consents” to “rape fantasies/scenarios” that she won’t get as hurt as if she resisted.

    “Consenting” to physical harm within a BDSM scenario is just self-harm by proxy. A friend of mine who was a self-harmer, did it “to feel”. This is because her past abuse is something she has not dealt with, and so is not in touch with her emotions because of it. It is not just coincidence that a lot of self-harming women end up gravitating to BDSM. Just as it is is not a coincidence that many women who have suffered sexual abuse as children or teenagers, end up gravitating to BDSM.

    “Who faked orgasms because I couldn’t figure out how to have them”

    Having “sex” with men, or engaging in BDSM with men, certainly is NOT the way to ensure orgasms. Spending some alone-time with your hand and your clitoris, is. Part of the big brainwashing programme includes that the only “right way” to achieve an orgasm is via heterosexual/PIV sex, and that masturbation (for women) is a big no-no. The sooner that a woman sees through that Big Lie, the happier she will be.

  6. factcheckme says:

    I suppose there shouldn’t be any surprise that a large percentage of the commenters at Feministe heaping praise on the author are male.

    just, EW. god i think thats the most disturbing part. OF COOOOOUUURSE teh menz are giving her a pat on the behind for pandering to men, and to male interests. seriously though, i dont know how any of them can stand themselves.

    regarding trauma-bonding, its very much involuntary. it happens in wartime, where soldiers who face extreme terror and the fear of death, with each other, develop intense emotional bonds with each other that dont go away. i really, really believe that this is whats at the root of womens “falling in love” with men with whom they have had PIV, AND it also explains why men dont feel the same way about women theyve fucked, and they never have, and they never will. its because PIV isnt dangerous to men. its not a SHARED dangerous experience that would create a reciprocal bond. in this way, its very much about mind control isnt it? i mean, we KNOW what happens to women in these circumstances. men know. and they do it anyway.

    regarding pain and BDSM specifically…well human beings are what, 98% water? and much the rest is chemicals, and human bodies release chemicals when we are in pain. we release them when we are wearing uncomfortable shoes. when we are being subjected to painful intercourse, medical events and childbearing. when we are being beaten, and raped “for real.” and when we are being beaten and raped “for fun.” or whatever. the fucking sex-pozzies seem very much invested in the idea that any of this is under the recipient’s control, because you cant consent to anything you cant control, and they know it. but again, like the one-sided trauma-bonding that happens through PIV, the chemicals we release as a pain-response are involuntary. and THEREFORE, its mind-control, to do it to someone else. we know exactly what the result will be.

    and as ms.citrus and i have both explored on our blogs, the fact that men like hurting women should not be ignored in the context of BSDM. even if you “like it” theres something very wrong with someone who would WANT to hurt you this way. theres something very wrong with men, and mens “sexuality.” VERY. WRONG. but that gets conveniently ignored in their own discourse, which only focuses on “consent.” god, it all makes me SO. ANGRY. so, thanks for addressing it!

    anyway, heres the full link to the trauma-bonding post. thanks for linking above too.

    http://factcheckme.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/trauma-bonding/

  7. factcheckme says:

    PS. i kind of hate you for this eves daugther, but i kind of have to go read the “male commenters” comments now. i really dont want to, but i kind of have to. ew.

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