I also believe that a good deal of this post ties finely in with the discussion here, The Dilemma of Female Fantasies. I believe that fantasies are complicated and that open-and-accepting discussion of fantasies is crucial. I greatly appreciate the author for writing and sharing this post.
Trigger Warning: Sex unfriendly religious upbringing, rape, rape fantasy, rape culture, including a description of a sexual assault with additional trigger warning.
The author grants permission and encouragement to others to circulate and repost this piece (without editing it or claiming authorship) in the hopes that it may help others.
I was seven years old when I asked a playmate to tie me up.
The request wasn't a sexual one, at least not consciously. I just thought the experience would be fun and thrilling and dangerous and exciting. It was, too, at least until my parent found me alone and tied up in the church music room a few minutes later and wearily demanded to know what I thought I was doing. I explained that we were playing Superheroes and I was waiting to be rescued, and my parent untied me and told me not to do that again because it was dangerous. What if the church burned down and you couldn't get out? was the argument, and I remember being deeply disappointed. I never broke rules once they'd been explained to me, which meant that I wouldn't ever be tied up again because if I was tied up, I could die in a fire. It didn't seem fair.
As I grew older and became more aware of sex (courtesy largely of the family Bible, which I read cover-to-cover on a two year cycle), I started to have vivid and complicated dreams of bondage and sexual domination and something that seemed, strictly speaking, to be rape, but which in the dreams felt not like rape at all. I had been taught that all sexual fantasies were sin, because thought was as bad as action, so while I was disturbed by the dreams, I was disturbed more for the blanket sin of sexual desire than for the idea that the type of desire I was subconsciously expressing might not have been appropriate or healthy. Knowing as I did almost nothing about sex, I could hardly know at the time that my desires were unusual; I suppose that if you had asked me at twelve what mommies and daddies did in the bedroom, I might in all innocence have hazarded my own fantasies as the norm for everyone.
I went to a conservative college where we were reminded that sex outside of marriage was a sin and that desire and fantasies were sinful things to indulge in. A sort of low level guilt accompanied me everywhere during this period of my life, a frustration over my inability to stop sinning in my dreams or in furtive masturbatory sessions in the rare moments alone in my shared dorm room. My fantasies and subconscious dreams turned darker at this time, now requiring not only an inability to consent on my part, but also that my partner very clearly and specifically not care about pleasing me. I have no doubt that had I shared my secret sin with a school counselor, this evolution of my desires would have been seen as proof that my soft-core bondage sin had lapsed inevitably into hard-core rape fantasies, and such was the power of evil spreading over my life.
When I was seventeen, I had my first serious relationship. We'd spoken at length about how I was not ready for sex and did not want sex until I was married. I had been open about that fact from almost our first date, but I still felt enormously guilty and selfish and so I regularly pleased my partner in ways that were "not sex" in my mind, but which I recognize now in retrospect, were. However, I still felt comfortable in my "virgin" status, and I felt that our relationship was a healthy one.
Trigger Warning: description of a rape
Six months into our relationship, my partner held me down and had sex with me against my will. I cried and struggled and begged that my partner stop, but I wasn't given a choice in the matter. Afterward, my partner held me and told me I was loved and that they just hadn't been able to control themself. I felt hurt, angry, and utterly betrayed. I had been raped, and by someone I loved and trusted, and I did not know how to cope with that reality. My body was in complete conflict, with some parts of my body reporting searing pain and others horrifyingly reporting a reactionary sensation of pleasure that angered and humiliated me. But my mind was in one respect perfectly clear: whether the act had been pain or pleasure, I still had not wanted it, and it had been forced on me against my will.
END Trigger Warning
I have had rape fantasies for almost as long as I can remember. Being raped did not make the fantasies go away, but it did make me ashamed of the fantasies. Even when I left my childhood church and decided that sexuality was something warm and wonderful and free to be celebrated and never a shameful sin to ask forgiveness for, yet still I couldn't embrace an aspect of my sexuality that had been part of me since childhood because my sexuality was the wrong kind of sexuality. I had traded one concept of sin for another.
Moreover, having rape fantasies made me feel like a fraud. How could I live as a rape survivor and work on behalf of human rights during the day and still desire at night a cocktail of degradation, humiliation, and pain? It didn't really matter that I never shared these fantasies with anyone else; it didn't really matter that they were confined entirely to my head. They existed, I had them, I couldn't get rid of them, and the more they stayed with me, the more harshly I judged myself.
My life is a contradiction between what I know intellectually and what I feel emotionally. I believe that a large part of my sexuality is driven by my genes and my biology. I believe that my parents or my grandparents or my great-grandparents probably experienced similar fantasies in the privacy of their own minds. I understand that a large part of my sexuality is and has been determined by my culture and my upbringing. I intellectually acknowledge that sexuality was first presented to me, as a child, in images of bondage and sexual tension in numerous comics and cartoons. I see now that the movies and television shows I watched as a child were more rife with rape narratives and villains than they were with non-rape sexual narratives and heroes. I understand why, as a child in the environment I was raised in, I normalized what I did.
I recognize, too, that the pressure to be a good in my church and in my society imprinted heavily on my subconscious. I see clearly that the evolution of my desires from light bondage to heavy rape was an evolution that occurred as I was continually informed that engaging in any kind of consensual sex made me a sinner. I recognize that my fantasy partners needed to not care about my wants and well-being because if they cared about me, that meant I could stop the sex at any time. And if I could stop the sex in my fantasy and didn't then clearly I was a willing participant in sin and a damned soul for eternity. That's a lot to put on a teenager budding into a sexual being.
I fully realize that rape fantasies are not the same as rape. I recognize that rape fantasies ultimately have a layer of control in them that my trying-not-to-sin subconscious chose to ignore: that the rape fantasy starts when I want it to start and ends when I want it to end. I realize that actual rape is an entirely different experience from a sexual domination fantasy. I understand that my rape was a violation of my control over my body, over my trust for my partner, and over my expressed desires and not an experience that I secretly wished for and somehow unconsciously brought on myself. And I understand that a rape survivor can still enjoy rape fantasies without being a hypocrite.
But knowing all that doesn't make me feel any better. I judge myself harshly, and to a standard that I would never impose on another human being. You have rape fantasies? Well, you can't control that, and as long as you're not harming yourself or others, you should enjoy your sexuality however it expresses itself. But when I have rape fantasies? I'm a terrible human being and should crawl into a hole somewhere and die. It's all very subjective, it would seem.
I'm not writing this because I need encouragement or validation or solidarity. I am who I am, and I recognize at this point in my life what I can change and what I cannot change, and one thing I cannot change is my sexuality. I'm a reasonably happy and healthy human being, and I live and work and interact with a variety of people - coworkers, family, friends, lovers - who don't know this side of me and never need to. There's a mental tension I live with, the tension of should-be-but-isn't, but it's a tension I've grown accustomed to. I've learned, oddly, to accept my non-acceptance of myself.
I'm writing this because this is the sort of thing I needed to read years ago, when I was first struggling with how to reconcile my rape with my rape fantasies, and was trying to work out in my head that just because two things share similar words, doesn't mean they are in any way the same thing at all. Maybe reading my words will help someone else. I hope so.
Ana's Note: Anonymous comments may be submitted on this post, if you prefer not to be identified. If you can't sign out of Disqus and need your comment deleted, please email me as soon as possible. Comments of a disparaging nature will not be replied to; they will be removed. I don't mind vigorous debate on my own posts, but this post written by a survivor should be treated with respect. Thank you.