I reviewed Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold, which led me to consider the question of Rape in Romance. I did a little research, finding a recent (January 2008) meta-analysis in The Journal of Sex Research, which looked at some 20 studies over 30 years of women’s rape fantasies.
One of the questions asked by the study’s authors is why women have rape fantasies when they are repulsed by the thought of actual rape. They define rape fantasies as involving force, sex, and nonconsent. They do mention “aversive rape fantasies”, which are more like real rapes, featuring strange unattractive men and violence, but they say that most women’s rape fantasies are “erotic” — featuring most of the sex acts they would want to do anyway, with attractive men they would want to do them with.
An editor of Psychology Today summarizes the article, albeit with annoying interjections about the author’s own sexual history, here. Note the mock romance novel featured in the article:
[As an aside: One interesting statistic in the article is the claim that few (?no data) men fantasize about raping, but a “sizable minority” (10-20%) fantasize about being forced into sex. (For women, it’s anywhere from 37-51%)]
So, what do the authors conclude? Well, they consider a number of explanations: masochism, sexual blame avoidance, openness to sexual experience, desirability, male rape culture (which they reject because rapes have declined and because gender roles have changed so much in 40 years while rates of women who fantasize about rape have remained unchanged), biological predisposition to surrender, sympathetic activation (the physiological reaction to fear jump starts sexual arousal), and, most relevant for this romance readers: adversary transformation.