‘I am a woman in my early 20s, about to graduate from university and consider myself very independent with a healthy, normal, happy life.’
That’s how an anonymous university student begins her letter to agony aunt Mariella Frostrup in The Guardian. The letter writer is a normal young woman with a sexual fantasy that she feels guilty and ashamed of, despite the fact that thousands of women like her share similar fantasies of rape and abuse.
‘About two years ago I started watching porn. I didn’t even know what to look for, then I began to develop my own tastes and searched for specific things. What worries me is that my searches are for simulations of abuse – something that doesn’t reflect at all what I feel about the subject. I hate patriarchy and rape culture.
‘Another issue that worries me is that now, when having sex with my boyfriend, I invent abuse stories and play them in my head in order to reach orgasm. I don’t like to role play any of those fantasies, I like to feel loved when having sex. I feel like none of this is healthy nor nurturing for my self development. Is it really that worthy of preoccupation?’
For Frostrup, the answer lies in the young woman’s own words: frequently we don’t really want our fantasies to come true. ‘Fantasies, like dreams, are generally an outlet for emotions and psychological undercurrents we can’t or don’t want to include in our everyday experience. How lucky we are to have brains that can conjure the places we don’t want to go.
‘Rape is an act that asserts power in the basest, most violating way possible. It is not about an uncontrollable desire for another human being. It’s no coincidence that as a fantasy it’s more common among those in control of their day-to-day lives, rather than those who face such acts of sexual violence as an everyday danger. It’s not abnormal to be stimulated by the abstract idea of helplessness and subjugation. It certainly doesn’t mean when you walk down a street at night you are hoping a man will emerge from the undergrowth and take your right to choose what you do with your body by force.’
Frostrup goes on to remind the young woman that there’s nothing wrong with engaging in a little role play with a person we trust. ‘One of the most intimate expressions of sexuality is role playing with someone we trust and desire. It’s not a game that’s open to strangers – except in our imaginations. This is tricky terrain and it’s only with those we feel closest to that we can even admit to such instincts. Whether fantasising about perpetrating sex crimes or imagining being the victim, it doesn’t mean we’re asking for it to happen.’