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I initially titled this post “In Defense of Ravishment Fantasy” but decided I didn’t want to be on the defense on this one. So I guess all I’m going to do here is just talk about ravishment fantasy – more commonly and sensationally called “rape fantasy” – and why it’s so damn appealing to so many people, most of whom aren’t criminally sadistic sociopaths looking for a how-to.

In real life, rape is awful. It is a terrible thing, and women are often victimized not only by their rapists but by a culture that blames her for her situation – because of her clothes, because of her location, because of her body shape, because of her mental state at the time. We’re not as bad as Saudi Arabia, but don’t go thinking we’re all enlightened. Defense attorneys wouldn’t keep using the “she asked for it” angle if juries didn’t keep swallowing it. Rape is awful, and it can involve pleasure or pain or both, but it wounds the mind far after the body has healed. Rape is awful, and it is illegal, and it should be.

Rape fantasy isn’t rape. In real life, ravishment fantasy is simply extreme roleplay within the BDSM scene in which the “victim” is willing. The players go through all the motions of rape – the attack, the fight, the force, the perceived lack of empathy. But the most important part of the whole thing is that the scene is between two consenting adults pretending that there is no consent. Like many BDSM players, they probably have a safe word that isn’t “no” or “stop” to end the scene if it gets to be too much. But the fantasy that’s being played out is that the “victim” is unwilling, and that gets him or her off.

Ravishment fantasy erotica eliminates the safety of understood consent. Why? Because fiction can give the reader what reality can’t. In the fictional work, the victim can enjoy the acts in spite of himself or herself, swept away in the feelings of pain and pleasure, his or her body yielding while the mind resists. It’s a common trope in romance and erotica alike. Usually the victim is a woman, unwilling, innocent, overwhelmed by her situation. Usually the aggressor is a man, worldly, forceful, and bastardish. Think of all the common tropes in romantic and erotic fiction: the Captive/Captor, Master/Slave, Forced Betrothal, Love Spells, Hate Sex. Hell, incubi and succubi and vampires often operate against consent or without consent, and they’re some of the most common supernatural creatures in the romantic and erotic realm.

This is rape for titillation; it’s one of THE most common fantasies. Not because women or men who have that fantasy actually want to be raped. The rape fantasy isn’t about rape at all. It’s about being overwhelmed, about being swept up in something you can’t control, being forced to feel pleasure … but within the fictional (and thus, fantasy) world, it’s under your control. It’s still your choice. This is why some people who have been victimized in the past find catharsis in ravishment fiction or in ravishment roleplay. So the characters may be having a bad day, but it’s a victimless noncrime. No one is harmed in the making of this story. It is completely legal. It’s fantasy, and there is nothing wrong with that because it isn’t real.

Even in the erotic stories wherein the rape experienced by the victim character does not result in pleasure for that character, the key is in the written roleplay – where the informed consent is actually between the reader and the author. Perhaps the reader enjoys the idea of inflicting pain on someone unwilling, or at least someone pretending to be unwilling. There’s power in the imagination of sadistic acts, just as there is power in the imagination of being the victim, whether in pleasure or in pain. The act of fantasy is so different from the act of … well, action, that the fantasy shouldn’t make a difference, should never be criminalized.

It doesn’t matter what the Bible says about thoughtsin, because we don’t actually have thoughtcrime in our legal system. Wanting the fantasy may be taboo, but it’s not a crime. The Saw series and Hostel built itself on the idea of snuff films gone mainstream, and they made a ton of money off it. Are moralists really saying that every single person who watched those films are going to go out and do what it was that they saw? Really? I’m a devoted horror fan, yet I’m probably about as meek, mild, passive, and diplomatic as they come. I’m certainly not going to stand outside anyone’s window while holding a chainsaw and watching women undress. And simply the anecdotal evidence of the existence of me should show that fantasy is absolutely nothing like reality.

That seems to be the cause of so much grief when it comes to books and movies and television. People are afraid other people are unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. But if people aren’t able to tell the difference between fantasy and reality, I imagine they have more dire problems than they might get from just reading a damn book.