The idea that a guy might beg his tormentor to stop whipping and flogging him even though he was, in some complicated way enjoying it, is so intuitively built into BDSM culture that we tend to expect people to have “safewords” as a matter of course – words that really mean no, so “no” doesn’t have to mean “stop.” But experienced kinksters know that there are a lot of subtleties to that: no means no when you walk up to a random girl and proposition her for play, but it doesn’t necessarily mean no at the point where you’ve got a negotiated knife at her throat. At the point where you throw sex in there, you get a particular brand of consensual nonconsent that we often call “rape play.”
But even in Kinkland, there’s a pretty strong sense that pleading no to a whip on your clit isn’t quite the same as begging someone not to stick their dick in you. Consequently, “rape play” occupies a strange place in the BDSM scene. On the one hand, it tends to be fairly well institutionalized: many events arrange for mock kidnappings which often include “rapes”; people teach classes on it at kink events; and many cities have their own squads devoted to fulfilling people’s “rape” fantasies. At the same time, it’s almost universally considered “edge play” – play that’s especially sensitive, dangerous, and controversial. It’s a little bit ironic, since when you think about it, (protected) sex where someone just happens to say “no” is really probably a lot physically safer than 90% of sadomasochistic activities not labeled “edgeplay.” Obviously, many “rape play” scenes tend to incorporate a lot of other forms of sadomasochistic activities as well, but that’s not really the “rape” part that’s physically dangerous in that case. Rape play is edgeplay because it’s so psychologically and culturally loaded.
Yet in some sense, “rape play” is some of the most vanilla stuff that happens in the BDSM scene. Studies have repeatedly found that many women (at least in the U.S.) – usually around 50% – will admit to being turned on by the idea of rape. The same number show signs of physical arousal when reading graphic descriptions of rape. So statistically, this shit is actually kinda normal. Go figure. (Actually, as far as I can tell, no one’s bothered to find out how many women find the idea of raping other people hot. It may be that this desire is actually what’s kinky).
(THESE NUMBERS DO NOT MEAN THAT IT IS ANY WAY ACCEPTABLE TO GO OUT AND ACTUALLY RAPE PEOPLE. THEY DON’T MEAN THAT ‘SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT’ IF SHE GETS RAPED. THE POINT OF ‘RAPE PLAY’ AND ‘CONSENSUAL NON-CONSENT’ IS TO CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE PEOPLE CAN SAFELY DO THINGS THAT ARE ABSOLUTELY ONLY HOT IN FANTASY.)
I suppose before I go any further, I should go ahead and say that, thank the goddess, I have no history of sexual abuse, trauma, etc. I would certainly like to keep it that way. But for much of my adolescence, and for all of my sexual life, the idea of rape persisted as something that sounded pretty hot. I remember being disconcertingly turned on as a 14-year-old, reading a scene in a novel that described a woman being gangraped, and when the men’s dicks were too tired, they used a sword to fuck her instead (I thought, and still do, that that sounds really hot as long as I don’t die like she does in the book). At around the same age, I vividly remember waking up from a dream where I was raped – a dream, mind you, not a nightmare. I was concerned that these desires meant that I was pretty fucked up, so I was quite relieved in college when I encountered those statistics reassuring me that lots of American women thought the IDEA of rape was hot.
I spent a lot of time as a teenager trying to work through the contorted mental gymnastics on that one. I eventually concluded that I found the idea of rape hot, but not one little iota of the reality of it hot. I never walked down lonely streets in the hopes that some stranger would jump out and rape me. I never went out on dates with guys and thought, “I hope he takes me against my will!” (okay, let’s be honest, I wasn’t really going out on dates with anybody then, but you get my point). As I got older, I did occasionally fantasize about specific guys I was already having sex with taking me over my protests, but since I was pretty sexually mature at that point, I just told them that, and we negotiated a scene. I still vastly prefer having my ass taken over my protests than because I politely ask for it (my evilest partner occasionally makes me beg him to “please rape my ass” because he’s a sick fuck).
It was harder to come to terms with the fact that being told “no” by someone turned ME on. I didn’t (and still don’t) like being told “no” for vanilla sex … But I love hearing the quaver in a guy’s voice begging me not to shove my foot up his ass … and doing it anyway. Feeling other people’s fear turns me on a lot, as does feeling like I’m in control of them. I particularly like using the twisted line on people, “if you cum, no one will ever believe that I’ve raped you.”
… But I only do this with people if they’ve consented.
Intellectually, I realize that rape play is some pretty fucked up shit. When I attended FrozenMeursault’s excellent workshop on rape play, he had created a handout for inspiring different kinds of scenes. To make the handout, he had taken a psychological criminal profile analysis of different types of rapists and rape scenarios. I confess, I didn’t find this particularly comforting. But I’ve longed for violence and screams and threats in my sex since long before my first kiss. I’ve had many years to try to come to terms with this part of myself. It’s not something that I would ever engage in as either a top or a bottom with someone I didn’t know well.
Honestly, the vast majority of my long-term partners have been/are so into consensual non-consent in general and rape play in particular that it just feels pretty normal to me. While I know a lot of rape-play fetishists have histories of sexual trauma (and some of them use rape scenes to cathartically work through their trauma), most of my long-term partners don’t have histories of sexual trauma, and they’re just into it because it’s sexy and we’re kinky. On the whole, it doesn’t feel like some deep emotionally laden thing; it’s just what we do on Saturday night. All the partners I’ve played with like this are switches too, so it’s easy to just take turns violating each other. Hell, even with my partner who has a crazy history of sexual trauma, it doesn’t feel like some Emotionally Heavy Thing (although I’m always at least a little aware that I might accidentally trip some button one day and turn him into ball of emotional goo. But this is the guy who came up with popular FetLife fetish “Want to play rape?” “No!” “That’s the spirit!” before FetLife started erasing all our fun rape fetishes. We’ve been talking about it for five years. I feel reasonably secure).
Rape play isn’t something that I do casually; it’s something that I only do with people I trust A LOT. I realize that it’s really psychologically (and depending on what I do, potentially physically) risky. I only do heavy rape play scenes with people I trust to use safewords if we happen to hit unexpected triggers. But really, as hard as this might be to believe, most of the time, “rape play” rarely feels very extreme to me. It’s just … hot.
“Rape play” is crazy, dangerous, and potentially triggering … but so is most BDSM. This is what we do: try to find safe(ish) ways to manifest dangerous desires. Is it really so extreme?