As a member of numerous sexuality organizations, I’m often involved in a variety of conversations, both online and in-person, with colleagues in my field. The truth is, even amongst professionals, the field of sexology is still dominated by regional biases, rather than dispassionate science. For example, a sex therapist in New York City, where I practice, is probably going to hold a more tolerant view of a broad spectrum of sexual practices than a sex therapist in more conservative regions. I suppose this is something that would be obvious to most readers, but unfortunately, this lack of uniformity is a black mark on the field of sexology. Case in point, a cardiologist in New York is likely to have the same level of knowledge and theoretical background as a cardiologist in Biloxi, Mississippi. An opthalmologist in Seattle will probably agree on mostly everything with an opthalmologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That’s because these are medical practices ruled by scientific study. And sexology is a scientific discipline as well. But it is poorly funded, so there’s still a lot we don’t know about sexual practices from a scientific standpoint. As a result, sexology (and sex therapy) is still dominated by local mores, community standards, and personal prejudice.
As a case in point, I will briefly discuss an online conversation in one of the organizations I belong to. I don’t want to reveal anything too personal about anyone involved in the conversation, so I will just touch upon the main themes that I think are extremely important because they touch upon a major issue– the current state of the field of sexology and, in particular, how we as a field view non-normative sexual thoughts, feelings, fantasies and behaviors.
A professional on the list asked for data on the prevalence of “sexually deviant” thoughts/fantasies. To me, this is already a highly inflammatory question because it uses unscientific and nonclinical terms and most important, the term “deviant” is an example of what is called “loaded language”, in that it is intended to manipulate the audience through emotionally negative implications. I would suggest that everyone look up the definition to loaded language and then notice how often it is used in the media and in politics. And anytime sexuality is discussed in the news, you can bet the entire broadcast is filled with this kind of loaded language.
I replied to this person, asking her to clarify what she meant by “deviant” and she answered that she was referring to fantasies “of being a god with sex slaves, lording sexual power over others, and raping others.” This was my reply–
“I’m not sure any of those thoughts are that uncommon. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the reverse to be true as well, where an individual has fantasies of being raped. In fact, according to this (nonscientific) survey, rape fantasies are the 3rd most common fantasy for women http://www.care2.com/causes/rape-ranked-as-third-most-popular-sexual-fantasy-for-women.html. Here’s another article from PsychToday about the common occurrence of rape fantasies http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-sex/201001/womens-rape-fantasies-how-common-what-do-they-mean…. I know that you inquired about fantasies of raping, not being raped, but my point is that a lot of “deviant” fantasies are actually (almost) as common as any old vanilla fantasy.Now a bigger issue is the nature of the intensity and distress of the “obsessive”ness of the thoughts that you mentioned. Although often shame makes people feel more obsessive/compulsive.”
From 1973 through 2008, nine surveys of women’s rape fantasies have been published. They show that about four in 10 women admit having them (31 to 57 percent) with a median frequency of about once a month. Actual prevalence of rape fantasies is probably higher because women may not feel comfortable admitting them.
For the latest report (Bivona, J. and J. Critelli. “The Nature of Women’s Rape Fantasies: An Analysis of Prevalence, Frequency, and Contents,”Journal of Sex Research (2009) 46:33), psychologists at North Texas University asked 355 college women: How often have you fantasized being overpowered/forced/raped by a man/woman to have oral/vaginal/anal sex against your will?
Sixty-two percent said they’d had at least one such fantasy. But responses varied depending on the terminology used. When asked about being “overpowered by a man,” 52 percent said they’d had that fantasy, the situation most typically depicted in women’s romance fiction. But when the term was “rape,” only 32 percent said they’d had the fantasy. These findings are in the same ballpark as previous reports.
Seems like these rape fantasies are much more common than people realize. And I’m sure that the other fantasies that the sex therapist asked about– being a sexual god and lording sexual power– are even more common. I discussed rape fantasies and a whole bunch of other stuff in an interview I did for the Sex for Smart People Podcast.
Look, if we are really honest about it, and we take out all of the moral gobbledygook, we’ll find that there are no such things as deviant fantasies. How can something be deviant if it is so common? It’s a concept without any credibility, and it’s a concept that should cease to exist. There’s still a lot we don’t know, but all of the data that we keep getting just points out one simple fact– there is no “normal”.
Most importantly, there is a huge gulf between our thoughts/fantasies and behaviors. Most people who have thoughts and fantasies don’t act on them. Think about it, most of those women who admit to having rape fantasies do not actually go out seeking to be raped. Same with all other fantasies. As a result, many people become unnecessarily concerned about their fantasies, when instead of fighting them off, they would find more relief by just accepting them and moving on. That’s because most sexual fantasies, no matter how extreme or strange they appear to be, are actually benign. More on sexual fantasies here, and more about the difference between thoughts/fantasies and behaviors here.
So if you have a mental health professional of any kind refer to your fantasies as deviant, just run for the hills. The clinician is probably sex-negative, without even realizing it. For more on what makes a sex-positive practice, you can take a look here. In the end, our fantasies can be outlets for creativity, expression, and self-understanding. Yes, they can be frightening, but it’s often due to the shame that we may experience. As I’ve written about in the past, it’s all about intent. If we seek solace in our fantasies, if they give us pleasure, and if we develop greater knowledge of ourselves, how is that so bad? And how is that deviant?