In Fear Lies Fulfillment

By | June 21, 2011

What is the draw of so many to incorporate pain and dominance into their sex play? Why are boldness and force part of the mating rituals of many animals? And why do some rape victims respond sexually and even experience orgasm?

In our culture, where things are typically black or white, right or wrong, how can an assault survivor reckon with—even admit—that there may have been an alluring, pleasurable aspect to the experience of forced intercourse? We have strong cultural mores governing the use of force—it is taboo unless sanctioned by code or belief. Our leaders control the use of force, and violent acts are carried out by police or military. However, in hunter-gatherer societies, violence is a part of daily life, and anyone has the right to use it. Perhaps, then, violence is not inherently evil, but we see it as so when it is carried out by autocratic, self-serving institutions, and when the victims are powerless minorities.

I recently interviewed a woman caught in the clash of belief and experience: she was raped and enjoyed it so much that she set up the scenario to be raped again by the same person. Therapist Milton Erickson describes a case where a man cured his long-term impotence by raping his wife (Sydney Rosen, My Voice Will Go with You, Norton, 1982). In certain traditional cultures, as well as with many animals, force serves a reproductive function. We tend to think of propagation as sexual; however, violent activities such as the hunt are directly related. Violent actions are often a part of mate selection, pair bonding, and inducing hormone production. Maani Assinewe, a Canadian Ojibwe elder I have known for many years, told me about the young men of her people traditionally going north to Cree country to steal women for mates, and Cree men would do the same with Ojibwe women.

Some of my friends have strong emotional responses to the above practice—they view it as kidnapping and rape, or at best institutionalized violence against women. As successful a survival practice as it might be, it is undeniably violent. Nevertheless, reproduction-related violence is commonly found in the natural realm: some female spiders and praying mantises eat their mates, male mink sink their teeth into females’ necks during copulation, and cock pigeons incessantly peck hens’ heads. As with the Cree-Ojibwe practice, these are all successful and perhaps necessary mating strategies. Male insects provide nourishment to form eggs, mink need stability for mounting, and hen pigeons are driven to the nest to encourage nest bonding and stimulate ovulation.

The mix of people in contemporary human cultures makes the practice of exogamy, or mating outside of a specific group, unnecessary to prevent inbreeding, and with our historical clan-based social structure, force may never have been necessary to determine mate suitability and carve out reproductive space. Still, force plays an undeniable role in mating behavior—many enjoy and even crave it, and some cannot be aroused without it. Considering the dysfunctional state of our culture, it is likely that some of these people are psychologically imbalanced. However, others may simply be responding to genetic programming.

This theory is debunked by some patriarchal society members as a rationalization for the subjugation of women. I’d like to suggest that we leave dichotomous perspectives behind for a moment and consider that some emotionally healthy individuals in peer relationships could have enriching and empowering sexual experiences that involve force and violence.


Mr. T on August 25, 2016 at 8:51 pm.

BDSM, rape fantasies, and orgasm during rape are all offered as examples to show we may be hard wired to crave and enjoy forced sex, that perhaps it even exists outside the moral paradigm of right and wrong. Some member of our species like it rough. This doesn’t need to be proven. Why we like it rough would be a worthy concept to explore, but it wasn’t done here. I am commenting because the examples given actually confuses some facts surrounding sexual violence.

It is estimated that up to 50% of rape survivors report having an orgasm during sexual violence. This often occurs simultaneously with feelings of absolute terror, as well as shame and confusion over their body’s response. Orgasm during rape isn’t indicative of an expression of pleasure. It’s a biological response whether the mind is on board or not, like breathing, sweating, or an adrenaline rush. Orgasm during rape is not a positive reinforcement for enduring future rape.

The article’s portrayal of the woman who enjoyed rape so much that she sought it out again deserved a more thorough explanation. A few women do seek out rape experiences, but the reasons behind these experiences and other rape fantasies are complex. They are often used to mitigate the trauma and violation of prior rape, or the perceived potential of current or future sexual violence; which is pervasive in our society. Fantasizing about rape is a method of taking control of a traumatizing situation. Control is arousing. The difference between a woman seeking a rape experience and a rapist is that one desires control of their own body and the other uses control to violate another. Though it likely wasn’t the author’s intent, the rape example feeds the concept which is so prevalent in rape culture today, which is that women secretly “want it” regardless of consent.

The article also uses the example of the man who cured his impotence by raping his wife to offer up the idea that force may serve a reproductive function. This makes no sense. From an evolutionary stand point, a man who needs violence in order to be aroused is not the fittest among men and it would be better for our species if he did not pass on his genes. Research indicates that men who rape are either psychopaths, were traumatized as children, and/or grew up in families that devalued women. Men who are psychologically healthy do not rape.

As for the the BDSM community, they are often misunderstood. In fact, no other community does a better job of understanding and educating people on the concept of consent.

Rape culture is not evidence of a shared evolutionary trait with nature. Though non consensual forced sex appears to be working for certain wild animals and insects, it’s not working so well for us. The imbalance of male and female energy has played a large role in the destruction of the earth. Women who have control of their bodies and access to education have far fewer children and an equal standing in their communities. Societies where women hold significant leadership roles are more egalitarian and have a balanced relationship with the earth and her resources. But a culture that justifies or turns a blind eye to violence towards women will do the same to the Earth. And we have done just that. We have raped and pillaged her resources and as a result, are now on the brink of climate and cultural collapse.

Key source:


Alex on June 29, 2011 at 6:33 am.

Feel like there’s something to this!

Related story:
My dad found out about a certain Russian tradition when he was marrying my mom. Before the wedding, the bride is “stolen” by another man, and the groom has to run around and chase her down and win her back. Well, my dad didn’t know about this tradition, and ended up breaking a door-window in anger and hurting himself. In any case – perhaps this is another facet of how force can enrich relationships.


Tamarack on July 2, 2011 at 1:36 pm.


You’ve given a good example of the vital role of ritual in the traditional use of force. Your dad, not privy to the tradition, could not respond in the established ritual way so instead he wreaked havoc. Yet the end result may have been the same: the relationship was cemented in eyes of the community and your mom and dad got a great hormonal charge to help establish pair bonding.

Was your dad unaware of the ritual because he came from another culture, or because the practice was falling out of favor? Often there is chaos with cultures and transition.


Nan on June 25, 2011 at 7:42 am.

My mentor used to say states of being that keep us alive during survival scenarios can be problematic when the danger is gone. I think that concept is true both biologically and behaviorally and applies to everything from the high diabetes rate amongst the descendants of indigenous desert hunter gatherers to the enabling actions of some trauma victims.

As children of Mother Nature, we are biologically hard-wired to get our genetic material into the next generation. While force may or may not have been a required component of mate suitability for humans, those of us with the DNA of successful survivors instinctively look for strength as necessary in a mate – if for no other reason than to increase the chances of vigorous offspring, whether or not we are consciously thinking of reproduction when seeking a partner. I also think controlled force can cement trust, which is a vital component of a healthy relationship.

Our cultural mindset and our biological bodies don’t always mesh, and sorting the differences can be confusing. I agree with your closing sentence because it implies consent.


Tamarack on July 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm.

Hi Nan,

Your statement, “Our cultural mindset and our biological bodies don’t always mesh,” pinpoints my concern for the effect of some of our moralizations around the use of force. If we are genetically programmed to incorporate force as a component of certain social interactions and at the same time we have sanctions regarding such displays, are we creating inner conflicts that might erupt as violence, i.e. the non-consensual use of force?


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