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The Meaning of Forceful Submission Fantasy in Late Adolescence ( or, Why It’s O.K. To Dig Vampires ) Patricia H. Hawley & Justin T. Lynn Department of Psychology, The University of Kansas & Department of Psychology, Cal State University Northridge. INTRODUCTION

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The Meaning of Forceful Submission Fantasy in Late Adolescence

(or, Why It’s O.K. To Dig Vampires)

Patricia H. Hawley & Justin T. Lynn

Department of Psychology, The University of Kansas & Department of Psychology, Cal State University Northridge


With a wink, romance novels are often referred to as bodice rippers, presumably because they long have taken place in historical settings, and their spicy cover art often portrays the hunky hero dominating the heroin in period clothing.

The scenario: The heroin is ardently pursued by a ruggedly handsome man who can be cruel, but nonetheless loves her. At first she eschews his advances. But he is so overwhelmed by his sexual hunger that he forcefully takes her. Try as she might, resistance is futile. Etc.

Recent approaches have referred to these interludes or private narratives as ‘rape fantasies’ because they technically meet the modern legal criteria of rape; explicit consent for penetration is not given (Bivona & Critelli, 2009). We prefer the terms ‘forceful submission fantasies’ (FSFs) because the fantasist generally is not (though there are exceptions) construing the fantasy as coercive sexual violation as in the reality of rape (Bond & Mosher, 1986).

The early literature on forceful submission fantasies assumed underlying pathological masochistic tendencies (e.g., Deutsch, 1944; Freud, 1908/1962). In the 70’s and 80’s, attention shifted to sex guilt and denial of responsibility for sex (e.g., Knafo & Jaffe, 1984; Moreault & Follingstad, 1978). More recently, some have suggested that women have eroticized submission whereas men have eroticized dominance (Zurbriggen & Yost, 2004). In parallel, a significant literature has emerged seeking to de-pathologize even extreme forms of masochism involving pain and humiliation (Weinberg, 2006). Interestingly, early on Judith Hariton (1973) argued that SFSs actually empower the fantasist because the self is construed as overwhelmingly alluring. This view confronting masochism-esque explanations garnered virtually no serious attention outside our own efforts (Hawley & Hensley, 2009). Still, there is considerable disagreement about the fantasies’ underlying meaning; the nature of the topic has led some authors to point out that the issue is controversial enough to warrant side-stepping (Critelli & Bivona, 2008).

The touchy nature of the subject is at least in part due to the fact that the literature (except for hardcore BDSM) has focused almost exclusively on women, leading the field to ponder,Why do women do this?

Dear Penthouse Letters,

Yesterday I innocently got on an elevator with two women.

You wouldn’t believe what happened next…

Hawley and Hensley (2009) explored the power exchange of FSF in a methodologically novel way. Instead of using checklists (including oft used items such as, “You are being raped by a man”, You are being humiliated by a partner”, ”You are being forced against your will anally/orally/vaginally”, “You are being overpowered”) or analyzing personal fantasy logs, we created a FSF vignette inspired by the romance literature (Joy, 1998).

He held her hand and led her into the bedroom. She

strolled in surveying it as she went, and tried not to betray

her curiosity…

…. He captured her in his hypnotic gaze, his eyes sensual

and disarming…"I haven't been able to take my eyes off

of you all night," he murmured lustily….

Her breathing quickened as she attempted to draw away,

but he grasped her arm like a vice. She tried to pull back,

but it was too late. He would consume her…His mouth

advanced firmly to claim hers…

"W-what are you doing?" she stammered.

"What am I doing?" he whispered huskily. "I'm taking what I've wanted all night..."

"Please," she whispered, but could find no other words.

"Tell me to stop," he growled, "and I will.“…

In one swift movement, he took her with a powerful stroke….

Importantly, we explored the preferences of both men and women.

  • First Findings
  • We discovered that this type of fantasy was very common for men and women, with over half of our participants reporting similar material for over half of their fantasy life. Additionally – rather than being construed as “rape” – men and women frame the scenario as being passionately pursued by a powerful, sexy, and virile fantasy object who is also devoted and loving.
  • Moreover, men preferred this fantasy more than women. Indeed, a quick content analysis of Penthouse Letters revealed that the “experiences” of the “writers” were more consistent with an FSFs than domination. This led us to question the practice of focusing on women with the goal of ‘explaining women’s proclivities’.
  • The Present Study: What is it about the FSF that is so sexy?
  • This question has actually never been directly empirically pursued, though it is widely assumed that the appeal centers on the exchange of power (cf. hardcore BDSM literature; Weinberg, 2006).
  • Arguably, the presentedvignette has many themes throughout: Force (grasping, throwing down), sex (powerful stroke), passion/romance (eyes sensual and disarming). Any one of these or all in combination could be adding to or account for the allure.
  • The Present Hypothesis: FSF is not about the force per se (masochism, power exchange), but rather the ardency of the pursuit. Such pursuit conveys to the fantasist that s/he is immensely desirable, so much so that the fantasy object is driven to push the bounds of civility to obtain his/her desired object. Importantly, and consistent with this view, we believe the fantasy object is singularly focused on the fantasist (i.e., not attracted to others), and is very clear-minded about his/her desires (i.e., truly knows what s/he wants, and it is the fantasist).
  • We manipulated the above original (published; Hawley & Hensley, 2009) vignette in ways that would isolate the possible themes in order to examine causality. All other aspects of the material were kept constant. We presented one of the manipulated fantasies to 384 college students (49.22% men, mean age 19.35) in a between subjects design to assess their appeal (on a 7 point scale; 3 items, a= .88).
  • There were 5 conditions:
  • Removal of Passion/Romance: We removed all language associated with the emotional ambiance.
  • Removal of Sex: We removed all explicit sexual imagery.
  • Removal of Force: We removed all references to rough behavior.
  • Removal of Singular Focus of Fantasy Object: We added a phrase suggesting the fantasy object had just pursued the attentions of another.
  • Removal of Clear-Mindedness of Fantasy Object: We added a phrase suggesting the fantasy object had been drinking.
  • The latter two conditions are particularly salient in the women’s romance literature. Therefore we anticipated that women’s appeal ratings associated with them would be particularly negatively impacted. According to our framing, we anticipate that passion and sex removal would also negatively impact appeal, but removal of force would not.
  • For men, we anticipated that singular focus and sex would be particularly important. Men’s erotic literature is notably devoid of romance, therefore we anticipated that removing these romantic elements would have little effect on men’s appeal ratings.



  • Compared to the original vignette, only removing forceful elements had no significant effect on the appeal for men or women.
  • Removal of or addition of (in the cases of singular-focus and clear-mindedness) all other elements significantly reduced the appeal of the vignettes for both genders.
  • Gender differences on appeal emerged for the removal of passion/romance, the singular focus of the fantasy object, and the clear-mindedness of the fantasy object. Men were less affected by these elements than were women.
  • There was no gender difference in the sensitivity to the removal of explicitly sexual elements.

The conditions are ordered in terms of the impact on women and men respectively. That is, for women, the removal of the clear-mindedness of the fantasy object (i.e., implying that he was inebriated) reduced the appeal of the vignette for her the most. Removal of force had the least impact on her preference. Men were most affected by the removal of sexual elements. Males were least impacted by the removal of force and romance/passion.

  • Physical force had little impact on the appeal of the fantasy material. Of all our themes, only force could be remotely considered masochistic (and even this is debatable since some define masochism as ‘a power exchange’ and others define it as ‘pain and humiliation’). Therefore, based on these results, we have little reason to believe that FSF as is generally portrayed in common media is masochistic. Instead, it appears to be more strongly associated with a passionate exchange (see also Hawley & Hensley, 2009).
  • Thus, we see little reason to invoke special theories to ‘account for women’s masochistic tendencies’, especially since predilection for this type of material is shared with men.
  • post script
  • Why is it ok to dig vampires? Because the forceful exchange between vampire
  • and target have all the elements that suggest that viewers construe these exchanges
  • as an ardent, passionate pursuit rather than a masochistic, coercive violations.
  • Poster presented at SRA, Vancouver, March 2012