Sexual response during rape.

TRIGGER WARNING FOR SEXUAL VIOLENCE! Click Continue reading to view the post, including a Reddit Ask Me Anything with a therapist who treats sexual assault survivors who experienced orgasms while being raped.

Many rape survivors start having rape fantasies after being assaulted. It's seems counterintuitive given the psychological trauma that accompanies rape. But it appears that rape fantasies, for some rape survivors, can actually be a part of the healing process. Fantasies allow for total control by the person having the fantasy, so what was once completely out of that person's control (i.e., the actual rape) becomes something that she can control (i.e., in her fantasies). It's about regaining power over a powerless situation. Some rape survivors also report developing a preference for rough sex for similar reasons.

One thing that rarely gets mention for fear of absolving perpetrators from the damage that they cause and for making it seem like the victims enjoyed the experience, is that many people, both women and men, who have been sexually assaulted become physiologically sexually aroused, and some even orgasm. Again, this seems counterintuitive, but from a purely physiological point of view it makes some sense. One can become physiologically aroused through physical stimulation without becoming psychologically aroused or enjoying the experience. It's simply a physical response, much like laughing when tickled (which is typically an unpleasant experience). For someone who has physiological response during sexual assault, this can be an extremely difficult thing to understand given the traumatic nature of the event. It can lead to shame, guilt, secrecy, etc. There was an AMA on Reddit a while back by a therapist who specializes in treating women who have such a response. Here's here intro:

There are people who do not believe it's possible for a woman or man to achieve orgasm during rape or other kinds of violent sexual assault. Some believe having an orgasm under these circumstances means that it wasn't a "real" rape or the woman/man "wanted" it.

I've assisted more young women than I can count with this very issue. It often comes up at some point during therapy and it's extremely embarrassing or shameful to talk about. However once it's out in the open, the survivor can look at her/his reaction honestly and begin to heal. The shame and guilt around it is a large part of why some rapes go unreported and why there is a need for better understanding in society for how and why this occurs.

There have been very few studies on orgasm during rape, but the research so far shows numbers from 10% to over 50% having this experience. In my experience as a therapist, it has been somewhat less than half of the girls/women I've worked with. (For the record, I have worked with very few boys/men who reported this.)

In professional discussions, colleagues report similar numbers. Therapists don't usually talk about this publicly as they fear contributing to the idea of victims "enjoying rape." It's also a reason why there isn't more research done on this and similar topics. My belief is that as difficult a topic as this is, if we can address it directly and remove the shame and stigma, then a lot more healing can happen. I'm hopeful that the Reddit community is open to learning and discussing topics like this.

The AMA is an intense read, both because of her amazing compassion and the willingness of those participating in the AMA with her to share their experiences. Here's a sample (click to make larger):

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Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 10.13.22 AM

Click the following link for the entire AMA: link. And one she did a few months earlier: link.

Popular Science also published an article on the topic which reviews some of the research. See it here.