How to take ownership of what you really want


The novel Fifty Shades of Grey is selling faster than a Harry Potter book right now. The book is about sexual domination in a contemporary setting, including the career woman who has everything, including a hot, successful boyfriend.

The big news is that we have enough data to show that the majority of women buying Fifty Shades of Gray are in their 20s and 30s living in urban areas, according to the publisher’s data, and the Atlantic. To be clear, these women are incredibly powerful. In urban areas, more women than men graduate college, women out earn men in their 20s, and we are almost to the point where women in their 30s are outnumbering men as breadwinners. Which means that it is the women who have tons of power who are also having tons of rape fantasies.

None of this should surprise you, because there is a tradition of sexual domination literature being popular with women. For example, The Story of O is a college reading list mainstay for women reading way off the syllabus. And rape fantasies have such a long history of being shockingly ubiquitous among women that we have a euphemism invented by the queasy: fantasies of sexual submission.

So we know that the majority of women who read this blog have a college degree, live in a urban setting, and are in their 20s and 30s, presumably out earning men, if not the men in their immediate surroundings, then at least the men in their theoretical surroundings. Which means that the majority of women who read this blog have lots of power in their lives and also have lots of rape fantasies.

Katie Roiphe has a phenomenal article in Newsweek about why this type of  woman fantasizes about sexual domination. She writes that women must be desperate to read rape fantasies because they are reading Shades of Grey: “Millions of otherwise intelligent women are willing to tolerate prose on this level. If you are willing to slog through sentences like ‘In spite of my poignant sadness, I laugh,’ you must really, really want to get to the submissive sex scene.”

So I am admitting now that I have rape fantasies, too. I have known since I was in college that this is not weird because I was a girl who read everything, and I read so much about rape fantasies that by the time I was teaching creative writing at Boston University I had to make announcements at the beginning of my course that students could not write about masturbation or rape fantasies because it was so common in an intro creative writing class and also so difficult to write well.

There’s something really liberating about being able to own the rape fantasy. First of all, it reflects a lot of self knowledge. It reflects that you know that your fantasies are just fantasies and it’s okay to have them. It reflects that you do not feel the need to have all PC thoughts all the time in order to be an intelligent, educated person. And it reflects the knowledge that you do not lose your power by harboring fantasies of powerlessness—your power is much more stable, and hard-won than that.

If you can do all that, then other things become easy.

For example, it’s easy, then, to also harbor the fantasy of telling everyone at the cocktail party to fuck off when they ask you what you do and you are doing nothing because you know you’re going to get pregnant in four months and you don’t want to get a job and then leave it in a year. Because let me assure you that this is what most women want to do: work part-time after they have a baby. So of course they don’t want to hunt for a full-time job right before they have a baby.

It also becomes okay to say that you are only dating men who earn a lot of money. Because I simply don’t believe that women harbor the fantasy of being responsible for putting food on the table for their family. Women do it because it’s practical. They fall in love with the intoxicating nature of earning money, or they fall in love with a guy who is terrible at earning money. But the number of women who want a full-time, high-powered job is very slim.

Honestly, it’s easier for me to admit that I have rape fantasies than it is for me to admit that I wanted to marry a guy who makes a ton of money. If nothing else, I have control over both, and I’m only getting what I want for one of them. I have a huge collection of rape fantasy books leftover from when I was too scared to tell the guy I’m with what my fantasies are. And I have a mate who is unfazed by the fantasies: he’s heard it before.

But I did not get the guy who earns more than I do. I tried, but mostly what happened is that I hated those guys and when they asked me out on a third date, I wrote blog posts instead.

Admitting to rape fantasies is so liberating because now I can admit to all the other un-PC things I’m feeling. I want to stay home with my kids because of guilt and I don’t care. I think it’s guilt built into my DNA and I’m not going to fight it.

And I want someone to take care of me and I don’t care if you know. Sure, I like that I can take care of myself. But most educated, city-raised women can take care of themselves and their kids. It’s not that difficult. Finding a guy who will take care of me is much harder.

I’m probably not going to read Fifty Shades of Gray, because, as an ex-creative writing instructor, I need to tell you that Elizabeth McNeil and Marquis de Sade are much stronger writers of the literary rape scene.  But I am done having closeted fantasies. I don’t want to be told by the feminists what’s okay for me to want. I am done hiding what I really want because what is really liberating is for women to be able to want whatever we want.


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  1. Maria
    Maria says:

    This post is great! And I was TOTALLY with you for most of it – so relieved that you are writing about how rape fantasies are NOT incompatible with feminism and empowerment, instead of reading them as a critique – until the second to last sentence. And then you went there. Why?!

    I’m a feminist and an anthropologist, and I don’t think it’s “bad” to want anything. I think that our desires are completely valid responses to our experiences and social constraints. But neither of those is completely individual and free OR completely biological and predetermined, so we can look at “wants” as reflections of our society’s values, and work to criticize and change those values if we think they are harmful.

    That was more of a general statement about feminism, though, I don’t think rape fantasies reflect harmful norms. In fact, I would say that the more women feel safe talking about the sex they want, the more of a victory it is FOR feminism. And I appreciate your recommendations :)

    • Elllie
      Elllie says:

      I’m so confused. Here I was reading about how you own what you want, and I was thinking, “I really like what a confident feminist woman she is.” And then I got to the part where you suggested there’s a panel of feminists who tell women not to feel what they feel … I must have missed that part of feminism 101.

      • Simone
        Simone says:

        Yeah, you did… wish I had cause all I hear from feminist is what a parasitic bitch I am when I stop sipping the Kool-Aid for a minute and let a thought like “pro-choice is wrong” slip through, and God help me if they heard me say aloud much less think that “perhaps men aren’t the enemy… maybe its these crazy bitches driving them insane starting with their Mama’s”… and don’t get me started on what I truly think about this whole “its never the victims fault” I can hear the knock at my door now… gotta go..

        • CJ
          CJ says:

          Pretty sure you must mean the knock on your cell door from where you sit for your hate crimes.

          The only kool aid you are consuming appears to be the religio-media-sensationalized-drugged form, and as a nutritionist, I am bound to tell you this is very risky to your health. Skip the prison peas too, I hear they are laced as well!

        • Dana
          Dana says:

          When you let ‘pro-choice is wrong’ slip, that’s not a thought so much as a judgement. What you really mean is, ‘abortion is wrong’. Which is an opinion. Not, however, an opinion highly regarded by feminist such as myself.
          Of course no one thinks abortion is a good thing, just a necessary thing.

          You make excellent points however. How mothers raise their sons should be a major point of the feminist movement. After all, how can we complain about the men we ourselves have raised to be whom they are?

          Self responsibility is another good point. No one deserves to be victimized in any way shape of form. Not putting yourself in a position where victimization is likely is the smarter way to go.

    • Lisaann
      Lisaann says:

      Some highly educated, upper middle class women, like myself have felt pushed into a place they do not really want because of guilt- you have all this intelligence, all this great education, why do you ONLY want to work as a part time College Instructor?

      As if raising two young children is a past time, or a “choice”- how is “choosing” to raise children that you give birth to a luxury?

      • Buckley
        Buckley says:

        Men have the same fantasies. Most of us want to be the rapist, but not the ‘raped’. However, the broader point is being desired. ladies are accustomed to that. Men?, not so comfortable being desired. Ever been on ‘Second Life’? it’s loaded with ‘rape’ play grounds (called SIMs). The BIG difference is that most men know it’s a fantasy and would never brutally rape a lady in real life.

    • Jason W
      Jason W says:

      Men should take away from this is that they need to “Man-Up.” And I hate using that term because I think it’s totally misunderstood.

      I haven’t read any of the books mentioned here, and I probably won’t because it all sounds incredibly boring. I’m only commenting to express my believe of why the rape fantasy exists.

      It’s not even a rape fantasy. It’s a fantasy of being dominated. It plays out as a rape fantasy because our logical brains have a habit of misunderstanding signals and desires our limbic (reptilian) brains send out to the rest of our brain. It doesn’t make logical sense to want to be dominated by another person, until you look at it from a biological perspective: In order for her offspring to have the highest chance for survival she wants to breed with the alpha male. The alpha is considered to be the one that’s more dominant of all the other males. This dominance is also expressed during sex (Gorillas will actually express this by taking his time with the actual mating process, to the point of kind of appearing completely disinterested in sex for most of the time).

      Anyways, back to “manning up.” I hate the term because I’m pretty sure 80% of guys will take that to mean being pushy, bossy, abrasive, and over-all obnoxious. This stems from insecurity, which is essentially the underlying cause of rape. Just look at the definition from the most clinical stand point.

      Rape – Non-consensual sex.
      Dominance – Sex consented to because it is expected by the dominant partner.

      I heard someone say that a majority of women cannot orgasm unless they feel 100% dominated by their partner. This makes a whole lot of sense to me because the more dominated they feel, the more “alpha” they feel their partner is, therefor the more capable they feel like their partner is of protecting her and her off-spring.

      So men need to man up and learn how to express their dominance from a place of expectation and security. If this happened, these “rape” fantasies would probably occur less.

  2. Southern Man
    Southern Man says:

    Believe me, Fifty Shades is a colossal waste of time. The writing is so bad in places it makes one cringe. What amazes me is that with far superior entries on the market why such a weak entry in the field is so popular.

      • toastedtofu
        toastedtofu says:

        The Atlantic article says that “James wrote the first book as an homage to Stephanie Meyers’s young adult vampire series Twilight”. Twilight is a teenage sexual fantasy novel, and is DEFINITELY a fantasy of female sexual submission (not rape, but sexual dominance) So it makes a lot of sense to me that the R rated version of the book would be about rape.

        I do not believe that something has to be good to be interesting. There are many blog posts that I find very enlightening/inspiring/educational, that are not of the caliber of the essays you might find in a formally published collection. That does not make them not worth reading.

        However, that does not mean Shades of Gray is worth reading. Popular books are rarely good, and good books are rarely popular. (Dan Brown, I’m looking at you) This is because the average American reads at an 8th-9th grade reading level. Thus, in order for a book to be consumed en masse, a 14 year old needs to be able to read it. (Stephanie Meyer, I’m looking at you)

        Well written books by talented authors are usually not found in airport bookstores.

        That being said, there is nothing wrong with someone just wanting to read some smut.

  3. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    “I don’t want to be told by the feminists what’s okay for me to want. I am done hiding what I really want because what is really liberating is for women to be able to want whatever we want.”

    Exactly. That is feminism “grown up”.

    • ghdhgj
      ghdhgj says:

      Being a grown up is about doing what your supposed to do, not what you want to do.

      If you mean “feminism” is about remaining children dominated by primitive instinct unable to control your own wants while shirking anything resembling adult responsibility, then I think you’ve got the movement pegged.

      • Cathy0
        Cathy0 says:

        Ummm..a fairly fundamental logic error here. You are confusing wanting with doing. Women can be open about wanting whatever they want. Doesn’t mean they do it.
        (That’s why it’s called fantasy, not reality.)

      • Daniel Baskin
        Daniel Baskin says:

        In life, sometimes it becomes more difficult to give into what you want in light of what’s practical. One can be of child maturity and wants outweigh needs. One can grow up and reverse this. However, sometimes when we are grown up, the more mature thing to do is forsake our fears and put our wants over our needs.

      • Remiel
        Remiel says:

        To insist there’s a universal set of rules for what constitutes being “grown up” is to relinquish the very robust, mature agency that supposedly makes us adults in the first place.

      • ValterV
        ValterV says:

        “Being a grown up is about doing what your supposed to do”

        That’s exactly what children are supposed to do. Not adults.
        Your logic is beyond screwed, it’s hilarious.

  4. CTS
    CTS says:

    I think the desire to be taken care of is pretty universal amongst men, women and children.

    Maintaining a sense of self worth is the real challenge for men, women and children because we’re all in the same boat with insecurities.

    From childhood to adulthood, we all just want someone who wants to take care of us.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I think it’s this funny thing of wanting to be loved so deeply and unconditionally that we confuse with being taken care of.

      Most of the time, people who take care of us (my mom and dad when I was a kid) set the rules and limit us by their own limitations, fear, neuroses, etc.

      I don’t want that trade off!

      I take care of my husband in many ways. Not because I have to but because I want to. And I don’t have to be reminded or asked to do it because he’s in my mind all day.

      I think I want that same thing. The thing that gets in the way is that we perceive things very differently and he does something nice “for me” and sometimes it doesn’t even show up in my radar.

      If being taken care of means being limited in what I can do or what I can want, etc. Then I want to take care of myself. That’s why I moved out of my parents’ in the first place.

      One last thought, I wonder how much of these fantasies we are calling rape but actually the fantasy is about letting go and having sex with someone that takes the reins and knows exactly what to do to blow away your mind.

      • emily
        emily says:

        wow, i’ve been reading this blog, and your comments, for a very long time. this one really amazed me. how did you get such a clear understanding of these matters?

        • karelys
          karelys says:

          I always crave deep and rich relationships with people but it doesn’t come easy for me. For one reason or another. So I’ve spent lots of time trying to figure out why people run into heartbreak and seem stuck spinning in the same spot over and over.

          I come from another culture so it helps to always try to see things from a different angle.

          Why do people do what they do? Always asking that leads you down a rabbit hole of more questions.

          I don’t like sex that reflects anything close to rape but man! sometimes I want to my husband to figure out what I want (cause I don’t even know myself) and do it and I will just sit back and enjoy.

          Before I ever had sex I read that women should take charge of their orgasms and since I’m pretty driven and I always work for what I want and never expect a handout I figured it was never his fault if I didn’t climax. It led me to figure out how to do it a lot faster than most beginners I guess but then I went to have a massage one day and it was awesome to just let the expert workout the problems in your muscles. I thought “it’d be so awesome if even though I have no idea what I want/like my husband would just take the reins and surprise me.”

          We’ve only had sex with each other so we’re still in the process of figuring everything out.

          Everything is connected I guess. So one experience here rings a bell in another side of your brain and then lights go off. You know?

  5. Teri
    Teri says:

    Please. Which feminists are telling you what you should want?

    Yay for your feminist readers for commenting. I’m glad I’m not the only woman who found that to be the objectional part of your post.

  6. LC Coleman | Colored Girl Confidential
    LC Coleman | Colored Girl Confidential says:

    I’ll just go ahead and put it out there: I am a proud feminist (or womanist, whatever you want to call it) and despite that, I read your blog on the regular basis. Like you I believe that women deserve the space to live the life they want, no matter what that looks like. As bell hooks put it, “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.” Feminists don’t bow.

    *steps off virtual soap box* :-)

    In other news, I’ve heard a lot about these books and at this point, I definitely plan on checking them out just to satisfy my curiosity. I don’t know that I’ll be advertising it to my friends though. Why?

    On a superficial level, many women are raised to be people-pleasers so we get especially tongue-tied when it comes to voicing unpopular or un-PC opinions. (Sadly, I am no stranger to this annoying little habit.) On a deeper level, having known many women who have been victims of sexual abuse and rape, it seems… wrong, to have or endorse these type of fantasies. While this article isn’t necessarily a treatise on the existence and impact of rape culture in the United States, I think it is worth noting that there are often many unexpected complexities that come along with owning your true desires (even those that are slightly less volatile than this one).

  7. jenX67
    jenX67 says:

    I am feeling like a total uninformed square. Never heard of rape fantasies and never had one and don’t want one. But, I do want to be taken care of and I do want to work part-time so I have more time with my kids, and I feel a bit shameful admitting. But, even worse, what i really want is to just be a writer. so, about a year ago I announced in my Twitter bio that I was an American Mother and Oklahoma Writer and a bunch of my friends emailed me and said, “WOW.” Like, I haven’t been an American mother since 1997, and Oklahoma writer since 1983 when I sold my first article to a kid tabloid in Seattle. Anyway – all that to say — when we take ownership of what we want we come closer to getting it. Sorry if I sound like a prude about rape fantasies. It’s not in my DNA. And, PT, “a euphemism invented by the queasy,” is one of my favorite phrases you’ve ever written. In my freetime (ha!) I study euphemisms and idioms. #Nerd

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I don’t know why it’s shameful for women to admit they want someone else being the breadwinner so they can do delightful (though hard) things in life. Like being a writer, a mom, etc.

      These things are vocations and even hobbies. Who wouldn’t want (even men!) someone else to take care of bringing in money so we could dedicate ourselves to life enriching activities, developing discipline, and hobbies.

      There’s nothing glamourous about working. Maybe we invented interesting and important sounding titles with payscales so that people would become enthralled and complitely taken by the idea that since we gotta work to put food on the table might as well love it. But then it turned into “I’m going to dedicate my whole life and then everything will revolve around it.”

      I think most people want to do something meaningful. Either for just themselves or further out for the world around them too. So when you are pushing papers or burgers it becomes a grind.

      No one wants that and why should we be embarrassed to admit that?

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I have work fantasies.
    I’m totally fascinated while watching other people work. How they work, what tools they work with, who they like to work with, and so on. And then I can’t stand it anymore and I have to join in on the action. :)
    “And I want someone to take care of me and I don’t care if you know.”
    I’ve been reading this blog long enough to remember one of your favorite poems so it was no surprise to hear you mention this – . I imagine she also likes breakfast served in bed.

  9. Remiel
    Remiel says:

    I think it’s limiting and unproductive to label “submission fantasy” a mere euphemism for “rape fantasy”.

    I’m not saying rape fantasies AREN’T submission fantasies. They are! But there’s still plenty of room left under the umbrella of “sexual submission” for eroticization of power exchange in other forms. Not every fantasy about sexual submission can shoved into a little box labelled “Rape Fantasies”.

    Yes, rape fantasy is a common facet of many women’s fantasy lives, and there’s no reason that can’t be a positive, sexy thing.

    We all surrender, by choice, to forces in our lives. Sometimes it’s against our will — a compromise we DON’T want to make. But often it’s a positive thing: a compromise we welcome.

    Giving up control over one thing can empower you to gain control of something else. Indulging in a rape fantasy could certainly be an example of this. The “victim” is directing the show. It’s happening to an imaginary version of yourself, in your own head. That’s true even in the case of roleplaying.

    But that doesn’t mean that every fantasy of sexual submission must necessarily be a story about loss of consent through coercion or force!

    Woman A might be aroused by imagining (or roleplaying) a rape fantasy.
    Woman B might hate that idea, but be aroused by overtly surrendering control of certain aspects of her sex life to someone else. Maybe for a day, or maybe longer.

    Both women are playing with sexual submission, and neither should be stigmatized. Both women are consenting to a power exchange. But you can’t simply call the second woman “queasy”, and insist she can be indexed on some kind of “Sexual Submission Spectrum” with the extreme end labeled “C’mon, It’s Really All Just Rape Fantasy Anyway, Queasy Girl”.

    To force all fantasies of sexual submission into a subset of rape fantasies is exactly backwards: rape fantasy is a subset of submission fantasy. To assume otherwise is to rob ourselves of a useful tool for characterizing our sexuality — something that is subtle, variable, and rich.

    • Buckley
      Buckley says:

      Very interesting points. Think you’ve categorized this well. Lot’s of food for thought on your post.

  10. Rhonda
    Rhonda says:




    1so surprised and confused that one is unsure how to react: Henry looked completely nonplussed

    2North American informal not disconcerted; unperturbed.

    In standard use nonplussed means ‘surprised and confused’, as in she was nonplussed at his eagerness to help out. In North American English a new use has developed in recent years, meaning ‘unperturbed’—more or less the opposite of its traditional meaning—as in he was clearly trying to appear nonplussed. This new use probably arose on the assumption that non- was the normal negative prefix and must therefore have a negative meaning. It is not considered part of standard English.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Okay. So I misused the word. But here’s something interesting. When I have a post like this, where I am saying something that I might get skewered for, i have a few people read it. I don’t want to post something where I sound stupid, you know?

        So six people, who are very smart and read my blog all the time, read this post, and none of us noticed i misused nonplussed.

        So now I’m thinking that language is mutable and dynamic and maybe the definition of nonplussed is so unknown that we can use it for a more common, albeit not officially right definition. I like having the definition of nonplussed being unshaken but in an intellectual rather than emotional context. We don’t have a word for that, I don’t think.

        Can we do this with language? Or maybe my blog is devolving into the kind of prose we are complaining about in Shades of Grey…


          • Penelope Trunk
            Penelope Trunk says:

            Yes. You’re right. I feel like since there is a perfectly good word that meets my needs, I should’t mess around with other options. I”m making the change in the post right now – from nonplussed to unfazed.

            …though even as I type them here they feel like synonyms. I am feeling like the only real purpose of the word nonplussed is to mess up peoples’ verbal SAT scores.


          • Mark W.
            Mark W. says:

            I love it. Some of the things I learn in the comment section of this blog are truly serendipitous and enlightening.
            Options to merely changing the word in the blog article would be to link to this comment thread and then keep the original text, change the text, or keep the original text with a strike-through and the new text.

        • Jonathan Wallace
          Jonathan Wallace says:

          I ran into Xavier Velasco, a Mexican author and the author of Guardian Devil, on a train once and we discussed the mutability of language.

          He had a great way of phrasing it which I will now mangle.

          “Language is born between the streets and prison.”

          Not a directly relatable anecdote to your initial point but interesting nonetheless.

          p.s. When he was trying to establish context to two young U.S. travelers, he described himself as the Mexican Cameron Crowe.

        • Dana
          Dana says:

          As Inigo said to Vizzini: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  11. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    My wife (Eve out of the Garden) asked me if I finished reading your blog.

    I said, “no…, I just read half, and stopped….”

    (ha, as if…) we laughed.

  12. Shelly
    Shelly says:

    Fifty Shades of Grey may not have been the best written book, but it taught me that i’d like to be handcuffed and spanked, hard!!! Hallelujah for that. Nice to add a little spice to our lives…

    • karelys
      karelys says:


      Twilight is a terrible movie but it reminded me how much I love well educated guys who are well rounded. Edward = knowleadge in history, music, art, plays piano, recites Shakespeare, aaah! So hot! ;)

  13. Grady Pruitt
    Grady Pruitt says:

    Very interesting and enlightening post.

    I think we should all be more willing to speak out about the things that we really want instead of making the other person guess all the time. That would probably avoid many issues.

    And guys, if you are paying attention, maybe it’s time we stepped up to the plate ourselves! (I know I need to, and I’m working on it!)

    • Helen Duignan
      Helen Duignan says:

      I’m quite sure none of you want to be *actually* raped so perhaps you need to do a little more work on why you have the fantasies and use your much quoted feminist credentials to examine what has damaged some women enough to make them fantasise about pain, degradation, denial of self etc.. I’d rather if you didn’t give men the impression that we’re all walking around with rape fantasies – they really don’t need our help with that.

  14. laura
    laura says:

    Yep, I fit the bill. Well, most of it, including the interest in rape fantasies. Honestly, I have been unabashedly exploring my sexuality for about 15 years now, and I feel like powerful independent women might even be more prone to this type of fantasy. This is just a hunch based on my own self-reflection, but I feel like part of why I like rape fantasy is because I get off empathizing with both the participants. I can appreciate not only the agency and power and self-gratification of the aggressor but also the sense of power to passively compel, and to be the object and source of passion. And since I identify with both the involved parties to their (my) mutual benefit I feel like a lot of the problematic elements get bypassed. I have discovered that all this for me personally works out much better in my head than in any version of reality, and I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to actually be raped. But I wonder if I identified less with either side of the equation (if I was less comfortable with the idea of taking power, as well as surrendering it), whether the scenario would be as compelling.
    This whole empathetic element is also incidentally why I am so into blowjobs.

    • Taylor
      Taylor says:

      laura, your comments very nicely put into words something I’ve been thinking about, and have tried to explain to my very sexy wife from time to time: “since (you) identify with both the involved parties.” This is off topic a bit, but maybe you can help. My wife, like many modern women, has had other sexual experiences, prior to marriage. I find the images of her engaged in those past loves to be very erotic. I would like her to tell me more. it’s fantasy, of course. but I can identify with “the involved parties” just as if…. Her first lover was into a lot of domination stuff that verged on rape; and she fit the mold you-all are discussing in some ways. I find it all very fascinating–however, she doesn’t like to admit to the secret pleasure–and yet she was quick to ask me to read this blog. How does one help open the door to, lets call it the fantasy of empathy; like a love triangle with past history?

  15. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    You want a guy who can “take of you?” What does that mean?

    Does it mean support you, physically punch out another man on your behalf, make all the rules so you don’t have to think?

    For Penelope Trunk, that’s not the goal.

    I think taking care of Penelope is about her husband doing more LISTENING, EMPATHIZING, SHARING, and CARING. Am I wrong about this?

    It’s comforting to know we’re not alone even while we feel we ARE, even while believing that we will die alone in the same way we solely struggled to be born.

    But think about it.

    No child is ever born alone. And I don’t think we die alone either.

    So what is “Alone”?

    It’s an illusion difficult to shatter. We’re wired to believe it.

    And that’s why, dear Penelope, you write this blog — to invite us into your life so you won’t be alone. But YOU know, and I know deep in side, we’re never alone, not within the world of our Souls.

    Still..while trudging through “Reality” it’s great to write posts and respond to them. Visiting your weblog makes me feel more connected and less ashamed of who I am.


  16. Helen Duignan
    Helen Duignan says:

    I’m quite sure none of you want to be *actually* raped so perhaps you need to do a little more work on why you have the fantasies and use your much quoted feminist credentials to examine what has damaged some women enough to make them fantasise about pain, degradation, denial of self etc.. I’d rather if you didn’t give men the impression that we’re all walking around with rape fantasies – they really don’t need our help with that.

    • toastedtofu
      toastedtofu says:

      Women (and men who are also rape victims) know that being raped would be a very terrible experience.

      There is a great deal of anxiety around being raped or sexually assaulted, it permeates our culture in a lot of ways, and that fear can be in the back of a womans mind constantly.

      Sometimes a rape fantasy, which happens safely inside your head or with a trusted partner, is just our way of processing, and getting relief from something that causes women a LOT of stress.

      The sexual satisfaction of many fetishes is amplified by the fact that the person is doing something “bad”, and experiencing exhilaration of doing something that seems taboo or off limits (think about how underage drinking is SO MUCH more exciting than drinking when you are allowed to)

      So having a rape fantasy isn’t necessarily a sign of “being damaged”, in fact, a vivid sexual fantasy or fetish play between two enthusiastic adult participants is very healthy, and very feminist.

    • Matt Weber
      Matt Weber says:

      Likewise, those of you who fantasize about being knights and wizards may not have realized that you don’t *really* want to be attacked by a gargantuan fire-breathing reptile, and you should work on the fucked-up mentality that makes you want to think about fighting such a reptile with a sword, you fucked-up fuckups you. Thanks to you I am CONSTANTLY ATTACKED BY DRAGONS who think I ACTUALLY WANT TO BE ATTACKED BY DRAGONS, all because YOU PEOPLE can’t keep yourself from sitting around with your funny dice and your little miniatures PRETENDING TO BE ATTACKED BY DRAGONS.

    • Remiel
      Remiel says:

      If your fantasy life interferes with your happiness, that’s a problem — rape fantasy or otherwise. It’s quality of life that matters. Any other criterion (e.g. “Regardless of your own interpretation, a rape fantasy automatically indicates you’re damaged and need help”) is your own, personal projection of what such a thing would mean for you.

      For every play, there’s an audience. Everyone in the audience watches the same performance… yet no one leaves the theatre having seen the same play.

      What you DO with the fiction — how you integrate it into your own life — may drastically differ from what the person next to you does with it. But interpretive differences aside, neither of you necessarily wants to be IN the play.

  17. Raven
    Raven says:

    What you wrote makes sense in the context of evolutionary psychology. In both animal and human world the female always picks the strongest alpha mate among all the suitors so that the offspring has a better chance to survive. They all want a mate who is a good provider and a protector. This doesn’t mean all women are looking for a rich guy or a guy with a 6 pack, they just need a confident guy who can make them feel loved and protected. What women really want is not getting raped of course but be dominated by a strong person. Nobody fantasizes about getting raped by a smelly homeless guy, they fantasize about being dominated by a person they find attractive. That’s why you see all those muscular strong men on the cover of female romance novels.

    Now as absurd as it may sound this post is actually coming from a lesbian who look for the same qualities in a female mate. I have respect for your choice to stop working and take care of your children instead, although my choices and views in that area couldn’t be any more different from yours.(Hey we all became victims of the PC thought police at some point.) A lot of women opt to invest their time in their careers and this is a good thing but imho all women at some point in their lives need a person to come home to and feel loved. We may become programmers, designers and CEOs but the primitive instincts are still there and will always be there and this is nothing to be ashamed of.

  18. Hbd
    Hbd says:

    Isn’t powerful women having rape fantasies similar to powerful men having masochistic fantasies? Sounds the same to me.

    Also why the need to tarnish the concept of feminism? Stop using this word for it’s not!

  19. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I haven’t read it either. But I was told that it was submissive sex and that he spent the non-sex scenes asking if she was OK with it all. So it sounds like consensual submissive sex, rather than rape. Different things, no?

    • PD
      PD says:

      I have read the first book, and it is definitely NOT a rape scenario. It is submissive sex, and it is consensual. The more on point discussion about this book would be submission fantasy.

      Oh, and BTW– in the first book, she is definitely NOT a strong career woman. She is a virginal college student who really doesn’t have much of a clue about life or relationships or herself. Can’t speak to whether or not she evolves in the other books because I probably won’t read them– it was tough enough getting through the first.

      Interesting post, but not on point, really, with what the book is about.

  20. Yael Sandler
    Yael Sandler says:

    I am done hiding what I really want because what is really liberating is for women to be able to want whatever we want.
    Great post!
    The last line = the best line.
    Thank you P, for speaking for and to me!

  21. CJ
    CJ says:

    You had me until the last para. I thought it was a wonderful post, and then the words fell apart. How can you say that other writers are better if you haven’t and won’t read this work? How are feminists telling you what to want? Feminists, including myself, make up an enormous, diverse group of men and women with as many opinions that differ as political parties. Sheesh a lot of feminists I know would love a submissive sex act and I can think of at least two that would blush at the idea of anything other than missionary. Saying things like “the feminists telling me what to think” just rings so close to comments like “them gays” or “those (fill in racial slur)” Who exactly are these “feminists” dictating your sexual fantasy limitations against whom you defend?

    • Hbd
      Hbd says:

      Spot on!
      I am sick and tired of people using the word feminism carelessly. How can we forget the women (and men!) who fought for the rights of 50% of the human kind? Feminist became of synonym of annoying dominatrix, not even the shadow what it really is.
      Being an remarried educated ambitious career woman + belittling feminism =way to talk about masochistic fantaisies!

      • CJ
        CJ says:

        Penelope certain ly misses the point with her last sentence. ALLLLLLLLLL the feminists I know and have ever known want alllllllllllllllll women to have exactly and whatever they want and for each of us that is defined by many many different things. Attacking women that support all women is something institutional schooling brainwashes the mainstream to do. Very saddened.

        • laura
          laura says:

          I consider myself to be a feminist and I am fully aware that there are other women out there calling themselves feminists too who are naysaying everything from makeup to penatrative sex of any variety. I disagree with them, but given the pedigree of their ideas, I think it would be hard not to call them feminists too. Maybe we need a. New term, like “real feminists” or sex positive feminists.

          • CJ
            CJ says:

            I really like this idea Laura. I refer to myself as a modern feminist. You know, it’s funny, I only recently discovered PT and it was through my feminist, supportive husband. He has been reading her a long time. I usually only look at the homeschool pages because that is of big interest to me. I only came over to this article because my children got me this book as a present. We have been cracking up because my husband and I had no idea whatsoever what the book was about and I still haven’t read it. My children got it because it is a best seller for women, now I can’t read it without thinking of them, and well, that’s a turn off, LOL I was surprised to see such rage against feminists, such a narrow view of what a feminist might be, and PTs last sentences. My idea of freedom of choice these days is that I am a highly educated, experienced woman that gets to stay home with my children because I worked and saved for years to have this. Technically my husband takes care of all of us. I fly airplanes. I wear combat boots and I get to cook three meals a day for my precious babies. I just didn’t know there was still such a huge amount of stereotyping still happening out there. Maybe I hoped it would be better now because I have a daughter and I wish there to be more tolerance and love waiting for her when she grows. Peace, CJ

  22. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    This is a unique way to look at it—owning rape fantasies as an entre to being able to say fuck all to the rest. I like that, actually…but, the rape fantasy/domination thing just doesn’t work for me anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m older (40 in a month!) and already have achieved the “working part time in something that satifies me” thing. My thoughts:

  23. K
    K says:

    I think this is crazy funny. I mean, I have all the same exact issues in my head.

    On the one hand, I’m running the whole world. I’m raising three kids on my own, paying all the bills, working full time in a “professional career” — and I really enjoy my freedom.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t date a poor man because I don’t want to support a man. I want to work part time so I can be with my kids more! I hate my career in that way.

    I don’t have rape fantasies though. If you’ve ever been raped for real, it kinda sucks all the fun out of that. I fantasize about rich men who let me do whatever I want. Now there’s a fantasy! lol

  24. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    A friend sent me the link to this article because I have been ranting about Fifty Shades for some time now. I do agree with your article as a whole, but as a practicing sexual submissive, I take issue with you referring to rape fantasies being equal to craving sexual domination. In my opinion, they are two very different things and both are equally acceptable for women to have. I think that if you read this book, you would realize that it is neither about rape fantasies or sexual domination fantasies. In fact, the only real BDSM scene in the book would not be considered BDSM by any sane or safe player. It was nothing more than abuse.

    As far as the book itself, I feel that I need to remind people that this was originally written as Twilight fan fiction. I am an avid participant in the Twilight fan fiction community, so I did check it out to see what all the fuss was about since it garnered more than 50,000 reviews and a colossal following of “Bunker Babes” on the fan fic forums. I couldn’t make it past the first five chapters and ended up skimming the rest. I will never understand how this became so popular as the writing is absolutely horrific. Icy (her fan fic nickname) does not know how to end sentences, so a good 50% are ended with ellipses. If I ever hear the phrase “inner goddess” again, I will throw something. Her dialogue is so stilted and the plot so predictable that a reader could easily skip over several pages of text and not miss anything.

    The book also suffers from a serious lack of editing. The blatantly wrong facts (She attends the University of Washington, but lives in Portland… HUH?) and Bristishisms fill the books pages. That was easily overlooked when it was fan fiction, but not so much when it is a published book being sold to the public for money.

    Which brings me to my real issue with Fifty Shades. I have a very big problem with someone writing fan fiction, changing the characters’ names, and then profiting off the work when they publish it. If you have read both Twilight and Fifty Shades/Master of the Universe, Edward and Bella are easily recognizable in Christian and Anastasia. Honestly, if you want to read a good erotica book that was originally published for free as fan fiction, check out Sylvain Reynard’s Gabriel’s Inferno series. I still have issues with making money off of fan fiction, but at least the writing is outstanding.

    In short, if you insist on reading Fifty Shades, please feel free to contact me and I can send you a free copy of Master of the Universe. It’s the exact same story except with Edward and Bella instead of Christian and Anastasia. She did change Edward’s eye color from green to gray, so I guess that counts as something! You can read about Edward fing Bella with a bloody tampon before finally pulling it out to have sex with her. Yes, E.L. James left that part in the published version as well.

  25. Alexa
    Alexa says:

    The controversy surrounding these books is both fascinating and repellant to me.

    I muddled my way through all three of them (I had a long weekend, a desperate need for escapism, and a burning desire to find out what all of the fuss was about.) and am annoyed by all of the commentary going on by people who haven’t read them. (Penelope I’m not including you in this because you’re writing about the genre rather than the books themselves.) I’ve lost count of news stories that talk about the first few chapters of the books but have no idea what happens next, because (spoiler alert!)she never actually agrees to become his sub.

    They are definitely poorly written. So was Twilight, which is another literary phenomena and coincidentally the basis for these books. The whole saga started off as an Edward/Bella alternative universe fanfiction story that allowed them to have graphic sex. Somehow she managed to get it published. By fanfiction standards the story still isn’t that great, and to be honest the sex scenes reached a point (of quantity) where I started skipping over those parts.

    As for the “sexual submission” fantasies…who wouldn’t want to have a boyfriend for whom money was no object, who could make all of their work/boss problems go away by simply buying the company as if it was pocket change, was completely enamored with them, and held their absolute attention while in bed? It’s all great for a fantasy.

    And for the record I am in my 30’s, college educated, and work for my husband’s business (which makes the income level kind of fuzzy) while pregnant, after which I will probably work full-time hours.

  26. chris
    chris says:

    Wanting to be taken care of, submission and rape are sooo different from one another. The most you can say is that there may be a continuum . . .

    The title, Owning what you really want, is interesting. If Penelope or any of the responders really feel they know what they want and that what one wants isn’t a moveable goal post, well then!

    I say, Be Careful What You Wish For. You may (think you) want to be taken care of. Well, the person taking care of you may indeed take care of you according to his/her own definition of taking care–not by YOUR definition of being taken care of. And you still won’t have what you want . . . whether you own it (intellectually) or not.

  27. Jason Jones
    Jason Jones says:

    Reading the feminist’s comments are why people find feminists so objectionable- there’e always objecting.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      Yah, we feminists object to being stereotyped and attacked and raged against. Every oppressed group gets a little cranky when we are asking over and over and over and over and over to be respected and treated with tolerance and love, rather than hate. I will try to tuck my vagina to the back of the bus where you would rather it be filed away, along with my voice- rather than object, the next time we are attacked- just for your lack of comfort over our objections.

      Why it is still ok to attack women and supporters of women’s rights in 2012 is simply crazy to me! I OBJECT!!!!

      • Jeff
        Jeff says:


        People can’t stand feminists because feminists are irrational, wicked women who attempt to contort the world in unfair ways. Feminists always want things their way and are exceptionally judgmental. They try to shame people who consider abortion to be murder; as if that is a “far out” unrealistic view of the act. Feminists are also great liars. The nonsensical “pay gap” is among the best examples of their lies. Of course, the pay gap is a lie because should one exist, in any salient form, then a business could easily dominate any market by hiring only women. The fact that such an action has occurred is all the proof that the pay gap doesn’t exist. Since feminists reject this simple, yet truthful test to their claims, that pretty much tells you all that you need to know about the type of women that become feminists.

  28. Jacqueline
    Jacqueline says:

    the writer of 50 shades of grey is making a gazillion dollars for her bad writing.

    blame her editor if you want to complain about her writing…she hit on a topic that the masses are responding too by buying her book and practicing what is inside of it, and apparently her fans are not grammar, sentence structure and content snobs.

    i say – bravo,good for her – job well done (no i have not read her book)

  29. Jacqueline
    Jacqueline says:

    the writer of 50 shades of grey is making a gazillion dollars for her bad writing.

    blame her editor if you want to complain about her writing…she hit on a topic that the masses are responding to by buying her book and practicing what is inside of it, and apparently her fans are not grammar, sentence structure and content snobs.

    i say – bravo,good for her – job well done (no i have not read her book)

  30. Raylyn
    Raylyn says:

    There must be something wrong with me. I’m 42 yrs old and unlike most women,I have never had rape fantasies. Never! The very thought of it repulses me. I want to sexually please but certainly not through dominance.

  31. fred doe
    fred doe says:

    It sounds rather vanilla to me :) There’s an old internet saying, “your porn collection, best keep it to yourself.” If it’s female or gay it’s erotica. If it’s heterosexual male it’s pornography? If there’s a young successful 30 something woman who would like to spank with “extreme prejudice” an old 60 year old retired man at the end of a hard day please feel free to give her my e-mail address. That way I wont have to stand at a intersection on friday afternoons with a sign that say,” will work for sex”

  32. Disagree
    Disagree says:

    I disagree with your understanding of the books and the readinfpg if them. I did not find any non consensual sex (rape ir rape fantasy) in them. Kinky, yes. BDSM, yes. But rape or non consensual? No.

    Whatever reason women are reading it for – and we are all agreed it is not the quality of the prose – eighteenth century English Lit. phrases in a Pacific Northwest accent and setting? Hell no! Whatever they (we) are reading it for, it is also not rape fantasy. There is a super huge difference between consensual submission to domination or any other kinkiness and rape. HUGE.

    • Disagree
      Disagree says:

      Me again. You are posting about them without reading them??? Umm…not the right choice. Since you haven’t read them, Let me tell you. He doesn’t force or trick or surprise her into anything she doesn’t agree to first. At least not in bed. Maybe at work, where he ambushes her with a company buyout. BTW, she is so not a successful career woman – at least not yet. Intern sleeping with the bosses’ boss. Read them please. The first time through you’ll see the story from her POV, the second time through from his background.

    • Agree with disagree
      Agree with disagree says:

      I agree with Disagree – and feel you are misleading about the rape fantasies. These are not rape fantasies at all but submission fantasies, never once is someone forced into intercourse. If you are going to comment on something, you should actually do the research before you speak.

  33. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    It’s a woman in her 40s (with 2 kids and on her 2nd marriage) who is admitting to the fantasies, to the guilt, and to the search of a man with money. If you had talked all about this in your 20s and 30s (as your blog readership demographic) then this would have been news.
    You ever wonder when GenY ladies will hit their 40s what will they talk about?

  34. Denise
    Denise says:

    This – like most everything else you write – is well-written, sexy in its honesty, and empowering. Thanks for being such an inspiration, Penelope.

  35. TechMama
    TechMama says:

    I slogged through all 3 “Shades” books and I’m just North of the publisher’s suggested demographic. The author’s got nothing on Anais Nin but the sex scenes are hot for an altogether different reason, and this is the “fantasy” that I *thought* you were going to write about, Penelope…The reason I found these books (and Roiphe’s article) to resonate is that for me, being taken care of by a man is as illicit a fantasy as being raped.

    I am the main breadwinner in my family; I bring home the bacon and fry it up, too. I’m married to a thoroughly wonderful guy and we have one of those egalitarian setups. In other words, I have all the stuff that feminists supposedly fought for. But you know what? Turns out that this rewarding, post-feminist lifestyle is really effing tiring.

    Sometimes I just want my husband to pay for everything, choose the wine when we eat out, demand that I not wear short skirts in public because he wants my legs all to himself, fill my closet with designer clothes, tell me I don’t have to go to work, and set our social schedule on the weekends. The take-charge thing is really, really sexy – so much sexier than negotiating a partnership 50-50. I know exactly the value of what I’d be giving up to have a sexy, bossy husband; that’s why it’s called a fantasy.

  36. Dana
    Dana says:

    I have to say I am surprised – not unpleasantly of course – to hear so many women want their partners to take complete charge, (Order dinner, make the moves, etc.)

    Hysterically I get turned on every time my husband sweeps the floor, makes dinner, does the dishes, etc.

    Those are some of the sexiest things a man can do!

  37. china
    china says:

    “I don’t want to be told by the feminists what’s okay for me to want.”

    “the feminists”?? YOU are “the feminist”!!

    own it. its okay. really. sheesh. i think you know this.

  38. Smiling
    Smiling says:

    What I find, that makes me smile, is not that P thinks about Rape Fantasies, thats not controversial, thats classified as cool or hip. (tragicly I’m sure)

    The real controversy is that, “I want someone to take care of me and I don’t care if you know.”

    In this day and age, what could be more heretical for a feminist than that??

    P, I love your gut level honesty, thats why I keep reading your blog. You keep it real.


    • Tracy
      Tracy says:

      So when a man actually acts out his rape fantasy on one of these woman, how thrilled with they be? Will they submissively consent to the man’s desire to dominate them through rape? To me submissive consent is not true consent, one is consenting to things one should not tolerate. Whips, chains and other disgusting perversions is inhumane treatment of another person. What is the world coming to?

  39. Wim
    Wim says:

    When I was in college , many of my female friends were feminists. Most of them, actually. They were very outspoken about rape and sexual harrassment on campus. I wanted them to like and respect me, but I have to say that they are part of what stunted my sexual development. What they wanted sexually, and what they wanted in other social contexts, were not the same thing. I didn’t get that. They weren’t going to reveal that in a million years. Actually, it has been 20 years, and Penelope is revealing it now. I did figure it out later, stumbled on it more than figured it out. I paid a price for being such a slow learner that I won’t get into here, but I can say that I missed out on a lot of sex in my youth. dang

  40. the pontificator
    the pontificator says:

    OK it’s *no* secret to men who have had multiple sex partners that a lot of you wimmin have fantasies of rape and dominance. Some of you need to “go there” in your heads to have an orgasm. Fine, whatever you need. We’re here to please. But, believe it or not, we men mostly aren’t into rape/rapist/dominance. Here’s the thing. What arouses us is female sexuality. If our partner shifts into a hyper-sexual mode when she’s tapping into her domination fantasies, its the *hyper-sexual* mode that’s turning us on, more than the dominance thing. It’s why you gals can get us off more quickly by pretending you’re more aroused than you might actually be.

    There *is* a weird variant. That’s the ‘pretending you don’t like it’ turn-on. You can see this exhibited in Japanese porn, where the actresses moan in shame and grimace in pain from the gigantic penises that are violating them (LOL). Remember porn is generally designed to arouse men, and the marketplace can wind up showing what works best. BTW we don’t see much rapey stuff in US porn because depictions of rape or non-consent are not protected from obscenity laws. So we don’t really know if it’s a cultural thing, this shame and grimacing. We do know most US porn shows women *liking* the sex. Because its the *liking* that turns men on.

    From an evolutionary-psychology perspective, one might infer that there was a *lot* of non-consentual sex in our genetic history. Meaning, to be indelicate, the gals who got raped more often had more babies. And gals whose brains had fantasies about getting raped might have made it a little easier for it to happen, to put it *really* indelicately.

    Do I even need to mention that sexually-aggressive brained males had more likelihood of passing on their sexually-aggressive genes? And so, women who were more responsive to sexual aggressiveness were more likely to mate. Assuming not everybody was getting raped, of course.

    So I guess I’m saying I’d look more toward instinctual sexual behavior here than cultural issues when it comes to female fantasies. And therefore find rapey thoughts in my woman about as normal as watching Project Runway, or running outside when she hears her child cry out.

    • RJ
      RJ says:

      Yeah, could not agree more!! “Normal” male heterosexuality really just boils down to that, I think…female sexuality as a turn-on….no, probably THE turnon. Arguably the antithesis of how a rapist’s mind works, given that rapists aren’t particularly interested in whether a female victim is into it (probably not. Lol.)

      Its kind of the difference between “didn’t say no” and “can’t say no”–you know, those women who say they just lose it and all that when men “take over” and they just go with whatever…that’s what does me in LOL, and if you’re mutually driving each other crazy, what’s the issue here?

      Of course, honesty is also a turn-on especially when it’s more challenging b/c of the society you’re in…self-deception is like a cardinal sin to me and I don’t like being around people who make it a habit to lie to themselves let alone get in bed with them. Lol. Goes along with confidence, I think. I guess that’s why it doesn’t surprise me where this post mentions the most “powerful” women also having the more submissive fantasies. The least we know is they’re more often gonna be real about what they want.

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