Psyched!

The science of psych

Why Dominant Women Enjoy Sexual Submission Fantasies, Part 1

Assertive ladies like handing over the reins in bed.
This post is a response to Why Do Women Have Erotic Rape Fantasies? by Matthew Hutson

It's been said that those who are easy-going in real life tend be dominant in the bedroom, and those with type-A personalities like to be submissive. (Maybe you've heard the stories of dominatrixes with titans of industry as regular clients.) But is it true? And if so, what might explain it?

In recent correspondence with Patricia Hawley of the University of Kansas regarding my post a year ago titled "Why Do Women Have Erotic Rape Fantasies?," she wrote, "it would be really cool for you to address the theory that broke in the pages of Psych Today in 1973 – a theory that went completely unaddressed as far as I can tell until 2009."

The 1973 article Hawley refers to, titled "The Sexual Fantasies of Women," was written by E. Barbara Hariton, a researcher and therapist who interviewed dozens of women about their fantasies. One of Harrington's assertions was that "Common 'force' fantasies... do not involve rejection or abuse. They appear in dominant and independent women who imagine themselves desired and wooed..."

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Hawley and her student William Hensley recently conducted research (to be published in the Journal of Sex Research) on forceful submission fantasies. Men and and women read and rated erotic vignettes in which they either dominated or submitted to an opposite-sex partner. Here are samples of what the women read:  

"...Your breathing quickens as you attempt to draw away, but he grasps your arm like a vice and it sends a shudder through your body. He pins you against the wall and presses his mouth firmly against yours. As your resistance fades, it becomes clear to you that this is only going one way..."

"...His breathing quickens as he attempts to draw away, but you grasp his arm like a vice..."

Men read the same vignettes but with pronoun gender changed. First, the researchers found that both men and women preferred to imagine being dominated. And men liked it even more than women. "Why might men enjoy the fantasy of forceful submission more so than women?," they researchers write. "It makes a good deal of sense that an alternate fantasy self would be the target of aggressive womanly pursuit free from rejection and restrictions." Ah yes, just sit back and let the horny ladies come to you. To support their claim, they analyzed two volumes of Penthouse Letters, which are aimed at male readers. In these fantasies, 43% of the hookups were initiated by women and only 28% by men.

Now to the heart of the study. Social dominance was measured in the participants by how often they claimed to use coercive and cooperative strategies to control material, social, or informational resources. The most socially dominant men rated vignettes in which they were sexually dominant higher than the other men did, but all tiers rated the submission vignettes equally. So much for the CEO-in-the-dungeon theory. At least among men... Among women, everyone rated domination fantasies equally, but the socially dominant women especially enjoyed fantasies of submission. 

Why do assertive women like handing over the reins? I'll answer that in my next post.

Matthew Hutson is a science journalist in New York City.

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