Exploring a Mystery

by | December 26, 2019 | General | 3 comments

During my winter holiday break from teaching, I have time to ponder sexual mysteries that I feel I should understand better. In my former column on this site, “Sex Is All Metaphors,” I talked about the amazing versatility of sex as a language to express almost anything: love, affection, gratitude, curiosity, disgust, even genocidal hatred.

The problem with most discussions about sex is that they simply can’t do justice to the full spectrum of sexual behaviour among human beings.

Complaints about sexual harassment (which someone once described as the intrusion of sex into non-sexual situations) trigger a backlash response of “But what’s wrong with flirting?” I often wish we could all live in the kind of fun world in which this response would make sense.

Men have often lamented to me personally and to larger audiences that it’s hard to get women to “loosen up” because they don’t have the same sexual needs that men have. I suspect that such men have no idea what a tidal wave of lust would be released if women could express themselves sexually without risking drastic consequences: unwanted pregnancies, diseases, loss of relationships, social status, income, and even life.

This brings me to the mystery of rape, legally defined as “sexual assault” in Canada, where I live. I’m not confused about the fact that it happens. I’ve heard explanations of why assailants, mostly male-identified, feel they have no other choice than to take what they want by force. I’m mystified about why forced sex would feel better for the perpetrator than consensual sex, when that is an option. And it always is.

Despite the double standard of sexual morality, which still seems to exist even in the most avant-garde urban milieu, there are places where heterosexual men can find heterosexual women who are willing to hook up. Nowadays, there are also places where the LGBT community can meet and mingle, even in small towns on the Canadian prairies.

All this was true even before the rise of the internet, which has been steadily eclipsing physical cruising spaces and watering-holes.

Finding a mate for an hour, for the night, for a few weeks, or possibly for a lifetime is probably easier for more people on earth than ever before in history. In cultures where few people can afford to buy their own computers, there are internet cafes where anyone can access a dating site. And hanging out at the café is a social experience in itself.

It truly amazes me that there are still young men who invoke a tragic image of themselves as haggard waifs, crawling through a sexual desert alone, because what they need is not available to them. And some of these guys admit to spending many hours a day on-line, communicating with other people.

Years ago, a man I went to high school with told me it was hard to know whether women were interested in sex with him or not. I asked him if he had ever invited a woman out for coffee, lunch, or dinner. He said yes, of course.

I asked how he responded to a refusal, and I proposed two scenarios: the man could express disappointment and say, “maybe we can do this another time.”

Or he could become enraged, wrestle the woman to the ground, pull out a sausage, force her mouth open, and shove the meat as far down her throat as possible, while giving her any of these messages:

1) “You don’t say no to me, stupid bitch.”

2) “I know you want this. You’re just playing hard to get.”

3)” I know you’re a slut who likes to eat. I’ve seen you doing it in public, with other eaters.”

4) “If you didn’t want it, why did you lead me on by talking about food?”

Meanwhile, the victim would be choking, gasping for breath, and desperately trying to push the assailant off or attract help.

I asked my old high-school classmate which of these scenarios seemed the most logical. He laughed and said that accepting disappointment gracefully was the only sane course of action for the man. The sausage-down-the-throat image sounded like a description of a psychopath at work.

Well, yes, at least we agreed on that. But I was still left wondering what would motivate anyone to force sex on anyone else.

“Rape” fantasies and consensual scenes seem like a completely different topic. I even remember being impressed by a description of an elaborate abduction scene involving willing (eager) “victims” and lusty pirates on a real ship. Clearly, a scene like this required considerable preparation beforehand, including negotiations about bondage, knifeplay, and flogging. This sounded to me like a grown-up version of a childhood game based on Peter Pan. I hope it was exhilarating for everyone involved. I didn’t wonder why anyone would sign up for this adventure, as long as personal limits would be respected.

As an English major in university, I studied numerous works of fiction in which an angry man is presumed to represent the Human Condition, or sometimes the Modern Human Condition under Late-Stage Capitalism. Male profs have invited me and the other students (usually a diverse mix of genders and races) to consider the likelihood that we all have dangerously aggressive impulses that we have to control in order to stay out of jail, including the impulse to just grab and rape any attractive person we see.

My short response: No. My longer response: Hell, no.

As a much younger, closeted lesbian, I sometimes tentatively suggested to female friends that some women go “beyond friendship.”

I usually had to explain that I was thinking of physical activity that went beyond a hug. Or to put it bluntly, sex.

One woman responding by saying, “That’s disgusting.”

Her disgust was so instantly contagious that I couldn’t imagine pressuring her any further to accept what I was hinting at. I couldn’t be sure whether she found me disgusting on a personal level, or whether she was appalled by the mere idea of making close acquaintance with another woman’s plumbing. It didn’t matter to me. I knew I would have to go find someone more compatible.

I wanted the combination of direct and vicarious pleasure that happens when two people want each other, and love being wanted. I wanted the ambiguity of simple but effective comments like “Oh, baby.” I wanted someone to want my breasts and my clit as well as my fingers on their own deliciously sensitive parts.

Later, I tried dreaming about forcing myself on another woman to try to figure out why this might be satisfying. I imagined a scenario just before falling asleep, hoping that my deepest urges would rise up and answer my question.

As far as I could remember the next morning, the rape scene just didn’t work. In my dream, I kept threatening to humiliate someone who clearly didn’t want me, and who turned me off by repeatedly telling me this. I didn’t really want to touch her, and before long, this became obvious to her as well as to me. Even in the privacy of my own mind, I let my designated victim get away.

So the concept of really non-consensual “sex” is still a mystery to me, and even calling it sex seems inaccurate, because for me, that word summons up feelings and images of mutual consent, agency, and interaction.

It seems I will never be able to write a story about sexual assault from the assailant’s viewpoint. I’m still not sure if this means I’m hopelessly naïve or relatively sane.

Jean Roberta

Jean Roberta once promised her parents not to use their unusual family name for her queer and erotic writing, and thus was born her thin-disguise pen name. She teaches English and Creative Writing in a university on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. Jean immigrated to Canada from the United States as a teenager with her family. In her last year of high school, she won a major award in a national student writing contest. In 1988, a one-woman publisher in Montreal published a book of Jean’s lesbian stories, Secrets of the Invisible World. When the publisher went out of business, the book went out of print. In the same year, Jean attended the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, where she read a call-for-submissions for erotic lesbian stories. She wrote three, sent them off, and got a letter saying that all three were accepted. Then the publisher went out of business. In 1998, Jean and her partner acquired their first computer. Jean looked for writers’ groups and found the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, which was then two years old! She began writing erotica in every flavor she could think of (f/f, m/f, m/m, f/f/m, etc) and in various genres (realistic contemporary, fantasy, historical). Her stories have appeared in anthology series such as Best Lesbian Erotica (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, Volume 1 in new series, 2016), Best Lesbian Romance (2014), and Best Women's Erotica (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) from Cleis Press, as well as many others. Her single-author books include Obsession (Renaissance, Sizzler Editions), an erotic story collection, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press), and The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). Fantasy stories by Jean include “Lunacy” in Journey to the Center of Desire (erotic stories based on the work of Jules Verne) from Circlet Press 2017, “Green Spectacles and Rosy Cheeks” (steampunk erotica) in Valves & Vixens 3 (House of Erotica, UK, 2016), and “Under the Sign of the Dragon” (story about the conception of King Arthur) in Nights of the Round Table: Arthurian Erotica (Circlet 2015). This story is now available from eXcessica (http://excessica.com). Her horror story, “Roots,” first published in Monsters from Torquere Press, is now in the Treasure Gallery of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. With Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman, she coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her realistic erotic novel, Prairie Gothic: A Tale of the Old Millennium, was published by Lethe in September 2021. Jean has written many reviews and blog posts. Her former columns include “Sex Is All Metaphors” (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas) for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, July 2008-November 2010. The 25 column pieces can still be found in the on-site archives and in an e-book from Coming Together, www.eroticanthology.com. Jean married her long-term partner, Mirtha Rivera, on October 30, 2010. Links: www.JeanRoberta.com http://eroticaforall.co.uk/category/author-profiles


  1. Larry Archer

    As a writer of erotica and a swinger, I am conflicted about writing on the topic of rape fantasies. As a guy, reading a story might think you’re just some pervert and she really wanted it in the first place, but I see a fair percentage of women who enjoy what I feel are rape fantasies, my wife included.

    When you’re having sex with someone and you pin their arms to the bed, you can often feel and see the reaction from the woman. Not in a negative way but a positive response. Certainly, I would never force a woman as that is wrong, plus my wife would probably cut my dick off in the middle of the night. I enjoy role-playing and if this is something that your partner enjoys why not? I’m pretty much good to go with everything below scat or maybe blood sports.

    I think things like pulling hair is another thing that has a rape fantasy component to it or spanking. There are a lot of guys who think that women deserve it and I’m not sure that we will ever eliminate that from male society. I always feel that most of us allow our dick to do most of our thinking.

    It’s like the old saying, “Why do guys give their dick a name?” “Because you don’t want a stranger to be making all your decisions for you!”

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    I’m grateful that I’ve never been raped (or come close) but my observations from the sidelines suggest that rapes fall into two categories.

    Many rapes have nothing at all to do with sex – for instance the use of rape for revenge (as has been in the news in India recently) or as a weapon of war. In these cases, the goal is to hurt, terrify and destroy the victim to the greatest extent possible.

    The other category seems to start with an ordinary guy who wants sex, but who really doesn’t know how to interact with or attract a woman. These guys are truly ignorant about female sexuality. What “knowledge” they have comes from the hoary old patriarchal myths about cock-teasers who won’t “put out”, the idea that “no” really means “yes” and perhaps the most insidious, the conviction that because they’re male, they NEED sex, in the same way we need food and air – and that as males they DESERVE sex. So if it’s not given freely, they convince themselves that they’re justified in taking it.

    I do believe that at least some rapists or potential rapist who belong to the second category can be educated about female sexuality to the point that they understand better what they’re doing wrong.

    • larry archer

      It would seem to me that rape would be a painful experience for the guy as well as the victim. From a guy’s standpoint when you attempt to put tab A into slot B dry, it causes the foreskin to be peeled back due to friction. I know a girl who likes that and enjoys having sex without foreplay or lube and it’s not that comfortable to me but I try to be nice and accommodate her. 🙂

      I would assume that if you are forcing it in, as in rape, it would not be enjoyable at all.

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