Feb 23rd 2013 by ChildTherapist • 36 Questions • 1758 Points
I did an AMA on this a few months ago and have received a number of requests to do it again.
The basic concept of experiencing orgasm during rape is a confusing and difficult one for many people, both survivors and those connected to survivors.
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.
I was taken to task in my original discussion for not emphasizing that this happens for boys and men as well. I referenced that above but am doing it again here to make this point clear.
I was verified previously, but I'll include the documentation again here. http://imgur.com/eTVei
This is an open discussion and I'm happy to answer any questions. Don't be afraid if you think it may be offensive as I'd rather have a frank talk than leave people with false ideas. AMA!
Edit: 3:30pm Questions/comments are coming in MUCH faster than I thought. A lot faster than the other time I did this topic. I'm answering as fast as I can; bear with me!
Edit2: 8:30pm Thank you everyone for all your questions and comments!! This went WAY past what I thought it would be (8 hours, whew!). I need to take a break (and eat!) but I'll check back on before going to sleep and try to respond to more questions.
Edit3: 10:50pm Okay, I'm back and it looks like you all carried on fine without me. I'll try to answer as many first-order (main thread, no deviations that I have to search for) questions as I can before I fall asleep at the keyboard. And Front Page! Wow! Thank you all. And really I mean Thank You for caring enough about this topic to bring it to the front. It's most important to me to get this info out to you.
Think about being tickled. Some people hate it. Those people may be laughing when being tickled, but it is a deeply unpleasant experience for them. The body has certain automatic responses to certain physical stimuli. We laugh when we are tickled. It doesn't mean it is a nice experience, or that laughing indicates wanting it. It's just a thing the body does.
Yes, I use this analogy a lot with children. It helps them to re-think what happened to them.
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.
Along with that, do you think people avoid talking about "orgasm during rape" because it can potentially become a horrible ploy by the defense team? Especially in a very gray case, if the jury hears the victim had an orgasm and therefore, "enjoyed it", it could potentially swing in the defendant's favor.
Yes and also yes.
I've seen defenses employ this. It's why I'm very clear with clients when discussing this about the VERY small possibility that my notes could get subpoenaed and I could be called to testify on stand. Thankfully, this has never happened to me and I am careful how I document my notes.
It sounds like a difficult topic to study. It seems so counter to what they are feeling if it ends up feeling 'good' at some point. Are cases in which an orgasm are 'achieved' more difficult to treat?
Definitely yes. It isn't so much due to having the physical response, but more to do with the feelings of shame and guilt around it.
I spend more time talking through their experience of what happened and correcting their negative thoughts about it. That they "liked" what happened, that it wasn't really rape because a part of them felt good during it, etc.
I hope this doesn't come off wrong - rape is rape, I know that. But I'm a little confused - you said that you "talk more about the idea of physically responding or "feeling good" during the assault. So when I say orgasm I'm including pre-orgasmic feelings as well." So you are saying that there are women who are raped that experience physical pleasure leading up to an orgasm? Is this seen in woman who are, say, attacked while jogging or is this exclusive to women who are raped when a guy takes things further than she wants?
Okay, now we're getting into this. This is a difficult one. And no bad questions here, so thank you for asking.
We don't really know the difference in responses between intimate partner encounters (aka date rape) and stranger rape. There's thought that stranger rape might result in more orgasmic episodes because of what I call the "disengagement factor." I've had clients talk about this as "being caught off-guard." With an intimate partner, there's a disbelief that someone who cares about me would do this, so a greater chance of NOT having sexual feeling during it. But the range is so wide, it's really hard to know. First date versus 15th date. Total stranger versus guy you met at a party and talked for a few hours with...
In order for orgasm to occur, there is a normal build-up that has to happen. Lubrication, increasing sensation, stimulation and finally release. The pattern is the same regardless of HOW the orgasm occurs. So, yes, in rape there is a sense of physical pleasure leading up to the orgasm, but I don't think most survivors would describe it in that way. It's confusing and complicated, I know. Which is why people who do what I do would like to see a lot more research done.
- What is your opinion on the movement to reclassify rape from a "sex crime" to "violent crime"?
- How would this affect the public's perception of rape?
- Would this help the stigma associated with rape and how it often goes unreported?
I only know a little bit about this movement. I deal with the legal arena sometimes but not directly involved. My opinion is that changing it from "sex" to "violent" crime is a step in the right direction, but I wouldn't want to lose the connection that rape is a crime of power THROUGH sex. I do think that making it a violent crime, if that were common knowledge, would help a lot of survivors report more.
What are the most common consequenses for the victim for having an orgasm during rape? In what way does it distort their sex life?
I've seen two extremes. One, the woman closes in on herself and has difficulty pursuing sexual relations again, at least for a while. Two, she goes the other direction and seeks out a lot of sexual experiences, sometimes attempting to duplicate what happened. This is more rare.
The more typical response is somewhere between those two.
Although, I have to be honest that there is a lot that isn't known and since women have such a difficult time talking about this, it's hard to say if that 2nd extreme doesn't happen more than we know. There's some evidence in that direction.
I would think this would seriously/conflict mess with a woman's concept of victimhood in a rape. Do they normally feel guilty if they orgasmed during what is a violent act? Do they think it diminishes the illegality of the rape, or the culpability of the offender, or (oddly enough) do some of them find themselves harboring secret desires for it to repeat itself, as awful as it likely was and as more awful as the next one likely would be? I would think some serious therapy above and beyond the "normal" rape therapy would be in order.
You are right in pretty much everything you said. I use a lot of what's called cognitive-behavioral work with survivors. Helping them to break down and examine their thoughts and feelings in detail so they can see where they are holding "false beliefs" about what happened. When orgasm is part of what happened, it often takes a lot longer to talk about. Even admitting that it happened is usually VERY difficult. I've had several clients where I thought we were close to finishing therapy and then they began to open up about this part, and it was back to the beginning.
Guilt is a common response and, yes, a lot of women believe that feeling pleasure during it means it wasn't really rape and that they shouldn't report it.
Your last point is always difficult to discuss, but I do want to have an open talk here. So, yes, there are girls and women who ingrain their experience at a very deep level, combining sexual feelings with their response during the rape. This can lead to a desire to re-experience rape-like situations or have significant others help them play this out. In actually can be very healing when done right.
There is a fairly common fantasy for women in being controlled and dominated in a rape-like way during sex, but I want to be clear that these are two different things.
There was a post on Reddit about a woman doing something like this. If I can find it, maybe I'll link it here.
Do you generally mention in your first session with a victim that some victims experience pleasure and/or orgasms and that this is normal?
I do a lot of what's called psycho-education about rape, what it is, normal responses and feelings, including guilt and shame. I let the client take it from there. It's not something I want to bring up right away. Here's why: the more shame or guilt I unintentionally trigger early on, the more likely my client is NOT to come back. It was already hard enough for them to walk into my office. I want to ensure they stay to work through what happened.
If I pick up that something like this did happen, then I'll gently introduce the idea and let them tell me.
I see most questions are about female sexual response. I help care for a 12 year old boy that was raped by his father starting at age 4. Last summer his was raped again by a 16 year old neighbor.
He asked me two questions that I have a hard time answering for him. Why did it feel good if it was wrong? And why did it happen to him again?
I've tried to explain that it feeling good was just a physical response even though he was scared and hurt, but it doesn't seem enough. And I have no idea how to answer his second question.
Is he in therapy? If not, he needs to be. With someone who can help him work through those feelings and answer his own questions. Which leads to my answer which is: it is FAR more important that a survivor figure out answers for themselves than for someone to tell them. I think you're answer was good and went as far as it could.
We feel good during sexual assaults because our bodies respond when touched in certain ways. I use the analogy of someone gently caressing our arms. For most people, this will create goosebumps, whether you wanted to or not. If you tied a person down and gently caressed their arms, they would still get goosebumps from the touch. There's not a fault, a right or wrong there, it just is.
Why it happened again is a more difficult question because it leads into areas I'm not very comfortable going into detail in online. Short answer is that for SOME survivors, the way they learn to deal with the assault is to turn off some parts of their brain, the parts that make you alert/aware of danger. This makes them more vulnerable to future assaults. I won't try to make sense of it here, but just know it's true.
This is part of why rape survivors have a higher likelihood of being raped again that those who weren't raped. This is without treatment.
I can direct you to some good material that might help you support him. Courage to Heal is an older book for sexual assault survivors and still one of the best in the field. It covers what you're asking about. Other places to go are RAINN and Pandy's. They both have sections for supporters of those who have been abused.
As a survivor of rape, I want to thank you so much for doing this AMA. There is so much education about sex and rape that needs to be put out there, and you're doing a lot of good by spreading it.
Thank you very much. I really appreciate that.
I was raped by a care taker from ages 11-14. He told me he was teaching me how boys would treat me in high school...that i needed to just get used to it. Years later I'm in a good relationship but I cant have an orgasm without thinking about how I was taught to have them and in turn my abuser.
have you heard of other women who experience something similar? I feel so weird.
You're not weird at all. You were molested and your experience is not unusual.
Yes, when I've worked with adults molested as children, this issue sometimes comes up. On a site like this, I can't really do therapy but my simple answer is: if it's working for you, good for you. If it's causing you discomfort and emotional pain, best to talk to someone about it in more detail.
Does this mostly only happen to women who previously experienced the ability to orgasm from intercourse alone?
Good question! I have no idea. Actually that's not true. We know the ability to orgasm and respond to sexual pleasure occurs from very early childhood. Children, even infants, are capable of self-stimulating and feeling what we would think of as sexual pleasure.
In working with molested children, I've seen the same thing occur, that they "felt good" during it and felt very ashamed because of that. A lot of these children had not masturbated or sexually stimulated themselves before, so they had no idea what was happening to them. Only that it was a mixture of scary and feeling good.
I would think the same is true for girls and women who are older, whether or not they have experienced orgasm before.
Vague answer maybe? Best I can do with what we know now.
Do you ever run into cases where the victim is, for whatever reason, not that traumatized by the crime, But still told that they should feel more violated than they do? How do you deal with that in therapy? Does the orgasm/no orgasm ever come into play in this case?
I dont want to downplay the fact that this crime is usually VERY traumatic, but I can imagine certain dispositions where rape is not felt as devastating or life shattering. And yet, sometimes in our quest for justice, we insist that the woman perceive the crime as the ultimate loss and devastation and that society is justified in perceiving that the victim is now irreparably damaged, impure, or corrupted, revictimizing the victim. This is admittedly getting a little out there, but I'm trying to separate a need for justice and punishment from the harm that was actually imparted on the victim. Seems like the physical response,during the act could complicate this disambiguation...
You're hitting on the idea that "rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman short of murder" idea. It's not. And the more we as a society reinforce this idea, the worse it is for survivors. Not that it isn't horribly traumatic. It is...for those for who it is. If you get my meaning.
It isn't for everyone. And, yes, I've had clients who have gotten very angry at the idea that they should feel more ruined than they do. Or been made to feel that way. It's a delicate balance though as there are those who deny how badly they were affected. My job is to help sift through all the competing thoughts, ideas, biases, feelings and get the person to accept what THEY really think and feel.
And for some, it just wasn't that big a deal. They equate it to being robbed and are able to let it go without accepting any fault or blame. I've seen this more with girls who were taught that rape and sexual assault is NOT the fault of the victim. This is why this kind of education is more important.
Also seen this more with girls who did not orgasm during their assault. That adds another layer of difficulty in making sense of it.
Several years ago I dated a woman that had not only orgasmed when she was raped but also became from pregnant from it. She was an awesome mom and didn't resent her daughter at all despite the father being someone she knew and her resembling him. She explained it to me as she felt that her body had betrayed her in a violent moment that she wishes she could forget.
Having sex with her was probably the hardest part of the relationship. It would always get up to the point of orgasm for her and she'd have to stop because it would bring back memories of her assault and completely kill her arousal. It made her feel very guilty and it kind of contributed toward my inadequacy issues (reasons behind that have nothing to do with her). There was one point where we tried to go past that point but couldn't and she got so upset that she had to lock herself in my bathroom for a bit. I eventually broke up with her for reasons unrelated to that or her daughter but I always felt kind of guilty about it because it's hard to dispel that accusation.
She'd never seen a therapist about any of it nor pressed charges but I talked to her a few years ago and she had been seeing a counselor. We're out of touch now (and I've been unable to track her down) but I've always been curious to see how she's doing. I'd really like to see treatment for this kind of ordeal more public-facing because it can hinder or even cripple future relationships for a victim and getting the proper therapy to patients is the best thing they need.
Kudos to you and I hope to see progress on this issue being made more public without victim blaming bullshit like "they enjoyed it because they orgasmed."
Thanks for adding your story!
Alright time to break out my first throwaway. First I'm really happy you are doing this AMA because I have some questions, and would love your insight.
As a child I was molested by a close family member. It was all very confusing and hard to understand as a child. At first it was showing me his member, I remember closing my eyes and hoping he would leave. After he went down on me, I immediately told someone (I mean right after it happened). I knew it was wrong and I knew it was just going to get worse if I didn't say something. I remember going to talk with someone about it, and had to point on a photo of where I was touched and with what part. I pointed to the crotch of the dummy, and the mouth.
I was so embarrased and ashamed of myself. I had an orgasm and that's what confused me most. I didn't know what it was and I felt disgusted with myself. I spent many years repressing the thoughts of it and when my parents asked me if I remembered 'an event long ago' I pretended not to know what they were talking about. I thought it would bring them pain to know that they failed to protect me as parents. (Years later I did end up telling my mother that I remembered what happened).
I don't recall the age I was, or other events that may have occurred although I do believe that was the only time touching was involved. I spent a huge part of my childhood trying not to think about what happened and really black out the memories.
As I got older, and started getting sexual with boyfriends, I knew I had to face my fears and really come to terms with what happened. I've spent the past few years telling that little girl in me that it wasn't her fault for what happened.
Now that I'm older (24) I have a hard time masturbating without afterwards feeling guilty that I had an orgasm. I also have a hard time allowing my partner to go down on me (it usually never happens). I also suffer from really bad anxiety (in general), and panic attacks (I'm not sure if it's related to being molested).
Every guy I've been intimate with knows what happened to me, and I think it's good to be open and talk about it for me to heal.
Mostly I just want to know if you have any advice on how to get over the shame and guilt I feel when I orgasm.
TL;DR was molested as a child, experienced an orgasm, repressed the event and now feel guilt when I orgasm (years later)
I'm so sorry you have to deal with this.
My best suggestion is to find a therapist. Someone you can open up to fully about what happened and how you responded...honestly. The key to getting past this is to FULLY accept that what happened was done TO you. The shame and guilt you have is all of those societal messages about what it means to cum and those being spliced together like string with what was done to you. You CAN separate those out, but you need support to do it because it means going back to that time and working through it.
A really good type of therapy for dealing with this is called TFCBT: Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Find a therapist trained in this. There are a number of good therapies like this, but that was has a lot of good research behind it.
It's really pretty simple. It means that the woman was stimulated enough that her sexual organs responded. To put it bluntly, the vagina and clitoris had enough friction to arouse and trigger the orgasmic response.
Did you mean beyond that?
As a woman who's never been raped, I'll just say that women are very different from person to person or even from day to day when it comes to orgasming. Some women can get off on just stimulation alone, while some need to get into the psychological aspect of it. Sometimes it depends where you are in your menstrual cycle (eg easier to get off while ovulating). Some women have really sensitive clitorises and/or g-spots, and if stimulated a certain way they will always get off. So, I can imagine that for many (but maybe not all) female rape victims, it really just was that they were being stimulated the "right" way.
Yep, very good point. Hard to have a general discussion without going into the "every person is different" concept.
Does orgasming during rape just end up wrecking orgasms for the victim?
Yes, it can. Imagine the best feeling you can have being mixed up with being forced to eat a bowlful of shit (sorry for the imagery!). It would probably take some time for you to be able to separate those two things apart.
Claiming that having an orgasm during rape means that the victim wanted it is like saying that if you laugh while being tickled by a stranger it means you wanted them to do it. We can't control our bodies THAT well. "I'm not going to orgasm just so he knows how much I disapprove of being raped."
Yes, well said.
What would you say is a more significant side effect of a woman having an orgasm while being raped in comparison to one who did not have an orgasm?
Also, what does this research hope to find out about this, and how will it help in terms of future therapy for victims of these crimes?
The most painful and significant effect is the feeling of self-doubt around what happened. Some women try to classify what happened as not rape because of the idea that orgasms are something that only happens between people when they are enjoying the experience. When the reaction is very intense, it can make the woman question her experience.
I'm not a researcher, so don't know if I can answer this really well, but the more we know about the cause of orgasms during sexual assault, the more information we have to work with survivors. To help educate them about their experience. For example, we know now that having an orgasm does not equal enjoying the experience. When a survivor tries to separate the assault from how part of them felt during it, we can use this knowledge to help them understand what happened to them.
Have you helped people whom have been assaulted by a member of the same gender? And if so, were these victims harder to treat than a victim who was assaulted by a member of the opposite sex?
Good question. When someone is assaulted by the gender they're not attracted to (sorry if this is wordy but trying to get across the idea), it can be better. There's probably a better way to phrase that, but hopefully my meaning is clear.
There is questioning if they are gay because of this (OR really straight if they are gay), but mostly a LOT more anger about it. In a way, it can be easier to work through as the person is more clear that this is something they didn't want, that they didn't "put out signals" and that their gender identity was violated.
In other words, if someone who is straight is assaulted by their own gender OR if someone who is gay is assaulted by the other gender, it can be easier for them to cope with as they were clear about where their attraction lies.
Hope that makes sense.
You are a hero, honestly. Thank you :)
First time using a throwaway... Using one this time for obvious reasons.
My dad molested me from 4-7. It all started when I found penthouse magazines in his bathroom. I would look at them all the time, a couple times a week sometimes. He somehow figured out what I was doing, and one day showed me the magazines to read with me. Then started masturbating in front of me, then etc. etc. For the longest time I always believed it was my fault, for looking at something that didn't belong to me and then letting it happen. My brother had witnessed him doing things and when I tried asking about them more recently, he told me I brought it on myself. Which devastated me even more, since he had become a father figure to me. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, people like you are the reason I am alive today. Thank you.
Thank you for being willing to share your story here!
Thank you for what you said about me. It's very appreciated, but I'll be totally honest here; I genuinely believe that it's the people I work with who are brave enough to walk into a stranger's office and spill their most terrible secrets who are the heroes.
I am sometimes overcome with the courage I know it takes for someone to reveal to another person what happened and what they felt like going through it.
You are very welcome and thank YOU for making what I do so worthwhile.
You mention that you have male clients as well as female. What sort of percentages of each do you treat? Also what is usually the average age of a male client?
I apologize if the question seems a little weird, when I think of rape it usually never occurs to me that men are victims too.
Men can absolutely be victims. It's a common misconception that men can't be raped.
Percentage? 90% female, 10% male? or thereabouts. I deal with teens and young adults mostly. So 17-20ish.
My girlfriend was sexually abused by her father when she was younger. She has only brought this up to me once, despite our "open to talk about anything" relationship. She even made me not to look at her when she was telling me what happened (she RANDOMLY brought it up, I knew that she had a bad childhood but I had no idea it was like this). On top of that, she told me not to say anything and just to listen to her story, which I did. She mentioned that it felt good when her father was molesting her and she felt and still feels extremely dirty and ashamed because of that (hence not being able to even look at me). We have never talked about it since. After she finished, I had absolutely no idea what to say. I only turned around and gave her a big hug until she fell asleep.
So... my question is... how should I approach her and tell her that there's an AMA on this? I think it will really help her and perhaps she will be open to the idea to seeing a therapist herself I'm pretty sure she hasn't. Or should I even bring this up at all? She is a completely functional person, you would not be able to tell that she had a rough childhood if you meet her. Is there even a point to bring it up?
Second question, how should I have reacted when she told me her story in the first place?
Thanks for reading and it's great that you are doing this. I will be so grateful if you can help me out.
It would be great if any redditors can give an upvote so there's a higher chance that OP will read this. I honestly don't care about karma, I have like 200k already, you can downvote me as soon as OP have answered my questions. edit: It's high enough already, thanks everyone. And now we play the waiting game. OP is still answering questions so I am not quite sure why he/she is not replying.
final edit: OP has finally replied. Thanks everybody.
edit: people who say I am karma whoring are probably the ones who actually care about karma. Oh, and, fuck you.
I'm sorry it took me so long to get to this. There's a lot of questions and I'm answering in order, then refreshing and going back again.
I am very sorry for your gf. It's sadly very common and I've heard this story more times than I wish. Yes, it would be SO good for her to read similar accounts, to see that it's not unusual and to have some therapy so she doesn't have to feel ashamed and dirty about what her father did. You're a great man to want to help her deal with this.
There are many of us who are "functional" who you would never know had this history. We learn to keep it inside, that people don't want to know or hear about this, that it makes others uncomfortable. This is one reason why I think this AMA is so necessary!
I'm a fan of direct communication, even when it's hard. I would have you do something along the lines of, "I remember what you told me and I want to help." Then show her this AMA and tell her you love her and leave the room. She'll either read it and have some thoughts of her own or she won't. If she's not ready, she's not and that's ok.
But it's usually a lot easier to be introduced to this with as much freedom to take it or leave it as possible. It's why sites like RAINN, Pandy's and ScarletTeen are so popular (and good! seriously, check them out).
You loving her and being ready when she is is the most important thing you can do.
I was abused by my 'babysitter'. (my mom worked after school till late and didn't want me alone after school.)
We would have sex/do sexual things every weekday after school, and sometimes more when my mom worked weekends (being a nurse, it was often). That stuff happened and I was "OK" with it, I was having sex with a pretty woman as a pre/teenager. She would buy me things and stuff just to keep me happy and loyal, too.
Then we moved to another house closer to the school and it stopped for a while. And I realized she was using me for sex and how wrong it was. (it really took a long time to figure that out).
So I stopped it for years, she would always rub up against me and stuff in order to get me to have sex and I would refuse. I wasn't her toy anymore, dammit!
She eventually got sick of this and drugged me when my mom was at work. I had sex with her hundreds of times and it was never an issue, but as I was edging closer to having an orgasm, I just felt like absolute and complete rubbish. Then it happened..all the times where I started to feel good about myself just vanished from memory as she kept going and going.
I used to love Thanksgiving, it was my favorite holiday. Not anymore.
I'm sorry she abused you this way. You deserved a loving caretaker, not someone to use you like this.
Thank you for sharing your story here.
How do you handle orgasm being sort of a vague umbrella term that can mean several different things to different people?
Is there any one experience that you consider to be an "orgasm"?
Well, in treatment we talk more about the idea of physically responding or "feeling good" during the assault. So when I say orgasm I'm including pre-orgasmic feelings as well.
An orgasm though is the full sensation of muscular spasms combined with the lightheadness or "euphoric" feeling that go with them. This can range from mild to very strong, just as in sexual stimulation.
Will you talk about men's experiences with rape and orgasm during rape? Perhaps explain some of the unique challenges faced?
I don't have a lot of experience here. The most difficult part for those I've worked with has been the gender identity part (most were abused by men). For those abused by women (usually mothers), it's been very similar to what I see in women in terms of forming healthy relationships with the other gender. Lots of self-doubt and shame, "I'm not good enough, I'm ugly, I'm ruined, etc."