Sexual Submission – A Woman’s Thing?

With the popularity of THAT NOVEL, which I refuse to name so I won’t be accused of trying to ride on the coattails of fame, there has been a renewed interest in sexual submission and forceful submission fantasies. This isn’t something new.  Psychological studies, popular buzz, talk show hosts, all have at one time or another latched onto the topic.  I remember even back in the 70’s a study on women’s fantasies of submission in sex.  As always, studies deal in generalizations and are limited by the nature of the variables, controls etc.  You own personal mileage may vary.

What caught my eye recently was a 2009 study from the Psychology department of the University of Kansas that examined the topic, regardless of gender, and tied it to resource control – i.e. social power, wealth gaining ability, influence and assertiveness.  I’m going to cite the study right here as my blog references their results:

Patricia H. Hawley & William A. Hensley IV (2009): Social Dominance and Forceful Submission Fantasies: Feminine Pathology or Power?, Journal of Sex Research, 46:6, 568-585

If you’re a research geek, like me, go get it.  It’s available for purchase right off the internet from Taylor & Francis.

Traditional studies about sexual submission fantasies usually concentrated on female fantasies.  Theories tended to fall into the following categories.  (Please note, that I don’t necessary support or agree with these.)

  • Evolutionary Explanation:  Due to childrearing and nurturing roles, women have evolved to assume a lesser assertive nature than men who hunt and compete for sexual partners.  This variance in assertiveness translates into preferred sexual behavior.  I like to call this the Caveman Theory.
  • Culturally Reinforced Female Submissiveness: This builds on Freud’s theory that women relieve cultural sexual anxiety by taking personal responsibility out of the equation.  Women feel subconscious guilt when they are sexually receptive and eager participants; sexual submissive behavior relieves this guilt.  In this theory, even though a woman may be successful and assertive, the culturally reinforced sexual guilt means she is better able to let go and enjoy sex when there is an element of coercion or force.
  • Pathology: Sexual submissiveness as a coping mechanism resulting from sexual abuse.  While this begins as a coping mechanism, over time it becomes ingrained as a preferred method of sex.

Basically, traditional theories assume that women who fantasize or enjoy forceful submission lack power and resource control.  So submission fantasies should be prevalent in guilt-ridden, non-competitive women, right?  Wrong.  As Hawley and Hensley’s study shows, these fantasies are more prevalent in strong, powerful, assertive, high resource control women.  They are also very prevalent in men.  Yes, men.  The study reveals:

  • Men preferred female dominance fantasy significantly more than women preferred female dominance fantasy.  Women have a low interest in playing the aggressive role in sexual encounters, although men greatly enjoy this fantasy.
  • Women preferred male dominance fantasy significantly more than men preferred male dominance fantasy.  So women’s interest in forceful submission was greater than men’s interest in fantasizing about dominant sexual behavior.
  • Men’s preference for submission fantasies was greater than women’s preference for submission fantasies. To explore this further, the researchers catalogued instigation of sexual exchanges in Penthouse letters and found the highest percentage of stories described a sexually aggressive female.

Yep.  Men really enjoy fantasies of forceful submission too.  That pretty much tosses the Caveman Theory and the others out the window.  But what about the other variables?

  • Neuroticism:  The study also took into consideration basic worry and anxiety traits in the participants.  Neuroticism and submission preference were NOT correlated for female participants but WERE for male participants.  Hawley and Hensley theorized that because men’s frequency of sexual activity is limited by female consent, men experience sexual restraint and rejection more than women do.  A submission fantasy which puts the male in a position of being aggressively pursued by the female means the male does not have to worry about rejection. 
  • Resource Control: Participants were also categorized based on assertiveness, influence, power, etc. 
    • Women with high resource control had a higher preference for male domination scenarios than those with moderate resource control or non-control. (Non control had the lowest preference.)  These high resource control women also had the lowest preference for female dominance scenes.
    • Men showed no difference in preference for submission in relation to resource control.  However, there was a significant difference in preference for the dominance fantasy in regards to resource control.  Men with high resource control were more attracted to the dominance fantasy than the others, although they still showed significant attraction to the submission fantasy too.

So powerful, assertive women enjoy fantasies of forceful submission more than less assertive women, and oddly, they show less interest in playing the dominant role.  All men had a predilection for the submission fantasies, but powerful, assertive men were more likely to also be attracted to a dominance fantasy.  Not at all in keeping with traditional theories.

This first study used fantasy scenes that were what I’d call “Raw

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