Men, Women & Domination Fantasies

50 Shades of Grey

50 Shades of Grey

How similar are men and women’s sex fantasies when it comes to sexual domination?

I’ve already looked at gendered similarities and differences in romantic fantasies, sex with strangers and multiple partners. But what about fantasy when it comes to dominance and submission?

I used University of Montréal research, which had looked at how common different sorts of fantasies were, to make a sex comparison.

About 1500 Quebec adults, with an average age of 30, ranked 55 fantasies and described their favorite in detail. 85% we’re straight, 3.6% were gay/lesbian and the rest were none of the above.

Men had more fantasies, described them more vividly, and typically wanted to enact them in real life.

Women more commonly distinguished between fantasy and real-life desires. And when discussing submission, they were especially likely to say that they never wanted them to come true.

Below are the percentage of women and men who have had each fantasy.

Would you like to be dominated?

You might be surprised at how similar women and men are when it comes to fantasies of being sexually dominated. Women are a bit more interested, but it’s fairly close:

Being forced to have sex

Women 29, Men 31

Being sexually dominated

Women 65, Men 53

Been tied up to obtain sexual pleasure

Women 52, Men 46

Being spanked or whipped to obtain sexual pleasure

Women 36, Men 29

Keep in mind that people who enjoy submission are often powerful in real life and want a break from being in charge.

But that’s not always the case. Some people fetishize their own powerlessness — or the symbolic powerlessness of their gender, race or class. But even when people eroticize their own disempowerment, it doesn’t mean that they seek weakness in real life. In fact, most women said they would never want to act out these fantasies for real.

Other times these fantasies have no clear cause.

Or do you want to dominate?

Men are noticeably more interested than women in dominating someone to gain sexual pleasure, but usually the gender gap isn’t huge. The biggest divide comes when pain is used. Men are almost twice as likely to be sexually aroused by thoughts of spanking or whipping someone.

Forcing someone to have sex

Women 11, Men 22

Sexually abusing a person who is drunk, asleep, or unconscious

Women 11, Men 23

Tying someone up to attain sexual pleasure

Women 42, Men 48

Spanking or whipping to obtain sexual pleasure

Women 24, Men 44

Dominating someone sexually

Women 47, Men 60

We’re more alike than different

Since we stereotype men as active and women as passive, and since people often work to meet expectations, it might be surprising to see how much overlap there is between the genders.

And in fact, many have written about why women desire submission, or why men desire dominance in sex, when we actually seem to be more alike than different in these fantasies.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 6, 2015, in men, psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. Wow, I am thrilled to have found this post. Not sure if my comment will be noticed since it is now 2023, and this post was made back in 2015, but I sincerely appreciate the thorough discussion of this subject. I personally really needed to see this post.

    I am a heterosexual man from a very traditional and successful background, and I feel very masculine in every sense of the word. I physically have strong masculine features and engage in traditionally masculine hobbies and behaviors. I conform to society’s expectations and socialization of men pretty much entirely well. I feel very powerful in my day-to-day life.

    However, something that I’ve struggled with is that, when it comes to sex and romance, I have always fantasized about being much more on the submissive end and letting myself be dominated and ultimately serve my partner however she desires to be served. I am confident enough in my own masculinity to allow myself to be submissive to women because I don’t feel as if I have anything to prove concerning my own masculinity, and I have always had a deep desire to enact these submissive fantasies in real life. This submissiveness is something that I have embraced about myself, but with how the culture is and the socialization of men and women, it helps contribute to this feeling of being less valuable and less desirable as a result of this sexual submissiveness, and that there is no place for me. The experiences I’ve been in have contributed to this feeling that I am unable to ever find fulfillment in relationships due to being sexually/romantically submissive. It can be more discouraging than I would like to admit!

    So it is very nice to see a discussion that suggests that men and women are more alike than we are different when it comes to these domination/submission dynamics. I firmly believe that it is crucial to live a life that is powerful and authentic to who you are, so I do not feel ashamed of my desires, and I will always be open and honest about them, but it is nice to see that it might not all be doom and gloom for a man like me trying to achieve this kind of romantic/sexual fulfillment in the modern world.

    Thank you very much for your insights!

    • Thank you so much for sharing about your experience. I’m glad the article was helpful!

    • The way I look at submissive/dominant relationships- everyone gets what they want. If you have a successful and satisfying life, and you use all your energy being the top of your game professionally, you may want to take the opposite role in the bedroom to balance yourself. I experienced a switch recently which corresponds exactly to a promotion and increase in responsibility.
      You want to serve your partner, because ultimately it brings you pleasure to pleasure your partner. Like I said, it’s mutually satisfying and you get what you want.
      Nothing wrong with that, regardless of what society should be the traditional assigned roles. If it feels good, do it. If it’s erotic, do it. If both parties are enjoying, do it.


  2. There is this stereotype that woman play this submissive role, but in all reality a large percentage of us love to do the dominating. I see it as a way to not only feel really good about ones self but as a way to take out sexual agressions, well at least for me. We woman don’t want to just make love all the time. Having a healthy sex life entails switching off on dominance roles. It is very apparent that men tend to have more fantasies than women and I think this may be due to the fact that men have this on and off switch and women, especially those that are mothers just have a lot more things going on throughout the day to have these fantasies.

    • And a lot of the reason why women have a lot more things going on in their minds is actually because they are more repressed, sexually. Men can have a lot going through their minds too, but when they’re having sex everything shuts down except for sex.

  3. ” I agree with this. What I didn’t agree with was what I wrote here — to quote myself, “I don’t think that women perceive dominating by teasing””

    Which is weird that women don’t perceive dominating by teasing or that as domination. I don’t either, but yet articles and media, make it seem like that’s a form of dominance and what women use as dominance compared to ravaging. And ravaging as more of a dominance women want from men, but seduction, teasing and control as a dominance women do on men instead. This is a a woman that wrote it like I said and a doctor, yet she made it seem like teasing is a form of dominance and that women see it that way and dominate in that manner judging from what she wrote, which I copied and pasted that you saw. Why do articles and even women themselves writing them make it seem like that’s how women dominate when like you said, that might not be the exact truth. It sure seems implied like that since sexual ravaging was left out for the female dominance part and sensual control put in instead unlike for the male dominance part. The fact that was written and differentiated from male dominance made it seem like, though perhaps falsely like you said, as far as what women see as dominance and do themselves. It’s weird why this perception is created in the first place, if reality is not quite that way.

    • I didn’t see where she wrote about teasing as a form of domination. I’ve never heard women talk about it that way. But I have heard men talk about it that way. In an extended conversation with one guy it seems that men feel dominated because they feel weak in the knees, and they don’t like feeling powerless like that. But that’s not her intent. But it isn’t to dominate him, it’s to feel good about herself. Because society bases a woman’s worth so much on how she looks.

  4. Very interesting. Do surveys really represent population? I mean, do surveyed ones really jot down true feelings or do they project some other personality there as well?

    I think women like to be dominated within a safe zone – that is, they are more likely to identify a safe/ loved person and then turn them for a short while into a dominating character. But there is always the safety line of knowing this fantasy will not go out-of-control.

    So, its being in-control about a fantasy of being out-of-control.

    • Surveys aren’t perfect. But because they are anonymous, and there is an attempt to get a random sample of the population, they are a better reflection of reality than any other source. That said, people sometimes polish their image — even if they’re only polishing their image to impress themselves. Still, if you look at these numbers it would probably be surprising to most that so many men admit to having had fantasies about being submissive and dominated — which goes against the male role. Based on sales of Shades of Grey, you might expect that all women want to be dominated and all men want to be the dominator. This study suggests that isn’t the case.

      And you’re right, whether it’s just a fantasy or actual role-playing, women want to be safe.

  5. Even though women and men are not that far off as far as domination and submission. The difference I’ve noticed or th ink there is, is how it goes about. I wonder if that is mostly conditioning or biological. Like with men it seems like, while some do the commanding and having a woman do things for her (this is consentual of course). More often than not, male dominance with sex is like aggressive, ravaging, domineering and it plays into the fantasy too, the rough sex, ravage, passionately kiss, strip off her clothes and bang the hell out of her. There might be bondage with that, but that’s the difference as like for female domination. As in dominatrix and stuff like that, that’s more like “control” based domination. Women seem to dominate more by teasing, and having a man submit to what they want and desire. Humiliation seems to be a theme too, though there could be some objects or whipping or whatever that s and m stuff. So that makes me wonder if it’s socialization due to it.

    Seems like female dominance is less so ravaging and more often a command type of control or dominance as the man submits to her wishes and not her forcefully pushing him down or whatever and fucking his brains out.

    • Must be socialization given these two bits of data:

      1) you don’t find sexual dominance behaviors in all cultures — or even enjoyed or desired by an awful lot of people in our culture, Despite the socialization
      2) men and women are pretty similar when it comes to sex fantasies, So it’s not as though it’s natural for women to want to be submissive and for men to be dominant. Women are often on both sides of the matter when it comes to submission-dominance fantasies, In fact. Sometimes taking the perspective of the person whose dominated, And sometimes taking the perspective of the person who is dominating.
      3) I don’t think that women perceive dominating by teasing — men seem to experience it that way but that’s not what women mean by the fantasy. And take a look at the specific descriptions. I find it pretty easy to imagine a woman wanting to ravish a man, but it doesn’t seem to be one of the fantasies they are specific about in this study.

      • “I don’t think that women perceive dominating by teasing — men seem to experience it that way but that’s not what women mean by the fantasy. And take a look at the specific descriptions. I find it pretty easy to imagine a woman wanting to ravish a man, but it doesn’t seem to be one of the fantasies they are specific about in this study.”

        Well part of the reason I said that and perhaps the media can be blamed again for creating a perception about women that isn’t exactly the truth to reality as far as women’s fantasies. But I made some of this speculation from like men’s health, cosmopolitan and other stuff online when talking about women’s fantasies. Many of these articles are similar, just maybe a different order. But all of these articles have a women’s “top 10 sexual fantasies”. Non surprisingly, women being dominated was a top fantasy though it was more of the “rape fantasy” and we all know that it’s not actually a fantasy to be raped, but consentually ravaged. But other common fantasies were exhibition, such as woman having sex in a taboo place they shouldn’t be having sex or by a window where people could see them having sex or where they could get caught.

        There’s also the “bi-curious fantasy as far as with another woman” fantasy. Men’s health and cosmo and the rest all had these ones listed. They all also have the women being dominant fantasy, but what I noticed when they wrote about this fantasy is the difference as far as description for women’s fantasies of being dominated vs fantasies of them being dominat. The man being dominant fantasy had more of him tying her up but also pushing her against the wall and ravaging her domination whereas, it was different as far as what woman wanted to do when dominating a man. They made it seem more like a sensual domination, than ravaging like the male domination one.

        I’m going to copy and pase for shoe you. Here is what was written for the male domination fantasy “Submit to the Urge

        Women often fantasize about being ravaged and taken control of. It doesn’t mean you necessarily want it in your real sex life, but it’s fun to entertain the idea. Fantasize about someone powerful having his way with you sexually.”You might even be into fantasizing about the leather-clad dominator, bent on punishing you for being so very, very naughty. Maybe there are blindfolds or restraints. Maybe you’re even taken by surprise!”

        Ok now the woman being dominant fantasy by women from this article much like others, I’ll copy and paste now. “The Dominatrix

        “Many women dream of taking charge in their favorite sexual fantasies. You could be a dominatrix leading a man back to your hideout and planning to make him your sex slave. You’ll tie his hands behind his back or cuff his wrists and ankles to the bedposts, wrap a silk scarf over his eyes, maybe put a cloth gag in his mouth, and “torture” him with suggestive movements, sensual talk, and the tantalizing click of your heels circling his body and touching him where and when you want. Slowly you whip him into a sexual frenzy until he surrenders, ready to be your love slave. Only then will you let him move, and only so he can touch you exactly when, where, and how you demand (if he’s being good, that is).” See the difference? There’s tying up, but see the last line? See the difference? If that’s not true, then why do that create this perception?

        Here;s the link

        and this is written by a woman and apparently a doctor, and her phd and a woman you’d think has an understanding with women;s sexuality.

      • I agree with this. What I didn’t agree with was what I wrote here — to quote myself, “I don’t think that women perceive dominating by teasing”

  6. In the beginning of your post you mentioned something that you seem to have forgot when you ended that men and women are more alike each other.
    You said that men typically are eager to try out their fantasies in real life.
    That alone is a major difference between men and women. That’s why female prostitutes will never run out of business, because they are filling that void. Men are even willing to pay women to try out their fantasies. Women on the other hand don’t really want to do that.

    • They aren’t exactly alike, but they are more alike than you would expect given our stereotypes, and the differences in our socialization.

      In this case – sexual domination and submission – they’re much more alike then people would likely expect. Because we have such strong stereotypes that men are dominant and women are submissive.

  7. I agree with some posters here who imply that the gender preference for certain submissive/ dominance roles may be subconciously influenced by societal perceptions of gender roles and stereotypes – which when you think of it, is inherently disturbing in itself, that after years of battling for equality, society still prefers that women see themselves as submissive, sexually. I definitely see this message in the media but like with most things in the media, I wonder how much of it (or how little) is reflective of real life (which seems to be far more diverse than the media would have us all believe).

    While the results of the above survey shows that there is far more overlap than expected between the gender, I wouldn’t be surprised if some studies show that even.more men prefer the submissive role fantasies. Having this conversation with some male friends a while ago, nearly all expressed a desire to be “dominated” so I believed it was more common than thought – although society certainly doesn’t seem to see it this way. The “nurse” and “policewoman” role plays seem to be common fantasies for men, and the friends I’ve discussed this with seemed to subconsciously associate this with being dominated in some sense.

    • Interesting point that some men may be reluctant to admit fantasies about I desire to be dominated and submissive, Given a culture that tells men they should always be powerful.

  8. I’ve never had such fantasies. I’ve never had a desire to dominate or be dominated by anything other than mutual raw passion with someone for whom I care a great deal. It is likely, however, that having read this, it is very possible that some lovers of the past wanted an that higher level of passion induced by helplessness while being taken. I would have done my best to accomodate. This is without question a matter of openness before sex.

    So much is missed because of timidity.

  9. Second Life is one of many virtual online worlds where you can act out an imaginary character — not so much a game as an immersion experience in 3D fantasy. Because players are protected by the safety of (more or less) anonymity and (usually) no physical contact, they tend to explore lifestyles and actions that they would never seriously consider in real life.

    As such, it’s a popular destination for people who fantasize about being the other sex (or even another species), or people who want to dabble in BDSM without the obvious hazards of participating in real life.

    I mention all of that by way of addressing one of the comments above, that people who fantasize about being in a submissive position are often (but not always) quite dominant in real life. I ran into a player a few years ago, who was represented onscreen as an adult black male and claimed to actually be an adult black male in “RL”, subjecting himself to the most degrading humilitation he could find (and believe me — anything you can imagine, there are places to do it in Second Life, as well as far more bizarre than you *can* imagine). I expressed curiosity about his choice of hobby, and he explained that in RL he’s some kind of corporate bigshot, under constant pressure to command his minions and produce stellar results day after day. Becoming a lowly, degraded slave in SL was his way of escaping that pressure. Let somebody else make every decision for him.

  10. I wonder how much us thinking we are different has to do with the lack of permission society gives us to want what the other gender is supposed to want. Saw the Swedish movie Force Majeur this weekend. Nothing to do with sex but more to do with how men think they need to act a certain way and women the same, and expecting those roles to play out in the other when that may not be who we are at all.

  11. Apparently men and women are closer than thought or seem. That’s good as far as men and women who are afraid their dominant or submissive fantasies would make them look weird, when men and women are fairly close as far as both fantasies. What’s interesting is perception vs reality and why the media, portrayals have it seem that things are more lopsided than they actually are. I mean look at 50 shades of grey, those bodice ripper novels and movies, erotic stories. Men’s health, women;s health, cosmopolitan articles always bringing up women’s 50 shades or submissive fantasies. True, it’s obvious many women have submissive fantasies.

    But on the same token, fantasies of women wanting to dominant or be dominant in bed, are much less or pretty rare or not, advertised like the submissive part. So if one was to based judgement on reality from what they see talked about and shown, it would be very easy to perceive domination and submissive fantasies to be very lopsided. More men have dominant fantsies than women and more women have more submissive fantasies. But it’s not that far apart especially when you consider socialization to the effect. Without that, it would probabiy be pretty even. But if I were to guess what the percentage would be based on all the books, 50 shades, and articles about women and how men act in mainstream porn. It would be very easy to think the percentage of women having submissive fantasies would be like 80%, while men 20 or 30% and women having fantasies of dominating be 20-30% while men 80%., but yet it’s not lopsided like that and much closer than thought. So the question comes, why does the media and everything portray men and women to be more lopsided with their desires and fantasies as far as subsmission and dominance, when the reality is that they aren’t?

    • Your comment reminded me that while women have more – at least a few more – fantasies of being dominated, they are less likely to want to act on them. So if you were to look at the agenda comparison of who actually wanted to act on fantasies of being dominated, men might be more likely!

      Why does media do when it does, with a lopsided portrayal of women wanting dominance? Probably due to socialization within a patriarchy. Some of the time is probably all socialization. And some of the time there is probably a desire to bolster a sense of men being in charge.

      • It’s probably due to men feeling more secure and able to play out their submissive fantasy, because of men being bigger and stronger. Women very rarely raping or desiring to rape men. So a man can not think or can go into actually doing something submissive as he has less of a fear and threat of submitting for these reasons. It’s understandable for women to desire being dominated, but hesitant on actually going through with it, because of men being bigger, more threatening, and unfortunatley the fact that there are men who can or who do rape or can act like a creep. So it’s much more threatening for her safety and a woman has to feel completely and utterly safe and secure and trusting of the man she is with to even think of playing out a submissivve, 50 shades type fantasy with a man. Basically a man can feel fine being submissive with say a friend with benefit or fuck buddy whereas, understanably a woman will or many not want to try that, and hold such stuff off for a man she;s been with for a good while, loves and is in a serious, loving, trusting relationship or married to.

        For me though, while being tied up is not really a fantasy for me, though I’m open mindded and can have with it. Though with that said, even thouigh I’m a man. That’s something I wouldn’t do with a casual gf, hook up, fwb, fb, and definitely not with a one night stand. It would be with a woman that I was serious with, loved and trusted too. And it would be something that I could actually break out of, if want to or need to. So it just goes to show, even though I’m a man and shouldn’t feel for it to threatening from a a woman, even I couldn’t play something like that out unless with a woman I love and trust deeply. So that shows, how considering it is for me being a guy and feeling that way, that I can definitely understand women being hesitant and very cautious about playing out such fantasy and why women don;t or hesitant too.

      • Because of testosterone, men are on average bigger and stronger, which makes them scarier. Plus, they are socialized to be scarier. Plus, some women don’t want to encourage people seeing them as lesser than in real life when they are already seeing the way by the society — like you don’t want to encourage the view.

  12. “We’re more alike than different.”

    That does seem to be a recurring theme, and a good reminder.

  13. Not too sure if the reality of workaday life has a bearing on the physical act of sex. To my mind, the desire for variety in positions will dictate the urge, for male and female, to dominate or be dominated. Interesting discussion, Georgia.

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