Can a man be raped by a woman? That's the question that popped up in my Twitter feed in response to a news story about a man in Florida who is fighting child support payments by claiming that his 4-year-old son was conceived when his then-girlfriend forced herself on him. That the question even has to be asked shows how limited our understanding is of sexual assault.
At the time, Kris Bucher was only 17 and his girlfriend, Jessica Fuller, was 18 -- but he isn't claiming sexual assault on statutory grounds. Bucher says Fuller climbed on top of him in the back seat of a car, held him down as he repeatedly said "no" and raped him. According to the St. Petersburg Times, "He said he tried to push Jessica off [but she was heavier than him]. He said he tried to pull the door handle to open the car door. He said she slammed her hand over the lock. He said it was over pretty fast."
That sounds like rape, right? But the notion that a woman cannot rape a man has been around for quite a while and still persists. In the late '70s it was argued in the book "Sex, Crime and the Law" that "for obvious biological reasons, a woman cannot be guilty of raping a man ... certainly a woman cannot bring about sexual intercourse with a male against his will." What's certain is actually the opposite, that it's physiologically possible for a woman to impregnate herself by raping a man. (Also, note that rape doesn't have to include penis-in-vagina penetration.) Researchers have studied this very thing, in fact. A study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that "the belief that it is impossible for males to respond sexually when subjected to sexual molestation by women is contradicted" and it also corroborated "previous research indicating that male sex response can occur in a variety of emotional states, including anger and terror." Much as woman can experience lubrication and even achieve orgasm during rape, men's physiological response can act independent of consent or desire -- and in neither case does it make it any less rape-y.
A 2001 report in Psychiatric Times found that female rapists "are most likely to use psychological pressure such as verbal pleading and arguments, emotional blackmail, and deception." Also common among cases of female-on-male sexual assault is taking advantage of an intoxicated man. The researchers explain that this "involves a predatory woman who encounters an inebriated man (or contributes to his drinking) and pursues him until he falls asleep or passes out. The woman then manually or orally stimulates him to erection and mounts him for sexual intercourse." Much rarer are cases of force tactics, "intimidation with size, threats of harm including blackmail, physical restraint, physical harm or use of a weapon." In a few cases, "men reported that women blackmailed them into having sex by threatening to divulge damaging information to parents, employers or girlfriends."
Unsurprisingly, these cases are not as common as male-on-male and male-on-female rape. More than 86 percent of boys and men who survive sexual abuse were assaulted by another male, according to Men Can Stop Rape. That said, it's tough to accurately estimate how common female-on-male rape is, because it's presumed to be greatly under-reported. That's due in part to the general stigma around sexual assault, but more important, to cultural assumptions about male and female sexuality. Men, we're told, always want sex from women and are happy to get it any way they can. This yarn is so strong that it's tragically woven throughout even cases where underage boys are molested by female teachers.
Just as with prison rape, female-on-male rape gets the comedic treatment. In an inoffensively funny article, Cracked.com detailed the six "romantic movie gestures that can get you prison time." No. 4 is "Just Tie the Guy Up":
Obviously if you're watching a scene with a woman tied to a bed while a man forces sex on her, the final act of that movie will involve said man getting shot in the face by Bruce Willis. If, on the other hand, it's a man being tied down and forced into sex by a pretty lady, well, you're watching a wacky romantic comedy.
Cases in point: "40 Days and 40 Nights" and "Wedding Crashers," in which a man is tied to a bed and raped against his will by Ali Larter or Isla Fisher, respectively. More recently in "True Blood," a male character was tied to a bed, drugged and gang raped by a dozen lady were-panthers. There are many, many more pop culture examples out there.
Of course, none of this answers the question of whether Kris Bucher was actually raped by the mother of his child, but it does mean that it's physiologically possible. It's up to the court system to figure out the rest.