Shame and Guilt in the Aftermath of Sexual Attack

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Shame and Guilt in the Aftermath of Sexual Attack is a nonexistent scientific study allegedly conducted by Herschel Liebowitz which allegedly states that 87% of female rape victims reached orgasms while being raped. "Shame and Guilt" is used by men's rights-types, including Black Pigeon Speaks,[1] to suggest that rape isn't so terrible after all.

Unfortunately for proponents of these views, the study does not exist. Fake news?


The hoax appears to originate in an 13 August 2010 post on My Posting Career by "The King of Niger", who wrote:[2]

"Over 90% of female rape victims experience orgasm during the attack." - MSNBC

BOSTON — A new study to be published in next month's Journal of Clinical Psychiatry is causing controversy in the psychiatric community for some of its unexpected findings. The study, titled "Shame and Guilt in the Aftermath of Sexual Attack", verifies much of what we know about the mental health of rape victims. However, one observation in particular is raising eyebrows. After analyzing the anonymous transcripts of over 5,000 post-rape counseling sessions, the authors point out that almost all female rape victims experience orgasm during the attack.

Asked for comment, Dr. Herschel Liebowitz, one of the authors of the study, said, "Millions of years of evolution has hard-wired women to be attracted to strong, dominant, and aggressive men. Unfortunately, rapists exhibit an extreme form of these characteristics, even if only temporarily, and this causes an unexpected and involuntary physiological response in the victim."

Researchers focused on the psychiatric impact of this involuntary response. "Rape victims in general tend to experience an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt", noted Dr. Liebowitz. "This study finds that the guilt is not a result of the attack necessarily, but rather her own response to the attack. Intellectually, she is disgusted at being violated by an anonymous attacker. But physically, her body seems to have welcomed the attack in the form of sexual climax or orgasm. We believe this contradiction in feelings is the primary source of their shame and guilt."

The MSNBC link is now dead,[3] but in 2010 it actually linked to an article titled "Film shows Springsteen recording 'Darkness' album".[4] (Readers may be surprised to know that this article does not discuss sexual assault.) In fact, Google searches on show no results for "Shame and Guilt in the Aftermath of Sexual Attack"[5] or Herschel Liebowitz.[6]


In short: the study, like the news story, is a hoax.

  • The study does not appear to exist. There are 0 results for "Shame and Guilt in the Aftermath of Sexual Attack" in both Google Scholar[7] and PubMed.[8] How strange.
  • The author also does not appear to exist. There are 9 results for "Herschel Liebowitz" on Google Scholar,[9] all of which appear to refer to Herschel LeibowitzWikipedia who studied visual perception.Wikipedia Dr. Leibowitz was born in 1925, retired in 1995, and died in 2011. We hope that readers find it odd that a vision researcher, retired for 15 years, would publish a study about the experiences of rape victims.
  • The journal, "Journal of Clinical Psychiatry", does exist and is the official journal of American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology.[10]


There isn't much genuine science about orgasms from rape. The science that exists has three relevant findings, as documented in "Sexual arousal and orgasm in subjects who experience forced or non-consensual sexual stimulation – a review" (Levin and Berlo 2004).[11] First, that the genuine reported rate is extremely low (4-12%), though it may be underreported:

A manual search of the literature in Pubmed under the headings sexual assault, unsolicited sexual arousal, did not recall any dedicated papers on the subject of sexual assault victims becoming aroused and/or orgasmic. A brief study by Ringrose however, about the elicitation of pelvic reflexes in rape victims, reported that in 25 cases of rape only one reported orgasm as a result of the sexual assault, an incidence of 4%. The low incidence may be due to embarrassment or the shame of giving a positive answer.


The senior nurse-therapist said when interviewed by one of the authors (R.J.L.): "Approximately 1 in 20 women who come to the clinic (an established NHS, CHS Sexual and Marital Relationships clinic in a large provincial English city) for treatment because of sexual abuse report that they have had an orgasm from previous unsolicited sexual arousal. It is not detailed in the (professional) literature because the victims usually do not want to tell/talk about it because they feel guilty, as people will think that if it happened they must have enjoyed it. The victims often say, "My body let me down". Some however, cannot summon the courage to say even that."

The incidence of orgasm from unsolicited sexual arousal of approximately 5% quoted in the above interview is remarkably similar to the 4% reported by Ringrose but both sources believe that these figures are probably underestimates due to embarrassment.


Ensink and Van Berlo interviewed female victims about the traumatic sequelae of their sexual assault. In this study, one of the questions asked was about physical response and/or lubrication during the assault (this part of the study has not yet been published). The wording of the question was ‘It sometimes happens that women physically respond to sexual assault. This means that it seems that they are physically aroused or become lubricated, although they find the experience dreadful. Physically responding definitely does not mean that the assault experience is sexually exciting for you. It could also be a reaction of anxiety. Rapists sometimes exploit this and say: ‘She enjoyed it herself!’ ‘Did you experience a physical response?’

Out of 58 victims, 12 (21%) answered “yes” to this question although they experienced (mentally) the assault as dreadful. The mean age of these 12 victims was 32 (range 19–44 years). Ten were penetrated vaginally during the assault and 9 were asaulted by someone they knew. Six victims felt attracted to the perpetrator before the rape. Eight of the rapists tried to sexually arouse the woman. The assaults took place between one month and three years before the interview (mean: 10.7 months). Eleven out of the twelve rapists used violence to affect the assault which was excessive in two cases.

Second, that "orgasms = consent" is almost certainly unfounded:

First, orgasms arise from sexual arousal just like vaginal lubrication and if the subject being aroused has weak powers of inhibiting arousal (see section above on the dual control model of sexual arousal) then orgasm may occur. Secondly, according to Sipski there is evidence from women with spinal cord injury supporting the hypothesis that orgasm is a reflex response of the autonomic nervous system. Thirdly, while fear, repulsion and pain may not be conducive to orgasm in most in some individuals they can facilitate and cause arousal. Fourthly, speculation about any possible residual subconscious love for the husband without an in depth psychological examination is just that, mere speculation.

Third, that it is possible that fear might encourage genital response:

It was expected that fear or fright which activates the sympathetic nervous system and causes the release of adrenaline into the blood circulation and the release of the neurotransmitter nor-adrenaline at the sites of the sympathetic nerve endings (both acting as vasoconstrictors of blood vessels in most non-genital areas) would also cause a reduced blood flow to the vagina but in fact the laboratory evidence is that activation of the sympathetic system can actually enhance such blood flow facilitating genital arousal and the resultant lubrication. Thus a female subject who is afraid or frightened during a sexual assault would not necessarily have unresponsive genitals to the sexual manipulations of her violator. A similar situation occurs in males who are sexually stimulated under threat.

There may also be some confusion on the part of males (especially of the MRA variety) between female orgasm and simple lubrication. It's been suggested that women's systems may sometimes lubricate in anticipation of penetration, even if unwanted, simply because dry penetration is liable to be not only more painful but also more likely to cause damage (meaning automatic lubrication may have been selected for in our past). If so, lubrication on the part of a rape victim is no indication of willingness or arousal but simply a biological response.

Not to be confused with[edit]

A similarly-titled study, "Shame and Guilt in the Aftermath of Terror: The Utøya Island Study" (2014), has nothing to do with sexual assault.[12]

External links[edit]


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