Beating Fantasies, Daydreams, & M/M Romance

February 1, 2013

In reading Kazumi Nagaike’s <em>Fantasies of Cross-dressing: Japanese Women Write Male-Male Erotica</em> (2012), I have re-read the 1922 article “Beating Fantasies and Daydreams” by Anna Freud, which comments and elaborates on her father’s 1912 essay “A Child is Being Beaten.”  Anna Freud’s essay seems so relevant to the study of BL or m/m fiction that I’m surprised not to have seen more references to it in previous literature on the subject.

Nagaike uses the Freuds’ description of girls’ beating fantasies as a launching point for her psychoanalytically based examination of several Japanese women’s interest in and fantasies about male homosexuality. Her book is interesting on a number of levels, but for now I want to set it aside for some future post and instead address Anna Freud’s essay. Since I haven’t seen it discussed in other analyses of boys’ love fiction, I think it would be useful to present it here, if nothing else as a description of one turn-of-the-century girl’s construction of  male/male homoerotic hurt/comfort, and torture, proto-slash.

In “Beating Fantasies and Daydreams,” Anna Freud discusses a young girl’s “continued stories,” a series of daydreams linked by the same characters and settings, which she categorizes as either “nice stories,” which could be talked about, or shameful beating fantasies associated with masturbatory activity, which were not so easily discussed. The essay specifically analyzes one “nice story” that was inspired by/based on the girl’s encounter with a short story set in the Middle Ages. I used the term proto-slash, above, because the characters that the girl daydreams, and later writes, about are based on an external work, though obviously not one with the depth of canonical source material and established fandom from which contemporary slash is drawn.

The source material’s plot, as presented by the girl, was “A medieval knight has been engaged in a long feud with a number of nobles who are in league against him. In the course of a battle a fifteen-year-old noble youth (i.e., the age of the daydreamer) is captured by the knight’s henchmen. He is taken to the knight’s castle where he is held prisoner for a longtime. Finally, he is released” (A. Freud, 1922). The girl proceeded to use this story, as any good slash-fic writer might, as the framework for numerous fully elaborated stories about the noble youth and the knight, many of which replicate the classic hurt/comfort pattern in female-authored m/m fiction:
<blockquote>A great introductory scene describes their first meeting during which the knight threatens to put the prisoner on the rack to force him to betray his secrets. The youth’s conviction of his helplessness is thereby confirmed and his dread of the knight awakened. These two elements are the basis of all subsequent situations. For example, the knight in fact threatens the youth and makes ready to torture him, but at the last moment the knight desists. He nearly kills the youth through the long imprisonment, but just before it is too late the knight has him nursed back to health. As soon as the prisoner has recovered the knight threatens him again, but faced by the youth’s fortitude the knight spares him again. And every time the knight is just about to inflict great harm, he grants the youth one favor after another. (A. Freud, 1922)</blockquote>
Although the individual narrative pieces within the continuing story were manifold and differing, the  scenes told within the overarching narrative followed a clear pattern, which Anna Freud describes as
<blockquote>antagonism between a strong and a weak person; a misdeed — mostly unintentional — on the part of the weak one which puts him at the other’s mercy; the latter’s menacing attitude which justifies the gravest apprehensions; a slowly mounting anxiety, often depicted by exquisitely appropriate means, until the tension becomes almost unendurable; and finally, as the pleasurable climax, the solution of the conflict, the pardoning of the sinner, reconciliation, and, for a moment, complete harmony between the former antagonists. (1922)</blockquote>
Anna Freud notes that this pattern is almost identical to the girl’s beating fantasies, with the difference being “in their solution, which in the fantasy is brought about by beating, and in the daydream by forgiveness and reconciliation.” She proceeds to discuss the parallels between the two sets of daydreams and discusses their functions (representations of sensual love vs. tender friendship), noting “The sublimation of sensual love into tender friendship is of course greatly facilitated by the fact that already in the early stages of the beating fantasy the girl abandoned the difference of the sexes and is invariably represented as a boy.”

It’s worth noting, as does Rachel B. Blass in her 1993 article about this essay, that for Anna Freud, “What aroused guilt and required repression was the act of masturbation. Everything that contributed toward the curbing of that behavior, including the girl’s identification with the male figure, was considered progressive” (pp. 79-80).  Many BL fans, however, are willing to admit that they are drawn to the material for its erotic content. In my survey of English-language BL readers, “I think it’s sexy to see same-sex couples making love” was the most favorite choice of 14 possibilities, getting 318 votes of 478 respondents, and the appreciation was reiterated in qualitative comments. However, I’ve yet to read or give a survey that directly asks female fans whether they masturbate to m/m fiction. Maybe somebody needs to do that?

Finally, and of some interest to those of us who create and/or consume m/m fiction, she discusses the way the creator’s pleasure changes in the transformation of a daydream into a written work, which entails a shift from the consideration of personal pleasure to the pleasure of an audience. She also notes that “the written story (as the inclusion of the torture scene demonstrates) can discard the restrictions imposed on the daydream in which the realization of situations stemming from the beating fantasy had been proscribed” — that is, what was once guilt-inducing (the beating fantasy) can now be safely presented to others in the more objective format of a written text. I’d love to hear some m/m or BL writers’ views on this assertion.

As an aside, it seems to be generally believed that the girl described in this paper was Anna Freud herself.

I would love to hear other BL scholars’, writers’, artists’ and consumers’ thoughts about Anna Freud’s essay and the history of women fantasizing about m/m homoerotic relationships.


Freud, Anna. “<a href=”” target=”_blank”>Beating Fantasies and Daydreams</a>.” (Originally presented in May 1922). Accessed from, 2/1/2013.

Freud, Sigmund. “A Child is Being Beaten.” (Originally published in 1919).

Nagaike, Kazumi. (2012). <em>Fantasies of Cross-dressing: Japanese Women Write Male/Male Erotica</em>. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV.