This article explores the idea that rape has an essence. It considers the meaning of essence in ordinary language and constructs a fourfold typology through which ideas of essence are interrogated. This process reveals that different notions of essence are implicated in key debates around rape, its nature, content, function(s), and scope. Mounting a comprehensive critique of the role of essence in rape discourse, it is argued that such discursive reliance on essence pro-motes an understanding of rape as static and universal, insensitive to historical and cultural spatialities, and projecting a continuity of meaning and commonality of understanding which is more misleading than enlightening. The article concludes by encouraging an apprehension of rape as politically contested and contextually bound, shifting the focus away from abstract enquiries into what rape is, towards situated engagement with law’s role in the regulation of sexual misconduct.