"Fantasy allows you to go beyond the limits of your own conscience, body type, or abilities.”
- Esther Perel
What are sexual fantasies?
A sexual fantasy is any imagined scenario that sexually arouses someone, which can be cultivated by an individual or co-created by a couple or group. Sexual fantasies may or may not make your body physically become aroused. Giving yourself the permission to fantasize rich sexual scenarios requires a willingness and openness to know what turns you on. A sexual fantasy can be a simple or elaborate story. It can be based on a past experience, a hoped-for-encounter, or a scene that totally transcends reality. It can be triggered by your senses or it can just pop into your mind out of the blue.
What are some popular sexual fantasies?
In 2018, Dr. Justin Lehmiller, leading expert on human sexuality and the author of the blog Sex and Psychology, published a book titled “Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.” As part of his research for this book, Dr. Lehmiller undertook the largest and most comprehensive scientific survey of American’s sexual fantasies. This two year study involved 4,175 American adults from all walks of life. The book explores what our fantasy worlds reveal about the diversity of human sexual desire. Overall, 98% of people reported having had at least one sexual fantasy, and that included asexuals. Here are the seven core types of fantasies that were identified through the survey:
- MULTI-PARTNER SEX: Fantasies involving threesomes, group sex, orgies, etc. This type of fantasy is the most popular with one third of participants reporting a threesome as their favourite sexual fantasy of all time.
- POWER, CONTROL AND ROUGH SEX: Fantasies with activites that fall into the domain of BDSM (bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism).
- NOVELTY, ADVENTURE AND VARIETY: Fantasies with new sexual positions, sexual behaviours, or sexual locations (e.g., on a mountain, beach, airplane, etc.)
- TABOO OR FORBIDDEN SEX: Fantasies with fetishes, voyeurism, exhibitionism, etc.
- PARTNER-SHARING OR NON-MONOGAMY: Fantasies about being able to have sex with others without having to cheat (e.g., swinging or cuckolding).
What are the benefits of having sexual fantasies?
There are two powerful pathways for creating sexual arousal - the physical (touch-based stimulation) and the psychological. If you are relying on physical arousal alone, you are only using 50% of your arousal capacity. Fantasies are just one way to generate psychological arousal and improve our sexual pleasure. Actively fantasizing can also be a strategy for silencing performance anxiety and stress that may typically interfere with someone’s arousal.
We draw sexual ideas from many different and diverse life experiences – positions, techniques, role-playing, etc. However, sometimes we may have an interest in a sexual behaviour that turns us on but for one reason or another we can’t realize it with our partner(s). In these cases, sexual fantasies can allow us to still receive gratification from the eroticism that excites us. If you have a relationship where you feel as though the sex is stale, sharing a fantasy with your partner can be an effective way to redesign your sex scipts. Some sexual fantasies are about resolving challenging emotions or experiences that we can’t always navigate well in real life. In your fantasy world, you can reconstruct situations and regain a sense of control, which can provide immense relief as well as sexual satisfaction.
What you envision in your sexual fantasy is not necessarily something you want to experience in real life.
Fantasy is a wonderful place for us to explore desires with utter permission. We have full mental liberation. Nothing is bad or wrong when it stays in our heads. In your mind, you can explore and try on things without having to worry about other people’s reactions, because you aren’t harming anyone.
Why is it sometimes hard to communicate sexual fantasies?
Despite the fact that sexual fantasies are perfectly normal and healthy, regardless of their content, many people still feel guilty of ashamed of them. Our ego and insecurities can get in the way of us wanting to talk about our sexual fantasies because they sometimes contrast with the way we see ourselves or the image we try and portray in society.
Inviting someone into our erotic imaginary world can be risky. It’s not always useful to disclose your innermost fantasies with a partner, especially if they are close-minded and/or likely to feel threatened by them. However, when our fantasies are shared and received in a way that makes us feel recognized and accepted, it can be immensely affirming. So, it’s wise to take a cautious approach to self disclosure. Exploring your sexuality is not synonymous with public detail sharing. It’s alright to reserve a little mystery to yourself.
If you do want fantasy-sharing to be part of your relationship, then work to foster a sense of safety and create permission to talk about things without having to do them in real life. Reassure your partner that there is no obligation to play out the contents of your sexual fantasies, but ask them to celebrate and honour the vulnerable act of sharing. Promise not to yuck eachother’s yum. Go slowly… don’t start by sharing your most intense fantasy. Use tamer ones as stepping stones and with encouragement you can eventually share edgier fantasies.
If you’re scared about feeling ashamed or rejected, then focus on the emotion behind the sexual fantasy. There is always an emotional element to fantasies. They may make us feel ravished, desired, strong, naughty, precious, worshiped, etc. Communicating the emotion can make it easier for your partner to have empathy instead of judgment. It can also be a great starting point for co-creating a sexual fantasy with your partner.
While many sexual fantasies can be acted out and enjoyed in the real world, others should not be such as those involving non-consent. Our lust objectification is balanced with our ability to empathize with and respect others. So, while we may fantasize about taking someone sexually against their will, we can draw a clear line between fantasy and action. If you have an urge to act on sexual fantasies that are inappropriate and/or dangerous, it’s important to seek out therapy.
Is it bad to have fantasies about someone other than my partner?
It’s very common for people to have fantasies while they masturbate, but also common for people to fantasize while having sex with a parter. In a 2015 survey by sex toy retailer Lovehoney, 46% of women and 42% of men admitted to thinking about someone else during sex with their partner. There is no universal answer to whether this is a good or bad thing in a relationship. If you are looking to feel intimacy and connection with your partner and fantasizing about others is getting in the way of that because you feel either not present or guilty, then it may be hurting your relationship. However, if it’s making sex more exciting for you and your partner, there is nothing inherently wrong with it.
If you’re wrestling with complicated feelings about fantasizing about someone else during sex with your partner, you have options. Here are two tactics to try proposed by Dr. Alison Ash, a trauma-informed sex and intimacy coach and educator with a PhD in Sociology from Stanford University:
- Let yourself fantasize about that other person and then come back to your partner. Swing between the two. Fantasize a bit and then notice your partner’s skin, sounds, responsiveness to you, etc.
- If there is openness in your relationship, you can share the fantasy with your partner and invite them into it. You can both talk about how hot it is, or construct a threesome fantasy where your partner is involved.
These tactics can help you establish a greater sense of integrity within yourself and may support building new forms of intimacy or bonding with your partner.
What are some tips for exercising more sexual fantasization?
If you are able to imagine how you might want to experience a new kind of sexual pleasure, you are already in the realm of sexual fantasy. More advanced sexual fantasies allow us to bypass reality and go beyond our lived experience. Our creative minds offer limitless possibilities for experiencing sex that defy contraints of age, physical limits, material realities, health conditions, religious restrictions, and so on.
If you want to weave sexual fantasies more into your sex life but have trouble producing them, you can start by practicing in other arenas to make it feel more accessible. Start with questions like: What would I do with a million dollars? What is my ideal date? What is my dream vacation? Once you start to build out these stories, you can try integrating sexual elements into them.
Another tool which I find helpful for designing sexual fantasies is sex therapist Jack Morin’s erotic equation. The equation is this: ATTRACTION + OBSTACLES = EXCITEMENT. Morin’s theory is that our erotic experiences are shaped by the push-pull of opposing forces. It’s human nature to want what we can’t easily have – for example, people who are unavailable or inappropriate to pursue. In the sanctuary of our erotic minds, we are playing all the roles. This means we can be anything or anybody we want to be and we can pursue anything or anybody we want, overcoming the risks or obstacles we would encounter in the real world.
There is a diverse range of erotica reference material that you can draw inspiration from for your sexual fantasies. Consuming non-visual erotica (e.g., books or audio) can be particularly effective as they encourage your brain to participate by filling the visual gaps. Exploring erotica will also allow you to identify themes that turn you on which can provide a framework for fantasy-creation. Longing is a valuable emotion to harness in building sexual fantasies. When you long intensely, you are able to form a mental picture of what you desire and you can actually feel what it might be like to fulfill it.
It’s useful to also remember that not all fantasies need to be about sexually explicit acts with people. Your fantasy can be you sitting at a restaurant ordering many exotic foods off the menu and playing with them upon arrival. Perhaps you’re an ecosexual (someone who makes love with the earth through their senses) and you’re imagining yourself at the beach with the surf lapping onto your body, making you cum.
My last piece of advice is to think like a storyteller. Don’t just fantasize about the conclusion but about all the details that come before it. Sometimes, these are the sexiest parts of the fantasy!