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What Your Sexual Fantasies Say About You

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

As a sex therapist, I get a lot of questions about sexual fantasies, many of them colored by shame and distress.

Are my sexual fantasies normal? What do my sexual fantasies say about me? Where do they come from? Why are they at odds with my values? Could they be a result of unresolved trauma? Can I get rid of them?

It’s not surprising so many people feel distressed about their sexual fantasies given that we live in a sex-negative society with a long history of pathologizing kinky and taboo fantasies. Freud saw sexual fantasies as compensating for a lack of sexual fulfillment at best and as symptoms of emotional disorders at worst. Still today, many normal sexual fantasies are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, with diagnoses such as “sexual masochism disorder” and “sexual sadism disorder.” But scientific evidence shows that people who practice masochism, sadism, or other elements of BDSM in a consensual manner are not mentally ill, but instead have mostly favorable psychological characteristics.

If you’re someone that worries that your fantasies and turn-ons are weird or abnormal, chances are you’re actually in very good company. According to the results of a comprehensive scientific survey of over 4000 American’s sexual fantasies, almost everyone (98%) has sexual fantasies. The seven most common fantasies are as follows:

  1. Multipartner sex

  2. Power, Control, and Rough sex: this includes forced sex and other elements of BDSM

  3. Novelty and Adventure: this might include unique settings, experimenting with food, pegging, and role-playing

  4. Taboo and forbidden sex: might involve voyeurism, exhibitionism, incest, animals, pedophilia

  5. Passion, romance, and intimacy

  6. Nonmonogamy and partner sharing

  7. Gender-bending fantasies

Your sexual fantasy likely falls into one of these categories or is a creative variation on one of these themes. Bottom line: there is nothing wrong with you or your sexual fantasies.

In fact, your sexual fantasies serve a number of important psychological functions. They can allow you to take a vacation from yourself, your stressors, your anxieties and the constraints of everyday life. They can increase arousal and allow you to experience pleasure in your body. They also give you the opportunity to creatively, playfully, and safely explore sexual experiences that are taboo or that would be dangerous or harmful in real life.

Where do My Sexual Fantasies Come from and What Do They Say About Me?

There is no one reason that someone might have a sexual fantasy. In rare cases, the reason for a sexual fantasy might be clear and straightforward. For instance, it could be a case of classical conditioning in which someone has an incredibly arousing sexual experience with a person wearing lace stockings and then develops a fetish for stockings.

However, in the vast majority of cases, the underlying motivations for a particular fantasy are complex or unclear. There are instances in which someone’s sexual fantasy might reflect an emotional need or an element of their personality. For instance, someone might fantasize about something that has harmed them in the past such as shame, punishment, or rape because it allows them to convert a sense of powerlessness into pleasure. But very often, your sexual fantasies don’t have deeper meanings. Your sexual fantasy doesn’t mean something about you any more than your penchant for pepperoni pizza means something about you. Sometimes we just like what we like.

If you really want to ascribe meaning to your sexual fantasies, here’s what I would say: your sexual fantasy means that you have a rich imagination, a creative mind, and the capacity to bring playfulness into the bedroom.


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