Erotic fantasies are as common as daydreaming. Imagining ourselves in a hot tryst with a (several) flight attendant(s), being desired by strangers at a sex party, doing unspeakable things with a celebrity crush, being punished by a cruel owner or getting paid for sexual acts we’d never do in real life are among the most common sexual fantasies people describe when allowed to explore them freely. For many of us, our fantasies are the one aspect of our lives we have total control over, so whether we are the protagonist or the recipient – we are in control of what happens and how, thus providing the perfect antidote to life’s daily ups and downs.
Sexual fantasies needn’t be elaborate nor extensive. They can be a brief encounter, or a longing for a specific act, object or interpersonal dynamic. They can come in the form of images, sounds, emotions or sensations, but what makes them compelling is the fact they arouse our senses and demand our attention.
Fantasy V Reality
When we daydream about fantasy holidays, ultimate jobs or travel adventures we allow ourselves full permission to experience the fantasy. Such flights-of-fancy are not scrutinised by the same moral policing that our sexuality is. But the truth is, while in many cases we may actually want to travel, have a dream job or spend a week on a yacht eating caviar – we may not actually want to do the things we fantasise about sexually. Instead these fantasies can offer a portal into aspects of our non-sexual emotions that we are trying to reconcile in our day-to-day lives. I often describe these confusing experiences as part of the ‘sex bucket’ – like a fish bucket full of heads and guts before being turned into nutritious stock, the ‘sex bucket’ is the place difficult and incomplete emotions go to get processed when they feel too difficult to deal with. In other words, complex erotic fantasies are the residents of the emotional ‘too hard’ basket.
While sexual fantasies are extremely common and something many are at peace with, they can sometimes present as troubling, especially when they offer an experience of ourselves that sits in contrast with who we think we are. When this happens, we may feel an urgent need to remove the fantasy because what we think of the fantasy (our ideals, beliefs and values) and how we feel about it (turned on, excited and aroused) may be in opposition and can become a source of discomfort and shame.
What kinds of things do people fantasise about?
For example, fantasies about sex with strangers may be speaking to a desire to be free of pressure, duty and responsibility to others in our day-to-day lives. Fantasies about a person we actively dislike may be a way of coming to terms with the dynamic between us, taking control of the situation in our minds to make peace with it in the real world. Often times such fantasies are about what that person represents – rather than who they are. Likewise, fantasies about being with a heart-throb type may speak to a need for perfection or acceptance that feels out of reach in our real-world life. Fantasies involving power play may be speaking to a desire to gain or relinquish control regarding our private lives, work lives or role in society. Fantasising about power dynamics from consensual to non-consensual are some of the most popular sexual fantasies because power dynamics in an erotic context create such sensorial arousal. Fantasies about gender may be about to a longing to break free of the social obligations placed upon us by gendered restrictions, while fantasies of being the centre of attention and desired by large groups of people may be about a longing to be seen and valued as a person of worth or importance, or part of something much larger than the individual Self. Fantasies about or involving objects or locations may provide an opportunity to externalise certain feelings (not even related to sex) so we can get to know them better from a manageable distance. And sometimes fantasies are just exactly what they are; excitement about being with, wearing or doing certain things simply because we enjoy them with no hidden meaning nor ulterior motive. After all, we like what we like and as long as no one is being (non-consensually) hurt – why not?
While studies of our fantasies (across gender and orientation) and their meanings are inconclusive, it is understood that our sexual fantasies offer us a portal into areas of our lives that bring us meaning but not necessarily always pleasure. Sometimes, acting on the fantasy can be an anti-climax or can leave us feeling worse than the anxiety it initially created. Often what makes the fantasy powerful is the fact that it is just that – a fantasy! It’s purpose is to help process the heart and is not a reflection of any latent erotic desire. Any attempt to enact it kills its allure immediately. On occasion, this part of the game can be a crushing blow for the fantasiser as the one thing they have held dear and cherished as the greatest erotic (and therefore emotional) high, comes crashing down with nothing to replace it.
Should I tell?
While old-school sex therapy often spoke of sharing fantasies with our partners as a means of connection, contemporary approaches suggest it is not necessary, especially if your fantasies are out of sync with one another. Sexual fantasies offer a space for us to play, learn and grow as well as an opportunity to process complex emotions or a way of making sense of the world around us. They are deeply personal and not to be judged nor scrutinised with anything other than empathy and curiosity. One of the great things about sexual fantasies is that they are yours and yours alone, only to be shared how, when and if you want to.
If the therapeutic aspect of erotic fantasies are something you would like to explore in a safe and non judgemental way, you may like to see me for a private session in New York or online from anywhere in the world.