The sexiest part of the human body lies in the brain, specifically our limbic brain, where our libido resides alongside our processing of emotions, memory and scent. One of the quickest and most assured routes to sexual arousal is through fantasy. We use our imaginative capacity all the time during our waking lives as we envision all the possible futures that our daily life could result in or even in the most negative of circumstances when we allow ourselves to ruminate and overthink bad outcomes for our relationships and aspirations. Yet when it comes to the mysterious sexual fantasy life that lives somewhere in all of us we often keep the door locked.
Allowing yourself the freedom to explore your sexual fantasies by yourself or with your partner is one of the most common sexual acts we share as human beings. In fact, in a recent research study on sex in America, the majority of men and women reported having fantasies while having sex. Some studies report this percentage to be as high as 60-90% for both men and women. The Kinsey research concurred with this data and showed even higher percentages during masturbation. In fact, using sexual fantasy as the fuel for early eroticism is for most of us our first sexual act. Boys start having sexual fantasies as early as 11-13, for girls, fantasy usually begins later in their teens and early 20s.
Telling our stories is integral to being human, and sexual fantasies transform and inspire during sex. In fact, mounting research suggests that the ability and freedom to entertain fantasies actually increases the health of both sexual arousal and desire. Yet many people feel uncomfortable with the stories that spontaneously occur to them in the course of their sexual adventures. This is one of the first and often persistent internal spaces where our doubts about our sexual “normalcy” are instigated. Most sex therapists recommend adopting a “no mind-crime policy” for your fantasy life. I remember the remarkable passion that emerged in my own sex life when I stopped trying to suppress the stories that emerged during intimacy.
Given that our sexuality is one of the most mysterious ways that we relate to our partners, it isn’t all that surprising that our range of sexual fantasies is as rich and diverse as we are. Erotica and pornography explore many common fantasy themes of submission, dominance and even forms of pain infliction, which can be both arousing and disturbing at the same time. Just because you have fantasies about being sexually overpowered or raped does not mean that you actually want to have the experience. Even the very common fantasy of having multiple sex partners doesn’t necessarily translate into an interest in playing it out in 3D.
Although I often feel like my husband is interacting with me in my fantasies, I rarely ever verbalize my thoughts. For other couples I know, they have elaborate games where they both share and agree to act out their fantasies together. When it comes to a shared fantasy life it is critical to be both conscious and communicative about your comfort level and your boundaries. Being able to speak openly about the role of fantasy in lovemaking and agree on what should and shouldn’t be shared provides a respectful space for fantasy to exist between you.
Many sex therapists encourage patients to develop an active fantasy life to help overcome sexual problems. Within a therapeutic context, people have been able to use fantasy to confront the fearful stages of intimacy and lovemaking and reduce or eliminate their fears. Sexual fantasies can provide an opportunity to deepen both physical and emotional intimacy with your partner, as it creates a living metaphor to learn more about yourself and unspoken, underlying emotional issues.
One could argue that there may have never been a better time in our culture to explore the power of fantasy. Internet access has made a remarkably wide array of resources, ideas and practices to explore sexual fantasy readily available at little to no cost. Internet fantasy chat rooms, elaborate sexual avatar games, and free exchanges of pornography have all contributed to our awareness and capacity for fantasy. Sexual parties and clubs are also common in most cities.
Yet, a word of caution must also be added here. There are many stories of people who unknowingly allow their fantasy life to go too far. When fantasy life crosses the line into reality, obsessive thoughts about another or an inability to focus on your life or your partner can become a real danger in your relationship. In the same way that dreams are altered when we try to describe them upon waking, carrying our fantasies into our daily lives can be disruptive and destructive in ways we can’t always anticipate.
So go ahead and flirt with your fantasies. Let your imagination lead you into a better and more fulfilling intimate life.