Myth: Your Fantasies Reveal Your True Desires

This time’s myth is that what you fantasize about is what you really want to do, but you’re not doing it because you’re afraid of doing it, or you think it’s morally wrong, or you think it will hurt you in some way. This is really an old, sort of Freudian, psychoanalytic viewpoint, and I guess also your old grandmother’s point of view as well. But research really does not bear this out, nor does clinical experience bear this out. Now, in some individuals – and the percentage we really don’t know, we don’t know how many people this is – they do become anxious and very upset because they believe that having a specific fantasy is some type of warning that they will want to act out or do whatever they are feeling in their fantasy. It’s a warning of what they really want to do in real life. And it causes them a great deal of anxiety and concern about themselves and about who they are. Or, they feel abnormal and upset at having that fantasy at all – why did they think that thought? Why would that idea come into their mind in the first place? Even just having the idea, “lusting in their heart,” or having that odd – what they consider to be odd – or unusual idea, even that in itself is cause for anxiety and concern. And that’s because many sexual fantasies involve behaviors that a person would normally condemn as illegal or dangerous or outside their value system or their moral system. Now any particular fantasy itself is not an indication of a psychological problem or a personality disorder, so let’s start out with that. Let’s begin with that. Some people can control when and what they fantasize about, most of the time and other people have a lot more difficulty controlling their fantasies. That’s just the differences among and between people, as we’ve found with lots of psychological things. Sexual fantasies involve imagining sexual activities, sexual partners, and sexual situations. And some of those things you have total control of, in terms of the fact that you set up those situations, like you’re making a scenario for a movie, and some of them just come into your mind – they just happen – you may start the fantasy with ideas that you had before you began, and then they just happen as you go along. But what you really need to remember is that ultimately you are the director and you are the scriptwriter. You can give every story a satisfying ending or you can stop it if it becomes disturbing. 99% of the time you can. Sexual fantasies are private, they’re enhancing and safe experiences for most people. And if they get out of control, if you feel that you really can’t stop a fantasy that’s bothering you, it can usually be very easily resolved by going to see somebody who knows how to handle these things. Not every psychologist or every psychiatrist – in fact, many of them don’t know how to deal with sexual issues, they’ve got their own problems, or they’re inexperienced. You know, I say this over and over again but I’m going to say it again – the average physician, the average doctor, gets less than 4 hours of information about sexuality in their entire 4 years of medical. And then they usually get nothing more than that in their internship and residency. And they start out being very conservative people, so they basically are more embarrassed about sex than you are. So if you have a sexual concern, a sexual issue, a sexual problem, you need to go to an expert. And there are places you can go and we have places on Love and Health that you can go and look, an organization that you can go to to help you find a sex therapist, whether it’s a physician or a psychologist or a social worker, who will be trained to answer these kinds of questions and to resolve these problems that usually can be resolved pretty easily. But anyway, most of the time, just reminding yourself that it’s your fantasy and that you can fantasize anything that you want, and that you are the director, the producer, the scriptwriter, and that you can put any ending on it you want, can solve a problem when it comes to fantasy, if there’s any problem there at all, because usually there isn’t a problem, it’s just that somebody told you that there ought to be a problem, but there isn’t one.

Now in general, sexual fantasies are very beneficial for people. And that’s because, first of all, they promote a kind of safe rehearsal for sexual behavior that’s not yet been experienced. Another thing that sexual fantasy allows, or provides, is a safe way to experience sexual situations that a person would actually never do or want to do in their lives, but the idea of it is very arousing. And I’m going to say this over and over again, one of the big jobs of sexual fantasy is to provide additional arousal. That’s its job. And unusual things are arousing for human beings. And many of those things you wouldn’t want to do – but to fantasize about them is a hundred percent safe. That’s what sexual fantasy does. So that’s a very important job that sexual fantasies have.

Now, that takes us to our third thing, which I’ve already mentioned, which is that fantasy increases sexual arousal before sex and during sexual activity, whether it’s with a partner or whether you’re alone and you’re masturbating. That’s what it’s there for. A fantasy can also act as a safety valve to release tensions caused by questions, doubt, or guilt that you may have about sexual behavior, but it’s also a great tension reducer for other sorts of tensions. How many of you have masturbated before the big test – and then you felt better and you were able to go in and take the test and do a great job. Or, you’ve been studying studying studying, or worrying worrying worrying about something for hours and hours, and you can’t get it off your mind, and so you masturbate with a fantasy and then you’re able to continue studying or perhaps go to sleep. It’s a wonderful thing to do before you go to sleep. Sometimes it helps you go to sleep – you don’t need to take a sleeping pill, or drink, which you might have had to do, which is not so good for you, but a good sexual fantasy, a little masturbation and a nice orgasm, and you’ve gone to sleep in a very natural way. Or gotten back to work. So, another good job that sexual fantasy does.

Now, research has also revealed that people who feel guilty about having sexual fantasies are more likely to experience lots of other negative things. So, people guilty about fantasizing also have more sexual dissatisfaction in general. They’re more dissatisfied with their relationships in general, their regular relationships, their general loving relationships. They have more sexual problems, like premature ejaculation, like sexual desire problems, for instance, low sexual desire, erectile dysfunction, inability to ejaculate in men, and in women, difficulty lubricating. So sexual fantasies are actually helpful in that, and people who have trouble having sexual fantasies or who don’t allow themselves to have sexual fantasies tend to have problems in those other areas. A major function of fantasy is to increase arousal, as I’ve said. Fantasizing about unusual activities tends to be more arousing, whether it’s with other partners, movie star partners, somebody in your office that you would never want to be involved with but it’s fun to think about them. Perhaps it’s the President of the United States and he happens to be particularly attractive to you, or, as I said, a beautiful model or someone like that. It doesn’t mean that you want to be with them necessarily, or that you can be with them. You may want to be with them, but you wouldn’t want to take a chance losing your relationship by being with them. So a fantasy is a safe way to do that. But although the thoughts may be stimulating, they do not ordinarily represent what most people secretly want to do. So if you’re fantasizing about some activity, a particular activity that you would never really want to do because it might be hurtful, it might be painful, it might be dangerous – that doesn’t mean that there’s something bad about it. And it doesn’t mean that secretly you really want to do it. It doesn’t mean that. It just means that it’s arousing to think about. People like to think about things that they would not necessarily want to do – in fact, they usually don’t want to do them. Research reports this. For example, one study – and this is a very good one – of 137 college women, this was done in 1998, asked about fantasies involving force. We’ve all heard stories about women having force fantasies – about rape, about being forced into something, and a lot of men, unfortunately, have believed that that’s what women really want, and a lot of women have been disturbed about the fact that they had a fantasy about force. Well, here’s what the results of this study revealed, and I think this is a very important one. Virtually every woman of these 137 reported in engaging in sexual fantasies on a regular basis, and more than half of them reported having engaged in a force-type fantasy at some point. Those reporting the force fantasies scored as less sexually guilty, and more positive about erotic ideas, erotic actions, and erotic thoughts than women who had not reported force-type fantasies. They also engaged in more fantasizing about non-force-type fantasies than other women did, the ones that didn’t have force fantasies. However, when they asked them about whether they had a history, that is, whether they had an experience, had they been exposed in any way to sexual force or coercion, it was unrelated to their habit of sexual fantasy about force. So this tells us that there is no relationship between having force fantasies and either having a bad force experience in your life, or being interested in having force in your life. It’s just an arousing thought that has nothing to do with whether a woman has had bad experiences and therefore is trying to work them out through her fantasies, or whether she wants that. It’s just an unusual idea that in fantasy may feel good, but has nothing to do with what a woman really wants, and in fact, most women would tell you this if you only ask them. And again, we always promote communication – there’s nothing sexier. I like to say that the two things that are the best for sexuality and promote positive sexuality between partners, of all sexes and of all combinations, is lubrication, lubrication, lubrication – from the outside, add a good lubricant – and communication, communication, communication. One lubricates the body, the other lubricates the mind.

So – back to our discussion of unusual fantasies. When are fantasies of concern, or when should they be of concern? When they interfere with your relationship in some way. Now it may just be that they interfere with it because they’re in your mind and they’re upsetting you. That’s something you have to deal with. When they produce sexual difficulties in your own life – and only you would know that, but you’re probably making the problem because you’re thinking that they are bad for you, you’re thinking that they’re interfering, but there’s no reason that they should interfere. And by the way, it doesn’t mean that you – there’s no rule written on tablets that you need to tell your partner about your fantasies. In fact, some people feel that if you share your fantasies they lose their power to arouse you. Some people like to share them – it makes them more arousing. That you have to decide for yourself. Everybody’s sexual life is something that they have to learn to deal with themselves, because there are no rules about them, and we don’t talk about it a lot in this culture, and it’s a personal thing. So you have to figure out for yourself – if I share my fantasy with my partner, will it make it sexier for me or will it make it less sexy for me? That’s something you have to decide. But it’s not a matter of good or bad, right or wrong.

Sexual fantasizing is a problem if you’d rather fantasize than have a real relationship. It’s always healthier to have a real relationship. You can have both! That’s the best. But if you’d rather fantasize than be with a real person, then that’s something that’s not the best for you, and it’s something you should work out. Sexual fantasizing is a problem if it makes you feel guilty or unhappy or anxious about having the fantasies. And then that’s something that you need to work out with a therapist or with yourself if you can do it. Psychological counseling can help with all these things. It can also help you turn off disturbing fantasies if they continue to disturb you after you’ve heard this video of sexual myths. And counseling can also help you solve problems created if fantasies begin to intrude into your personal life and interfere with your personal life. Now, fantasies are an important component for arousal in both men and women, although some people don’t have fantasies – that’s OK too. You don’t have to have fantasies, but if you haven’t had one, try it – you might find out you like it. Now, depending on the study, between 70% and 85% of both men and women fantasize during sex with a partner. It does not mean that you don’t love your partner if you have a sexy fantasy while you’re with them, and it doesn’t mean you don’t find them attractive. These are different dimensions, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t love them and find them attractive if you fantasize about somebody else. Fantasy is a separate category from your love and caring about your partner. One has to do with sexual arousal – the other has to do with your caring and loving for your partner. How you behave towards your partner in life is what counts in terms of love. What happens in your genitals is what happens in your genitals. Fantasy during masturbation is something that 87% of women do – they fantasize during masturbation some or all of the time. And that is the latest statistics on that, and that is also normal.

Now, what was most fantasized about, when people were asked “what do you fantasize about most?” And here’s some good news for fantasizers. People report that they most often fantasize about past imagined romantic or real experiences with the person they’re having sex with. Now that doesn’t mean that they do it all the time, and that doesn’t mean that everybody fantasizes about that, but when a bunch of people, or large groups of people are asked, it turns out that they fantasize about the partner they’re actually having sex with, and either they fantasize about delightful things that they haven’t done with them, or situations that they haven’t been in with them, or things that actually did happen that they like to remember that were particularly special. Now if you haven’t ever done that, that’s OK – this is just what the research shows us. However, in one very interesting study, in which women’s fantasies were tracked through their menstrual cycles, and in the middle of the month between their periods they ovulate, and their hormones are at their peak, and during that time, many women are at their sexiest. It makes sense, because that’s when they can get pregnant – and you know Nature would like you have to have a baby every week, you could probably figure that out – not possible of course. So they tracked women’s fantasies over this period, because they go up and down. Men go up and down every day, so their highest hormone levels are around 4:00 in the morning on average, just in case you wondered why sometimes you feel very sexy in the morning. But then, men are different too – some men prefer sex at night – and someday we’ll talk about that. Anyway – they found that women reported their greatest sexual interest in, and fantasies about, males other than their primary partners, in the middle of the month when they were ovulating, when there was a possibility of getting pregnant, and that that was when they had the most fantasies about men other than their partners. Interesting. Now, when they were not fertile, that is, in other parts of the month, then they reported equal – just any kind of fantasy, fantasies about any kind of partner, including their own partner – maybe more of their own partner. They also reported that their partners were more attentive to them and more possessive about them around this time of the month also, when they ovulated. Now this fits with the sociobiological view of sexuality. And remember that the sociobiological view of sexuality is that the whole reason we’re on earth is to take our genes into the next generation – that is the whole reason that men and women are here. It has nothing to do with being president, or going on vacation, or any of those things – all it has to do with is getting your genes, your sperm, my eggs, whatever, into the next generation to make offspring. So everything we do, says sociobiology, and I’m simplifying it of course, is to make offspring – to bring your genes into the next generation so they can take your genes and put them in the next generation. And so this would make sense, right? Because for a female, if she is going to make a baby, she wants the best possible sperm for her babies, because she puts a lot into them – she has to be pregnant for nine months, then she has to lactate and feed them until they get strong enough to go on to the world. And for a male, he has to put his sperm in as many places as possible because he never knows which babies are going to be his, and in order to get them in he’s got to make sure that if he’s taking care of one female, he’s got to make sure that if she gets pregnant, it better be his baby, otherwise he’s going to be taking care of somebody else’s baby, a female carrying somebody else’s baby and then he’s going to be taking care of that baby. So obviously when she’s ovulating he’d better be really nice to her so he gets his sperm in there and then he better take good care of her so that that baby is his, so it make sense that he would be giving her the most attention and being the most possessive while she’s ovulating, but it makes sense for her to be looking around to make sure that she’s getting the best sperm. So it would make sense. And isn’t it interesting that it’s at that time of the month that her fantasies are most likely to be about other males, while she’s ovulating, while the rest of the month she’s more likely to be thinking about her partner. Interesting. So it is a time when he ought to be doing his best to be really nice and be also quite possessive, and keeping his eye out for competitors. Interesting. And humans are less likely to abide by biological cues than other animals.

Here’s another interesting sex difference. More females than males fantasize – when they’re fantasizing – about themselves as the recipient of sexual activity by the person who they’re fantasizing about in their dreams, in their fantasies. So if they’re fantasizing about – let’s just say Brad Pitt, for example – they fantasize that they are the recipient of Brad Pitt’s attentions. While males, when they fantasize, they fantasize that the person they’re fantasizing about is the recipient of the sexual behavior. So if they’re fantasizing about, say, Angelina Jolie, she is the recipient of their attention in the fantasy. So that’s a sex difference. They’re not having sex done to them, they are sexually acting upon the person that they’re fantasizing about in their fantasy. So that’s an interesting sex difference there.

Here’s another one – another interesting sex difference. I like sex differences – it’s one of the things I do research on. More men than women, although not an overwhelming percentage, report that they might – might – try some of their slightly more unusual fantasy activities, if a safe opportunity presented itself. And in the interviews that I’ve done, the one that men most likely bring up is that they would try a menage a trois – two women and a man – if they got the opportunity, and it was safe, and they wouldn’t get in trouble. That’s the one fantasy that I have heard them talk about – might – while most women report that they would not act out their unusual fantasies. So that’s a sex difference.

Now one interesting fact about sexual orientation. Heterosexual men and women report that they occasionally have fantasies about same sex partners, some more than occasionally, even though they’re completely heterosexual and have never had experiences with same sex partners, they find arousing having a fantasy about a same sex partner. And sometimes it gives people anxiety and concern that they’ve had this, because they worry – like our theme – that it may mean that they secretly want to have a relationship, or at least sex, with somebody of the same sex. Interestingly, gay men and lesbian women also report that they occasionally, sometimes more than occasionally, have fantasies about having sex with an opposite sex partner. Studies indicate that both homosexuals and lesbian women who have heterosexual fantasies report similar levels of concern and anxiety as do heterosexuals who have homosexual fantasies, about their fantasies. And again, the same rules apply. Unusual fantasies bring on more arousal. And so it makes sense that it would be arousing for heterosexuals to think about sex, to fantasize about sex with same sex partners, just as it would be arousing for homosexual and lesbian individuals to think about opposite sex partners. Hello! It’s not a surprise.

So here’s my conclusion about this myth-a-month. As we keep learning from all our myths, they usually tell us that sex is bad, when it’s actually good for us. And so, once again, something that we have been told is bad for us, that is fantasizing and fantasizing about something unusual, or assumed it bad for us, is either harmless or actually healthy and good. Try to keep in mind that joy and pleasure is healthy – joy and pleasure keeps our immune system in good working order. A strong immune system does a better job of protecting us against disease, and in slowing aging. So positive, self-affirming sex, done healthily and safely, experienced either with yourself – which of course is always safe and healthy as long as you don’t do anything to hurt yourself – and done with a consensual partner brings pleasure and no risks, and is life- and health-enhancing. So stop worrying about your fantasies – they’re good for you.

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