How To Tell If Your Secret Sex Fantasy Is Normal (Or Totally SICK!)

Photo: weheartit
masturbation sex fantasy
Blogger
Sex

What do your fantasies reveal about you?

I recently wrote about the large numbers of people of all genders who have sexual fantasies about someone other than their spouse.

This topic taps into something I feel passionate about (ahem, pun intended).

What should psychology be doing with sexual fantasies? Should we worry about them? Ignore them?

Currently, many psychologists approach sexual fantasy as something with grave potential dangers that should therefore be used like alcohol — sparingly and carefully.

According to Patrick Carnes, "Sexual fantasizing can be healthy, particularly for a reasonably healthy couple that uses their increased excitement to move toward rather than away from the partner."

So, let me get this straight ...

Sexual fantasies are only allowable or healthy if you're doing it with a partner and with the intent of coming closer together? And then, only if you and your partner are reasonably healthy (whatever that possibly means)?

That is sure going to knock the wind out of the 87 percent of EVERYONE who studies show frequently have fantasies about other people during sex with their current partner.

Truth is, we simply don't know enough about sexual fantasies and their connections to personality, behavior and sexuality, to make any such judgments.

For decades, psychologists accepted the Freudian notion of a "central masturbation fantasy" — that each of us has a recurring fantasy which reveals aspects of our personality. One of my supervisors believed this, and told me I should know by the third session with any given client what their masturbation fantasy was. It took me a long time to realize that it wasn't really cool to ask my poor clients about their masturbatory fantasies, and he'd only meant I should be able to predict the elements of their fantasy based on what I knew of their personality and psychological functioning. Ooooh!

So ... a person who craves attention might be assumed to repetitively fantasize about being the center attraction at an orgy. Another who has deep-seated feelings of shame and self-loathing might fantasize about being sexually punished and humiliated.

An important component of this theory is that each person's fantasy is consistent with their ego and personality state — NOT a form of self-medicating or self-soothing.

We might think it would be better if that person with self-loathing thoughts had sexual fantasies about being loved and appreciated, but the key trigger for arousal here is NOT what might help the person, but what part of the fantasy resonates, like a tuning fork, with the existing elements of their personality.

It's a great theory, and intuitively feels valid. I've seen many clients over the years whose fantasies seems to reflect it. But, like much of psychodynamic and Freudian theory, it isn't easy to test for, and hasn't been supported by research.

We simply don't know enough about people's masturbation fantasies in comparison to their personality and individual psychology to understand whether or not disturbed, conflicted, problematic fantasies really reflect deep-seated psychological disturbance.

However, the building evidence suggests that they do not.

Columnist Dan Savage wrote an article describing the sad story of a husband who wrote to him for help with his concerns about his wife's sexual fantasy and interest in role play. During sex, she would ask him to pretend to be her father, and then to pretend to molest her. The husband was worried this might be based on a true event in his wife's past, and he wanted to know what he should do to help his wife, as well as whether or nor this was this normal or healthy.

Savage suggested the husband had a right to ask his wife about the origins of her somewhat creepy and disturbing fantasy, but he also pointed out this fantasy might be a way in which she was re-establishing control over her sexuality, and recovering from a history of trauma. If that were the case, the fantasy shouldn't be viewed as a sign of illness, but as an adaptive effort to overcome a traumatic experience and regain control of one's mind and life.

In Brett Kahr's book Who's Been Sleeping in Your Head? The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies, he explores this same controversy through extensive research into the surprising range of disturbing, frightening and challenging fantasies that exist in the heads of people living healthy, successful lives. In his work, Kahr found that the fantasies of the MOST disturbed people actually tend to be extreme simplistic and two-dimensional, and that there was no relationship between disturbing or complex sexual fantasies and any level of mental disturbance.

The ability to fantasize, daydream, and explore internal worlds of imagination is a critical component of a healthy human mind.

It reflects our ability to manage and process thoughts, ideas, perceptions and reality within the private confines of our own minds. Kahr's work suggests that without these fantasies, our minds would be sterile, bleak places, referring to sexual fantasies as inherent "extensions of our capacity for creativity" that is present in the worlds of artists, painters and composers.

What does it mean, then, that some of our own fantasies and thoughts frighten or disturb us?

We simply don't know.

Do people who have these thoughts and fantasies ultimately act upon them?

Do these fantasies become burning desires that must be satiated? 

Do they take over a person's mind and life, such that fulfilling the fantasy becomes the most important need in a person's life?

No, we don't know, but I frankly suspect the answer to the questions is a solid, "No." 

If the answer was yes and if we then took into account the vast research on the HUGE numbers of seemingly normal people around us who have socially-unacceptable, frightening and even disturbing fantasies on a regular basis, there would be extraordinary rates of infidelity, incest, bestiality, group sex, violent sex and other behaviors going on every day amongst almost EVERYONE in society — as opposed to the relatively low actual frequency at which these behaviors do occur. 

Fear of rejection and stigma leads people to keep these fantasies secret from everyone they know, often even from their wives, husbands and therapists.

You would never know what it going on in so many heads every day, and yet Nancy Friday, author of the seminal work on women's sexual fantasies, My Secret Garden, received numerous letters from people saying they believed they were the only ones with such fantasies, and that her work led them to finally be able to accept that they are not sick or disturbed as they'd secretly feared.

In fact, Kahr, who examined over twenty-three thousand sexual fantasies — what a job! — suggests, "On the basis of the data, I must conclude that the minds of American and British citizens contain much diversity and complexity, and therefore, speaking about a ‘normal' fantasy may well be meaningless."

He goes on to describe the ways in which fantasies are contained within one's mind and do not command to be enacted in reality. He offers examples of the frightening, violent, dangerous and disturbing fantasies he has heard from doctors, therapists, and nurses about what they might do to, or with, their patients. These fantasies were never enacted, and probably never would be by the overwhelming majority of healthcare professionals.

The fantasy of a "threesome" with two women is regarded as ubiquitous among men, with rates as high as 85% of males acknowledging having had a fantasy of one. It is so common a fantasy that no one regards it as strange. Yet even though we think of it as "normal," fewer than 6% of men have actually participated in such a sexual experiences!

In fact, many people report that when they've attempted to fulfill a fantasy they end up disappointed by the mundane reality of real-world sex with real-world people.

In the real world, we can't manipulate reality to create ever-responsive penises and an endless wardrobe of costumes.

In the real world, we must deal with the pesky realities of other peoples' needs and feelings, as well as deal with the issues of our real bodies and their biological and physical capacities and limitations.

Which is why in his book, Kahr quotes a patient who says, "Sometimes, a mindf*ck is better than the other kind."

I believe the fear of sexual fantasies reflects a fear of our inability to fully control ourselves, even within our own minds and thoughts.

How can fantasies trigger enormous sexual arousal, and at the same time trigger shudders of revulsion? It's scary to think we live inside our own minds and cannot control our own thoughts. Reaction to this fear drives the belief that we must suppress and avoid these fantasies.

Instead, perhaps it is simply as Brett Kahr suggests — our private sexual fantasies, when kept secret, serve a role of maintaining a sense of control over the uncontrollable aspects of our lives and minds.

This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Author
Blogger