Sexual fantasy

A sexual fantasy, also called an erotic fantasy, is a deliberate fantasy or pattern of thoughts with the goal of creating or enhancing sexual feelings; it is mental imagery that an individual considers erotic. A fantasy can be a long, drawn-out story or a quick mental flash of sexual imagery; its purpose can range from sexual motivations, such as sexual arousal and reaching orgasm, to simply passing time or helping a person fall asleep.

As a nearly universal phenomenon, sexual fantasy is an important study topic. A fantasy may be a positive or negative experience, or even both. It can reflect past experience and influence future sexual encounters. A person may not wish to enact a sexual fantasy in real life, and since the process is entirely imaginary, they are not limited to acceptable or practical fantasies, which can provide information on the psychological processes behind sexual behaviour. Fantasies are theorized to play an important role in sexual offenses; similarly, a lack of fantasy, or guilt surrounding fantasy, may contribute to sexual dysfunction.


For simplicity, many studies of sexual fantasy concern themselves with conscious fantasies when a person is awake. These fantasies are often measured using one of three techniques:

  1. Providing anonymous respondents with a checklist of fantasies and asking them to indicate which ones they have experienced, how often, and in what context. This method relies on retrospective recall, which may limit its accuracy. A checklist may not be comprehensive, and as a result may be biased towards some fantasies.
  2. Asking anonymous respondents to write, in narrative form, their sexual fantasies. This method also relies on retrospective recall. Some studies limit the number of fantasies entered (such as only the most frequent ones), and respondents may not write down all of their fantasies anyway — they may forget infrequent fantasies, not want to write too many down, or be more subject to social desirability bias than with a checklist.
  3. Having respondents record the fantasies they experience over a given period of time via checklists or diaries. This method requires a long period of time to be representative, and may be impractical.

Researchers may use vaginal photoplethysmography, penile strain gauges, or other tools to measure signs of physical arousal, such as genital pulse amplitude, genital blood volume, and heart rate. These results can be matched against a subject's self-reported arousal to help gauge accuracy. A 1977 study found that males judged arousal based on blood volume far better than females, and that males and females were equal when judging arousal based on pulse amplitude measures. Additionally, females were better at judging low arousal.

As with studies of sex in general, samples used in studies may be too small, not be fully random, or not fully representative of a population. This makes similarities between studies especially important. Women may be prone to underreporting the frequency of fantasy because they do not realize that they are becoming aroused, or they will not say that they are; one common problem is that they will imagine romantic imagery and become aroused, but not report the fantasy because it is not sexually explicit. Many studies are modern and are carried out in western society, which, through factors like gender roles and taboo, are not widely representative, raising the need for more studies in different societies and historical eras. With regards to age, there is very little knowledge of sexual fantasies in children aged 5 to 12, and there is a need for longitudinal studies across a life span.

Content and uses of fantasy

The content and goal of a sexual fantasy vary greatly between individuals and are subject to personal desires. These fantasies range from the mundane to the bizarre, and a person may have zero to full desire to carry out an imagined act; people often use fantasy to help plan out future sexual encounters. Fantasies occur in all individuals and at any time of the day, although it has been suggested that fantasies are more common among frequent daydreamers. Fantasies are frequently used to escape real-life sexual restraints and to imagine dangerous or illegal scenarios, such as rape, castration, or kidnapping. They allow people to imagine themselves in roles they do not normally have, such as power, innocence, and guilt. Fantasies present enormous influence over sexual behaviour (hence the phrase "the brain is the largest sex organ"), and can be the sole cause of an orgasm. While there are several common themes in fantasies, any object or act can be eroticized.

Sexual fantasy is frequent during masturbation, although this is more true for men than for women.

During sexual contact, some people use their fantasies to "turn off" undesirable aspects of an act For example, a woman receiving cunnilingus may shut out thoughts about her body's odours or fluids in order to fantasize about her physical or emotional pleasure. Conversely, a person may use fantasy to focus and maintain arousal, such as a man receiving fellatio ignoring a distraction. Men tend to be aware of only parts of themselves during sex— they are more likely to focus on the physical stimulation of one area, and as such, do not see themselves as a "whole."

Many couples share their fantasies to feel closer and gain more intimacy and trust, or simply to become more aroused or effect a more powerful physical response. Some couples share fantasies as a form of outercourse; this has been offered as an explanation for the rise of BDSM during the 1980s— in order to avoid contracting HIV, people turned to BDSM as a safe outlet for sexual fantasy.

Common fantasies

Although fantasies are generally varied, patterns have shown up in demographics, and theories have been developed to explain the results. For example, evolutionary theorists have conjectured that women may be more likely to fantasize about familiar lovers because of the imagery of a protective relationship; however, this suggestion is not consistent with findings of the actual fantasies of married women. Sexual fantasies vary by gender, age, sexual orientation, and society; because of reliance on retrospective recall, response bias and taboo, there is an inherent difficulty in measuring the frequency of types of fantasies. In general, the most common fantasies for men and women are: reliving an exciting sexual experience, imagining sex with a current partner, and imagining sex with a different partner. There is no consistent difference in the popularity of these three categories of fantasies. The next most common fantasies involve oral sex, sex in a romantic location, sexual power or irresistibility, and forced sex.

Social views of sexual fantasy

Social views on sexual fantasy (and sex in general) differ throughout the world. The privacy of a person's fantasy is influenced greatly by social conditions. Because of the taboo status of sexual fantasies in many places around the world, open discussion — or even acknowledgment — is forbidden, forcing fantasies to stay private. In more lax conditions, a person may share their fantasies with close friends, significant others, or a group of people with whom the person is comfortable.

Historically, the moral acceptance and formal study of sexual fantasy in Western culture is relatively new. Prior to their acceptance, sexual fantasies were seen as evil or sinful, and they were commonly seen as horrid thoughts planted into the minds of people by "agents of the devil." Even when psychologists were willing to accept and study fantasies, they showed little understanding and went so far as to diagnose sexual fantasies in females as a sign of hysteria. Prior to the early twentieth century, many experts viewed sexual fantasy (particularly in females) as abnormal. Over several decades, sexual fantasies became more acceptable as notable works and compilations, such as Alfred Kinsey's Kinsey Reports, '''' by Drs. Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen, and Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden, were published.

Despite the Western World's relatively lax attitudes towards sexual fantasy, many people still feel shame and guilt about their fantasies. This type of shame regularly leads to a decline in the quality of a couple's sex life, and an unhappy relationship.

The Bible prohibits sexual fantasies about people other than one's spouse in . However, the interpretation of that chapter and verse is subject to debate. Other views may suggest that lust is referred to as coveting something that belongs to someone else. In those times, married women are viewed as their husband's property.


Journal articles


See also

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