Sexual fantasy gets a bad rap. You can fantasize about winning the lottery, you can fantasize about acquiring a new physique and you can fantasize about eating a delicious meal. But sexual fantasy? C'mon, you know you shouldn't be doing that!
Sexual fantasy is somehow worse than your typical daily antisocial and/or illegal fantasy, like your co-worker who says, “I just want to punch that guy in the throat” or your friend who suggests “It’d be soooo easy to rob that bank.” Why? Well, let's explore this idea in two parts. This week, we’ll start by talking about the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, why we feel guilty about them and what dangers they pose (a.k.a. usually none). Next week, we can take a look at what sexual fantasies might mean in a given situation.
So let’s start with a basic definition: A sexual fantasy is "any thought that gives us sexual pleasure." This would run full spectrum beginning with fleeting thoughts that are so rudimentary that we could call them "pre-verbal" — like when we glimpse even an attractive part of someone out the corner of our eye, like a person's hair, manner of walking, or we hear their laugh. We suddenly are aware at a pre-verbal level, "Me likey."
At the other extreme end of the same spectrum, we might fantasize an involved narrative that includes a memory of someone from our past and a truly wonderful weekend up in a cabin overlooking the ocean when life seemed so simple — sometime before we learned to hide our fantasies so well.
Lying about fantasies is almost second nature, right? We seem to have bought into a number of shame-based, irrational, if-then beliefs. For example, If you engage in sexual fantasy, then: you don't really love me, you want to have an affair, you're going to have an affair, I'm not enough for you, you don't find me attractive, you never really loved me, you're going to do something very, very bad, you're going to leave me, you are a sexual deviant, a pervert, and/or a very bad person.
But just as fantasizing about being a world-class jewel thief and watching "The Thomas Crown Affair" four times and wishing you could have that sort of life doesn't mean you're going to become a thief, so too with sexual fantasy. Fantasizing is our brain's way of projecting a future scenario or trying ideas on for size. Fantasizing is sometimes a way of reliving a wonderful moment or deriving comfort or pleasure from an alternative reality. And although we played "Cops and Robbers" when we were very little, even then, even as a 5-year-old, we knew the difference between make-believe and reality.
But some of those kids did grow up to become bank robbers, so the fantasies can be very dangerous for some people, right? No, they can't. Fantasizing never hurt anyone. Poor decision-making, on the other hand, can lead to hurtful consequences, and the one is entirely different from the other.
Now that we know what sexual fantasies don't mean, next week we'll take a look at what they MIGHT mean. Meanwhile, please remember that if your partner shares fantasies that are different than yours (or that may not even include you), that doesn't really mean anything about you. Having a healthy imagination, even a sexual one, is still healthy.
Author, speaker and therapist Steven Ing has spent nearly three decades teaching people how to manage their sexuality intelligently. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @steveningMFT with questions for future columns.
Column originally appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal.