When It Comes To Sexual Fantasies, What's 'Normal?'

When It Comes To Sexual Fantasies, What's 'Normal?'

Putting aside highly-publicized recent attempts to masquerade abuse as sexual preference in the allegations against former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, we're actually pretty confused, as a society, about kink.

Fantasies of submission and domination are usually considered outside of the norm of cultural acceptability, but a recent study suggests that they're far more common than we might think. This may not come as too much of a surprise in a culture of 50 Shades of Grey. Yet a scientific understanding of the difference between normal sexual fantasy and sexual deviance could have important implications for our acceptance of sexual differences and medical treatment of sexual pathology.

Part of the problem lies in definition: There has yet to be any real scientific agreement on what types of erotic desires are considered typical or atypical. Instead, most discussions of "deviancy" rely on a cultural or moral judgment. But new research from two institutions affiliated with University of Montreal sought to scientifically define sexual deviancy for the first time ever.

"Our main objective was to specify norms in sexual fantasies, an essential step in defining pathologies," Christian Joyal, the study's lead author, said in a statement. "And as we suspected, there are a lot more common fantasies than atypical fantasies. So there is a certain amount of value judgment in the DSM-5."

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines paraphila in rather strict terms, which may not reflect the actual prevalence of certain sexual fantasies. According to the DSM-5, regular BDSM fantasies (non-consent, or any "suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner") are sexually deviant.

"The DSM-5 classifies many of these fantasies as paraphilic interest, i.e. 'anomalous' or not 'normophilic,'" Joyal said in an email to The Huffington Post. "The study demonstrates it is not the case -- many are statistically common."

To find out how 'normal' various fantasies might be, the researchers polled over 1,500 adults living in Quebec (799 men and 718 women with an average age of 30 years old). The participants answered an online questionnaire describing their fantasies, and also describing their favorite fantasy in detail. The results pointed to a wide range of sexual desires, and significant gender differences in sexual fantasy.

Some of the most surprising findings were the rate of sadomasochistic fantasies among both men and women, and the significant number of people who fantasized about performing both submission and domination, according to Joyal.

Here were some common fantasies described by study participants:

  • More than half of women (52 percent) fantasized about being tied up to obtain sexual pleasure, compared to 46 percent of men.
  • Between 30 and 60 percent of women described fantasizing about themes associated with submission (for instance, being tied up, spanked, or forced to have sex).
  • Ten percent of men, compared to 3.5 percent of women, fantasized about having their partner urinate on them.
  • More than 40 percent of women said they fantasized about having a partner ejaculate on them.
  • Around one-third of women, and 44 percent of men, fantasized about being filmed or photographed while having sex.

There were significant gender differences in the participants' responses. Men reported more fantasies overall and described them more vividly than did women. Women were more likely to draw a distinction between fantasy and desire, for example those who described extreme submission fantasies (domination by a stranger, for instance) also said that they did not want those fantasies to actually come true. Most men, however, indicated they were interested in enacting their fantasies in real life. Among coupled respondents, women were more likely to incorporate their spouses into their fantasies.

The study also found, interestingly, that the percentages of men and women who fantasized about homosexual activities were much greater than the number of men and women who declared themselves to be bisexual or homosexual. More than a third of women fantasized about having sex with another woman, while around a fifth of men fantasized about having sex with another man.

While the study's findings should not be viewed as conclusive across the board -- the survey was conducted over the Internet, and only looked at adults in Quebec -- the research does provide a framework for further study and a need for broader notions of what's considered typical sexual fantasy.

"This study indicates that there are very few statistically unusual sexual fantasies," the study's authors write. "Future definitions of disorders of sexual interest should... focus more on subjective complaint associated with any sexual fantasy than on its content."

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