Last week, we talked about how sexual fantasy is normal, and how fantasy itself never hurt anyone. But what about gross, scary or so-called “deviant” sexual fantasies? It's a common enough question, and considering some (like me) claim sexual fantasies are harmless, it seems reasonable to question how far we can go before someone (like me) might have to admit, "Some sexual fantasies are dangerous."
And by "some sexual fantasies," we can include crimes. We also need to include acts that were formerly illegal but no longer are, like homosexuality and adultery.
"But Steven, I'm not gay, nor do I think being gay is gross or scary. Let's talk about the other stuff." OK, but that is a big point you're asking to just skip over. Homosexuality is still scary (and gross) for lots of people, and the point is this: Does fantasizing about sexual acts with same-sex individuals cause homosexuality? Of course not, just like "coveting thy neighbor's wife" won’t cause adultery. The basic truth here regarding the "ick" factor of some sexual fantasies is like the myth of sexual addiction. If a sex addict is anyone who wants sex more than I do, then a pervert is anyone who has fantasies different from mine.
But guess what? Everyone has sexual fantasies that are different from yours. That would seem to suggest there are a whole lot of perverts out there, am I right?
A pervert is not someone with different sexual fantasies, because remember the key to fantasy: No one is harmed. And are the people you fall in love with going to stop fantasizing about what turns them on? I’m guessing they won’t, not even if we stigmatize those fantasies and let our partners know that such fantasies, if they ever became known, would spell the end of the relationship. This approach wouldn't end the fantasizing, but it would likely spell the end to the free disclosure of information and the end of any real chance to know a certain dark side of our partners. By "dark," we don't mean evil, we mean those private parts of our thought life that we don't routinely trot out into the light so that one and all can judge us.
The truth is that every fantasy, every last one, is gross and scary to somebody.
The challenge for all of us with any darker fantasy is twofold: to understand the context, and to maintain a positive feedback loop. Reading context is sometimes hard, but it is always necessary — the same fantasies don't necessarily mean the same thing to different people. Feedback loops are either negative or positive. A positive feedback loop encourages continued disclosure as in, "Tell me more." Or, "What about this turns you on?" Negative feedback puts the kibosh on further disclosure.
Basically, look at what counselors do: Listen closely and search for meaning. Most often, such sharing is an opening to deeper understanding of one another. If though, after all of this context-understanding and feedback-searching, you're still concerned about your or your partner’s fantasies, might I suggest a non-threatening visit to a kind-hearted marriage and family therapist?
Besides, if someone's weirding you out with an idea involving two sheep, a parachute and a jar of mayonnaise, you can always just say, "No thank you, not today."
Author and speaker Steven Ing is one of the only therapists specializing in teaching clients how to manage their sexuality intelligently. Full disclosure: He does not have fantasies about sheep and/or mayonnaise. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @steveningMFT with ideas for future columns.
Column originally appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal.