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The Psychology of Sexual Fantasy: Part 1

Sexual fantasies are a natural byproduct of the human imagination. Yet, they make the majority of us uncomfortable enough that our fantasies about sex and sexual activities remain inside our heads.
05/27/2014 09:45am ET | Updated July 27, 2014
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Sexual fantasies are a natural byproduct of the human imagination. Yet, they make the majority of us uncomfortable enough that our fantasies about sex and sexual activities remain inside our heads. We are happy to watch the sexual fantasies conjured up by screen writers and read the sexual fantasies designed by authors; but, when it comes to sharing our sexual fantasies, that is, speaking up about and verbalizing what we want from our bedroom encounters with our sexual partners, most of us don't, won't, can't talk about it.

According to Best Selling authors Chrisanna Northrup and Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., who along with James Witte, Ph.D., penned The Normal Bar: The surprising secrets of happy couples and what they reveal about creating a new normal in your relationship, 98 percent of adults polled say they have had or continue to have sexual fantasies and, further, that 61 percent of women and 90 percent of men who are currently in a relationship, sexually fantasize about other people they meet. Thus, the authors conclude that, "it's normal for happy couples to fantasize about sexual acts that their morals and/or ethics won't allow in real life. Our fantasies can break taboos that our actions never will."

The big questions are: How important are sexual fantasies? What do they mean about the state of your relationship? What makes one person more adventurous in the bedroom than another?

"Sexual fantasy keeps us alive," says Meghan Laslocky, a social historian and author of The Little Book of Heartbreak: Love Gone Wrong Through the Ages . "Sexual fantasy is a vital part of who we are. It's a vital part of what makes us human, a vital part of the human condition. It's creative and it's what separates us from animals."

"Based on the mail I get, I think [sexual fantasy is] a big part of every person's life," says sexual fantasy writer, Shayla Black, who has written more than three dozen erotic romances, including her most recent, Their Virgin Secretary Masters of Ménage, Book 6. "What a lot of people do, whether it's because they are busy or because of the way they were raised or because now that they are mothers or fathers they think they should be more 'normal,' they stop talking about and acting out their sexual fantasies. But I think they need to be honest with themselves about what they want."

The subject of "acting out" a sexual fantasy is what grabbed the attention of debut novelist Brian White, whose book, Cuba After Dark, is about just how far one partner should go to fulfill the other's sexual fantasy? "My book -- a cautionary tale about what happens when one partner wants to push the boundaries of sexuality and the other does not -- poses the question: how much can we really ask of the person we love?"

In order to make a sexual fantasy "come alive," you first need to talk about it with your partner. So, in this two-part piece on The Psychology of Sexual Fantasy, we're going to start with the first step, how to talk with your partner about your sexual fantasy. Then, in Part 2, we will discuss the next step, turning a sexual fantasy into reality.

Step number one -- talking:

Honestly is difficult, says NYC sex and relationship expert, Megan Fleming. Fear of judgment about our own particular fantasies is what keeps many of us from speaking up. "You may know what gives you pleasure. But, what makes you feel shame or guilt is 'how am I going to bring this into my relationship; will I be judged? Will my partner run the other way?'"

So, she recommends sharing your fantasy by reading a sexual fantasy novel. Not only can the book be the conversation starter, but it can also be a sexual fantasy litmus test to help you figure out what you may or may not want in the bedroom.

"It gives you an opportunity to learn about yourself when you respond to the written word," echoes Black. "Your partner cannot give you want you want if you don't even know what it is. Sometimes I hear from readers of my books, 'I wanted more but I didn't know what I wanted until I started reading and then I realized how much I was responding to just the written word so then I began this communication with my partner. And low and behold we are now both thinking the same thing and either we didn't know about it or weren't talking about it, or it wasn't on our spectrum'."

"Men's and women's fantasies actually overlap quite a bit," write the authors of The Normal Bar. "If they just shared them with their partners they could improve their sex lives dramatically, to mutual benefit. But as long as people depend on their partners to guess what they want few of these fantasies will ever get realized. Opening up a little can make all the difference." That said, according to Pepper Schwartz, "women are less likely to share because they are more worried about how they will be seen."

"Speaking up about what turns you on can be enough for some couples," says relationship expert, Megan Fleming. "A conversation with your partner should be a safe space to explore what erotically you have never given voice to."

But what if talking about it isn't enough? What if you want to take the next step and act out your sexual fantasy?

We will explore that question in Part 2 of The Psychology of Sexual Fantasy.

In the meantime, if you want to have a face-to-face discussion about sexual fantasy with Brian White or Shayla Black, you can:

Brian White will be at Book Revue, in Huntington, Long Island, New York on June 5 @7pm for a book reading and signing.

Shayla Black will be attending Book Bash in Orlando, Florida on June 28.