Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

During Sex, Is it Okay to Fantasize About Someone Else?Why?

Fantasies can be harmless or hurtful.

A long time ago, I remember being out with a female friend who told me she occasionally fantasized about other men when having sex with her boyfriend. At the time, I wondered how common this is among couples. I also wondered how many people do this but don't admit it to others, as my friend had.

There are two issues here. First, is it okay to sexually fantasize about others? Second, is it okay to sexually fantasize about others while you are having sex with your partner?

Let's take the first issue on its own. When I see couples in couples therapy, the couple often deals with jealousy issues. I explain to each member of the couple that no one person is going to meet every need the other has, sexual or otherwise. I encourage the couples to learn to allow each to remain an individual inside the relationship, and accepting that your partner may fantasize about others can be very healthy. You give your partner a certain freedom in doing so. You don't put pressure on your partner to only be attracted to you.

The second issue, I think, is more complicated. Certainly no man or woman wants to be in the middle of an intimate moment and wonder whether their partner is actually picturing someone else in the moment. After a couple has been together many years, it's natural for each member to have a fantasy about being with someone else. However, it's not natural to have this fantasy while you are in the act with your partner on a regular basis.

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Once in a blue moon, if you find yourself in the middle of an intimate act fantasizing about another, you should not be horrified or feel guilty. If you find yourself fantasizing about someone else on a regular basis, your fantasy has become a coping mechanism to handle feelings about your relationship. You could be bored or angry at your partner, and your fantasy becomes your defense against incorporating intimacy with your partner. Do not give yourself a green light to regularly fantasize about another. Giving yourself this regular pass would allow you to take the easy way out when you really have some work to do to figure out what's wrong in your relationship.

Many times when you confront the feelings underneath your actions, you will come to see more clearly what you are doing and why you are doing it. I believe a successful relationship requires each member of a couple to regularly take inventory of their thoughts and feelings, sexual and otherwise, in the effort to be a solid and healthy fifty percent of a romantic union.

PLUS: Check out my book, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome, about how to stop repeating the same dysfunctional patterns in your relationships over and over again!

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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