Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

Sexual Fantasies: Be Here Now

It keeps one's mate technically faithful, but at what cost?

A fellow sex educator recounts the story of finding her 6-year-old daughter in the bathtub with a dreamy expression on her face and her hand moving between her legs. "I'm thinking about pirates carrying me away on a ship," she explained to her startled mother.

Sexual fantasies entertain every human being at some time or other, some at a younger age than we might expect. Such fantasies are not restricted to one sex more than the other nor to specific situations. Some people "day dream" or have erotic reveries frequently. For others it's a rare indulgence.

There is the popular assumption that men's fantasies are likely to be more explicitly sexual while women's are more softly romantic; throbbing genitals vs., well, being carried away by a dashing pirate. This is not necessarily the case. Studies have shown that the most popular themes of sexual fantasies are the same for both women and men: sex with a stranger, being seduced and overwhelmed by an attractive other, and sex with more than one partner at a time.

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Over my years as an advice columnist I have frequently been asked about fantasies - whether they are normal, whether it's "okay" to have them, when are they okay and what kind are acceptable. I always reassure that, indeed, fantasies are normal and that they do not necessarily encompass a wish to translate them into reality. Another common fear is "What does it mean when I have such a fantasy?" The answer is no more than "You have an active imagination."

There is a long ago New Yorker cartoon, artist unknown to me, of an older couple lying in bed stiffly and staring at the ceiling. That caption reads "What's the matter? Can't you think of anyone either?" Many find the situation all too familiar. I have never found it funny. This cartoon depicts the one instance in which I do not endorse a familiar fantasy.

Many of the readers who sought reassurance about fantasizing did so with the express description of having them during partnered sex, usually explaining (complaining?) that she or he was unable to get aroused or reach orgasm without this aid. "So is this okay?" Well, no it isn't. Not with me - professionally or personally. There has to be something better than two people having sex with each other while their minds are active elsewhere.

I understand that endorsing such normal fantasizing of escape from an overly familiar body is seen by many therapists as support for monogamy. Okay, it keeps one's mate technically faithful, but at what cost? I sure can't imagine any woman being flattered by her mate's ardor and discovering that it was occasioned by fantasies of Angelina Jolie or, worse, her best friend. There must be something better, more rewarding and less demeaning to each person in the marital bed.

What I recommend to those who find thinking of others while having sex with their usual partners a regular mechanism for maintaining fidelity is that he or she focus on the person actually in the bed with them, the one who at one time was the font of all sexual desire, real and fantasized. Yes, yes, we all suffer the ravages of over familiarity, let alone those that time brings, but something of the one who originally ignited your passion is still there. Concentrate on that. His wrist, hairy or sinewy, is still the same. Her voice and the smooth skin of her inner thigh probably haven't changed.

Each of us can summon memories of the moments before that first exciting kiss. Focus on that. Think about the times you two were falling in love, the body you desired, the connection of heart to heart you craved. Those images and memories still belong to the person who is in your bed here and now. That sex is much more personal in every way, more uniting rather than dividing of two people sharing a life as well as a bed.

I'm not at all saying that fantasies about others, real or imagined, do not have their place in the life of anyone with a rich imagination. Enjoy them in private. When you are in bed and about to connect your body with the person with whom you have chosen to share your life, I recommend that you make that extra bit of effort to be present fully for the event. You both will enjoy it more.

Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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