Fantasies are imaginary, daydream-like scenarios that individuals play out in their heads. Whether conscious or unconscious, fantasies serve several psychological purposes and are a normal part of most people’s interior world.
Indulging in fantasies may seem like a waste of time, but they are far from frivolous. Most fantasies serve a specific purpose: They can be entertaining, distracting, frightening, or, in the case of sexual fantasies, arousing. Fantasizing about specific goals can foster creativity, help someone better understand their wants and needs, and even enable them to plan for the future.
When people attempt to turn their fantasies (especially their sexual fantasies) into reality, it’s critical that everyone involved consent to the activity. Other than that, however, most fantasies remain just that—fantasies. Left unspoken, they cannot harm others just by existing in someone’s mind.
Daydreaming is generally considered a universal experience, but some minds naturally wander more than others. Some research suggests that those who report more frequent daydreams are more creative or more easily distractible than those who report fewer fantasies.
Generally, yes. Daydreaming is associated with greater creativity in children and heightened productivity in adults, and has been shown to help individuals solve complex problems. In some cases, however, people report that their daydreams are derailing or frustrating.
In certain mental health disorders, such as delusional disorder and schizophrenia, fantasies can be mistaken for reality and trigger paranoia or dangerous behavior. Even in cases in which the individual knows their fantasies aren’t real, they can still become intrusive and cause an individual significant distress.
Everyone daydreams occasionally and covers a wide range of imagined topics. Some prefer to fantasize about their past (“I would have won that argument if I had just said this”) or potential paths for the future (“What if he felt about me like I do about him?”). Others daydream about things that are purely fantastical, like developing superpowers or traveling through time.
Though it’s not always clear what specific purpose different types of fantasies serve, some researchers hypothesize that more realistic fantasies—that is, fantasizing about things that could actually happen in the near future—may be the most productive.
In most cases, yes. It’s common for anyone with surprising or seemingly extreme fantasies—particularly those that are sexual in nature— to wonder whether such fantasies are “normal.” But while some are indeed unique, most “unusual” fantasies are actually fairly common; even if they aren’t, they are most likely harmless.
It’s possible to become so preoccupied with a fantasy—or the question of whether it's indicative of a pathology—that it interferes with daily life or causes significant mental distress. Repetitive thoughts or fantasies may also be indicative of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Repetitive, intrusive fantasies—particularly those depicting violence or taboo sex acts—can start to feel frightening or out of an individual’s control. Seeking the help of a therapist or other medical professional can be helpful.
The human mind is sexual, creative, and exploratory, and fantasizing is one way people satisfy their sexual needs and wants. As a result, most people experience a range of enticing, disturbing, or challenging sexual fantasies. Sexual fantasies are normal for most adults regardless of gender, age, or relationship status. Research shows that even a majority of asexual people fantasize about sex.
Having a sexual fantasy does not always, or even usually, mean that someone is planning to, or destined to, pursue it in real life. It should not be alarming, for example, for a lesbian to fantasize about sex with a man, or for a dedicated monogamous partner to dream of group sex. Sexually fantasizing about somebody else while having sex isn’t unusual either, and in most cases, isn’t detrimental to a relationship.
Sexual fantasies are typically used to promote arousal. But they can serve other purposes in someone’s sex life. Research suggests that they can boost confidence, help someone plan for a future sexual encounter, or provide an escape for those who find their real-life sexual experiences unsatisfying.
It’s not always possible to state for certain what individual sexual fantasies might mean, but some fantasies have been shown to be associated with certain non-sexual desires, past experiences, and personality traits. Fantasizing about group sex, for example, has been linked to a desire to feel competent and irresistible.
Research suggests that the most common sexual fantasies include group sex, rough sex/BDSM, taboo activities like sex in public, romanticism, and gender-bending sex.
Sharing a sexual fantasy with a trusted partner can be empowering and typically strengthens a sexual and/or romantic bond. In some cases, however, a partner may be judgmental of the fantasy, particularly if it involves taboo subjects.