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In Your Dreams

Why anxious women fantasize about anonymous sex. Diagnosing relationships through dirty thoughts.

You can thank your mom for your sexual fantasies. (No, not in the Oedipal sense.) If our caregivers are too distant when we're young, we grow up with attachment insecurity, in the form of either avoidance (to avoid hurt) or anxiety, manifested as neediness. Attachment style affects what we're looking for, both from a relationship and from sex, and new research shows how our insecurities follow us into the world of our most bawdy thoughts.

Gurit Birnbaum, a psychologist at the Interdisciplinary Center, in Israel, found that people with attachment anxiety think about sex more—not surprising, considering they often use sex to get closer to others. And submission is a hot topic for them; it's nice to think you're so desirable that others can't resist overtaking you.

But when it comes to sexual fantasies, men and women face their anxiety differently. Neediness leads women to daydream about unrestricted and emotionless sex (cheating, orgies, one-night stands). "I thought that the unconstrained world of fantasies would enable them to fulfill, at least virtually, their endless desire for undenied love," Birnbaum says. "But they seemed to choose the route that would least satisfy that need." Meanwhile, anxious men dwell more on the romantic. Burdened by the social role of sexual initiator, they fantasize about investing in one committed partner rather than risking rejection from new ones.

What happens in your imagination may shed light on very real abandonment fears, Birnbaum says. "Tell me your fantasies and I will tell you what you want out of relationships and how to get your needs met."