The Deeper Psychological Meaning Behind Your Sex Fantasies
From group sex to BDSM, a new book explores how our fantasies reflect our needs.
Posted Jul 03, 2018
When we hear or read about other people’s sexual fantasies, we have a tendency to focus our attention on the specific act they describe, such as a threesome or bondage, and the physical sensations that go along with it. However, our fantasies are often much more complex than this and go well beyond physical gratification. Indeed, we’re often seeking to meet deeper psychological needs through our fantasies, too. And depending on what your needs are at a given moment, you might very well be drawn to very different types of sex fantasies.
I gained some firsthand insight into this through a massive survey of sexual fantasies I recently conducted, which formed the basis for my new book, Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life (Da Capo Press, July 2018). Specifically, I surveyed 4,175 Americans about their sex fantasies and collected detailed information on their personalities, sexual histories, and demographics. The book addresses many aspects of sexual fantasies, but the one I want to focus on here is how our fantasies are connected to our psychological needs, such as the need to feel loved or validated.
Let’s imagine you’re someone who fantasies a lot about, say, group sex (and odds are that, even if this isn’t your favorite fantasy, you’ve probably fantasized about it before, given that 89% of my participants said they’d had a threesome fantasy at least once!). So what might this say about your psychological needs? I found that frequent group sex fantasies were linked to a desire to feel sexually competent and to be sexually irresistible.
This makes sense because, in group sex scenarios, my participants described themselves as being the center of attention more often than not. When you have multiple partners who are fawning over you like this, this is likely to make you feel very attractive and desired. It’s not just that, however. When you’re able to please or sexually satisfy multiple people at once, this is likely to make you feel validated in terms of your sexual skills and abilities, too.
Now let’s say you’re someone who fantasizes a lot about passion and romance. What might these fantasies signify? I found that frequent passion/romance fantasies were associated a desire to feel loved and to be emotionally connected with a partner. It therefore seems that when people are fantasizing about things like watching a sunset and then making love all night on a beach, this is likely to give them the feelings of love and intimacy they crave.
What about BDSM fantasies? I found that people who fantasized more about BDSM—and especially about submissive and masochistic activities—reported a greater need to receive approval and to feel desired. I suspect that this may be because these specific BDSM acts offer an escape from self-awareness. For example, masochistic acts (i.e., sexual activities in which one derives arousal from receiving pain) have the effect of increasing mindfulness—they help you to focus on the here and now, rather than getting distracted by your inner monologue. This increase in mindfulness may help people to temporarily escape any insecurities and anxieties that might otherwise interfere with their sexual enjoyment.
As I discuss in much greater depth and detail in Tell Me What You Want, our sexual fantasies are in many ways therapeutic. They don’t just help us to experience sexual pleasure, but also to cope with the psychological needs that we have at a given moment. And because our psychological needs change over the course of our lives, our fantasies, it seems, often adjust to correspond with those needs—and that may help to explain why the things that turn you on now may be very different from the things that turned you on in the past.
Lehmiller, J. J. (2018). Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. Boston, MA: Da Capo.