Why Do People Have Fantasies?

Indulging in fantasies—the imaginary, daydream-like scenarios that individuals play out in their heads—may seem like a waste of time, but the truth is that they are far from frivolous.

Most fantasies, whether conscious or unconscious, 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.

In certain mental health disorders, such as delusional disorder and schizophrenia, fantasies can be mistaken for reality, or they can become too rigid or cause an individual significant distress, as in the case of paraphilias. While those unhealthy fantasies can (and often do) cause real problems for individuals who are unable to differentiate fact from fiction, for the vast majority of people, fantasies are harmless, providing a beneficial escape from the here and now.

What Are Fantasies Usually About?

Everyone daydreams occasionally. Some prefer to fantasize about their pasts (“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 currently impossible, 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 future—may be the most productive. Anyone who finds themselves spending time with their head in the clouds may be better served if those clouds were as grounded in reality as possible.


Creativity, Dreaming, Pornography, Sex

Are My Fantasies Normal?

Many people who have surprising or extreme fantasies—particularly those that are sexual in nature—often wonder whether their fantasies are “normal.” While some fantasies are indeed unique, most “unusual” fantasies are actually fairly common.

Sometimes, however, an individual becomes so preoccupied with their fantasies, and whether they’re indicative of a pathology, that it causes them significant mental distress. Fantasies of violence or non-consensual sex may be especially upsetting, particularly when the person begins to fear they will act on the fantasy. In those cases, seeking the help of a therapist or other medical professional can be helpful.

When fantasies (especially sexual fantasies) are made into reality, it’s critical that everyone involved consent to the activity. But most fantasies are just that—fantasies. If left unspoken, they cannot harm others just by existing. Whether someone acts on their fantasy is entirely up to them.


Anxiety, Dreaming, Sex

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