Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Inside Your Sexual Fantasies

Sexual Needs: Part 8

A former FBI investigator, an early member of the Behavioral Science Unit, cautioned members of the audience about serial killers and sex offenders alike with a paraphrase of Marcus Aurelius: "All action is preceded by thought." He took this to mean that we should be vigilant about our own thoughts and, in treatment, work toward helping all offenders (and especially sex offenders) to stop thinking about sexual fantasies that involve criminal acts.

In fact, it became common practice among sex offender counselors to focus their clinical skills at "helping" their clients learn how to repress their sexual thoughts—all of them. The theory here was that a mere state of arousal was a prelude to criminal behavior and so, when you think about it, sexual fantasy is very dangerous. To this end, many programs still teach "thought stopping" techniques. Some even pass out ampoules of smelling salts or ammonia to clients, instructing them to take a deep whiff of the punishing smell every time they have a sexual thought.

Many churches teach a similar interpretation of Jesus' words, "Whoever looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery with her in his heart." So it seems logical to many that no one should be looking or even be thinking about such things as sexual thoughts. Bad. Very bad!

But does this sort of thinking actually work? No.

If you think about it for a moment, telling a heterosexual man to just not think about sex is a lot like a mom telling a homosexual son that he should "just try" to like girls. In other words, we are all what we are. As sexual beings, we're going to have sexual thoughts. Unless you're very different from most, you (and any future partner) are going to enjoy thinking thoughts that give you pleasure. This includes thoughts of shopping for something greatly desired and indulging in food that is greatly enjoyed, as well as thinking sexually pleasing thoughts.

Photo by Gantas Vaičiulėnas from Pexels
Source: Photo by Gantas Vaičiulėnas from Pexels

This is the very definition of a sexual fantasy. A sexual fantasy is any thought that gives sexual pleasure. If sexual fantasies (and the pleasure they bring) were forbidden by authority figures around us, the remedy for most of us would be simple: Lie. "No, I just don't think about people that way."

There's another reason why clinical (or ecclesiastic) attempts to prevent people from thinking sexually pleasant thoughts doesn't work: As necessary as repression is as a tool in our lives, it is a temporary remedy. Repression (of any desire) is not a great or even a sustainable lifestyle. That which is Repressed will be Expressed, inappropriately.

How's that? By using repression alone to manage my sexual thoughts I can, if I'm good at repression, separate my sexuality from my consciousness. So, now I'm not lying about my not having sexual fantasies. I literally have no idea that I'm having sexual fantasies because, well, I'm awfully good at lying to myself. The consequence of my amazing gift of self-deception is that I am now utterly unaware that I have sexual thoughts that give me pleasure. And, like dominos falling atop one another, my lack of awareness of my sexual fantasies means I now have no possible way to manage those sexual thoughts or to take countermeasures against my impulsively acting in opposition to my sexual goals.

If, for example, I love my spouse and want to stay together forever in what is a happy and satisfying relationship, then I will benefit from my awareness that I'm crushing on the lady next door. You know, the really hot one. Whose husband doesn't treat her right. Who's out of town just when she needs help with a plumbing problem in the kitchen. Yeah, that lady. My awareness of my thoughts allows me to maybe come up with an acceptable path forward consistent with my goals and my morals. "Sorry Blanche, I don't know anything about that. Let me get you the number of the guy I use."

Here we are again looking in the display case of ideas, and there it is, the jewel of sexual ideas—that is, the intelligent management of sexuality. I could both enjoy thoughts that bring me sexual pleasure and use those thoughts as a sort of Early Warning Radar System. (If you didn't grow up in the Cold War era just ask your grandpa about it.) My sexual fantasies tell me what kinds of ideas are turning me on. This allows me to consider them with both enjoyment and an increased capacity for managing my behavior thoughtfully. Who knows, maybe I'll even take my personal chaperone (aka, the wife) over with me to help Blanche out.

Sexual fantasies are Mother Nature's changing room in the sexual department store of life. Once inside the privacy of my own mind, I can try ideas on for size. I can consider them for practicality (We could do that), as escapist (Hello, lady vampire), or as pleasant but with way too much liability (You see, your Honor, it was like this). Robbing ourselves and others of our private thoughts about sexuality is ultimately crippling.

Lastly, if you really love someone then you really want to know them. If you want to know someone then you would naturally want to know about their sexuality, including that thing they think about doing with the lady vampire. Not that you're going to do it (unless you want to), and not that you're obligated just because they shared. It's just that you love them and you really want to know them. Don't you? But if you do want to know more about the one you love, remember sexual need #1: You have to make it safe to share this way.