Where Do Our Sexual Fantasies Come From?

Often, we don't consciously realize why we want the things we want.

Posted Jul 20, 2018

What’s the source of your favorite sex fantasy? Did it emerge from a previous sexual experience? Is it from something you saw in porn or in the popular media? Or did it come from somewhere else? It turns out that our fantasies can spring from several different sources. Below we’ll consider what a diverse group of 4,175 Americans said when asked where their biggest sexual fantasy of all time came from. This survey formed the basis for my latest book, Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.

In order from most to least common, here’s what people said was the biggest influence on where their favorite fantasy came from (at least in terms of their own self-understanding):

1. My own imagination

2. Something I saw in pornography/erotica

3. A previous sexual experience that happened as an adult

4. A spontaneous and inexplicable sexual urge

5. Something I read in a book

6. I don’t know

7. A previous sexual experience from childhood or adolescence

8. Something I saw in the movies or on TV

9. A sexual opportunity that I passed up

123RF/Mahmoud Victor Moussa
Our fantasies have the potential to emerge from many different sources.
Source: 123RF/Mahmoud Victor Moussa

A few participants (7 percent) reported sources other than the ones listed above. These sources included: “conversations with my partner,” “an unfulfilled desire,” “a non-sexual childhood experience” (for example, one person mentioned a cartoon they saw as a kid), “something I saw in a sex shop,” and (interestingly) “being cheated on.” (That’s right — some people said that being cheated on by their partner led them to develop a sexual fantasy about precisely that.)

As you can see, our fantasies have the potential to emerge from many different sources. However, while we may consciously recognize some of these sources, it’s not uncommon for people to have no sense of where their favorite fantasies came from, hence why "a spontaneous and inexplicable sexual urge" and "I don't know" appeared high on the list. This isn’t surprising, because we aren’t always able to introspect and pinpoint why we want the things we want, sexually or otherwise. Psychologists have long know that introspecting (i.e., looking inward) can often provide valuable insight, but it doesn't always lead to the right answer. 

As I discuss in Tell Me What You Want, there are a lot of factors that subtly influence the content of our sex fantasies in ways we may not realize, from our culture to our evolutionary history to our personality. Ultimately, our fantasies are best thought of as being biopsychosocial in nature, meaning they are a unique product of biological, psychological, and social/environmental factors. 

Facebook Image: Santiago Cornejo/Shutterstock

References

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.