How the Pandemic Is Affecting Our Sexual Fantasies

New research shows that 60% of people have noticed a change in their fantasies.

Posted Aug 11, 2020

123RF/lightfieldstudios
Source: 123RF/lightfieldstudios

As someone who studies the science of sexual fantasies, I’ve been curious about whether the pandemic might affect them. This situation has touched many different aspects of our intimate lives, including our porn searches and viewing habits as well as our overall sexual and relationship quality, so it only seems reasonable to assume that there may have also been some shifts in our fantasies.

Some of my colleagues and I at The Kinsey Institute embarked on a longitudinal study in mid-March to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s sex lives and relationships. In our first wave of data collection, one of the things we found is that many people reported making new additions to their sex lives during lockdown and quarantine—and one of the most commonly reported new additions was sharing and acting on one’s sexual fantasies (to learn more about other new things people tried, check out our first publication from the study here).

In subsequent waves of data collection, we added further questions on a variety of topics, including more specific questions about sexual fantasies, the results of which I’ll be exploring in this article.

First, we asked participants whether they’ve noticed a change in the frequency of their sexual fantasies since the pandemic began. About 4% of our participants said they don’t have sexual fantasies (consistent with previous fantasy research), but here's what the remaining 96% said about how their fantasy frequency has changed:

  • 8% said they are fantasizing a lot more 
  • 27% said they are fantasizing a little more
  • 40% said they are fantasizing at about the same rate as before
  • 17% said they are fantasizing a little less
  • 9% said they are fantasizing a lot less

Put another way, a majority of our participants (60%) said they’ve experienced some change in their fantasy frequency, with about 1 in 3 people saying they’re fantasizing more, and about 1 in 4 saying they’re fantasizing less. On average, however, frequency of fantasies appears to be higher now than it was before the pandemic.

It makes sense that not everyone’s fantasies have been impacted in the same way, because this situation is affecting different people in different ways. However, the fact that the overall trend is toward more fantasies probably reflects the fact that many of us are having a difficult time meeting our sexual needs during this time, which is leading many to turn inwards to compensate for that.

We also asked participants to report on the reasons why they were fantasizing right now. Based on previous research I conducted for my book, Tell Me What You Want, I found that there were several distinct reasons people reported for having sexual fantasies, which you can read about here. In our pandemic study, we asked people whether they had fantasized for each of these reasons (along with a few additional reasons that we thought might be relevant), and here’s what they said:

  • 49% said they had fantasized to enhance sexual arousal 
  • 39% said they had fantasized to temporarily escape reality
  • 34% said they had fantasized to meet unmet sexual needs
  • 33% said they had fantasized to relax or reduce anxiety
  • 31% said they had fantasized to compensate for the lack of or absence of a partner
  • 29% said they had fantasized to plan out a future sexual encounter
  • 29% said they had fantasized because they were bored and had nothing else to do
  • 18% said they had fantasized to meet unmet emotional needs
  • 17% said they had fantasized to feel more sexually confident
  • 15% said they had fantasized to block out distractions during sex
  • 14% said they had fantasized because they were curious about different sexual experiences or sensations
  • 13% said they had fantasized to express a taboo sexual desire
  • 3% said they had fantasized to compensate for an unattractive partner
  • 3% said they had fantasized for reasons other than those mentioned above, such as getting ideas for writing erotic fiction, escaping chronic pain, and help falling asleep.

Not surprisingly, the single most common reason for fantasizing during the pandemic was to enhance sexual arousal, which is usually the most common reason people fantasize. However, it’s notable that less than half of participants reported this reason.

Large numbers of participants said they were fantasizing because they needed escape, they were bored, they needed to relax, and/or they were attempting to meet unfulfilled needs (sexual and/or emotional). This suggests that many people are using their fantasies in a therapeutic way—as a form of self-care—right now. In fact, more people (65%) reported fantasizing for one of these therapeutic reasons than reported fantasizing to enhance arousal (49%).

Sexual fantasies, then, appear to be a commonly used coping mechanism during times of high stress.

Facebook image: LightField Studios/Shutterstock

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