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Updated 22 February 2013

What are sexual fantasies?

Fantasy is the process of creating thoughts, acts, behaviours, images and feelings in our imagination that may enhance our actual experience.

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Fantasy is the process of creating thoughts, acts, behaviours, images and feelings in our imagination that may enhance our actual experience. An erotic fantasy can be a complete sexual act in and of itself. It is where we can control and/or give up control.

Almost 90% of men and 70% of women fantasise during masturbation, while 52% fantasise at some stage during sex.

Some fantasies are like flash cards, a simple, single mental image (a kiss), while others are like elaborate and detailed stories (meeting a person, taking them home or to a hotel, getting undressed, having sex). Both types of fantasies can be based on actual events, or they can be entirely fictional and even impossible occurrences.

We can dream about sexual experimentation, improper liaisons, and pornographic images. Sometimes we suppress fantasies that we think are politically incorrect, but it is a misconception that they always represent unconscious wishes and desires that people would really like to act out. Fantasies for many people are mental explorations of sexual terrain that they never wish to experience. In fact, for some, acting them out would spoil the fantasy. One doesn’t even have to tell anyone their fantasies to be sexually happier and fulfilled, just accept them without anxiety for what they are.

Rehearsing new behaviours
Fantasy, however, can serve as rehearsal to incorporate new behaviours into your future sex life (the use of latex, fetish sex). It can be a learning technique, a good way to figure out what you want to do, what turns you on, as well as what turns on your partner(s). You can create dates based on fantasies. You can set the stage and the tone, lighting, music, location. It’s creative and educational. You can give yourself the freedom to respond to the new and unfamiliar in your own time and private space, Many people tap into fantasies to generate arousal, or when they are nearing an orgasm and want a little extra momentum to "go over the top". It is also a way, when one gets older and the body begins to slow down, to jump-start your engine. Others fantasise because they want all their senses stimulated during sex to enrich an already good experience.

Some men and women find it very erotic to share their fantasies with a lover or lovers, and they report not only increased excitement, but also a feeling of greater closeness. However, sharing may not be without risk. Some may be uncomfortable hearing about other people or images. Some people believe that when they are having sexual fantasies in bed, it is a sign they are not attracted to their real partners. While this may be true in some cases, fantasies and attraction feed each other for many people.

Pre-adolescence
Between the ages of eleven and fourteen, when the brain signals the pituitary gland to increase its production of growth hormones and of testosterone in boys and oestrogen in girls, both try to make sense of these new sensations. Sexual fantasy for girls is said to begin in pre-adolescence, when she first mounts a bicycle or climbs a tree and experience a rush of power between her legs. Dazed and amazed she feels the first stirrings of her orgasmic future. She channels her yearnings into pursuits like parties, dancing, walks with her dog and these days, on line chats. She goes from having a crush on an uncle or a teacher, to having a crush on her best friend, or her best friend’s boyfriend. She remains fairly true to romantic fantasies and exotic settings over the lifespan.

Some other popular fantasies for women include submission (resisting sex by being overpowered so as not to feel responsible for her desire), threesome or group sex, fetish sex, sex in public places, sex with a famous person, sex with a stranger (the latter being the most realised by women). Gynaecologists have confirmed reports of women who are capable of having orgasms without being physically touched, by the stimulation of their imaginations alone (thinking of).

What do men fantasise about?
Young men are usually aware of their sexual power and they explore it earlier than girls because there are more physiological opportunities for discovery. In the area of fantasy, some men also visualise candlelit dinners and sunsets. But more often romance is a means to the end they are striving towards: sexual intercourse. Men more frequently focus on body parts and sex acts. They imagine "zipless sex" – silent, passionate, no strings attached sex. Other popular themes for men are sex with strangers, sex with more than one person and forcing a woman to have sex. Women and men may share the same sexual activities, but the weights that are given to the various elements are not always the same.

People can get "carried away" in their sexual excitement. Sometimes the ruthlessness of fantasies is important because it eliminates the need to feel guilty or worried. Everyone is having fun, no one is fragile and the result is always sexual pleasure. In many cases roles are reversed. Men want to surrender sexually and "be done to", women are aroused by fantasies of explicitly and aggressively sexually dominating a man. Sexual fantasies can and do have complicated psychological meaning without being morbid or unhealthy. Fetish fantasies such as an attraction to leather or a particular item of clothing, animals, skin colour or an isolated body part, is also safe. No one can object, take offence, or retaliate in any way.

(Dr Elna McIntosch, former Health24 sexologist, updated May 2010)

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