What do you think of when you think of sex? What types of images and ideas come to mind? What sexual scenarios and stories turn you on? The possibilities are endless and not only vary from person to person, but can change substantially over the course of our lives.
An inclusive definition
Sexual fantasies can take many forms, from fleeting thoughts and images to elaborate, detailed scenarios that play out in our minds like a scene in a movie. By definition, sexual fantasies include all sexual thoughts and images that alter our emotions, sensations, or physiological state.* While all of us experience non-sexual fantasies as well, those thoughts that have an erotic effect on us or include images we commonly associate with sex, are considered sexual fantasies.
Old ways of categorizing sexual fantasies miss the mark
Categorizing sexual fantasies into “common types” can be challenging because the range of possible sexual fantasies is immense and subjective. Popular articles in magazines, as well as sexuality textbooks, frequently divide sexual fantasies according to the type of sexual activity featured in them. For example, does the fantasy involve masturbation, standard intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, threesomes, kinky sex, etc.?
Sometimes sexual fantasies are categorized by the assumed sexual orientation of the fantasized characters or the social roles and status of a character (e.g., stranger, current partner, celebrity, neighbor, babysitter, teacher, etc.). And it’s not unusual, especially in early psychological literature, to find fantasies categorized by the “deviant” or illegal sexual behaviors they portray (e.g., fetishes, bondage, incest, rape, child abuse, prostitution, etc.). Furthermore, writings about sexual fantasies often interchangeably refer to them as “desires,” which is inaccurate and misleading.
While fitting sexual fantasies into neat boxes may be common and sometimes entertaining, doing so tends to over-simplify, misrepresent, and trivialize the real value of sexual fantasy.
Categories aren’t helpful if the fantasizer wants to understand why they are drawn to a particular fantasy, how it impacts them, and what they might learn from the sexual fantasy that could enhance their real-life sexual experiences. Just because a straight man fantasizes about sex with other men doesn’t mean he’s gay. And a woman who entertains sexual fantasies of being overpowered and “forced” into sex by a stranger doesn’t mean she actually wants to be raped. And if your erotic imaginings go to random images and sensations, like floating in warm water over rocky waves or listening to sexy words whispered in your ear, that doesn’t mean that what you experience and enjoy isn’t actually a sexual fantasy.
As with dreaming, sexual fantasies may best be understood when we look at them as windows into our rich and creative libidinal thoughts, rather than as mirrors of our actual desires. In my counseling and training work on sexual fantasies, I found it more productive and positive to categorize sexual fantasies in a way that shines a light on how we feel about the fantasy and what it might tell us about our sensual and emotional anxieties, needs, and preferences.
A more revealing way to describe sexual fantasies
In my research and clinical work for my book, Private Thoughts on women’s sexual fantasies, discovered two major categories of sexual fantasies – scripted and unscripted.
Scripted sexual fantasies are based on character roles
Scripted sexual fantasies involve characters and often follow a narrative plot or storyline. They can be further categorized by taking into consideration how the fantasizer sees themself in the fantasy, the relationship dynamics between the characters, and how sexual energy builds. From this perspective, six common types of scripted sexual fantasies appear to organically emerge:
GOOD-LOOKER. You are the object of another’s desire. In the fantasy you see yourself as a pretty maiden, hot guy, or otherwise sexually attractive, desirable person—you don’t have to do much more than exist and someone else desires you and initiates sexual activity with you.
VICTIM. You are the object of sexual humiliation or violence. In the fantasy you see yourself as a victim of another’s sexual lust and aggression – you lack power and control and may be treated with disrespect.
GO-GETTER. You are the initiator of sexual activity. You fantasize about being a sexual go-getter, putting yourself out there, choosing a partner, making the moves – you’re in charge and unashamed of your sexual energy, desires, needs.
DOMINATOR. You satisfy your sexual desires through exercising power and control over another person. You create scenarios in which you dominate, act, and take what you want despite how the other may feel, or what the other may want or need.
VOYEUR. You take pleasure in watching others engage in sexual activity. In these fantasies, you are a voyeur – watching and engaged from a position of being outside the action. You may be hidden or exposed to the other characters.
BELOVED. You’re intimately engaged in love-based sex with someone of equal power or status. In this type of fantasy, the arousal builds due to mutual initiation of activity, pleasuring, response, and satisfaction.
Most of us experience and enjoy more than one type of scripted sexual fantasy. You may, for example, fantasize about being a good-looker one day and a go-getter the next. Similarly, a fantasizer might have many fantasies in which they are a voyeur witnessing sexual aggression during one stage of their lives, and then at another stage when they are older, shift primarily to fantasizing two people engaging in a mutually tender, beloved sexual exchange.
Unscripted sensual fantasies highlight sensory elements
The other main sexual fantasy category is unscripted fantasies. These focus on sensory stimuli or images and do not follow a traditional storyline or involve characters. The contents of unscripted fantasies vary widely and include fleeting images, feelings, and sensations, as well as, longer experiences such as imagining a flower slowly growing from bud to blossom, opening up, and releasing a delicious scent into the air, or gracefully diving off a diving board deep into a pool of water.
Unscripted fantasies often contain images not normally associated with sex. It’s common for people to describe scenes from nature, such as a waterfall or storm clouds building in intensity, or other images of tension increasing and releasing, as with music surging to a climax. These images correspond with stages of the sexual response cycle in which we travel from interest (desire), to awakening arousal (excitement), to heightened strong arousal (plateau), to release (orgasm), and then to a state of calm (resolution).
Unscripted sexual fantasies often appeal to one of our senses, as you can see in the list of examples below:
• Visual (cascading waterfall, fireworks exploding, a nude body or body part…)
• Auditory (sexy words, moaning, the sound of slapping, music…)
• Tactile (body massage, pinching, water spray, kissing…)
• Olfactory (of body or body part, scented candle, earthy smell…)
• Kinesthetic, relating to body movement (dancing, rocking together, flying…)
• Flavor (of genital area, mouth, skin, chocolate..)
Unscripted sexual fantasies can be goldmines in terms of pointing out the sensual modes a person enjoys best in real life. Thus, if you find yourself having lots of tactile fantasies, that may indicate that touch is important to you and there’s a good chance you can up your sexual enjoyment by increasing touch-related pleasures in lovemaking. And if you realize your sexual fantasies are primarily sensual in nature, this insight can help you validate and appreciate them more for their connection to the natural world, as well as their unique erotic charge.
Fantasy types can merge and change
The line between scripted role-based and unscripted sensory-based types of sexual fantasies is not distinct. For example, scripted fantasies can be filled with important sensory elements. Imagine a “good-looker” lying naked on pink satin sheets or a “go-getter” whose leather-smelling outfit adds a critical thrill. And similarly, unscripted fantasies can hint at a storyline, as with the erotic image of galloping brazenly across a field on a beautiful horse. The possibilities are endless given how the common types of sexual fantasies can appear and swirl together during arousal.
Remember, sexual fantasies are best understood as creative outlets, erotic imaginings, separate from our regular lives. Like with dreams, sexual fantasies are not always consistent with how we see ourselves or prefer to behave. Regardless of what type they are – role-based scripted fantasies or sensually-rich unscripted fantasies – they generally serve as important psychological outlets that reduce anxieties, take us away from the distractions of everyday life, add excitement, and enhance real-life sex.
*This definition was first shared in Private Thoughts: Exploring the Power of Women’s Sexual Fantasies by Wendy Maltz & Suzie Boss (aka In the Garden of Desire).
© Copyright 2022 by Wendy Maltz for HealthySex.com