“I’m in a candlelit bedroom wearing a dark green negligee with spaghetti straps. The door opens, and I gasp to see the gorgeous Hawaiian man whose flashing black eyes met mine earlier that day in the hotel lobby . . . I wait, my downcast eyes catching a glimpse of his snakeskin boots as he steps behind me. He begins kissing and stroking my neck and shoulders . . .”
This isn’t a page from the latest romance novel, the climax of an erotic thriller or an entry from Madonna’s diary. It’s one of the many exciting sexual fantasies I heard when I interviewed more than 100 diverse women for my book, Private Thoughts: Exploring the Power of Women’s Sexual Fantasies (New World Library, 2001/2012 Kindle; BookSurge 2008) coauthored with journalist, Suzie Boss.
Sexual fantasizing is a natural, universal psychological phenomenon similar to dreaming. And while nearly all women report having sexual fantasies, few women talk openly about their most private erotic thoughts. The women in our study ranged in age from 19 to 66 years old and came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and life experiences. The material they provide helps all women gain insight into the nature, purpose, and significance of their sexual fantasies. Many women have a natural curiosity about the topic and want help for answering such basic questions as:
- “Are my fantasies normal?”
- “Where do my sexual fantasies come from?”
- “Will fantasies help or harm my relationship?”
- “Do fantasies reveal my true sexual desires?”
By breaking the silence and shame surrounding sexual fantasies, women are able to learn from each other’s experiences as we have with other intimate topics such as breast cancer, sexual abuse, menstruation, and sexual pleasure. Taking a closer look at our sexual fantasies allows us to understand ourselves better, improve our sex lives, and enhance our intimate relationships.
A new definition of women’s sexual fantasies
By listening to women describe their sexual fantasies, we have found that fantasies are more varied and exist in a wider range than previous research had documented. Women tell of fantasies that range from fleeting thoughts–Denzel Washington’s lips, Al Pacino’s eyes, the scent of a former lover’s cologne, or a sensuous riff from a saxophone–to lengthy sexual scenarios that would play well on the silver screen. Imagery ranges from fantasies that evoke the soft, moody light of perfume ads to explicit sex scenes that mimic hard-core pornography. In addition, women are not limited to experiencing one type of fantasy. Individual women frequently report many different sexual fantasies.
Although women’s fantasies are most often consistent with their sexual orientation, some women describe fantasies that seem to be at odds with their stated orientation. For example, some heterosexual women say they entertain fantasies about female bodies, while some lesbian women describe fantasies about male genitals, penetration, or aggressively masculine sexual energy. Rather than causing confusion, these cross-over fantasies often bring pleasure to women who are secure in their sexual orientations. “It’s about celebrating my femaleness,” shared one heterosexual woman. And a lesbian woman said, “Imagining a man’s eager sexual energy helps me initiate lovemaking with my woman partner.”
To accommodate this expansive description of fantasies, we arrived at a new definition that is broad enough to encompass the wide range of women’s experiences with sexual fantasies. According to this definition, sexual fantasy includes all sexual thoughts and images that alter emotions, sensations, or physiological state. These thoughts are labeled as sexual either because they have an erotic effect, or because they include images commonly associated with sex.
Common types of women’s sexual fantasies
Although women’s fantasies vary widely in content and are as unique and original as dreams, they can be divided into two general types: scripted and unscripted. Scripted fantasies involve characters and follow a narrative plot, much like a traditional story. We ask women to describe the plot from the point of view of the fantasy character with whom they most closely identify. Why? Putting yourself at the center of your own fantasies helps you to make observations about relationship dynamics and often reveals information about the sexual stimulation you find most erotic.
The most common roles women see themselves playing in their scripted sexual fantasies are:
- Pretty Maiden: gets aroused by being the object of another’s desire
- Wild Woman: initiates sexual activity and enjoys breaking taboos
- Beloved: enjoys an intimate connection with a lover of equal power
- Victim: imagines being the object of sexual humiliation or violence
- Dominatrix: exercises sexual domination over another
- Voyeur: enjoys watching others engage in sexual activity
Unscripted fantasies, in contrast, focus on sensory stimuli or images and do not follow a traditional storyline or involve characters. Although the contents of unscripted fantasies also vary widely, they often focus on images of tension building and releasing, mimicking the sexual response cycle. Unscripted fantasies may highlight a particular type of sensory stimulation such as sight, sound, feel, movement, or scent. One woman said she climaxed while picturing a train cresting a hill, and another woman was aroused by imagining being on a horse galloping at high speed. Unscripted fantasies often include scenes from nature, such as a flower opening from bud to blossom, then releasing its perfume, or storm clouds building in intensity, then spilling their water. Until they put them into words, many women don’t realize their unscripted fantasies are a valid, powerful, and often quite original form of sexual fantasy.
Enjoying the power of sexual fantasy
Like dreams, some sexual fantasies are fun and satisfying while others may trouble us a lot. The more you know about sexual fantasies, the more options you have about what types of sexual fantasies you entertain.
Private Thoughts guides readers through a process of fantasy exploration. It offers a unique opportunity to learn from the experiences of a diverse population of real women. You will get insight into how early experiences and cultural images may have influenced your private sexual fantasies in profound and lasting ways. You will learn how sexual fantasies can have many functions–from increasing sexual arousal and facilitating orgasm to improving self-esteem and enhancing intimacy with a partner. If you are troubled by unwanted sexual fantasies that may be the result of sexual abuse or unresolved psychological issues, Private Thoughts provides a number of effective healing techniques. It also offers guidelines for exploring fantasies with an intimate partner in a way that will enhance, rather than harm, a relationship.
Sexual fantasy is not a topic to be afraid of or silent about. “As we know ourselves better,” one woman shared, “we become more free to celebrate our natural erotic rhythms with whatever thoughts quicken our pulses and please our hearts.”
© Copyright, Wendy Maltz 2022