Sexual fantasizing is a normal and natural mental process that can increase sexual desire, self-esteem, intimacy, sexual functioning and satisfaction. However, it’s not unusual for fantasies to occasionally make us feel confused, guilty, or ashamed. While we control many of our fantasies, others can slide into our minds like dreams, without much forethought, and seem to have a direction and will of their own. Indeed, the open, unfettered, risk-free, anything goes, nature of sexual fantasies is a large part of their delightful appeal and effectiveness.
Even when we feel good about the fact that we have an active imagination during sex, we may sometimes question whether our use of fantasy, or the contents in a particular sexual fantasy, is good for us. For instance, should we see it as a problem if we imagine sex with someone who is clearly unavailable or inappropriate? If we are in a committed sexual relationship, should we be alarmed when our sexual fantasy features sex with someone other than our intimate partner? And what if we are imagining activities that clearly go beyond our comfort zone, good health, and values?
Sexual fantasizing is such a personal, subjective experience that no one else can accurately tell you that a particular sexual fantasy is good or bad for you. And because sexual fantasy by definition is a temporary mental trip into a fanciful, otherworldly realm, no one can else can truthfully tell you a particular fantasy of yours is too extreme, too unreal, or too perverse.
The list of questions below can serve as guidelines to help you evaluate whether a particular sexual fantasy is a problem for you. These questions come from extensive research and clinical work with individuals who reported why they had concerns with their sexual fantasies [Information on the research and identifying (and addressing) problems can be found in the book, Private Thoughts by Wendy Maltz and Suzie Boss.
Evaluating Sexual Fantasy Problems Checklist
Ask yourself the following questions to help evaluate whether and to what extent, a particular fantasy may be causing you problems:
- Is the fantasy leading me into risky or dangerous behavior in real life? (e.g., sex with someone inappropriate, unprotected sex, or sexual activity that is physically harmful}
- Does the fantasy feel out of control, obsessive or compulsive? (e.g., it takes over your sexual experience when you don’t want it to, you can’t stop thinking it, you feel drawn to it like a drug)
- Is the content of the fantasy disturbing or repulsive? (e.g., the scenario is emotionally upsetting, reinforces of past trauma, or causes internal emotional conflict)
- Does the fantasy hinder recovery or personal growth? (e.g., you turn to it instead of addressing psychological, relationship, or addiction-related concerns)
- Does the fantasy lower my self-esteem or block self-acceptance? (e.g., it makes you dislike yourself, normalizes mistreatment by others, or generates shame)
- Does the fantasy distance me from my real-life partner? (e.g., it makes it difficult to emotionally and intimately connect with your partner, accept your partner, or feel worthy of intimate affection)
- Does the fantasy harm my intimate partner or anyone else? (e.g., it encourages or leads to behaviors that jeopardize your partner’s health and happiness)
- Does the fantasy cause sexual problems? (e.g., diminish sexual desires for a real partner, generate sexual dissatisfactions, interfere with sexual functioning and pleasure)
- Does the fantasy really belong to someone else? (e.g., you feel like a role you have to play, it feels forced upon you, or does not feel of your own design or desire)
If one or more of your fantasies check some of these boxes, keep in mind that the extent of the problem may be related to how often you have fantasies that you find disturbing. Just as we may occasionally have nightmares, it’s usually only when they recur and interfere with our daily lives that we may want to examine the underlying cause and find ways to stop having them. Remind yourself that your fantasies – especially those that come unbidden – do not define you.
A number of effective techniques exisit for dealing with troublesome fantasies. They include reducing stress during sex, increasing present consciousness and communication, and changing the contents of the fantasy. When upsetting sexual fantasies persist, it is a good idea to seek therapeutic help from a therapist or sex therapist who is skilled in helping individuals take a closer look at the contents of the fantasy and lessen its power. (For more detailed suggestions on how to effectively address fantasy concerns, see “Healing Unwanted Sexual Fantasies” )
Sexual fantasies are not fixed in stone, they are constantly changing. As the fantasizer, you have the ability to influence and shape what goes on in your erotic imagination during sexual desire, arousal and pleasure. And, if you’re not happy with particular sexual fantasies, you can create new ones that you like better. (For specific suggestions, see “Creating New Sexual Fantasies”) From a position of knowledge, openness and power, you can enjoy a whole world of sexual fantasies that are optional, harmless, fun, inventive, sexually exciting, and exquisitely satisfying.
© Copyright 2022 by Wendy Maltz for HealthySex.com