What Do Our Fantasies Mean... and is it cheating?

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We can often spend a good deal of our day engaging in daydreaming, and sexual fantasies often fall into that space. But what do we know about our sexual fantasies? Little clinical research to date has been done on sexual fantasies but it appears to be an area that is gaining attention. A team of Israeli Psychologists conducted studies that looked at sexual fantasies and relationship attachment style. Forty-eight cohabitating couples came together for a period of three weeks. Their attachment style was identified (secure, avoidant, ambivalent) and their sexual fantasies documented. Over the three week period they recorded the sexual fantasy as soon as it came to mind, including wishes, sensations, figures, feelings, thoughts and events that were experienced by the participants, and the other figures within the fantasy. Out of the 21 days on average participants experienced sexual fantasies 13 days (59%). Men and women reported the same amount of sexual fantasy with 2/3 fantasising about their partner. Men however tended to fantasise a little less about their partner at 50% compared to women at 83%- and their content differed.

Six categories of sexual fantasy were identified, which were then grouped into expressions of attachment.

Three fantasies were identified for those higher on anxiety related attachment style and involved a desire for intimacythe self as humiliated or helpless andother as affectionate or pleasing toward them.

The finding supporting the hypothesis that attachment style is related to the nature of sexual fantasies. People higher on anxious attachment spectrum were more likely to experience fantasies reflecting emotional intimacy, being supported, comforted and feeling affection expressed toward them. Alternatively those on the high avoidant attachment spectrum had themes around more aggression, alienation and emotional distancing.The correlation between attachment style and sexual fantasy was increased on days when couples reported an increase in exchange of negative interactions. Anxiously attached participants fantasised about being held and nurtured when they felt disconnected and insecure in their relationships. Conversely the avoidant attached couples when emotionally disconnected had increased aggression and alienation themes in their fantasies. Anxiously attached people are more likely to equate sex with love, in particular when they feel disconnected from their partner- they see themselves often being humiliated or at the hand of power in their fantasies. Avoidant attachment style participants’ fantasies take the form of escapism, hostility and emotional detachment.

Some reports estimate that 87% of us have sexual fantasies about other lovers- regardless of our attachment style- is this a healthy aspect of our relationships or should we feel guilty?

Sex if often more than just a physical act, involving complex mental processes too- letting your imagination flow can enhance the overall experience making sex playful and fun. What we experience regularly tends not to be what we fantasise about. Having missionary sex on your own bed rarely occurs. Just as we don’t always fantasise about our current partner- not equating to a reduction in attraction but rather showing that sexual fantasies are often fed by the idea of something novel- and it is this that we crave. It also doesn’t mean that because we fantasise about something that we will act on it, nor they always indicative of how we may feel subconsciously. They are a function of imagination that is fuelled from new, novel or perhaps even taboo and often include the good things eliminating any of the bad- but are just a function of thought- rather than intent to always act. Sexual fantasies often do not comply with the social binary rules of society and allow us to play in the possible and impossible without facing the consequences.

Fantasies may be something that you wish to share with your partner, although we are not morally obliged to share all of our sexual fantasies with our partner, it may add excitement to your sex life. Understanding what fantasies are, or more importantly what they are not, may help you to accept them and not harbour guilt, enabling the confidence to share them. But sharing with your partner should be considered with the timing, reading your partners reaction, and sharing only what you feel comfortable disclosing are vital. People who have relationships where they talk openly about sexual fantasies are often the ones who have the most active and healthy sex lives. Before embarking on this sharing of sexual fantasies I often advise clients to;

  • Start small, don’t ask for the whole fantasy upfront but suggest part. You may have a fantasy about being greeted fully naked at the door- ask for a greeting partially clothed initially.
  • Build on the fantasy- once your partner is comfortable with the fantasy suggest the next level. Moving from partially clothed to naked but covered by a robe for example, helps build the story and lets you gauge your partner’s comfort.
  • Take turns in sharing fantasies, finding equilibrium in disclosure allows comfort levels to increase and creates safety.

Proceeding with caution is important, and making an educated decision on your partner’s reaction- and the considering the benefit of sharing is fundamental. Contemplate if the sexual fantasy may be best left in the realm of imagination or if sharing will it spice things up.