Fantasies: Help or Hindrance?
Erotic fantasies are generally considered a healthy and helpful aspect of sexuality (Goleman, 2006). Many sex therapists encourage their clients to use sexual fantasies as a source of stimulation to help them increase interest and arousal. Research found that people who felt less guilty about sexual fantasies during intercourse reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction and functioning than did others who felt more guilty about having sexual fantasies (Cado & Leitenberg, 1990). Sexual fantasies help some men and women experience arousal and orgasm during sexual activity. Conversely, a lack of erotic fantasy and a focus on nonerotic thoughts can contribute to problems of low sexual desire and arousal (Boss & Maltz, 2001; Purdon & Watson, 2011).
Some people decide to incorporate a particular fantasy into their actual sexual behavior with a partner. Acting out a fantasy can be pleasurable; however, if it is uncomfortable for a partner, is counter to one’s value system, or has possible negative consequences, one should consider the advantages and disadvantages of acting it out. For some people, fantasies are more exciting when they remain imaginary and are disappointing when acted out.
Several Internet activities and technologies present an intermediate step between private fantasy and actual behavior. Sharing and developing one’s sexual fantasies online—in chat rooms, during online multiplayer erotic games, and with webcam technology—involve revealing the fantasies, usually to strangers. Interestingly, talking about fantasies online with strangers does help some individuals take the step of expressing their previously private sexual imaginings and interests to their actual partners.
Individuals who have experienced sexual abuse as children are sometimes troubled by intrusive, unwanted sexual fantasies. Developing new fantasies based on self-acceptance and loving relationships can be a part of healing for these individuals (Boss & Maltz, 2001). As with most other aspects of sexuality, what determines whether fantasizing is helpful or disturbing to a relationship is its meaning and purpose for the individuals concerned.
Although most of the available research supports sexual fantasy as helpful, in some situations sexual fantasies can be problematic. For example, some men have difficulty experiencing orgasm during intercourse because the idiosyncratic sexual fantasies they require for intense arousal are discordant with their partner’s sexual behavior (Perel – man, 2001). Fantasizing privately during sex with a partner can erode intimacy in the
relationship. One study found that college students had a double standard about their own sexual fantasies versus their partner’s. Study participants of both sexes thought that fantasizing about someone other than their partner was normal and did not jeopardize the exclusivity of the relationship. However, the idea that their partner fantasized about someone else made the participants feel jealous and threatened, as though the fantasy was a kind of unfaithfulness. The most threatening fantasy a partner could have was about a mutual friend or classmate rather than a fantasy about someone who in reality was an unlikely rival, such as a movie star (Yarab & Allgeier, 1998).
In some cases fantasy can influence a person to act in a way that harms others. This outcome is of particular concern in the case of people who sexually assault children or adults. A person who thinks that he or she is in danger of committing such an act should seek professional psychological assistance.