Sexual Fantasy

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Sexual Fantasy

A sexual fantasy is an imagined sexual scene that intensifies emotional and physical excitement by helping people play out their most intense sexual desires, fears, or memories. Fantasies may remain as hidden impulses in the unconscious or be desires that are fully conscious and recognized. Some fantasies exist solely in the imagination, whereas others are incorporated into a person's actual sex life. Fantasies may determine one's preference for sexual partners or positions. They may play in the mind during sex to enhance an experience that is less stimulating than a fantasy. Fantasies often are assumed to be extraordinary scenes of socially prohibited behavior; however, their content ranges from the relatively tame desire for a romantic evening of wine and seduction to more adventurous scenarios such as gender reversal and group sex. Although fantasies can determine a person's preferred sexual acts, many people never physically enact those scenarios.


There is no definitive explanation for how and why certain sexual fantasies are formed, but it is known that two primary factors are childhood experiences and social norms relating to gender and sexuality. Sexual fantasies linked to a person's childhood experiences typically reenact or reverse formative events or relationships. The importance of parents and siblings to a person's sexual fantasies is linked to the way in which that individual identified with family members' emotions and desires. For example, both heterosexual and homosexual men who had physically abusive or alcoholic parents are likely to have sexual fantasies involving acts of domination and/or submission. Fantasies also can be a reconfiguration of traumatic experiences from one's earlier life, allowing a person to turn a troubling memory into an experience of pleasure and triumph over negative forces.

Fantasies often reflect social forces such as gender role expectations and taboo sexual activities. In a largely heterosexual and patriarchal culture, sexual fantasies that imagine relations outside those norms can prepare people psychologically to pursue their potentially conflicting desires without fear of social repercussions. Whether such fantasies are imagined or experienced, they can help a person overcome sexual inhibitions brought on by cultural or religious taboos and corresponding feelings of guilt or shame. As imagined scenarios fantasies can be healthy sublimations of repressed sexual desires. Some fantasies begin as imagined acts, but they may prepare an individual psychologically to act out new sexual experiences.


Although most people have diverse fantasies that are not defined by gender or sexuality, there are general differences between women's and men's fantasies. In general, women's fantasies are more likely to include a narrative that tells a story and men's fantasies are more likely to focus on a particular object, appearance, or act. Common trends in fantasies reveal the pleasure of reversing socialized gender norms so that women who often feel guilty if they put their own pleasure first fantasize about doing exactly that. Similarly, men who often feel responsible for taking charge of situations may fantasize about ceding their cultural authority in the bedroom.

Fantasies common to all people include group sex, incest, adultery, domination, submission, sadomasochism, homosexuality, gender reversal, rape, exhibitionism, voyeurism, golden or brown showers (urinating or defecating on one's sexual partner), age play (acting significantly older or younger), and particular body types. Men and women share the fantasy of being passive to a dominant partner. Heterosexual men and women both fantasize about homosexual experiences, and homosexual men and women fantasize about taking part in heterosexual activities. For gay men and lesbians such fantasies can involve acting out a different gender to create the illusion of a heterosexual couple.

Although lesbians have many of the common sexual fantasies, some scenarios specific to those women are rape, in which the woman acts as a rapist with her partner; and gender shifts, or imagining being a man and having the physical characteristics of one, including a penis. Some lesbian fantasies are naturally more prone to experimenting with and transgressing roles and desires specifically linked to women in society, and so issues such as taking or losing one's virginity can be acted out with a set of players different from what typically is expected.

In addition to the common fantasies shared by all people, gay men's fantasies include scenarios in which a man assumes hypermasculine or hyperfeminine qualities and actions. Some gay men fantasize about being women and may enact that desire by dressing in drag. Fantasies of domination and submission may be accompanied by leather outfits and uniforms that accentuate macho identities and behavior.


As entertainment, literature and film offer opportunities for escape from daily life. Both genres offer potential objects of desire and encourage identification with characters and narrators, and narratives often use generic characters and plots that are linked to common cultural fantasies, sexual and otherwise. The nature of film projection and viewing offers an opportunity to experience sexual acts from a voyeuristic perspective, thus realizing one common sexual fantasy. Because men historically have directed films, many feminist theorists argue that viewers identify with a male gaze that often presents female bodies as objects of sexual desire. This model of spectatorship naturalizes generic male sexual fantasies while raising obvious difficulties for the realization of female sexual fantasies. However, the fantastic nature of cinema also can create ambiguous scenarios in which the viewer can identify with many different and potentially overlapping perspectives.

Literary depictions of sexuality and sexual behaviors can reveal the diverse desires of a population despite repressive normalizing social institutions, such as religion, that depict those fantasies as perverse. The descriptive nature of novels also allows for an examination of social forces and attitudes toward sexual fantasies, representing them as natural and erotic or condoning them as abnormal. Some fictional literature that has represented socially prohibited sexual behaviors has at one time been banned, including D. H. Lawrence's description of adultery in the novel Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928). The impulse to censor literary representations of sexual fantasies reveals a common misconception that fails to distinguish not only between art and reality but also between fantasy and reality.

see also Foreplay.


Bader, Michael J. 2002. Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies. New York: Thomas Dunne.

Friday, Nancy. 1973. My Secret Garden: Women's Sexual Fantasies. New York: Trident Press.

Friday, Nancy. 1980. Men in Love: Men's Sexual Fantasies: The Triumph of Love over Rage. New York: Delacorte Press.

Lawrence, D. H. 1928. Lady Chatterley's Lover. Florence: Private print.

May, Robert. 1980. Sex and Fantasy: Patterns of Male and Female Development. New York: Norton.

Stoller, Robert J. 1979. Sexual Excitement: Dynamics of Erotic Life. New York: Pantheon.

                                        Michelle Veenstra