Trigger warning: discussions of sex, sexual assault and rape.
Have you ever had a fantasy that you were scared to tell your partner about? Have you ever been ashamed of your sexual fantasies? Well, the truth is, your sexual fantasy may be more common than you realize. The study of sex, including sexual fantasies, is a bourgeoning interdisciplinary academic field in many colleges and universites. Dr. Justin Lehmiller’s book, “Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life,” is a groundbreaking study of over 4,000 Americans’ sexual fantasies. In this book, Lehmiller, a sex researcher and Kinsey Fellow, outlines eight common themes of sexual fantasies, providing data-backed research that shows how common most of our sexual fantasies are. Lehmiller hopes the study of sexual fantasies will receive more recognition from academic circles, so that everyone from your grandmother to your roommate can feel comfortable in their sexual fantasies.
Some of the most common sexual fantasies include group sex (three or more people), consensual non-consent (being forced into a sexual act), exhibitionism (being watched during a sexual act) and voyeurism (watching a sexual act). Some incredibly common fantasies include the infliction of pain during sex, with 60 percent of survey respondents reporting having fantasized about inflicting pain on someone else during sex and 65 percent fantasized about having pain inflicted upon them during sex. Further, two-thirds of the women surveyed and more than half of the men reported fantasies about having sex forced upon them. According to Lehmiller, these fantasies are about power. He argues that “when someone is fantasizing about consensual non-consent (CNC), they’re in complete control of the situation, including who their partner is and how the situation unfolds. Sex isn’t truly being forced on them, so it bears no resemblance to rape or sexual assault in the real world.” In these fantasies, being submissive through CNC sex is something that the particpant fully understands and consents to.
The shame that surrounds sexual fantasies only further represses and stigmatizes our sexual lives. Many of the women who have CNC sex fantasies feel deeply ashamed that they are bad feminists or that they are not supporting real-life victims of sexual assault and sexual violence. Many of these women are victims of sexual abuse themselves. Sexual fantasies may be real desires that one wishes to enact with a partner in a safe environment or wandering thoughts of interesting sexual situations. Simply fantasizing about an act does not mean that one truly wants to do said act. Those who fantasize about exhibitionism may be quite private in their real sexual lives. Those who fantasize about voyeurism may have no real desire to watch others have sex. The truth is, most sexual fantasies are more common than most people realize. Fantasies can provide opportunities for people to explore new identities, sexual or otherwise. For example, on an episode of Viceland’s “Slutever,” a Wall Street banker admitted to a sexual fantasy of being kidnapped and forced into CNC sex. Since he was in total control of every aspect of his life — in control of people’s finances, in control of people’s jobs, in control of a huge company — the idea of being powerless was exciting for him.
By shaming others and ourselves for the fantasies we have, we only further repress our sexual selves. This repression can have detrimental effects on our mental health and our sexual satisfaction. Personally, I spent a long time shaming myself for my sexual fantasies and previous sexual experiences I’ve had. Dr. Lehmiller’s research helped me realize that my fantasies are super common and nothing to be ashamed of. Each person’s relationship to sex is unique; by accepting our sexual urges and fantasies, even ones that might feel shameful, not only will our sex lives improve, but we can also set ourselves free.