CONTENT WARNING: The following article contains references to sexual assault. If you or someone you know are affected, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or 1800 RESPECT.
Sometimes the things that you entertain as sexual fantasies may not be ‘politically correct’ or just not something you think you’re actually interested in doing. People are complicated. Straight women watch lesbian porn. The student teacher fantasy might work for you even if you know it’s wrong. Incest fantasies might turn you on. Rape-play is a hugely popular fantasy. To each their own.
So what does it mean? Where does it all fall on the spectrum from morally grey to totally normal? Basically, what do your sexual fantasies say about you?
Are These Sexual Fantasies Normal?
While we can’t sneak a peek directly into the inner workings of people everywhere, you can guarantee that a lot us are having erotic fantasies that don’t quite fit with what we deem desirable or appropriate in real life. The insights published by the world’s largest porn provider, Pornhub, confirm that.
To get a better understanding of taboo sexual fantasies and how to feel about them, we spoke to an expert on episode five on GOAT’s sex education podcast, Thinking Between The Thighs. Dr. Vijayasarathi Ramanathan is a sexuality educator and therapist, and a lecturer in sexology at the University of Sydney, who talked us through the ins and outs of fantasies.
“When you don’t know what is normal, you tend to believe you have something abnormal.” He said. “And especially topics like something to do with your inner world, you’re more likely to think you have a problem.”
Our erotic imaginations are sometimes stimulated by things that surprise us. Part of that is the discordance between the fantasy and what we feel we want or agree with in real life, and the other part is feeling like the fantasy is a symptom of abnormality. But getting a little kinky in your imagination doesn’t make you a freak.
A huge comprehensive study on sexual fantasy by a social psychologist and research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, Justin Lehmiller, exposed just how alike we actually are. Lehmiller asked more than 4,000 18 to 87 year olds spanning a spectrum of occupations, sexual and gender identities, and political and religious affiliations about their sexual fantasies. What he found was that while each fantasy is unique, most fall into one of three categories: group sex, BDSM, and novelty or adventure. So basically, your taboo fantasies are likely more common than you think.
To come to terms with what’s going down in your imagination, understanding your sexual fantasies and the morality of indulging them is a deeper dive worth doing.
Are My Fantasies Just Repressed Desires?
The exact science of arousal hasn’t quite been figured out, but we do know that the sexual fantasies you imagine or watch played out in porn are not necessarily repressed desires.
“In your rich world of inner world, you can think anything you want.” Dr. Ramanathan said on Thinking Between The Thighs. “But the problem is, when you want to act on all of that. So one is attitude and thoughts, the other one is behaviour, OK? So in traditional psychology, what they thought, ‘whatever a person thinks is what he does, or she does. And whatever a person behaves has to align with the way they think.’ But modern psychology has moved away from that. A person can be thinking completely different, but when it comes to behaviour, it could be very different.”
Take comfort in knowing that watching incest porn does not necessarily mean you secretly want an incestuous sexual experience. Imagining a violent sexual encounter doesn’t necessarily mean you want to enact that experience. Fantasy does not automatically equal desire to act.
Am I A Bad Person For Thinking These Things?
Sometimes our sexual fantasies aren’t in line with our moral code, and that’s OK.
“As long as you know you’re not harming anyone, you’re doing the right thing, you’re being responsible, that’s fine.” Dr. Ramanathan advised on Thinking Between The Thighs. “Most important thing in fantasy is, what does that mean to that particular person who is imagining”
The thrilling, confusing, and even frightening is often coupled with eroticism in our minds, and that can be difficult to get your head around outside of that context. But if you don’t have a desire to act on a ‘problematic’, violent, or hurtful fantasy, then you don’t need to condemn yourself for merely thinking it.
However, Dr. Ramanathan also advised to “be mindful, there’s a degree of neuroplasticity if you’re constantly exposing yourself.” So if it feels like it’s becoming an obsession, consider reaching out to talk to someone like a councillor, psychologist or sex therapist.
Non-Consent And Rape Fantasies
Content Warning: The following discussion includes mentions of sexual assault.
The many, many people having what are sometimes colloquially referred to as ‘rape fantasies’ are proof of the fact that sexual fantasies are not just repressed desires.
Fantasies of being forced to have sex are also known as non-consent and rape-play fantasies, and they’re very common. Research has shown that between 31 to 57 per cent of women have these fantasies, and for 9 to 17 per cent of those women, rape play is their favourite or most frequent sexual fantasy. The popularity is controversial, but it does not indicate an actual desire for assault of any kind.
So why do we have these fantasies? And by we, I don’t just mean women. While these non-consent narratives are most frequently classified as belonging to women, it’s important to note that it’s actually a fantasy that does transcend gender. It is popular among women but not exclusive to women.
“In such idealized ‘pretend scenarios’, a woman can experience her rawest, most unconstrained sexuality as fully, wondrously, even miraculously expressed—in no way impeded by any viscerally felt sense of peril.” Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D, explained in an article on Psychology Today.
“Diametrically opposed to actual rape, the fantasy really isn’t about losing control as such. It’s about willingly surrendering it…Indeed, in the act of creating such a fantasy, the woman isn’t relinquishing her power at all but, paradoxically, asserting it through images of “ensnaring” the male figure to her.”
Non-consent fantasies are uniquely contradictory – you are indulging in the idea of relinquishing control entirely, though fantasy by nature is a narrative created solely under your control. It is the most self-controlled space we can exist within, and that is why this narrative can be desirable within this “pretend” context. And to be clear, it can only be desirable in the realm of the pretend.
Should I Do Something About It?
Unfortunately, kink-shaming means that it’s very normal to feel unsettled by your sexual fantasies. But erotic imagination needs to be accepted for what it is – often a little bit wilder than our IRL, day-to-day consciousness.
“The most important thing is, [fantasy] is not observed to the external world.” Dr. Ramanathan told GOAT on Thinking Between The Thighs. “This is purely, in psychology we call it intrapsychic. This is your rich private world inside your mind where nobody can tap into. Now if a fantasy is only making happy, there is no problem, then it’s fine. But if you start thinking a fantasy is taking over your life, and if it is causing trouble, if it is causing relationship issues, then we have to address that.”
If your sexual fantasies are making you uncomfortable and really getting in the way of things that are important to you like relationships and work, then the best thing you can do is seek council from a psychologist or sex therapist who can help you work through it and move forward.
But for the most part, take comfort in knowing that you’re not a freak, even if you like to get a lil’ freaky in your imagination.
If you or someone you know are affected by the contents of this article, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or 1800 RESPECT.