The Meaning of Sexual Fantasies
Updated: Apr 16
The meaning of sexual fantasies
In a previous blog post I talked about sexual fantasies in general: Why do we have sexual fantasies in the first place, and is it normal to have them? I think it is pretty safe to say that fantasizing about sex is a completely normal thing to do and it is probably also pretty important for our psychological well-being. But what I find even more interesting is that sexual fantasies function as a gateway into our subconscious mind. As such, they offer great opportunities for healing and transformation.
Today, I will therefore dive a bit deeper into the possible meanings of sexual fantasies. In Your Brain on Sex Stanley Siegel offers us an interesting framework for decoding our fantasies, by connecting sexual fantasies with hidden feelings.
What do people generally fantasize about?
The world of sexual fantasies is as rich and varied. If you can think it up, someone on this planet probably has a sexual fantasy about it. Still, certain themes seem to appeal to more people than others.
In his book, Siegel identifies 18 themes that people most often fantasize about:
1. Romantic sex
2. Sex with a Younger Partner
3. Verbal Abuse (Humiliation and Dirty Talk)
4. Forced Sex
5. Body Parts
6. Objects and Clothing
7. Exhibitionism (Sex in public places)
8. Multiple Partners
9. Sex with a Stranger
10. Voyeurism (Watching others have sex)
11. Bring worshipped or worshipping (sexual irresistibility)
12. Domination & Submission
15. Being spoiled or Paid for sex
16. Feeling Naughty
17. Sex in Exotic Places
18. Fantasies about intelligence
As a general rule, men are more visual, tend to fantasize more about women as objects or about body parts and their fantasies are often shorter. Women tend to focus more emotions, the story line, and the relationships between the characters. Women usually also find sound and smell more important than men.
How are our sexual fantasies formed?
According to Siegel “childhood conflicts produce strong emotions that never completely disappear.” These strong emotions include: feelings of powerlessness, guilt or shame, detachment or emptiness, rejection, anger or aggression, and feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, loneliness and vulnerability. “By the time we reach young adulthood, we have already woven these emotions into our sexuality, encoding them in the erotic images and narratives of our fantasies in an unconscious attempt to gain mastery over them…”
In other words, in order to protect ourselves and avoid feeling the pain of these emotions, we turn them into something pleasurable instead, thereby regaining some control of our life experience.
What do sexual fantasies mean?
According to Siegel’s research, specific emotions go hand in hand with specific types of sexual fantasies. For every emotion, we tend to have two responses to ‘choose’ from: either we sexualize the feeling, recreating situations where we can feel the emotion again (but this time around we enjoy it), or we derive our pleasure from doing the opposite.
One way to deal with feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, weakness or worthlessness is to sexualize these emotions. By making them our source of pleasure we gain control over them again. This explains how it is possible to find pleasure in acts of submission or receiving punishment, discipline and humiliation. Another way to deal with these same emotions can be to identify with the opposite pole – the aggressor and dominator. The source of pleasure then becomes to have power over somebody who is helpless.
Similarly, if we suffered from aggression but were unable to express it, we might feel aroused by fantasies of receiving various forms of punishment for expressing anger. If instead we sexualized our anger, we may find pleasure in different forms of domination or disciplining others, spanking, forced sex or violence.
We might make guilt and shame into a pleasurable experience by becoming the naughty boy or girl, showing ‘inappropriate’ behaviour or doing ‘unthinkable acts’ (for example incestual role play) and getting away with it (or the opposite – getting punished for it).
If we learned to detach ourselves from our emotions to protect ourselves, if we felt empty or numb, we may find pleasure in objectifying others, perhaps fantasizing about using them only for our own pleasure or developing a fetish for a specific body part or object.
Feelings of rejection and abandonment may result in fantasies where we recreate those feelings by taking the submissive role, but may also result in fantasies where we are at the centre of everyone’s desire, adored and worshipped.
Loneliness and feelings of isolation may transform into sexual fantasies about love, romance and tenderness. At the other end of that spectrum, we may keep the role of the observer and take pleasure from various voyeuristic fantasies.
Feelings of uncertainly and insecurity may be counteracted by fantasies that we are being rescued or saved by the ‘prince on a white horse’. Or we may instead sexualize the role of the caretaker and feel aroused when we are needed (e.g. playing the teacher, boss or nurse).
It is important to realize that – in the end – the meaning of any particular sexual fantasy will always be dependent on the person having the fantasy and their history.
Therefore any specific fantasy, such as a man wanting to watch other men have sex with his wife, could have many different meanings. He could enjoy watching without having to participate, he could enjoy the power he has over her to ‘lend’ his wife out to his friends, he could be deriving pleasure from being the victim of her ‘cheating’ with another man, he could derive his pleasure from helping her live out her fantasies etc. In each case, the underlying psychological reason would be different.
What are your sexual fantasies trying to tell you?
P.S. Browse our Book Genres to read stories about your favourite sexual fantasies and special interests.