Sexual Fantasies

WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS ABOUT OUR SEXUAL FANTASIES: HOW WOMEN AND MEN DIFFER

By Samantha Brewer

Well, here we are at the fun stuff. Those exquisite,sometimes urgent, sexual thoughts and fantasies that intrude—or areinvited—into our day. It’s a big topic, of course, so we’ll stick tothe basics for now (there will be more on this scintillating subject inthe days ahead).

Let’s begin with a few fundamentals about sexualfantasies. For starters, we all have them. Sex and reproduction are atthe very center of our lives and the joys of intimacy are nature’s wayof getting us to focus on this crucial task. Our fantasies are fueledby urgent hormones, motivated by deep-seated desires, and triggered bythe inviting, ubiquitous sexual images that are a feature of modernlife. So it’s no surprise we spend a lot of our time longing forintimate contact, planning or scheming for it, and arranging our livesto get it.

A certain amount of sexual fantasy is not onlynormal, it’s a healthy, part of a balanced sex life whether we’re in anactive relationship or just getting by on our own. Even if we’rewaist-deep in a happy, long-term relationship, it seems only natural toat least wonder about other partners, flirtatious fantasies thatsubstitute for the variety of sexual expression many of us crave.Fantasies are neither right nor wrong. We don’t have to act on them;it’s only when we impose our desires on unwilling partners thatmorality enters the picture.

Sex with a stranger? Sex in a dangerous or publicplace? How about sex with a stranger in a dangerous place? A lot morepeople think about this than wind up doing it. Very few of us actuallyget involved in bondage fantasies, for another example, but most of ususe less complicated kinds of restraint in our sex lives. Sharingsexual fantasies with a ready and willing partner may not only be theticket to a great time, but a way to keep the chemistry going in anextended relationship or marriage.

It’s also important to keep human individuality inmind. Yes, there are some fantasy themes nearly all of us share; infact some are found across most every human culture. And there areclearly some fantasies in which the sexes seem to specialize. But ourindividual longings are as unique as our personalities when it comes tosexual fantasy and they often shift around as we age and the hormonalbalance in our bodies change.

MEN AND WOMEN: PERFECT COMPLEMENTS?

Sex goes hand-in-glove, so to speak. This is thefortunate way that nature tends to design things. Men love to look,women love to show off. For the literary minded this comes down to pornfor the guys and romance novels for the ladies. See, and be seen. Thisequation fuels a gazillion web sites, a million advertisements andevery fashion runway (well, almost).

Writing about examples of female display from anevolutionary point-of-view in The Disposable Male, Michael Gilbert,Youand.me’s consulting editor, describes why high heels are such a sexyshow off. “Accentuating the musculature of a woman’s legs, they displaythoroughbred ankles, hint at a receptive posture, and bring a woman’sbreasts front and center into adult male sightlines. By hobblingherself, ever so delicately, a woman wearing heels out on a date iswhispering submission, drawing out the protective male instinct.”

The perfect match between the sexes extends beyondarousing visuals. In a general sense, the physical union of the sexessummons active, initiatory and dominating instincts in men, and areciprocal, receptive longing in women. But the sexes have their ownways of getting there.

VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF MALE LIFE

Awake or asleep, men think about sex twice as oftenas women and they’re much more likely to be aroused by their thoughts.The reason men have so many fantasies may be because they don’t lastvery long. Unburdened by emotion, male sexual fantasy is readilytriggered by visual cues. The scenes are repetitive. They go right tothe action, which usually features alluring body parts attached toexposed, wanton, and mostly anonymous females. Men readily changepartners during a single episode and fantasize about group sex muchmore than women. They are actively in control and dominant in most ofthese fantasies. The female is often restrained.

These patterns reflect biological and evolutionaryforces. Males must penetrate to get their reproductive job done. Butthey’re not the ones getting pregnant. Spared this burdensomeconsequence, and with paternal identity often uncertain, malehard-wiring has long encouraged quantity over quality. Shaped by eonson unforgiving savannas, today’s adult male still seems inclined, ifnot compelled, to plant as many seeds as he can in search of a geneticfuture.

Grown men in the twenty-first century may understandthe benefits and joys of bonding to a single, enduring partner whilefocusing their parenting skills on a couple of well-raised progeny. Butprimitive instincts die hard.

ROMANCE AND PASSION GO TOGETHER FOR WOMEN

Womenmay think of sex less often than men but they can milk a fantasy allday. Women are big on atmosphere and intimate connection. Theirfantasies tend to feature a single man with whom they’re usuallyfamiliar. Rarely aroused by visual clues alone, women enjoy showing offand, especially, the male response they generate. Their fantasies canget very hot indeed. Unlike men, whose fantasy lives may be more activewhen they’re without a partner, a woman’s fantasy life is oftenheightened when she’s in a relationship.

Female receptivity extends to the much discussed“rape fantasy.” In fact, being ravished, forcefully commanded, evenraped are common among women (there, I said it and I feel betteralready). But this widespread fantasy bears some examination. The rapeis often imagined as consensual and devoid of physical injury. Althoughit may involve strangers, and sometimes more than one, it’s usually adesired partner who falls madly in love with her. More important, it’sthe woman who’s in control; it’s her partner who’s out of control,unable to contain himself in her smoldering presence.

Once again, the female fantasy line-up seems toreflect our natural and evolutionary heritage. Women carry one man’sseed at a time through pregnancy, bearing its consequences and ongoingresponsibilities. This inclines a woman to think in terms of the futureand this means relationship. Sure, we have a medicine chest full ofbirth control options these days but the female brain has been layeredin place over an eternity of serious survival challenges. Deep-seatedreproductive female instincts won’t fade away any time soon.

This, of course, sets up the ancient tension betweenthe sexes: short-term male enthusiasm v. long-term female calculation.A universe of seduction is set in motion. Fantasies offer us a world ofenticement and joy. Converting them to reality needs to be doneresponsibly if they involve the presence of another person. Yet theysymbolize our deepest sexual longings. Through fantasies we are free toexplore our innermost desires and the blissful frontiers of sexualintimacy.

Samantha Brewer is a researcher and freelance writer specializing in modern dating and relationship topics