We’ve already explained why fantasies are good for the brain when it comes to stimulating both strategic thinking and creativity. But what exactly are those fantasies that really get people going?
In doing research for his book, Tell Me What You Want, Dr. Justin Lehmiller surveyed more than 4,000 people in the United States about their sexual fantasies. What’s interesting is that around 98% of people reported having had at least one sexual fantasy, and that included asexuals (more than half of whom say they masturbate at least monthly).
It turns out there are certain things that we tend to conjure in our imaginations more often than others. In his research on common sexual fantasies, Dr. Lehmiller found that seven things in particular kept coming up. So what are we all dirty daydreaming about?
1. Multipartner sex.
Yep, it appears as though the majority of us have at least entertained the idea of threesomes. For people in relationships, this fantasy usually involves their significant other (though not always). Interestingly, heterosexual-identifying men tend to prefer their imagined threesomes to be with two women, while heterosexual-identifying women generally didn’t have a preference for which genders they were getting it on with.
2. Power, control, and rough sex.
Power dynamics aren’t just about stroking the ego—they also make for some scintillating bedroom play while stroking, ahem, other things. Rough sex and BDSM involving spanking, hot wax, restraints, biting and other dominant/submissive acts rated highly among research participants.
3. Changing things up.
Most of us like at least a little bit of variety in our lives. And it can help reignite a spark when sex in a long-term relationship becomes a little boring. Perhaps that’s why so many people like to fantasize having sex with someone different, having sex in an unusual place, or even just having sex in a position you’ve never tried before.
4. Taboo or forbidden circumstances.
Rulebreaking—and the risk of getting caught—is usually a bit of a thrill, no matter the context. And the adrenaline rush that comes with it can also heighten a sexual encounter significantly. But since there’s of the risk of, you know, being arrested for things like public sex, it’s understandable that people like to act out their desires for it in their fantasies. Preferred locales for such illicit encounters include parks, offices, beaches and elevators.
5. Open relationships.
Similar to the penchant for threesomes, a lot of people like to entertain the idea of opening up their relationship to include new partners—with their significant other’s permission, of course. (If you’re considering making your fantasy a reality, our guide on how to have an open relationship may come in handy.) Other people favor the idea of being able to watch their partner have sex with someone else.
6. Passion and romance.
Turns out that sexual fantasies don’t always need to be dirty. In fact, a lot of people simply fantasize about having meaningful sex that makes them feel desired (and good in bed). In some cases, people will also use the fantasy ‘improve’ aspects of their body or sexual performance that they’re not happy with in real life.
7. Same-sex encounters, gender-bending and erotic flexibility.
As society in general becomes more aware of the fact that both gender and sexuality are nuanced spectrums, people are becoming more comfortable exploring their own sexuality. Heterosexual-identifying women in particular revealed that they often fantasize about sex with other women, and at least a quarter of heterosexual-identifying men surveyed said they fantasize about sex with other men or with a transgender woman.
In his research, Dr. Lehmiller also discovered some pretty interesting facts about the intricacies of sexual fantasies and how they vary according to gender and sexual preference.
Men, for example, are more likely to have fantasies that are quite explicit and involve multiple partners. What’s more, they tend to focus on specific body parts—both their own, and those of their partner(s)—rather than merely on a sexual act. Overall, their imagined sexual escapades were mostly anchored in the physical.
Women, on the other hand, are more inclined to focus on more emotional or romantic details like scene setting—like a beautiful beach, a moonlit evening, or a picturesque forest. Often there’s also more of a build-up in their fantasies, like eyes meeting across the room, strolling along that beach, or getting caught in a rainstorm together. This is in line with the fact that women often need foreplay to help prepare their minds and bodies for the actual act of intercourse. These differences between men’s and women’s fantasies seemed to be true regardless of sexual orientation.
Another interesting insight? Women fantasize most frequently during ovulation, but their fantasies are often different during that time because it changes what women find attractive. Dr. Lehmiller also found that, for all genders, the content of our sexual fantasies tends to vary depending on our psychological state at the time. For example, when we are feeling insecure, our fantasies may involve circumstances that boost self-esteem, such as a narrative around independence or being sexually irresistible.
Read more of Dr. Lehmiller’s research on sexual fantasies.