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Sex Fantasy or Desire? Here’s How to Know the Difference

Sex Fantasy or Desire? Here’s How to Know the Difference

Sex fantasy or desire? If you’re wondering, “aren’t all sexual fantasies ultimately sexual desires?”. No, not necessarily.  We often use these terms interchangeably but they actually mean very different things.

What is a sexual fantasy? 

A fantasy is something that lives in our head. It is created through our imagination, we can imagine it in great detail and replay it over and over, but it may never come to life. Almost everyone (97-98%) reports having sexual fantasies, and having them often (Davidson, 1985; Lehmiller, 2018; Pelletier & Herold, 1988). 

“[A fantasy is] almost any mental imagery that is sexually arousing or erotic to the individual” (Leitenberg & Henning, 1995)

In fantasy, anything is possible. We are free to explore any possibility free of rules, consequences, financial limitations, body limitations. Many of us have a whole list of sexual fantasies, but they’re not all things we want to try IRL. 

What is a sexual desire?

A desire is something that we want to happen in real life. Where a sex fantasy is only hypothetical, a sex desire has an intention behind it to bring it to life. 

In our mind, we can control the narrative of the fantasy but in the real world, there is no guarantee that we can control what will happen. We also have limitations that don’t exist in fantasy so we have to be more realistic about what’s possible in our own sex life.  

Fantasised about having sex in space without gravity? Probably quite hard, and expensive, to pull off in real life. Fantasised about having sex in water? Much easier to turn into a desire. 

It’s completely normal to have sexual fantasies that you do not act upon

Sex researcher Justin Lehmiller undertook the largest and most comprehensive scientific survey of Americans’ sexual fantasies for his book, ‘Tell Me What You Want’. The two-year study involved more than 4,000 Americans and offers a look into our fantasy worlds and what they reveal about us. 

Lehmiller found that 79% of respondents want to act on their favorite fantasy of all time in the future, but only 23.4% report having actually acted one out. 

He explains, “not all fantasies can or should be acted upon, and it’s perfectly fine if you don’t want to act on yours.”

Sexual fantasies allow us to think about what we may or may not like in real life. We can fantasize freely and then from there get specific about what our desires are. Once we start to make a clear distinction between fantasy and desire, we can confidently name our desires and get more specific about what we really want from our sex lives.  

Why is this important?

People often feel guilty about their sexual fantasies, especially those that are not socially acceptable and that they wouldn’t wish to carry out in real life. We worry that what we fantasize about means something about us as a person or what we really want. 

But, we shouldn’t feel bad about what our imaginations create. We don’t worry about that when we watch a fantasy movie, but with sexual fantasies we think there must be a moral outcome.

In Lehmiller’s research, he found that people who have fantasies often, or fantasies that are more taboo than threesomes and BDSM, tend to simply be more imaginative and open to new things than those who fantasize less. He suggests that it’s a misconception that sexual fantasies come from deep-rooted psychological reasons. 

You may have a fantasy about having sex with someone who is not your partner but if you’re just imagining what it would be like and you never act on it, that’s not cheating or emotional infidelity. 

There are also a lot of people who identify as feminists and believe that they shouldn’t have fantasies that are degrading to women, yet often fantasise about being called a slut or being dominated. In fact, 93% of women have fantasized about being sexually dominated (Lehmiller).

The key is to recognize that fantasies don’t need to mean anything or comment on aspects of our identity. They allow us to explore other aspects of ourselves without commitment. If we can recognise our sexual fantasies as just fantasy, and speak about them more openly, we can contribute to a more liberated, sex positive society.  

“We know, in theory, that other people must have fantasies a little like our own, but it’s hard to hold on to this belief in practice. […] To be less lonely with our desires and more able to believe in our own normality, it helps to be able to lay eyes on concrete evidence of some otherwise extremely nice, intelligent and dignified people who happen also to harbour a selection of deeply unmentionable sexual desires.” The School of Life 

Of course, if you fantasize about anything that is particularly dangerous or illegal, it’s always advised to speak to a professional about it. 

How to discover your own sexual fantasies 

If you haven’t discovered your own sexual fantasies yet, there are a few ways you cans tap into your imagination to uncover them. 

1 – Close your eyes when you masturbate. What comes to mind? Are you thinking about an experience you’ve had before or something that you’d like to do again? Is it something new? Something unexpected? Let your mind wander and see where it goes. 

2 – Notice what porn you gravitate to. What porn do you usually watch? Is there a theme between the videos that you always find yourself watching? Take note of it. Try watching part of it, and then stopping the video when you start to get turned on. Masturbate and use your imagination to finish the scene.

3 – Think about past sexual experiences. What are your top five past sexual experiences? Think about them. Write about them if you want. What is it that made them so hot? Is there anything that they have in common?  

4 – Try writing your own erotica. Give yourself lots of time to think and dream about different scenarios before starting. What themes keep coming up? What do you want to write about? 

Also, if these prompts don’t do anything for you, don’t worry. New fantasies can pop up at random times when you least expect it. 

Common sexual fantasies and how to know if they’re fantasy or a desire 

So, how do you work out if it’s a fantasy or desire? The most important step is to simply bring your fantasy into context and think about doing it in your everyday life. Does it still seem exciting? Or does it fill you with dread? 

Here are some popular fantasies alongside how to get started with bringing the fantasy to life, or not. 

Threesomes

The most common fantasies are threesomes (Lehmiller). But how do you know if it’s something you actually want to do or not? Well, there are ways that you can still experiment and engage with the fantasy without actually acting it out. 

First of all, you can try watching some threesome porn to see how it makes you feel. Watch ‘Three’ on afterglow for more than just a sex scene. The series explores non-monogamy and threesome sex from both the point of view of a couple and a single person and may shed some light on the complexities of threesomes. 

threesome movie Three by Erika Lust on afterglow

Watch Three on afterglow

You can also write your threesome fantasy down. Go into as much detail as you can and think about every possible scenario. Who is there? Does it involve a partner? Where are you? What exactly is happening? Et voila, you have your own threesome erotica to read. 

Another way is to try role play and dirty talk with your partner during sex (be sure to get their consent first!). Or, by bringing in an extra sex toy you can experiment with using it on each of you for twice as much stimulation. By acting like there is someone else with you in the bedroom, you can safely explore what a threesome may be like together without it actually happening. 

Bondage 

Do you daydream about bondage and being tied up? For the person being tied up, there can be something incredibly hot about handing over complete control. But before trying it, it’s important to think about what it is that you want from the experience.

So ask yourself, why do you want to be tied up? Is it because you:

  • Want to feel constricted 
  • Like how the rope feels on the skin 
  • Want to give someone else control 
  • Like how shibari and rope art looks 
  • Want to feel immobilized 

Once you know what it is that you find erotic about bondage, you can start to figure out if it’s something you want to try in real life, and how exactly you want to try it and whether you do it alone or with a partner.  

For example, if you want to try bondage because you love the feel of rope on your skin, you could try it alone first. But if you want to do it to relinquish control, then it’s time to rope in (😉) a trusted partner.  

BDSM & power play 

There’s a reason that 50 Shades of Gray was so popular. In his research Lehmiller found 93% of women and 81% of men had fantasized about being sexually dominated. And, 85% of men and 76% of women had fantasized about being sexually dominant. 

However, as popular as it is, it’s important to not rush into BDSM play. From spanking and blindfolding, to needle play and pet play, BDSM contains a huge range of sexual activities. The first step is to discover what your fantasy is exactly under the umbrella of BDSM.

Start by listening to the Pleasure Driven Power Play For Every Couple exercise to find out which parts of BDSM you’re most interested in. You can also explore different BDSM porn films and see what piques your interest. Once you have a clearer understanding of what it is that you want to try, you can start experimenting slowly by yourself or with a trusted partner. 

Watch BDSM movies on afterglow

Gangbangs and group sex  

Gang bangs and group sex are a common fantasy. A 2017 study in Archives of Sexual Behavior found that 64% of participants had some interest in multi-partner sex. Yet despite their popularity, they’re still heavily stigmatized. Especially when it’s a woman who wants to have sex with multiple men at once. 

To start with, watching gangbang or group sex porn is a safe way to explore this fantasy from a distance. Adult studio Hardwerk specialize in making sexy, consensual gangbangs on film. Watch Bride Gang or Gang Car Bang to get you started.

Aside from porn, using multiple sex toys when having sex can be a great way to engage with the fantasy without actually having one.  

The bottom line 

Fantasizing is a normal and fun part of life. Some sexual fantasies may be hot only as fantasies and others may turn into a sexual desire. But regardless of whether your fantasy becomes a real life desire or not, there’s no reason to stop fantasizing.


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