Like sex itself, sexual fantasies are as old as time. One’s gender or sexuality doesn’t matter—people have them and use them to reach orgasm during sex.
And yet our culture has long been confused about sexual desire. It wasn’t until 1996, according to The New York Times, that psychologists realized “most of the last 50 years of research on the subject has been blind to the true nature of women’s erotic yearnings and sexuality.” In Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Women’s Sexual Fantasies, author Emily Dubberley writes of a 1973 magazine article that stated, unsarcastically, “Women do not have sexual fantasies, period. Men do.”
Naturally, this was wrong. When they heard the myth that Cleopatra got off with a hollowed-out gourd of buzzing bees, did they really believe that she was thinking of nothing? That she was just staring out at the landscape of Egypt completely thoughtless? There’s a better chance that she was thinking about how Mark Antony’s penis couldn’t possibly compare to her bees—which, according to the legend, was the first vibrator.
Like we said, the sexual fantasy is as old as time. But who’s fantasizing about what and with whom is another story.
So what is a sexual fantasy?
A sexual fantasy is any mental image, thought, or story that turns you on. You may be dying to act it out or just like to think about it. But while we all have our thing (or two or five or eight) that gets us off, some people tend to question if their kinky sex fantasies are “normal.”
“I’m not sure who gets to decide what ‘normal’ is in terms of a fantasy,” says Ericka Hart, MEd, sex educator and black queer femme activist. “But I will say white supremacy has put so many parameters on our imaginations that not feeling wrong when we think beyond vanilla hetero sex takes some unlearning. As long as the fantasy is consensual—freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific—it can be carried out.”
No matter what your jam is in fantasyland, remember that your private thoughts don’t define you—and that it’s okay to have sexual fantasies that conflict with who you believe yourself to be IRL. Your fantasy life is your fantasy life, until and unless you choose to make it into more. Whether the situations you picture are tame or wild, “standard” or taboo, sexual imagination can be a deep well of joy and excitement. (It can also make sex last longer!)
How can you bring up your fantasies with your partner?
Having sexual fantasies comes with the territory of being human—but because we live in a culture in which the topic of sex remains taboo, trying to bring them up can not only be intimidating but downright scary. A way to get around this is to create a safe space and get creative.
Frame it as a dream you had.
“One of the most creative ways to bring up a fantasy is by communicating it through the lens of a dream,” says Elsa Viegas, CDO and cofounder of Bijoux Indiscrets. “For example, if I want to communicate to my partner I am into role play but am not sure how to navigate the conversation, I’ll mention, ‘I had this dream last night and we role-played this scenario. It was really hot. What do you think?’ When you have the safety net of a dream as a way to communicate directly, one may feel more confident to share.”
Use games to get things rolling.
“Play a card game that brings up sexual fantasies, where you can both take turns sharing a fantasy and discussing what aspects of it appeal to you,” says Natassia Miller, CEO and founder of Wonderlust. “It’s the card that asks the question, not you, which can relieve some of the stress of bringing it up yourself. If you’re wondering where to start, Wonderlust’s Mindful Intimacy Deck was created with this in mind and has two levels of prompts, which warms things up before diving into sexual fantasies in the second level.” Want more options? We have a whole guide to sex games for couples.
Bring on the media.
From written erotica and sexy movies to art and stories you find online that could inspire a sexual fantasy conversation, use it all. We live in a time when technology and media runs the world, so don’t forget to use this medium to your advantage when it comes to your sex life. If you can find a conversation starter in any of these things, jump at the chance.
How can you explore sexual fantasies in a safe way?
While not everyone has a desire to act out their sexual fantasies—which is also normal!—for those who do, it’s important to follow some rules. Especially if you’re engaging in acts like BDSM, a sexual fantasy that 96% of women and 93% of men have had, according to 2019 research conducted by Justin J. Lehmiller, PhD. It’s important not to just dive in blindly.
Do your research.
As we learned from the response from the BDSM community in regard to how BDSM was portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey, just because you’re into something doesn’t mean you know what it is and how to responsibly explore it. Because of this, you want to do your research—whether you’re trying BDSM, new sex positions or sex toys, or something else entirely.