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The Science of Sexual Fantasies

sexual fantasies

girls legsConsider the kinds of things that people report thinking about in their fantasies. This is more relevant to the sexual nature of men and women than comparisons of actual sexual behaviour, because fantasies are less constrained by partner preferences and social expectations. In 1987, sex researcher, Glenn Wilson, PhD, reported a survey in which large numbers of men and women were asked to describe in written, narrative form details of their favorite sexual fantasy. Since they were invited to do this anonymously there was little likelihood of conscious inhibition of responses.

When a content analysis of these self-reported fantasies was conducted (Table; columns total more than 100 because categories are not mutually exclusive, from Wilson, 1987a) it became clear that the typical fantasies of men and women were quite different. By far the most common element in male fantasies was group sex or sex with two other women; for example, 'being tied to a bed with six or more naked women licking, kissing and fellating me'. Thirty-one per cent of men included elements of group sex in their fantasies; the equivalent figure for women was only 15 per cent (Wilson, 1987a).

Table: Main elements of anonymously reported sexual fantasies (in percentages)
Fantasies Men
(N=291)
Women
(N=409)
Group sex 31 15
Voyeuristic / fetishistic 18 7
Steady partner incorporated 14 21
Identified people (other than partner) 8 8
Setting romantic/exotic 4 15
Rape/force 4 13
Sado-masochism 7 7
None 5 12
Everything 3 0
No answer 21 19

The second most common theme in the male fantasies could be described as visual or voyeuristic, referring to clothing such as black stockings and suspenders, sexy underwear, leather, or nurses' uniforms; for example, ''A sixteen-year-old virgin dressed in a short-skirted school uniform and who wears a hairband all the time'. Eighteen per cent of men had fetishistic elements like this in their favourite fantasy, but very few women did.

Other primarily male elements, perhaps related to the visual emphasis, were details of anatomy, reference to the age or race of the partner, and description of the sexual activity that was engaged in. Only very occasionally would women refer to anonymous physical characteristics such as the size of the man's penis, the hairiness of his chest or his ethnic origins.


 

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The most common element in female fantasies was inclusion of the husband or current loved partner (21 per cent). Only 14 per cent of males admitted their wives or current partners into their favourite fantasies. The second typically female characteristic was reference to exotic, romantic settings such as islands, beaches, forests, fields, flowers, waterfalls, moonlight, space and heaven (15 per cent); for example, 'My man making love to me on a quiet beach in the moonlight with the waves lapping over us'. The partner was usually present in these settings, and several women mentioned freedom from distraction, often from children or telephone, as an important aspect. Only 4 per cent of male fantasies included romantic settings such as this.

Another common female element was that of rape or force (13 per cent), although very often this meant being raped by the husband, partner or somebody already desired; for instance, being 'raped by somebody I love'. A much smaller proportion of men (4 per cent) said they would like to be raped by women, and a few fantasized being totally submissive to a female partner.

Although some people might think that women are more reticent with respect to their sex lives, there was no gender difference in willingness to answer this question about sex fantasies. It appeared as part of a larger questionnaire with no compulsion to complete all items. Twenty-one per cent of men left the question blank, compared with 19 per cent of women. However, more than twice as many women as men (12 per cent compared with 5 per cent) stated that they had no sexual fantasies; for example, 'I don't need fantasies because I am perfectly happy with my man and my sex life.' Three per cent of men, but no women, claimed to fantasize about 'everything'.

Last Updated: 08 April 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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