How to Think About and Engage with Fantasies

Virtually everyone has sexual and romantic fantasies, from idle passing thoughts to powerful, detailed narratives that form a meaningful part of our sexual life. Fantasies also look different for everyone, meaning there’s no “wrong” way to have them. Imagination and daydreaming are how we work through lots of important or complex ideas, from our eventual dream house to what our career might look like — sex is no different. How do you make sense of what fantasies come up for you, and what role (if any) should they play in your partnered sex life? Here are some places to start thinking through your fantasies and how you might want to engage with them.

What does having a fantasy mean?


Fantasies can be drawn from books, TV, porn, our real experiences, experiences we wish we could have, even sexual possibilities that make us anxious (nervousness can feel similar to excitement!). Our fantasies often include things that push some kind of button for us, positive or negative; they might be based on things that have an emotional charge for us as well, which is why go-to fantasies might still be drawn from the first erotic thing we were exposed to as teens even when we’re well into adulthood, or memories of otherwise mediocre sex with a partner we were head over heels with. A fantasy can be a brief idea of a moment or a detailed, lush fully imagined dream world; they can feature you as a real person with your real sexual partner, fantasy characters or elements, or even only imaginary characters that don’t represent you at all – like watching a movie.

Although we think of fantasies as revealing what we want sexually, it can be a little more complicated than that – a fantasy could be an extreme or fantastical version of something we’re interested in, something we find it titillating to think about but aren’t sure if we would like in real life, or even something that we know we don’t want to try but turns us on to think about because it’s taboo. Our fantasies can be useful for learning about what we want in bed, but aren’t a printout of our exact desires – it’s normal and healthy to fantasize about things you know you don’t want in real life. At the same time, particularly powerful or recurring fantasies can also serve as a waypost for sexual experiences that might be fulfilling in our real lives.

Why share fantasies?


It’s fun to keep fantasies to yourself to rifle through like a private multimedia library; it can also be hot and intimate in some contexts to share them with others. Trading fantasies with others online can be a fun digital dating experience, especially in a pandemic where distanced options might feel safer. Much like fantasies themselves, digital chatting doesn’t have to get bogged down in the logistical details of the real world – you can stay anonymous and so can your fantasies.

Alternatively, you might be in a committed partnership and consider whether you and your partner want to share what you fantasize about with each other. Much like any other kind of intentional vulnerability, sharing something so personal and charged can create new trust and intimacy, which can translate into your sex life regardless of whether you choose to act on any fantasies or not. Talking about your fantasy life can be a way of helping your partner get to know what you like and how you see the world sexually – even if you don’t want to act out a certain fantasy beat for beat, understanding what turns you on about it could help your partner bring something new and special to your sex life.

That said, it shouldn’t be a requirement or expectation that fantasies be shared – people maintain their own sexual and psychological selfhood even when they’re in relationships, and demanding to know everything about someone’s fantasy life (or porn habits, or previous partners) can be a sign of harmful controlling behavior.

What do you and your partner want to share?


If you like the idea of you and your partner opening up to each other about your fantasies, some things for both of you to think about:

  • Will it cause insecurity or shame to hear about fantasies that don’t involve you? Would it be best to only share fantasies about your own relationship?
  • How will you respond if your partner shares fantasies about a sex act you aren’t experienced with or don’t enjoy? How do you want your partner to react to you if you share a fantasy they aren’t personally into?
  • Are you sharing as a way of brainstorming about activities you might want to try out together in the future, or are you sharing just because it’s hot to share? Do you want to have other conversations later to talk through what you want to explore together and what you don’t?
  • How does it feel best to talk about fantasies with each other? Is it hot to bring up while you’re in bed as foreplay, or would that make you feel shy? Would it be easier to tease each other during the day with texts or emails about what you’re thinking about?

Should you act out your fantasies?


Fantasies can be something that stays in our private dream world, and some of them we might prefer to keep that way – we might have fantasies that are impossible in real life or that we don’t know if we would actually like, or we might prefer to keep something in our heads where we can never be disappointed by imperfect partners or sudden back pain.

Even in that case, though, there might be the seed of something we want to bring into our real lives – maybe we can’t really meet Marlene Dietrich at a black tie gala and be swept away into a life of glamor and five-star hotel suite trysts, but you could propose an anniversary weekend where your partner takes you to dinner and dancing in a tux and then sweeps you away to the penthouse suite while old movies play on the TV.

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