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Sexual Fantasies

The most common sexual fantasies (and what they're trying to tell you)
7 Min Read
Sexual Fantasies

In my experience, the most common question people ask when it comes to sex is simple: “Am I normal?”

This specifically comes into play when people are trying to decipher their sexual fantasies, which can commonly be associated with deep confusion and internal shame. 

Here’s a short answer if you are asking yourself the same question: yes, you are normal! Plenty of people experience sexual fantasies. Some fantasies are more common than others, and they can often point to different thought processes or desires. In “Tell Me What You Want,” sexuality expert Justin Lehmiller breaks down seven of the most common fantasies. (He goes even deeper into these categories here.)

The more we talk about these kinks and desires, the more you’ll realize just how “normal” a variety in sexual preference really is!

1. Group Sex/Multiple Partners

It is super common to fantasize about group sex, or sex with multiple partners — whether or not you’ve ever experienced a threesome or orgy in real life. Often, the underlying desire here is to get lost in sensations. 

If your fantasy is about threesomes, you might imagine yourself as the center of attention. 

Contrary to popular stigma, adults are more likely to harbor a desire for multiple partners at once. Because teens and college-aged students are still new to sex, they often lack the sexual confidence necessary to engage in such a practice without reservation. Men in particular might also fantasize about multiple partners as a result of the Coolidge Effect, which occurs when someone seeks out new partners or experiences once they think the “job” of “fertilization” is complete.

2. Power/Control/Rough Sex

If you fantasize about rough sex, or any other form of power or control during sex, there’s a good chance you think about bondage, discipline, dominance, and submission — and perhaps even sadism and/or masochism. A desire to engage in power play often stems from an underlying want to either be in control or to relinquish control. The level in which people fantasize about BDSM and S & M can range from being spanked or whipped, to extreme play such as a fascination with needles or blood fetishes.

When it comes to an interest in pain, this kind of fantasy often correlates with mental presence. A strong physical sensation such as pain can bring someone into the present moment, and the sharp contrast of pain to pleasure may make the latter feel that much “better.” Lehmiller offers the comparison of drinking hot chocolate after being in the bitter cold: Without the initial discomfort of the temperature outside, the warmth may not feel as strong or relaxing. 

One other common fantasy within the category of either dominance, or rough sex, is the rape fantasy (*however calling it a ‘rape’ fantasy is debatable, as the fantasy itself is based on consent as you are still in control of the experience and when it stops). The fantasy itself is self-explanatory, but if you are experiencing this type of desire, know that you are normal and that it is not an underlying want for sexual assault or violence. The desire itself is likely coming from the want to lose complete control. However, if you are looking for tips on how to curb these thoughts, check the end of the post.

3. Novelty/Variety

Another fantasy that is often brought on by the Coolidge Effect is the desire for novelty or variety in sexual activity. These fantasies are particularly able to evoke strong emotions, which heightens sexual stimulation. This category is referring to trying something new, or trying a new variation of something you are familiar with. One common novelty fantasy for heterosexual men is a desire to be pegged by female partners. This is likely due to the fact that anal penetration has the potential to be orgasmic as the prostate is another pleasure center for males.

4. Taboo/Forbidden Sex

When it comes to taboo/forbidden sex, the desire often originates in doing something you aren’t supposed to do. Psychologists believe this is a form of reactance: “When our perceived freedoms are threatened or when we’re pressured to adopt a certain view or attitude; we respond in a way that’s opposite of what the authority or request wants,” Lehmiller writes in “Tell Me What You Want.” 

For example, reactance (or doing the opposite of what you are supposed to as an act of exercising your freedom) is often experienced by religiously affiliated individuals, as there are many rules and regulations surrounding sex. Another way we see this phenomenon come to life is through political affiliations. Researchers found that Democrats, who are often in line with core ideas of equality, are more likely to fantasize about dominance and submission. Republicans, who tend to be more devoted to religion and monogamy, are more likely to fantasize about infidelity.

5. Swinging, Partner Sharing and Polyamory

This fantasy isn’t focused on multiple partners at once, but rather centers on an ability to have multiple partners in your life. Some people like the idea of different partners fulfilling different sexual or emotional needs. Another example of a partner-sharing fantasy is cuckolding, which gives someone else the power over your partner while you watch. (This also overlaps with BDSM fantasies because there is an underlying power dynamic here, as well as one combined with stimulation and novelty.) 

6. Passion and Romance

Passion and romance can fulfill a person’s need to belong. This fantasy is typically about a significant other or long-term partner and is often envisioned as an expression of a deep emotional connection, Lehmiller notes.

7. Erotic Flexibility

Erotic flexibility refers to the desire to deviate from one’s sexuality and/or gender. Homoeroticism and “gender-bending” are two examples of erotic flexibility, and they might or might not hint at a person’s underlying desires when it comes to their sexual or gender identity.

If a woman finds herself sexually stimulated when she thinks of herself as man, this can come from sub-emotions such as feeling sexual gratification from the type of power men experience in a misogynistic world. Gender-bending may also include fantasies that break down the gendered binary of what clothes are “acceptable” for a person to wear — whether that’s what you’re wearing, or what your partner puts on.

Sexual flexibility is the means by which people deviate from their core sexual orientation. These are fantasies about a gender that doesn’t fit into the category of one’s primary orientation.

When it comes to these two forms of erotic flexibility, men are more likely to think about gender-bending, women are more likely to think about the bending of sexual orientation (1). But for a deeper look at sexual flexibility vs orientation, check the post here

Are Our Fantasies Tied to Shame?

A common theme in all of these fantasies is emotion. Your desires are built on the idea of how you would feel during an experience. Do you feel sought after? Are you in control? Do you want to be submissive? How can you feel more present? What makes you feel highly stimulated?. 

When considering why people want to feel specific emotions, many argue it comes from a place of shame. For example, if you feel you are unloved, your fantasies might consistently fall in the passion/romance category. And if you find yourself constantly altering your physical appearance in a fantasy, your subconscious might be telling you about personal insecurities about your own body. However, changing oneself is also linked to being imaginative and a sensation-seeker — so there’s no one clear line (1). 

I personally would argue that not every desire comes back to shame. Typically, these desires are trying to tell us about unfulfilled wants or needs.

Can You Change Your Fantasy?

Alter or Replace, Don't Suppress

To change a fantasy, you first need to uncover what need you are trying to fill. Map out why you have desired your specific fantasy. It is important to remove judgment and ask yourself if you can get that same feeling from a different fantasy or storyline. Is there something unhealed here leading to a strong focus on the same idea? 

Neuroplasticity in the brain can offer a neurological understanding of how people can shift ideas and desires through new thought patterns. 

The one thing to avoid is suppression, which is not effective and often just brings about a rebound effect (1). In other words, you will likely think of whatever you are trying to avoid even more frequently than you did in the past. Willpower is like a muscle, and it will tire out over time. The best solution is uncovering the “why” and then altering or replacing it.


  1. Lehmiller, Justin J. Tell me what you want. Da Capo Press, 2018.
  2. Roberts, Matthias. Beyond Shame: Creating a Healthy Sex Life on Your Own Terms. Fortress Press, 2020. 


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