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Do we really need to explore our sexual fantasies?

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Should we explore our sexual fantasies?suteishi - Getty Images

It's very common to have sexual fantasies - maybe you type the same thing into the search bar of your porn site of choice every time you're in the mood, or you've found yourself daydreaming of random kinks you've never considered trying before. Whereas in reality, you don’t actually do the things in the scenes you’re watching or scenarios you’re imagining.

The things we think about while masturbating often don't reflect our actual sex lives. And sometimes, it’s not abundantly clear why a certain scenario gets us off, or where the idea came from. Sometimes, the thought of acting out a particular kink or sex act in person, rather than just thinking about it, might actually seem a little scary or downright unappealing.

If this is the case, rest assured you're not alone when it comes to your fantasies. A 2014 study found that 56.5% of women surveyed have fantasised about having sex with more than three people, but another survey from 2017 found that only 8% of women have actually had a mixed-gender threesome. And according to a 2019 YouGov survey, only 11% of men and 8% of women say the porn they watch is similar to their real sex life.

"It’s very normal to experience fantasies, both ones that are relatable and those that feel surreal," says Ness Cooper, a therapist and resident sexologist for Jejoue.

Where do sexual fantasies come from?

Most people don't know why they fantasise about certain things or have particular kinks, and it’s fine if you don't have any desire to get to the bottom of the ‘why’. "Some fantasies may come from generational and familial influences where we have witnessed certain relationships in the past," Cooper says.

However, fantasies can sometimes also be linked to trauma as "a way for our brain to solve something or soothe us", according to Ness, which means it might be helpful for you to unpack them with someone you trust or a mental health professional.

A lot of fantasies, as you might have guessed, come from watching porn, which is normal, although it can sometimes lead to unrealistic expectations around sex. "It's worth considering why you might have searched for particular porn previously, as you may already have been fantasising about these activities unconsciously… We can’t fully tell if the fantasy or the porn came first sometimes," Cooper says.

What purpose do fantasies serve?

It's very common to fantasise during masturbation or when you're aroused, even with a partner, and sexual fantasies can also aid arousal and orgasm. Role play and dirty talk have the power to take us halfway to our fantasy scenarios while maintaining our grip on reality. This is why in kink, sexual encounters are called ‘play’ or ‘scenes’. The idea is that they’re not real and can be stopped at any time.

Disappearing inside our heads can be meditative and engaging in grown-up forms of ‘play’ can be incredibly cathartic, if done safely. "Fantasies can also help distract us from the day to day stresses, meaning we can become vulnerable within the moment and let go and enjoy sexual contact with less external interruptions," Cooper explains.

Why don't people explore their sexual fantasies?

If you have fantasies you haven't explored there's nothing to say you have to replicate them with a partner(s). With the advent of readily available hardcore porn and the increasing sentiment that “vanilla” is boring, you’re definitely not alone in experiencing a little self-induced FOMO. But fantasies are fantasies for a reason - they rarely match up to real-life events because in our own heads we control everything and in real life, that’s much harder to do.

"Fantasies may also be accompanied with shame and taboo which can put some people off exploring them within real life," Cooper says. This is particularly the case if you're fantasising about a more unusual kink. For a lot of people, especially women, shame can often come into sex, because of things like slut-shaming and gendered expectations around sex and love. But there's no need to feel shame about anything you're fantasising about, as long as it's safe”.

You also don’t owe anyone access to the things you daydream about and keeping them a secret because they’re personal is totally fine. Then again, if you’re fantasising about your ex every time you sleep with your current partner, why would you want to disclose that?!

It also might not always be realistic to explore your fantasies for a number of reasons. Maybe you're interested in BDSM, but you haven't met anyone to explore it with, or you don't feel safe or comfortable acting these fantasies out in person. Safety should always come first and you should never feel pressured by yourself or other people to explore something. Fantasies serve many purposes in themselves, outside of partnered sex.

"Our sex lives rarely mirror our fantasies and we shouldn’t aim to try and explore every fantasy we have," Cooper says. "Fantasies can be very fluid and change throughout time without us noticing those changes."

The benefits of exploring sexual fantasies

If you feel safe and comfortable making a fantasy come to life and it's something you’re certain you want to do, this could be an exciting and pleasurable experience for you and could help you unlock new facets of your sexuality.

If you're in a relationship or exploring with a partner, talking about and potentially acting out fantasies together could help you bond, according to Cooper, fantasies can help couples self soothe when apart as well as encourage and strengthen bonding when you’re together. After all, it feels good to make each other feel fulfilled sexually.

How to explore your fantasies safely

Take time to explore and talk

If you’ve decided you want to explore one of your fantasies, whether it's with a long-term partner or someone new, make sure you don't spring it on them out of nowhere. Instead, take the time to have a discussion about what it is you want and whether your partner(s) wants to explore that too.

"If your partner is new to your fantasy, allow them time to process it before exploring it. Sex isn’t something that should only be spoken about when we’re performing the act and choosing a suitable time that’s not in the bedroom and in the throes of passion can help constructive conversation around the fantasy," Cooper says.

Prepare properly and start slowly

If your fantasy is something that's very different to your normal sex life, don't throw yourself in at the deep end. Do some research about how it works, stay safe and take things slowly when you do try it out.

"Often I have to remind people to aim lower first and build up to the full fantasy over time as there can be a lot we think about that you can't actually do within a few hours in the bedroom," Cooper says. Start experimenting in small and safe ways and gradually build up if you want to. You might find that simply exploring with baby steps is enough to turn you on.

Prioritise consent and aftercare

Chances are, your fantasy involves at least one other person, so make sure you're taking them into account and checking in with each other. If you are experimenting with a new kink, choose a safe word that you and your partner(s) agree on if you want to stop what's happening for any reason - and don't be afraid to use it!

Another important thing to consider is aftercare and how you and your partner(s) will wind down from the fantasy experience afterwards. Coming back to reality and debriefing is just as important as the fantasy itself, especially if it didn’t exactly go as planned.

"Acting out a fantasy can be very intense and for some, it may lead to a flood of emotions and hormones they’re not used to. Taking into account that there may be a drop after is key so you can make sure you navigate this safely," says Cooper.

Just know that whatever you daydream about and whatever your sexual fantasies include, there’s no real need to act on them. Our imaginations and subconscious thoughts are incredible and make us who we are, but they’re personal so real-life experiences will never be quite the same as what we create in our minds. If however, you do want to play out a fantasy, always stay safe, keep an open mind and communicate clearly with your partner(s) to see where your imagination can take you.

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