Jump Start Your Libido

executive summary
Fantasy is one of the most powerful facets of desire. Many people have fantasies they find scary or unacceptable. It's important to remember that fantasy is just that. Taboo fantasies can actually help improve your sex life.

hot facts
  • The power of fantasy
  • Give yourself permission to fantasize
  • Embrace your sexuality

Thinking Sexy Thoughts

Sexy thoughts are just thoughts

He drags me into a dark alley, brutally binds my hands behind my back, yanks my dress up to my chin, pulls down my panties and does me fast and hard. This isn't my worst nightmare, it's my sexual fantasy. You might think this reveals some perverse sexual bent or assume I'm not getting enough sex in real life, and lots of people might eagerly agree with you. But neither is true.

Fantasy-bashing is an old story. In fact, misconceptions about sexual daydreams began with Sigmund Freud, king of the subconscious. In 1908 Freud declared that "a happy person never fantasizes -- only a dissatisfied one." For years, mainstream psychology embellished a similar theme hawking what was known as the "deficiency theory". Even in our culture of tell-all talk shows and confessional memoirs, sexual fantasies remain one of our last taboos. They're something people just won't talk about.

The more you think about sex, the more you have. "We tell each other almost everything -- our sexual habits, who we lust for and how much money we make," notes Miriam Biddleman, a sex therapist with the Center for Human Sexuality, at New York's Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. "But we don't know the sexual fantasies of our closest friends. We regard fantasies as too revealing. They're treasured possessions, yet we're ashamed of them."

Unfortunately such backward thinking leaves many of us swimming in the seas of self-doubt and guilt. But the tide is changing. Several new studies reveal that sexual fantasies are healthy and almost everyone has them from adolescence (around age 11) onward; about 5 percent of men and women say they've never had a sexual fantasy. (If you're in that group, don't worry. It's perfectly okay not to fantasize.) The data shows that if anything, frequent fantasizers are having more than their fair share of satisfying sex: they have sex more often, engage in a wider variety of erotic thoughts, have more partners, and masturbate more often than infrequent fantasizers.

It works the other way around, too. "People who have active sex lives have the greatest number of sexual daydreams," reports Eric Klinger, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota at Morris. Klinger says that fantasies are "one way to explore things we might not want to really try. They certainly don't mean we're unhappy with the real stuff -- or with our partner."

I can't believe I let myself think this! In her best-selling book, "Women on Top", Nancy Friday maintains that women have started a sexual revolution for equality and their fantasies are proof. She studied over 10,000 women and found that in recent years women's fantasies have become more aggressive, and are more frequently about sexually dominating their male partners rather than submitting to them.

Indeed, our wildest sexual whims are frequent fodder for fantasies. Cheryl Renaud, a psychology professor at the University of New Brunswick in Canada, gave students a list of 56 sexual actions from kissing an authority figure to spanking someone. She asked how often they thought about each scenario and found that more than 20 percent of both sexes reported "extreme" fantasies which included partner swapping, whipping or spanking someone, or forcing another adult to engage in a sexual act.

"We found that many men and women who have had thoughts of doing things, that if they actually did them, would be illegal," reports Renaud. Many of her subjects reported feeling "embarrassed" or "ashamed" by their fantasies and described them as "negative" experiences.

University of Vermont psychologist Harold Leitenberg, Ph.D., reports in Psychological Bulletin that one in four people feel intense guilt about their fantasies. Most of the time it "involves people who feel guilty about fantasizing while making love to their partners," he says. Leitenberg also writes that even among sexually adventurous groups like college students, 22 percent of women and 8 percent of men said they usually try to repress the feelings associated with fantasy.

Would you actually do that in real life? Why is it that so many of us are ashamed of what's going on in our heads? Do these fantasies reveal a dark side of our sexual selves that needs to be controlled rather than explored? "Hardly," says Biddleman. She insists that it's important to accept our fantasies and she urges us not to judge them. "Having a fantasy about a particular sexual practice or activity doesn't mean we actually want to engage in the behavior. While fantasy may enhance actual sexual practices, it should not be assumed that a fantasized behavior represents an unconscious desire."

Rape fantasies, for instance, are far more common than rapes themselves. As an extreme example, consider that only 22 percent of child molesters say they had sexual fantasies about kids before their first molestation. So, unusual fantasies are only a concern when they become compulsive or exclusive, or for those individuals in whom the barrier between thought and behavior has been severed.

What's more, "Women who find submission fantasies sexually arousing are very clear that they have no wish to be raped in reality," says Leitenberg. "In their fantasies, women control every aspect of what occurs. And their scenarios are usually far less brutal than real-life attacks."

In other words "Fantasizing is healthy and good -- whether you're imagining being tied to a kitchen table, being raped, or having sex with your next door neighbor," Bittleman says. "There's a major leap between daydreaming and reality. Remember, 80 percent of the population does not act out their fantasies."

Makes me wanna touch myself. Not surprisingly, we generally fantasize during masturbation. In his research findings, the prominent sexologist Alfred C. Kinsey reported that fantasy accompanied masturbation for the majority (64 percent) of females -- and virtually all males. Even more exciting news: about 2 percent of the women in his study reported achieving orgasm by fantasy alone. He also found older females were more prone to fantasize than younger women.

More recently, digital technologies have broadened the erotic arena by offering unprecedented access to fantasy material. Thanks to the extensive exchange of pornography on the Net, email and other electronic forms of erotic communication, both fantasy and masturbation are coming out of the closet as vital components of a healthy sex life.

Since steamy daydreams aren't an indication of sexual inactivity or of perversion, there's absolutely no reason to censor your sexual thoughts. In a Glamour magazine survey, 55 percent of the respondents agreed that simply having lust on the brain made their sex lives better. Only one in ten women said it put a damper on their libido. So, the odds are pretty good -- and why not? In fantasy, the sex is always the best -- and you're always fabulous.