The 4 varieties of sexual fantasy

The sexual fantasy is, for many people, part of the fabric of everyday life. Very personal and private, a potential source of embarrassment, shame, even disapproval, the sexual fantasy is shared sparingly, if at all, in direct personal interactions.

Sexual material is increasingly unacceptable in any open interpersonal setting, more recently given the attention needed to reduce sexual harassment and exploitation in personal and professional relationships. The circumstances under which people can express their sexual fantasies in an appropriate and limited way are therefore narrow.

Yet even when appropriate and perhaps necessary, such as within the confines of romantic relationships, many people are reluctant to discuss their inner sensual realities with others who may desire to meet their needs, which leads to deprivation. and dissatisfaction and ultimately contributes to relationship problems.

Behind closed doors and digital screens

In media and private circles, the sexual fantasy is free. The sky is the limit, from vanilla performances to hot novels and TV shows, movies and theater, erotica and pornography, to some clubs and parties. For the general public, within the mass media, sexuality is valued by proxy and becomes an obsession with misplaced desire and fuel for the fire of private passion.

Clinicians and researchers working with sexual problems recognize the importance of a healthy openness to stigmatized and uncomfortable people. Groundbreaking research such as Kinsey Report can move the needle on social mores, generally evoking controversy. In this tradition, researchers Canivet, Bolduc and Godbout (2021) sought to better understand the varieties of sexual fantasies through discreet surveys of North American adults.

Understanding the categories of sexual fantasies

As described in their study in Archives of sexual behavior, they recruited an online sample of 566 participants who completed a survey of approximately 45 minutes. About half were women and 44 percent were men, the rest in different categories. With an average age of 26, 43 percent said they were heterosexual, 22 percent gay, 22 percent bisexual, and the rest in additional categories. About half were in a relationship and the rest were mostly single; about half were students and the rest were mostly in the labor force. Demographic data on ethnicity and culture have not been reported.

The survey examined sexual fantasies by asking participants to rate four different accounts: romantic fantasy, domination, submission, and sexual violence. Participants were asked about sexual arousal and discomfort after each story. The survey also assessed sexual compulsiveness, childhood sexual abuse (ACS), and romantic attachment style. To identify meaningful patterns, data was analyzed for overall statistical trends and correlations between study measures (“latent class analysis”).

In terms of baseline scenario ratings, percent sexual arousal / percent low discomfort, they found the following: romantic 58/89; submission / masochism 54/77; domination / sadism 40/66; and sexual violence 22/25. Thirteen percent of participants reported a history of childhood sexual abuse and 82 percent reached insecure attachment style thresholds (14 percent detached, 24 percent concerned, 44 percent fearful) with 16 percent hundred security.

Latent class analysis, looking for underlying categories among variables, found the best data for a 4-class model, as shown:

  1. Indifferent. The largest class, nearly 40%, was characterized by lower arousal and discomfort towards all scenarios.
  2. Romantic. Covering around 22%, people in this group reported low arousal and higher discomfort in all scenarios except love story, where the averages were 68% arousal and 79%. little or no discomfort. There was a higher proportion of women here (~ 60 percent).
  3. Enthusiastic. About a quarter were in this group, with higher arousal and lower discomfort in all scenarios. There was a statistically significantly higher proportion of CSA survivors than the other classes (23 percent vs. 12 percent in Romantic and Indifferent, and 20 percent in Dissonant). There were somewhat higher rates of sexual compulsiveness, but overall not very high.
  4. Dissonant. While this group favored the romantic scenario, their sexual arousal and discomfort seemed potentially contradictory (depending on how you think about it). For example, they tended to be both excited and uncomfortable with sadistic fantasies. There was a higher proportion of females here (~ 60%), and there were somewhat higher rates of sexual compulsiveness, but overall not very high.

These results are intriguing and useful for anyone interested in human sexuality. They have an intuitive feel and help frame the discussion of sexual fantasies: Indifferent, Romantic, Enthusiastic, and Dissonant the courses seem to cover the possibilities. While the proportions are notable, it is important to recognize that this sample is a convenience sample of those who responded to the survey. It would be useful to repeat this study with a methodology designed to obtain a representative sample and include ethnic and cultural factors.

The future of sexual fantasy

Either way, for anyone interested in sex, this is intriguing work. For people with sexual problems and the clinicians who can help them, this work is a breakthrough and a great deal of detail. For those who are interested in sexuality in general, it is a fascinating work that gives a window into our inner lives. Follow-up work can better map sexual fantasies, examining additional metrics and tracking the role of key factors such as developmental experience, attachment style, personality, and heredity.


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