Sexual Fantasies: What's Considered Unusual?

By Liam Davenport
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

Nov. 7, 2014 -- Very few sexual fantasies are uncommon, with both men and women expressing a wide range of fantasies.

Results of a large survey done by investigators at the Université du Québec a Trois-Rivières and the Philippe-Pinel Institute of Montreal, Canada, indicate that both men and women fantasize about domination and submission, and that both themes are commonly reported by the same individual. But there were differences between the sexes, with women less likely to want to act on their fantasies.

"It is clear that one should be careful before labeling a sexual fantasy, as the majority of the 55 on the questionnaire were not found to be either rare or unusual," the researchers, led by Christian C. Joyal, PhD, write.

The study was published online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Fantasies Differ for Men and Women

The researchers recruited participants via advertisements in public places, interviews with the researchers on a local radio show and in local daily newspapers and magazines, presentations to groups of elderly people, word of mouth, a Facebook page, and university mailing lists.

Of the 1,516 participants, 799 (52.7%) were women, which is close to the female-to-male ratio of Quebec's general adult population. The majority of participants (85.1%) described themselves as heterosexual, 3.6% described themselves as homosexual, and the remainder as bisexual.

The research team gave them a modified version of a sex-fantasy questionnaire, bringing it into line with current cultural and social trends. The resulting 55-item questionnaire asked participants to rate fantasies in terms of intensity of interest from 1 (not at all) to 7 (very strong). A final, open question allowed additional fantasies to be gathered.

Sexual fantasies were defined as:

  • Rare if they were shared by fewer than 2.3% of participants
  • Unusual if shared by fewer than 15.9%
  • Common if shared by more than 50%
  • Typical if shared by more than 84.1%

There were two rare fantasies: sex with a child younger than 12 years, and sex with an animal.

Unusual fantasies for women were of peeing on a partner, being urinated on, cross-dressing, being forced to have sex, abusing an intoxicated person, having sex with a prostitute, and having sex with a small-breasted woman.

For men, unusual fantasies were of peeing on a partner, being urinated on, having sex with two other men, and having sex with more than three men.

Interestingly, only five sexual fantasies were typical:

  • Feeling romantic emotions during a sexual relationship
  • Fantasies in which atmosphere and location are important
  • Ones involving a romantic location
  • Receiving oral sex
  • For men, having sex with two women

Of the remaining fantasies, 23 were common in men, and 11 were common in women.

Significant proportions of women (28.9% to 64.6%) reported fantasies about being sexually dominated, and similar proportions were observed in men.

Overall, men had higher sexual fantasy scores than women, and there were significant differences between the two groups, including fantasies of having romantic emotions during sex, of receiving oral sex, of having sex outside a relationship, and of having anal sex.

About one-third of women fantasized about homosexual activities, despite the fact that only 19% considered themselves bisexual or homosexual. For men, approximately one-quarter had homosexual fantasies, although 89.5% considered themselves heterosexual.

Finally, women were less likely than men to want to live out their fantasy, with about half of women who had submissive fantasies saying that they would not want those to be realized.

"Many fantasies that one might suspect would be unusual are, in fact, endorsed by a significant portion of individuals. Yet this doesn't mean that these are pathological at all, it just means that people have them," says Richard Krueger, MD, associate clinical professor of psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, in New York City.

"The only way that it becomes pathological is if [it involves] distress, dysfunction, or action on a non-consenting person."

"It's clear that the Internet is allowing for the development and expression of patterns of atypical sexual behavior. People that otherwise might have fantasies about...who knows...having sex with clowns or other strange things can all of a sudden hook up and connect with groups which present this and which express it," he adds.

"I think that the Internet is really having a quite profound influence upon atypical patterns of sexual interest, particularly of atypical sexual interest ... but it's entirely unknown if these are pathological or not."

This study was sponsored in part by a team grant to the Groupe de Recherche sur les Agresseurs Sexuels (GRAS, Jean Proulx, director) from the Fonds de Recherche Québécois sur la Société et la Culture (FRQSC). Dr Joyal and Dr Kreuger report no relevant financial relationships.


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SOURCE: Joyal, C. Journal of Sexual Medicine, published online Oct. 30, 2014.

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