Think about the last sexual fantasy you had. This shouldn’t be too tricky a task. Men do it more than women (even up to every few minutes!) but fantasising about sex is still very common for both sexes, whether they’re partnered or single.
‘People fantasise in many contexts, not only during sex – also when they’re bored or when they stand in line, or when they hear talks,’ says Dr Gurit Birnbaum, an Israeli psychologist at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, and sexual fantasy expert. ‘You don’t always control your fantasies – sometimes fantasies just pop up,’ she told Love Matters at the 2016 International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) conference.
But if you’re in a relationship, you might have wondered whether the fantasies that pop up are a good thing – especially if it’s someone other than your partner who’s playing the lead role!
It turns out that Dr Birnbaum was curious about the very same thing. The problem was a serious lack of research on the subject. So she decided it was time to clear up the mystery. Along with a team of colleagues, Dr Birnbaum conducted three studies to understand how sexual fantasies can affect your relationship.
In the first, participants were asked to fantasise either about their partner or someone else. In the other studies, they kept diaries about the sex fantasies that popped into their heads each day. The researchers also had the participants answer daily questions about their relationships.
If your partner is the one you’re fantasising about, the news is good. ‘First, you desire your partner more,’ Dr Birnbaum explained. ‘You see your partner and your relationship in a more positive light, and you act on it and behave nicely to your partner – you do nice things for your partner that promote the relationship and improve intimacy. So it’s very good for a relationship.’
But what happens when the attractive guy or girl in your fantasies isn’t the person you’re in a relationship with? Whew… good news there too.
Feel free to fantasise
‘Except for negative feelings, like guilt and shame, that some people experience, in terms of the relationship, we didn’t find anything significantly harmful,’ Dr Birnbaum told Love Matters. ‘So you can feel free to fantasise and if you don’t let yourself feel guilty about it, then that’s fine!’
Whether or not you decide to share your fantasies with your partner is a different matter. ‘Sharing fantasies may boost excitement, intimacy, and creativity in a relationship and help people see their partners in a new light. But fantasies enhance the desire between you and your partner, as long as they don’t threaten your partner, and their feelings of being special and desired. So you shouldn’t reveal all your desires if you sense that they may make your partner feel threatened. You can keep some to yourself!’
So if you’ve ever worried about the effect of sexual fantasies on your relationship, Dr Birnbaum’s take-home message is this: ‘You can fantasise about whoever and whatever you would like – that’s the whole point about fantasies. But if you want to reap the benefits of fantasising, you’d better include your partner, at least in some of your fantasies.’
Worries about your sexual fantasies? Share your feelings on our let's talk forum.
- Presentation at the IARR conference 2016: What Fantasies Can Do to Your Relationship: The Effects of Sexual Fantasies on Relationship Quality
- Interview with Gurit Birnbaum