This Time, I Get to Be the Fireman!
So you want to spice up your sex life. Does anything particular come to mind? Presumably, you've had some ideas and conjured up various images involving a specific person, place or sexual act, with innumerable contexts.
Let's start there.
Fantasies are integral to our sexual preferences. In fact, there's tremendous merit behind acting out your sexual desires, because they can increase your and your partner's level of relationship satisfaction.
Putting it all out there
The first step toward turning your fantasies into reality is to discuss them with your partner, as they should never come at the expense of anyone's consent. An open, honest discussion beforehand is prudent.
According to Elyssa Helfer, Ph.D., a clinical sexologist and sex therapist with the Elevated Healing Center in Los Angeles, fantasies can be an excellent tool for further connection for couples who are highly communicative, open-minded, secure in the relationship and generally sex positive. Fantasies aren't inherently defining factors of someone's identity and are separate from reality.
"Even without acting on the fantasies, the openness to discuss them freely can result in increased trust, comfort and safety," she said. "That said, for couples where high levels of jealousy are present, where trust has been compromised or where the attachment lacks security, fantasies can actually be detrimental to the connection."
Terri DiMatteo, L.P.C., owner of Open Door Therapy in New Jersey, said your partner's reaction is as important as expressing your own desires.
"You might share a little bit and then see your partner's response, but you don't want it to be detrimental to the relationship," she said.
'Even without acting on the fantasies, the openness to discuss them freely can result in increased trust, comfort and safety.'
She recommended not going too deep straight away so you avoid the risk of overwhelming the other person. She used the example of one partner describing a fantasy about a woman with large breasts to their small-chested partner and how that could lead to some serious insecurities.
On that note, be prepared for incongruent fantasies.
"Don't forget that your partner has dreams of their own and they don't exist just to fulfill your dreams at the sacrifice of their own, to which you may have become indifferent," said Lawrence Josephs, Ph.D., a professor, psychotherapist and author in New York City. "Your relationships aren't going to turn out that well if you treat your partner as only a vehicle for fulfilling your fantasies, without empathy and respect for their feelings and individuality."
Josephs added that escapist daydreaming in the form of fantasy is part of human nature. Our desires aren't constrained by social acceptability, making fantasies completely normal and worth articulating. Helfer seconded this, stating the social stigma around fantasies influences both their psychological roles and relational dynamics when they are expressed or discovered.
"You have to be careful about how it's done, but the idea would be to make it safe enough of a connection and trusting enough to share," DiMatteo explained. "You're not going to be sharing fantasies on date two or date one; it's usually after some level of trust is established. That's important."
Just how realistic are your expectations?
In this sense, DiMatteo said sharing fantasies can be a barometer for relationship security.
Similarly, Josephs mentioned that fantasies may reveal diagnostic clues to potential problems. Helfer agreed that confessing unmet sexual desires can feel threatening to the other person.
"Those clues can provide an impetus to reflection as to whether one has unrealistic relationship expectations or realistic expectations for fulfillment that are not being met," Josephs said.
He warned that going outside the relationship to surreptitiously act out a fantasy can result in trouble.
While it's easy to overanalyze fantasies, both DiMatteo and Helfer said they aren't strictly founded in deeper meaning. Sometimes these desires are just ideas. What's more telling is our own relationship with fantasies and healthy communication. When taking the analytical approach, DiMatteo compared investigating fantasies to dream interpretation, as it can inform you about your fears, anxieties, needs and unexpressed feelings.
"To let go, be accepted, admired, appreciated and desired are usually things people want in sexual or physical exchanges, and fantasies show that," she explained. "There may be some influential or underlying factors," Helfer said. "Utilizing a biopsychosocial perspective can help uncover how our fantasies are connected to various factors in our lives."
But Helfer also added a word of caution.
"In the end, while fantasies are a part of our sexual landscape, they are not indicative of who we are as people," she explained. "We are not our fantasies, and the immense shame that often accompanies fantasies occurs when we begin to overidentify with the fantasy and question our sense of self."
Making our fantasies come true
Once the (sometimes) anxiety-inducing conversation is over, the fun can commence. There is no shortage of fantasies: From roleplay to bondage to other kinks, there's something for everyone.
"The list of fantasies is endless, as they are as limitless as our collective imaginations," Helfer said. "Fortunately, Justin Lehmiller's research on fantasies narrowed that infinite list down and discovered that the three most common fantasies amongst his participants were multipartnered sex, BDSM and novelty/adventure."
Lehmiller is a social psychologist and research fellow at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana.
Josephs stated that the most frequent fantasy is sex with someone who isn't your partner. He attributed this trend to our innate desire for sexual novelty and variety and the perception that other people may be more attractive, emotionally intimate or sexually uninhibited. He referred to fantasies as a "pressure release valve" for the frustrating realities of a relationship. This concept could conjointly be connected to roleplay scenarios, as they take couples outside themselves and allow imaginations to run wild.
All three experts agreed that fantasies are a wonderful way to break a couple's humdrum routine. DiMatteo said they allow couples to go into another realm outside of the tactical, breaking the cycle of "roommate syndrome" and promoting interpersonal discovery.
"You could ask where it came from, what about the fantasy you like, if anything, scares you or which parts are pleasurable," she said. "If done well, it can enhance a couple's romantic bond."
Additionally, she compared exploring sexual fantasies to lightheartedly playing together, as the ability to let loose with a partner is important for trust and intimacy.
"It's how you maneuver [the fantasy] and your partner's response," DiMatteo said. "If it brings you closer and you feel more intimate and connected, it was a good thing."
Josephs spoke of the merit behind fantasies, too, saying they are expressions of wishful thinking that express our deepest desires.
"When those desires are frustrated in a relationship, fantasy creates an alternative universe in which those desires are fulfilled, and we can be happy," he explained.
Sexual fantasies are normal and intended to be fun and "outside" of reality. But to fulfill them, you need to communicate with your partner.