Understanding Desire and Sexual Fantasies: An Introduction
Being honest about our sexual desires and fantasies can be difficult with our partners, even with ourselves
Trainee psychotherapist Alexander Gray offers an introduction to sexual fantasies and where they might come from
Having a relationship with sex and intimacy that works for us can be hugely important to overall mental health – if you need to talk, find your therapist here
Whilst I was drafting the content for my new profile here on welldoing.org I was wondering what sort of clients I would attract and the material they might bring. I hit save and let the process start. The following day I eagerly checked my emails for any response. One message! It was from Alice, the content manager on the website, asking if I’d like to write a piece on sexual fantasies. Well, that was unexpected.
Or perhaps it was synchronicity. I was actually half way through Three Women – a gripping true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on almost a decade of research and writing by Lisa Taddeo. The tales are raw and detailed, full of fantasy but reporting reality. It’s a heady mix, like sitting through a series of sessions with clients, wanting to work with the content but not having access.
The power of Three Women for me is delivered through the simplicity of storytelling. There is no analysis or judgement, just the inner workings of these women’s minds. As a man I felt privileged to get such a clear picture but I was also curious to know the male side of each story. But that’s another point, presumably, that in this instance the alternate view is not relevant – we are focusing on what these women want, and that’s enough.
I found myself thinking about previous clients and how they brought their sexual fantasies into the room. I have worked with divorcees getting to know their bodies and their desires, the long-term singles who can’t match their expectations to reality and partners where their mutual fantasies are coming true but not making them as happy as planned. I continued this rumination and found a great podcast, The Sexual Wellness Sessions with Kate Moyle.
The first episode has Kate discussing desire with Dr Karen Gurney, a clinical psychologist, certified psychosexologist and author of Mind the Gap. They explain that desire is a motivation rather than an urge and is something that is not always turned on. Fantasy can come from a mismatch in desire between couples. They suggest instead of trying to force desire, create the right context for it, just as you train your body to be physically fit or meditate to clear your mind.
However, as a nation we don’t talk about sex openly so our thoughts and feelings can stay in our minds and bodies. Fantasies might be a way of relieving some of that pent-up pressure. Fantasies may also be triggered by changes in your lifestyle through medication, injury or illness, stress, a lack of privacy or diary clashes. Not being able to connect with a partner may result in sexual fantasies fuelling masturbation and vice versa.
Communicating sexual preferences can be difficult. Themes I’ve explored in sessions include: what clients enjoy about their sex life; what they feel is missing; whether they actually want their fantasies to come true; how any previously held fantasies have played out in reality; whether they entertain their partners fantasies; how they can practically explore their fantasies safely; and, sometimes, where they think the fantasies came from.
These themes and many more are explored in great depth by Brett Kahr in his 2008 publication of Sex and the Psyche: The Truth about Our Most Secret Fantasies. Having surveyed 19,000 Britons and personally interviewed 122 there are some interesting observations and revelations about various fantasies from men and women across the country. Although his case studies are illuminating, longitudinal reflection around childhood experiences influencing fantasies or how they might adapt as we get older is lacking.
I would be interested to hear of any studies as a follow up and learn more about any difference or similarities between people of different gender, race or creed and indeed how these issues play out in the therapy room considering ethics and transference. How are therapists working with this material at the moment and are any potential clients reading this feeling now is the time to talk to someone?
Alexander Gray is a verified welldoing.org psychotherapist-in-training at Garden of Eadon where he is working towards UKCP accreditation as an adult therapist. He is also studying for an MA in Transpersonal Child, Adolescent and Family Therapy.