Sex Q&A

Sex Question Friday: Is It Normal To Fantasize About Someone Other Than Your Partner?

November 15, 2013 by Justin Lehmiller


Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who often has sexual fantasies about someone other than his partner and wanted to know whether this is a “normal” thing to do:

“Is it normal that I always think about other women when I have sex with my wife?”

Good question. Let me first clarify that I try to avoid using the word “normal” when describing sexual behaviors because labeling certain practices as “normal” or “abnormal” implies a value judgment. Instead, I prefer to talk about behaviors as being common or uncommon.

That said, research suggests that people in sexually exclusive relationships often have sexual fantasies about people other than their partner. For instance, consider a study of 349 adults who were asked about the number of sexual fantasies they had during the last two months [1]. All participants were currently involved in heterosexual romantic relationships and they reported on how many of their fantasies featured their current partner, and how many featured someone else.

Among men, the percentage of fantasies that featured someone who wasn’t their partner was higher than the percentage that included their partner (54% vs. 46%). In contrast, the opposite pattern was observed among women (i.e., 64% included their partner, while 36% did not). So, at least for men, it is more common than not to fantasize about someone else.

The researchers also found that almost all men (98%) and the vast majority of women (80%) reported fantasizing about someone other than their current partner at least occasionally. Who were they fantasizing about? For both men and women, most of these fantasies were about someone they had never physically been with; however, about one-fifth of men and one-third of women reported fantasizing about previous sexual partners.

What does all of this mean? First and foremost, fantasizing about someone other than your partner is a very common experience among people in romantic relationships, and this appears to be especially true for men. Second, it does not appear to be the case that fantasizing about someone else is necessarily damaging to one’s relationship. In fact, this study revealed that men’s fantasies about sex with someone else were not associated with their actual cheating behaviors [1].

So if you find that you’re often thinking about sex that doesn’t include your partner, it isn’t necessarily a bad sign or something you should feel guilty about–the fact of the matter is that almost everyone else (including your partner) is probably fantasizing about the same thing.

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[1] Leitenberg, H., & Hicks, T. V. (2001). Sexual fantasies about one’s partner versus someone else: Gender differences in incidence and frequency. The Journal of Sex Research, 38, 43-50.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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