Sex Ed

Where Do Our Sex Fantasies Come From?

July 11, 2018 by Justin Lehmiller

What’s the source of your favorite sex fantasy? Did it emerge from a previous sexual experience? Is it from something you saw in porn or in the popular media? Or did it come from somewhere else? It turns out that our fantasies can spring from several different sources. In this post, we’ll consider what 4,175 Americans said when asked where their biggest sexual fantasy of all time came from (note that this survey formed the basis for my latest book, Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life).

In order from most to least common, here’s what people said was the biggest influence on where their favorite fantasy came from:

1.) My own imagination

2.) Something I saw in pornography/erotica

3.) A previous sexual experience that happened as an adult

4.) A spontaneous and inexplicable sexual urge

5.) Something I read in a book

6.) I don’t know

7.) A previous sexual experience from childhood or adolescence

8.) Something I saw in the movies or on TV

9.) A sexual opportunity that I passed up.

A few participants (7%) reported sources other than the ones listed above. These sources included: “conversations with my partner,” “an unfulfilled desire,” “a non-sexual childhood experience” (for example, one person mentioned a cartoon they saw as a kid), “something I saw in a sex shop,” and (interestingly) “being cheated on” (that’s right—some people said that being cheated on by their partner led them to develop a sexual fantasy about precisely that).

As you can see, our fantasies have the potential to emerge from many different sources. However, while we may consciously recognize some of these sources, it’s not uncommon for people to have no sense of where their fantasies came from. This isn’t surprising because we aren’t always able to pinpoint why we want the things we want, sexually or otherwise–and as I discuss in Tell Me What You Want, there are a lot of factors that subtly influence the content of our sex fantasies in ways we may not realize, including our culture, evolutionary history, and personality.

Exclusive offer for readers of the blog: If you order Tell Me What You Want, you will receive a bonus package that includes an extra chapter (which focuses on the psychology behind some of the less common sex fantasies), some fun fantasy-related infographics, and more. Click here for complete details on this offer.

Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology? Click here for previous articles or follow the blog on Facebook (, Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit ( to receive updates.

Image Source: 123RF/williamlangeveld

Post Featured Image
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.

Read full bio >