Sex Ed

Seven Fascinating Facts About Sexual Fantasies

October 10, 2018 by Justin Lehmiller


I surveyed 4,175 Americans from all 50 states about their sexual fantasies for my book Tell Me What You Want. Participants were asked to describe their favorite sexual fantasy of all time, as well as report on how often they fantasized about hundreds of different people, places, and things. They were also asked extensive questions about their personalities, sexual histories, and demographic backgrounds. The results are a treasure trove of information about what it is that turns us on and why. Here’s a sneak peek at seven of the most fascinating things I found:

1.) There’s one person who’s more likely to appear in your sex fantasies than anyone else: your current romantic partner. If you’re single, ex-partners are the people who are most likely to appear. Of course, I should mention that most of us have fantasies about other people, too. It’s not the case that most of us only fantasize about our partners—rather, it’s that our partners (or ex-partners) just tend to make the most frequent appearances in our fantasies.

2.) Having a threesome was the most popular sexual fantasy—but not everyone pictures the same thing when they think about a threesome. For example, some people want to be the center of attention, whereas others want everyone to be equal participants. Likewise, some people want to know who their threesome partners are, while others want them to be strangers. The preferred gender ratio varies a lot as well. In short, the kinds of threesome scenarios that one finds desirable are highly variable across individuals and even within a given gender group.

3.) While threesomes were the most popular fantasy, they were also the fantasy that was least likely to turn out well when people acted on it. This is probably due, in part, to the fact that different people prefer different threesome scenarios, which may make it challenging for everyone to get what they want. However, it’s probably also due to the fact that most people don’t have a script for how a threesome should go, which means that many people end up in a multi-partner situation with a lot of uncertainty about who should be doing what with whom and when.

4.) Most of us fantasize about changing ourselves in some way in our sex fantasies, whether it’s our genital appearance, our body, our age, or our personality. Interestingly, men and women tend to change themselves in different ways. For instance, regardless of sexual orientation, men are more likely to change their genitals, whereas women are more likely to change their bodies. And at least among heterosexuals, women fantasize about being more dominant than they are in reality, whereas men fantasize about being more submissive than they actually are.

5.) Men and women have a lot in common when it comes to their sex fantasies. There are certainly some differences in what men and women fantasize about. For instance, men are more likely to have multi-partner fantasies and to have them often; by contrast, women are more likely to have passion and romance fantasies and to have them often. Overall, however, most of the things that men are fantasizing about, women are fantasizing about as well—and vice versa. Ultimately, what this means is that women’s fantasies have much more adventure and variety in them and men’s fantasies have much more emotional content in them than most people give them credit for.

6.) The vast majority of people (more than three-quarters) said they want to act on their biggest sexual fantasy of all time; however, relatively few (less than one in four) have actually done it. This means that there’s a pretty big gap between fantasy and reality for most people. That said, it’s important to note that people don’t necessarily want to act on all of their fantasies. In other words, not all fantasies are desires—but people’s biggest fantasies certainly seem to be desires for most folks.

7.) For the most part, people who acted on their favorite sex fantasies reported that things turned out well. The numbers varied a bit depending on what it is that they did—and, as mentioned above, group sex was the least likely to turn out well. Overall, though, most people said that acting on their fantasies was at least as good or better than expected and that it improved their relationship. However, some people were more likely to have positive experiences than others, and that included people who were already in good relationships to start with, people with a higher sex drive and thrill-seeking tendencies, and people who are good at adapting to stress and uncertainty (meaning people who are low in the personality trait of neuroticism.

What to learn more about sexual fantasies? Check out my book, Tell Me What You Want.

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Image Source: 123RF/Victor Saboya

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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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