Do People’s Sexual Fantasies Differ Depending on Their Race or Ethnicity?
July 22, 2019 by Justin Lehmiller
I surveyed 4,175 Americans about their sexual fantasies for my book Tell Me What You Want. Since this book came out, one of the more common topics I’ve been asked about (both online and at speaking engagements) is the role that race plays in people’s sex fantasies. Specifically, do persons of color tend to have similar or different fantasies to those of White individuals? Let’s take a look at what my data say.
Before I go on, I should mention that my sample was predominately (79%) White. In this post, I will look at how White participants’ fantasies compare to those of the three largest racial and ethnic groups in my sample: Hispanic/Latinx persons (6.5%), African Americans (5.3%), and Asian Americans (3.6%).
First, with respect to the themes present in people’s favorite sex fantasies, the results were largely consistent, at least at the top of the list. Specifically, I found seven major themes that characterized people’s sexual fantasies, and the top three appeared in the same order across all groups: multipartner sex, BDSM, and novelty. These three themes alone accounted for between two-thirds and three-quarters of people’s favorite fantasies of all time in each group.
There were some differences in the remaining fantasy themes, though. For example, whereas taboo fantasies outnumbered passion and romance fantasies for Whites, the opposite was true for all racial minorities. It’s also worth noting that non-monogamy fantasies (fantasies about swinging, cuckolding, etc.), gender-bending fantasies (fantasies about cross-dressing, sex with a transgender partner, etc.), and homoeroticism fantasies (sex with a same-gender partner) were more common among Whites than they were among racial minorities.
There were also racial differences in whether people had ever shared and acted on their favorite sexual fantasy. Specifically, while a majority of White (59%) and Hispanic participants (52%) had shared their favorite fantasies, less than half of Asian (49%) and Black participants (44%) had done so. Also, Hispanic (26%) and White participants (24%) were more likely to have acted on their favorite fantasies than were Asian (19%) and Black participants (16%).
In addition, I found racial differences in who people fantasized about. Specifically, as I discuss in Tell Me What You Want, Whites were the only group that predominately fantasized about members of their own racial group (about 85% of White people fantasized about other White people). No other racial group showed such a strong ingroup preference in their fantasies. In fact, some groups showed a strong outgroup preference. Notably, Asian Americans fantasized about White partners at about the same rate that White participants did.
Given these results, it is probably not surprising that I also saw differences in the celebrities people fantasized about based on their own race. For example, whereas White heterosexual men predominately fantasized about the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Aniston, and Jennifer Lawrence, Black heterosexual men included Halle Berry and Rihanna toward the top of their list. Likewise, Hispanic heterosexual men had Salma Hayek and Sofia Vergara high up on their list. Interestingly, however, whereas Black and Hispanic participants frequently fantasized about both White and same-race celebrities, among Asian participants, almost no one mentioned celebrities of Asian descent—Asian participants almost exclusively fantasized about White celebrities.
What all of these findings tell us is that sexual fantasies do indeed appear to differ based on people’s race and ethnicity. This makes sense given that sexual attitudes and values differ across racial and ethnic groups, in part, due to differences in religious identity. For example, in my sample, White participants were the least likely to report a religious affiliation, whereas Black participants were the most likely.
These findings also suggest that broader racial biases in our culture may be creeping into our sexual fantasies. For instance, when you see that Whites are the only group that primarily fantasizes about their own racial group and that some racial minorities (Asian Americans in particular) are predominately fantasizing about Whites, too, that says something about the messages our culture is sending in terms of standards of beauty and attractiveness.
Race and sexual fantasy is a complex and very understudied topic. I know I haven’t done it justice in this short post, but I hope that this gets some important conversations started and prompts more research in this area.
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & 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 >