Sex Ed

Science Fiction Sex Fantasies: Why Some People are Turned on by Impossible Scenarios

September 9, 2019 by Justin Lehmiller

A large number of people have sexual fantasies that are impossible to act out because they feature elements of science fiction. As some evidence of this, I surveyed more than 4,000 Americans about their sexual fantasies for my book Tell Me What You Want and found that more than half of my respondents had fantasized about a fictional character from a book or movie, one-third had fantasized about a mythical creature (like a vampire or werewolf), one-quarter had fantasized about a cartoon or anime character, and one-sixth had fantasized about sex with an alien. That’s a lot of sci-fi sex!

So why are so many people turned on by these impossible scenarios? What’s the psychology behind science fiction fantasies? As with any fantasy, different people might have it for very different reasons, so let’s consider some of the possible contributing factors.

First, one way to look at sci-fi fantasies is as a simple manifestation of human beings’ broad need for sexual novelty. As I’ve discussed many times before, humans are susceptible to something called the Coolidge Effect, which refers to the fact that we tend to show less arousal to the same sexual stimulus over time. In order to counteract this tendency, we need to continually introduce novelty into our sex lives—and imagining sci-fi scenarios is just one of many ways of accomplishing this.

The Coolidge Effect likely explains why we see so much variability in porn searches from year to year and why there seem to be so many fads in porn, too. For example, this could explain why Pokémon porn was popular one year, while Fortnite porn was popular the next. When it’s new, people think it’s hot. After a while, though, their interest begins to wane and they start to look for the next trend.

Second, another way to explain the popularity of sci-fi fantasies is that a lot of us just have active imaginations. There’s something called a fantasy-prone personality, which involves being a very active daydreamer. In my research for Tell Me What You Want, I found that people who scored high on this personality trait reported more sexual fantasies about almost everything, including science fiction scenarios. So in other words, these fantasies are sometimes nothing more than just the product of a wandering mind.

Yet another possible factor that might lead people to have science fiction sex fantasies is discomfort with emotional intimacy. In other words, some people may be drawn to these scenarios because they want more psychological distance between the self and any potential partners. As support for this idea, I found that people who scored high on a measure of attachment avoidance reported more fantasies with sci-fi themes.

People with avoidant attachment styles are uncomfortable with intimacy and emotional closeness in general. As a result, they tend to fantasize less about current and past partners and more about targets they don’t personally know. It’s simply harder to feel an emotional connection with a fictional target (like an alien, vampire, or tentacle) than it is with a real person, so people with avoidant attachment styles may be drawn to sci-fi fantasies precisely because they provide the emotional distance they’re looking for.

It’s important to note that there may be reasons beyond those considered above that people are drawn to impossible sexual scenarios. I should also reiterate that different people are probably into these scenarios for very different reasons. Thus, sci-fi fantasies are not necessarily a sign of, say, attachment avoidance—although, for some people, this may very well be the case.

In short, our fantasies—whether they are based in reality or science fiction—appear to have very complex origins.

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

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Image Source: 123RF/willyambradberry

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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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