Sex Ed

How the Pandemic Has Affected the Content of Our Sexual Fantasies

September 29, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller

In my last post, I wrote about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the frequency with which people say they fantasize about sex, as well as people’s reasons for having sexual fantasies. I’m going to follow that up today by exploring some of the specific ways in which the content of people’s sexual fantasies has changed during the pandemic.

In our Kinsey Institute study on how COVID-19 is affecting people’s intimate lives, we asked people whether they’ve noticed any change in the content of their sexual fantasies, and 22% of our participants reported noticing a change of some sort.

We asked a series of follow-up questions to explore the specific kinds of changes these folks noticed. Among the more than 1 in 5 people who noticed a change, here are the kinds of changes they reported (note that they could report more than one change):

·      47% said they’ve found themselves fantasizing about things they’ve never fantasized about before

·      41% said their favorite or go-to sexual fantasy has changed

·      39% said they’re fantasizing more about previous sexual experiences

·      35% said they’re fantasizing less about sex itself and more about meeting emotional needs

·      29% said they’ve fantasized about breaking lockdown or quarantine orders to have sex

·      23% said they’re fantasizing more about ex-partners

·      3% said they have had fantasies involving COVID-19 imagery (i.e., masks, gloves, body suits, etc.)

We also asked participants to describe in their own words how their fantasies have changed and their responses were all over the map. Some reported that their fantasies had become more “vanilla,” whereas others reported that their fantasies had become kinkier.

However, many specifically talked about how intimacy, love, nostalgia, and emotional connection were now a bigger part of their fantasies. For example, in the words of one participant, “I quite often fantasize simply about touching or kissing my partner now, whereas before the fantasies would have been much more explicit.”

The fact that different people reported different types of changes makes sense—after all, the impact of this pandemic hasn’t been the same for everyone. For example, some people are really stressed and worried, while others don’t seem to be particularly troubled. Likewise, some people have sexual or romantic partners, while others don’t but would like to have them. In other words, different people have drastically different needs and concerns right now—and we also know that different people cope in different ways.

However, it is notable that the appearance of COVID-19 imagery in people’s sexual fantasies was uncommon. Thus, for all that’s been said and written about COVID-inspired porn, it doesn’t really seem that many people are eroticizing this situation.

One of the other things we asked everyone to report on was how frequently they had the seven most common types of sexual fantasies in the 12-month period prior to the pandemic, as well as how often they had these same fantasies since the pandemic began. The seven fantasies we asked about were drawn from my book Tell Me What You Want, and you can learn more about them here.

When looking at those participants who said they had noticed a change in the content of their sexual fantasies, participants reported that they fantasized more frequently about passion and romance, novelty and adventure, and experimenting with their gender and sexuality during the pandemic than they did in the year prior. They also tended to report having more taboo sexual fantasies as well.

The frequency of passion/romance fantasies actually increased the most, however. Notably, prior to the pandemic, 28.8% of these folks said they fantasized about this every day. During the pandemic, however, the number jumped to 39.6%.

Interestingly, among those who said they had not noticed any changes in the content of their sexual fantasies, we still observed many changes in their fantasies. Specifically, this group reported fewer fantasies about multi-partner sex, BDSM, novelty and adventure, sexual taboos, non-monogamy, and gender/sexual exploration during the pandemic compared to the prior year. The one area where this group’s fantasy frequency didn’t change at all was in passion/romance fantasies—those fantasies stayed at the same frequency during the pandemic as they did before.

Thus, even among those who said they hadn’t consciously observed a change in the content of their sexual fantasies, there were still changes in what they reported fantasizing about most often.

What is perhaps most interesting about this is that, for the latter group (those who hadn’t noticed changes), passion and romance fantasies were the only type of fantasy that did not decrease, whereas for the former group (those who had noticed changes), passion and romance fantasies were the type that increased the most.

This suggests that the need for emotional connection has really been heightened during this pandemic and that it’s playing an even more central role in our sexual fantasies than it was before. This trend makes sense in light of the ways in which lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing have limited our opportunities to intimately connect with others.

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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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