Ask any sex therapist and they will tell you the number one question they receive.
It’s “Am I normal?”
The fear that our sexual fantasies and desires are not normal is at the root of many sexual problems.
Sexual issues such as low libido, problems becoming and staying aroused, and difficulty reaching orgasm are some of the most common health issues today. Viagra and Cialis are among the best selling medications. Most of these problems have a psychological rather than physiological cause.
Sexual shame is often at the root of these sexual problems.
So let’s get to work on that.
A good place to start unpacking shame is to look at facts and research. And thankfully there has been some recent excellent research on human sexual desires.
Justin Lehmiller, PhD, is a leading human sexuality researcher at the Kinsey Institute. His 2018 book, Tell Me What You Want, outlines the results of his exhaustive study.
He asked over 4,000 Americans to answer 350 questions about their sexual fantasies and practices. The study included participants from all sexual and gender identities, all states, and ranged from ages 18 to 87.
Here are a few of his findings:
- 75% of Americans fantasize about bondage
- 60% of Americans fantasize about sadomasochism
- 50% of Americans fantasize about discipline
Do your sexual fantasies now seem more “normal”?
Here are the top four American sexual fantasy categories, in rank order:
- Power, control and rough sex
- Novelty, adventure and variety
- Taboo and forbidden sex
Now you know what humans think is most hot.
It’s important to realize the distinction between fantasy sexual life and real life. For example, in real life rape is horror. Most of us are revolted and outraged by rape and will fight to protect people from it. Yet it is among the top human sexual fantasies.
Consensual fantasy play can be sexy. Non-consensual sexual activity is a nightmare that should never occur. Mutual consent is the cornerstone of healthy sexuality.
Why Do People Like Pain or Submission?
Lehmiller hypothesizes that many humans enjoy pain because it makes us focus on our immediate sensations. It puts us in the here and now. It allows us to experience sensations with more intensity.
Hey, it turns out that that mindfulness is arousing.
Lehmiller gives the example of drinking cocoa in winter. Cocoa tastes better when you are feeling the pain of being cold. It’s more intensely good then.
Or have you ever gotten into a very hot tub on a cold day?
And why do people like being submissive?
Being submissive takes you out of your head. It changes you from a person into an object. Lehmiller believes it is especially appealing to people who are easily distracted or tend to be anxious during sex.
Notice that both of these hypotheses are positive. They soften judgment and self-stigma. It’s hard to criticize practices designed to keep us in the moment.
What’s Different About Same-Sex Attraction?
Overall, LGBTQ results in the study were more or less the same as heterosexual people.
The research did show that LGBTQ people are more likely to fantasize about BDSM, non-monogamy, taboo acts and gender bending. I think it’s because we’ve had more practice in the hard work of trying to accept what the culture deems unacceptable.
Here are a few other interesting research tidbits about LGB physical attraction that were revealed in the research.
Gay men’s fantasy physical partner is eight pounds lighter than straight women’s ideal partner. This probably doesn’t surprise you. It can be exhausting to try to keep up with gay male beauty standards. You might be pleased to read that less than one in ten gay men said their fantasy partner is “very muscular.” They are most attracted to the athletic figure, not to muscle men.
The fantasy physical partner for lesbian and bisexual women is ten pounds heavier than heterosexual men’s ideal. Again, no surprise there. Even still, lesbian and bi women are fantasizing about partners who weigh 29 pounds less than the average American woman. We are all impacted by “thin” culture.
Should I Act Out My LGBTQ Sexual Fantasies?
Just because you fantasize about something does not mean it would be good to act on it. As you know, a lack of mutual consent or a lack of safety are deal killers.
But will you enjoy acting out safe fantasies with consenting partners? As humans we are typically bad at predicting our future emotional states. For example, you may fantasize about a threesome but in reality you may find it makes you quite jealous.
So you’ll need good communication skills and emotional regulation to manage those possible feelings of disappointment. Essentially you need to be in a good place emotionally to act out fantasies well.
The good news is that the research showed that 86% of the participants reported that acting out their fantasies met their expectations and 91% reported it had neutral to positive impact on their relationship.
With couples who experimented with consensual non-monogamy, 92% said it was as good or better than they had dreamed. However group sex only met expectations in less than half of the survey participants. It had the worst ranking of all the fantasies. Lehmiller believes it may be because we don’t have a script for group sex.
Sexual Advice Based on Research
The research shows that the more negative you are about your favorite fantasy, the more sexual problems you have. So accepting yourself is an important first step in mental health and sexual health. As long as your sexual fantasies remain cordoned off from your own mind you’ll never feel really complete.
Realizing that your fantasies are the same as lots of people is a helpful place to start on the path to self-acceptance. And if you need more support, therapy is always a good way to learn more about treating yourself with self-compassion.
Once you are feeling more secure that your fantasies are okay, it is usually a good idea to come out and share your desires with your partner. The research shows that the more you disclose your sexual desires, the happier you are. Research also shows us that people who share their desires even have longer-lasting relationships. And they have better sex lives.
More good research news: While we expect our partner to reject our fantasies and preferences, the vast majority have a neutral or favorable reaction.
What if your fantasies don’t match up with your long-term partner’s fantasies? This is very common issue. Ultimately couples work out compromises. Couples counseling is a good place to learn how to do this.
Sex is Good For You
Orgasm is good for you. It gives a temporary boost to your immune system. Those who orgasm more tend to live the longest. Frequent sexual activity is linked to better memory. So if shame is preventing you have having sex, maybe now is a good time to start unpacking some of those feelings.