Believe it or not, psychological science has limited understanding of what “normal” sexuality is. Even “common” sexuality is not well understood. Most statistics are woefully incomplete, asking about penetration styles and little else (example). We need to know more! Why? Well how else are we going to develop acceptance and understanding of the diversity of human sexuality? And the definition and use of the term “paraphilia” likely would need to be changed with greater understanding.
Today’s study looked at the sexual fantasies of roughly 1500 Canadian (Quebec) people (1516, 52.7% female). Ages ranged from 18-77, though most were between 19 and 40 (mean 29.6 +/- 10.8). 85% of the participants identified as straight. 3.6% identified as gay, and 11.4% identified as bisexual. As far as I can tell, no questions were asked about transgender status and no one reported themselves to be trans.
The participants were recruited through advertisements interviews, word of mouth, and presentations. They then filled out a survey online. The survey was a modified version of a known sex fantasy and behavior survey. The sexual behavior questions of the survey were removed. Additional sexual fantasy questions were added based on the most frequently visited pornographic sites. A write-in “other” option was also included.
The researchers then separated the fantasies out into rare, unusual, common, and typical categories. A rare fantasy was one that less than 2.3% of the participants had. Unusual was below 15.9%. Common was 50% of the participants or more, and typical was over 85%. The authors did not give a group name for fantasies that 16-49% of the participants had — so I’m going to call that “uncommon.”
What did they find?
The only typical (>85%) fantasy for both men and women was having romantic feelings during sex.
Common (50-85%) fantasies include themes of oral sex, masturbation and having sex with multiple people of the opposite sex. Sex in unusual, public, and romantic places was also common. Some choices of partner were also common: having sex with a famous star, or with a person other than one’s spouse. Lastly, fantasies of being sexually dominated was also common to both men (53.5%) and women (64.6%).
Men generally had more common fantasies than women did. These included sexual acts with strangers or acquaintances, watching a stranger undress, and having a much younger partner or a female partner with very large or very small breasts. Men were also more interested in dominating a partner (59.6%) than women were (46.7). In contrast, women were more interested in being tied up than men were (52.1% vs 46.2%).
Uncommon (16-49%) fantasies for both sexes include tying another person up, spanking or whipping someone, being spanked or whipped, being forced to have sex, and having gay sex. Men also uncommonly had fantasies of forcing others to have sex and having sex with prostitutes. Those fantasies were unusual for women.
Unusual (2.4-15.9%) fantasies included cross-dressing, urinating on a partner, and being urinated on. Fantasizing about having sex with animals and pre-pubescent children fell into the rare (less than 2.5%) category.
Here are some of the interesting statistics I pulled from this study that I’ll be using in the future:
- About 3% of the group identified as gay, and 11% as bisexual. However, one in three women and one in five men fantasize about gay sex.
- Men have more specific features to their fantasies, such as the breast size of their female partners. They’re also more likely to fantasize about having sex with strangers or acquaintances (around 2/3 of the group).
- Men are more interested in anal sex than women (64% vs 32.5%)
- Half to 2/3 of the group fantasized about public sex.
- Half to 2/3 of women and men fantasize about being sexually dominated. Slightly fewer fantasize about doing the dominating (47% of women, 60% of men). Fewer fantasize about actually being forced into sex (a little less than 30%) or forcing others into sex (10-20%)
- Roughly half the group fantasized about being tied up.
- 1/4 to 1/3 of the group fantasized about spanking or whipping.
- Cross dressing and urination fantasies are rare (<10%)
As always, this study has its limitations. The people who chose to participate may be a only a small group of the larger population. They may be more open-minded than the population at large.
But what does it all mean??
I think one of the big messages here is this: Fantasies of varying natures are not at all rare. They appear to be part of the normal spectrum of human sexuality. As the study authors put it, “there are very few statistically
unusual sexual fantasies.”
Many of the features of these fantasies are things that have been called pathological. Sadism, masochism, voyeurism, exhibitionism…all were present in fantasies in at least one in five in the survey. But all are considered a “paraphilia” for which there is treatment. They are also rather neglected aspects of human sexuality. They’re not typically addressed in sexual education, nor are medical or psychological professionals often given information on them.
I hope the authors will do more analysis with their data and make a few more publications. I’d love to see if fantasies varied by sexual orientation, for example. I would also have liked to see data on sexual satisfaction and whether the participants did the things they fantasized about. From a health perspective, I’d also like to know if the participants were at higher health risk from things like substance use or STIs. But that’s why we have science — someone else will ask that question!
All in all, I’m really happy with this study. It’s an area that sorely needs more data. The study was thoughtful and allowed participants to detail their own experiences in an “other” box.
Interested in reading the study for yourself? The abstract is publicly available.