- There is a wide range of common sexual fantasies from multi-partnered sex to daydreaming about sex in public.
- Other common sexual fantasies include voyeurism, sex with a partner of the same gender, and romantic sex.
- Before acting on a sexual fantasy it's important to establish consent and adhere to local laws regarding public nudity.
- This article was medically reviewed by Rosara Torrisi, LCSW, CST, MSSW, MEd, PhD, certified sex therapist at the Long Island Institute of Sex Therapy.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
Sex is a topic that can spark many complicated feelings. Even the most sex-positive folks can find themselves feeling confused and uncertain when reflecting on the arousing, erotic mental images — otherwise known as sexual fantasies — they conjure up in their head.
It is easy to get caught up thinking your innermost thoughts are deviant. But, chances are even your most taboo fantasies are normal and healthy. In fact, evidence suggests that those who have sexual fantasies experience less anxiety and a greater sense of self-esteem.
Daydreaming about sex is completely normal, and acting on a shared fantasy may even help spice up a relationship. Just make sure that you establish consent and boundaries with your partner, and are following all local laws around nudity and sex.
Below you will find examples of some of the most common fantasies people experience — and how to act on them safely.
1. Multi-partner sex
Multi-partner sex involves sex with more than one partner of the same or different genders. Sex with three partners may be called a threesome and more may be called an orgy.
A 2017 study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior involving 274 Canadian university undergraduates revealed 64% of participants had some interest in multi-partner sex.
Another study published in Personality and Individual Differences involving 788 British adults found that men specifically may fantasize more about multi-partner sex. Male participants of the study were more likely to fantasize about sex with multiple people and with anonymous partners. Meanwhile, women's fantasies were more likely to include same-sex partners and famous people.
2. Dominant or rough sex
Rough sex is a sexual act that is aggressive, animalistic, and perhaps somewhat violent. It is often depicted as more passionate than other kinds of sex, but can also be associated with unhealthy abusive sex. Though, rough is not inherently dangerous or abusive.
BDSM, which encompasses much of rough sex, stands for bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism. BDSM encompasses many different kinks — often considered atypical sexual practices. Dominant or submissive sex often involves the consensual assuming and relinquishing of power between those involved. It can involve tying your partner up, spanking, and an entire spectrum of other behaviors and emotional entanglements.
Some people are aroused by light restraint, others by intense physical pain.
Psychological roleplay — like that between a teacher and student or a boss and employee — may also be considered BDSM as it involves an exchange of power.
Justin Lehmiller, a social psychologist whose research focuses on sexuality, discovered this fantasy is wildly popular when doing research for his book on the science of sexual desire called Tell Me What You Want. He surveyed 4,000 Americans and found 93% of women and 81% of men had fantasized about being sexually dominated. Further, 85% of men and 76% of women had fantasized about being sexually dominant.
3. Voyeurism or exhibitionism
Voyeurism is arousal caused by watching an unsuspecting person or people engaged in a private intimate or sexual act. A small 1991 study found 54% of men have voyeuristic fantasies. Meanwhile, a 2006 Sewdish study found that of 2,450 adults surveyed in 1996, 7.7% had reported becoming aroused watching other people have sex.
Exhibitionism is on the other end of voyeurism; it is the act of becoming aroused by others consensually watching you have sex or by exposing parts of your body to unsuspecting participants. Both of these kinks can be considered problematic if one is unable to control their urges, if the fantasy causes emotional distress, or if legal issues arise.
You probably won't be able to act on this sexual fantasy. In the US, and many other countries, it is illegal to watch or tape anyone having sex without their consent. Additionally, public nudity is illegal in most of the US, although the definition of nudity may vary by state.
4. Sex in public or an unusual location
Sex in public is another popular fantasy that may fall under exhibitionism. In Lehmiller's same survey, he found 81% of men and 84% of women were aroused by a public sex fantasy.
It's important to note that acting on this fantasy is often illegal. Though actual guidelines vary by the municipality — for instance, public nudity is legal in areas like Denver where people of all sexes can go topless — sex acts in public are illegal in all 50 states.
5. Roleplay and cosplay
Despite their similar names, roleplay and cosplay are distinct fantasies: .
- Roleplay is the assumption of another identity. During a sexual act, roleplay can be a part of many of the above kinks. For example, it can help people play out fantasies of power imbalances or as strangers.
- Cosplay is the act of dressing up like someone or something else, often from a book, movie, or video game. It is not inherently sexual, but some people enjoy impersonating a character during sex.
Unfortunately, there has not been a great deal of research done on the topic of sexual roleplay or cosplay. An issue in the International Journal of Roleplaying suggests this is because sexologists consider it to be an "insignificant factor of foreplay," and therefore, is not explicitly included in research questionnaires.
6. Romantic sex
Romantic sex is different than many fantasies because there is no specified definition — what is romantic for one person may differ for another.
In theory, any kind of sex can be romantic. Romantic sex is "...a sexual relationship in which there's an emotional and erotic connection. It could be long and slow and sensuous, it could be tantric sex, it could, you know, have some BDSM involved in it," says Deborah Fox, a clinical social worker and certified sex therapist.
Tantric sex, for example, is slow and doesn't fixate its end goal on orgasm. Instead, the goal of it is to focus on the entire sexual experience and any sensations it brings up.
Lehmiller reports finding romantic sexual fantasies more popular among younger respondents of his survey. He also found 91% of straight men, 88% of straight women, and 87% of gay and bisexual men and women, fantasize about their current romantic partner — making partners the most common person respondents fantasized about..
7. Gender-bending and homoeroticism
Gender-bending is when a person challenges societal expectations of their gender. Modern American examples of it trace back to 1920s vaudeville and can be linked to present-day drag shows. People of all sexual orientations can practice gender-bending. It's important to note that this is different from transgenderism, which is when someone has a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex at birth.
Homoeroticism is a fantasy that involves sexual acts with members of the same sex. It can be — and is often — experienced by people who identify as heterosexual, not just homosexual or queer.
Further, sexual desire is not an either or situation, nor does it define your sexual identity. For example, a heterosexual cisgender woman who is in a sexually fulfilling relationship with a cisgender man can still have fantasies about other women.
Fox thinks of sexuality as a spectrum, or a bell curve. On one tail of the curve is being completely straight, and on the other tail is being completely gay. Most people fall somewhere in the middle.
"People might identify as straight, but they can have a little titillation about you know, imagining, or even engaging [in same-sex sexual acts]," says Fox. "Some heterosexual people do have sex with the same gender person occasionally...having that homosexual fantasy, I don't think it necessarily means anything about their identity in and of itself."
Tips for approaching your partner with sexual fantasies
Trying out fantasies with your partner is exciting and thrilling. But, before you start, there are important aspects of experimentation you should ensure are in place for utmost safety and pleasure.
1. Establish consent
The most important thing to establish when having sex with partners is consent. It shows a partner you respect them and their body, and a sexual act without consent is assault.
Consent is explicit, non-coercive permission to engage in a certain act, in this case, one of a sexual nature. It can be revoked at any time. It is the most vital aspect of healthy sex.
Consent is not merely "no means no" — but more of a "yes means yes." It looks like:
- Consistently checking in with a partner throughout a sexual experience
- Asking explicitly if they like something before you do it
- Discontinuing an act if they ask you to stop — even if they agreed to it beforehand
2. Discuss boundaries
To have the safest possible experience, you must be transparent about what it is you want and don't want. This can include:
- Set an agreed-upon plan for how the sexual encounter might go, including what is off-limits
- Establish a safe word to say when you begin to feel unnerved, so your partner knows when to stop,
The basis of these boundaries is consent, which can be relinquished at any time. It is important to get permission before trying anything new, or even if it's something you do regularly.
3. Use proper protection
To avoid transmitting any STIs, ensure you practice safe sex with a condom or other barrier.
4. Treat your partner with respect
Sex is intimate and should only be experienced somewhere and with someone who you feel safe with.
Understand vulnerability must be embraced when having sex, and do not say or do anything that may make your partner feel judged. Take it slow, especially when trying new things. Voice any concerns or thoughts you may have throughout.
The bottom line
Sexual fantasies are nothing to be embarrassed about. Desire is a key part of sexuality and having fantasies is normal, common, and healthy.
Just because you have a fantasy does not mean you want to act on it. But if you do, it is important to establish consent, respect your partner's boundaries, use proper protection, and make sure you are following local laws around sex and nudity.
Related articles from our Health Reference library:
- How often should couples have sex, according to 3 sex experts
- 5 health benefits of sex — and how much sex is healthy
- How to last longer during sex
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