[In her extraordinary book, Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Women’s Sexual Fantasies, leading British sex writer Emily Dubberley explores the meaning of desire and discovers new truths about female sexuality. Through self-reported stories, and a thorough survey of contemporary psychology. Dubberley curates a red hot and completely original book. In this brief excerpt, Dubberley addresses questions such as what sexual fantasies are, why have them and whether they change.]
What Is A Sexual Fantasy?
Sexual fantasies can take many forms. They can be whispers of thoughts that pop in and out of a woman’s head or complex narratives that have evolved over time; they can be used for arousal during sex, masturbation, both or neither; they can be used to escape reality with no physical sexual stimulation at all. They can be romantic, clinical, sensual, violent, all of the above or something else entirely. They can be used to inform erotic stories, whether as a form of intellectual exhibitionism or as a means to make money – possibly both. A sexual fantasy can be inspired by reality, can inspire reality or could be something that the woman concerned would never wish to make come true at all. In short, every woman has her own experience of fantasy, defining her own inner world for herself. Dr Susan Block said, in an article for CounterPunch:
“Fantasy – the original ‘theatre of the mind’ – makes up a huge portion of human consciousness. Memory, as it filters through the mind’s eye, is a kind of fantasy that gazes backward, into the past. Hope, anticipation, fear and ambition are fantasies that look toward the future. Our sexuality is fueled by fantasies of the past and the future, as well as ‘pure’ fantasies – wild dreams that never happened and that you never really want to have happen – that haunt and stimulate you like a kinky parallel universe. A sexual fantasy can be a long, complicated story, a quick mental flash of erotic imagery or something in between. Whatever form it takes, it arouses your sexual feelings. As such, your favourite fantasy is the G-spot of your mind.”
Similarly, Dr. Michael Bader says in his book on fantasy, Arousal, “Sexual fantasies might be likened to microchips in which complex information is reduced and contained in a tiny, nearly invisible space.” The degree to which anyone else is allowed to access these microchips varies from woman to woman. Some women prefer to keep their fantasies to themselves. Others are happy to share anonymously, and some women gain an exhibitionist (or otherwise) thrill out of sharing their fantasies with other people.
Where Do Fantasies Come From?
Our fantasies don’t necessarily bear any relation to things we’d like to happen in real life, though some people do have “wish fulfillment” fantasies. However, psychoanalysts suggest that sexual fantasies may be used by the brain to process our emotions and experiences. In Your Brain on Sex: How Smarter Sex Can Change Your Life Stanley Siegel says: “Among the mind’s most six inventive weapons in the battle for recovery and reconciliation are our fantasies. We create them to counteract anxiety and pain, substituting pleasure where conflict exists.” However, to assume fantasy is simply a form of therapy is an oversimplification as fantasies can serve multiple purposes – and indeed, different purposes for different people. While some people’s fantasies may help them come to terms with any psychological issues they may have, a fantasy can equally be the mental equivalent of watching porn: an easy way to spur arousal, whether by remembering a pleasurable experience or imagining something new. Some women say they enjoy the creative process involved in fantasies, seeing it as a form of adult “play’”– escaping into their imagination much like children’s make-believe games.
It is also important to consider the social construction of fantasy. A woman cannot be removed from society. As such, fantasy cannot be removed from reality but may instead be seen as a reflection of women’s experience. Changing fantasies reflect changes in society – and the recurrence of certain themes such as submission and exhibitionism may reflect the role that women are expected to play in society. Only an analysis over time can truly show the effect of our reality on our fantasy mind. However, academic studies into sexuality are still judged negatively – if allowed at all – by many universities, and funding is thin on the ground, even if a sexual study gets through the rigors of an ethics committee, and few women keep diaries of the way in which their sexual fantasies change over the years. Luckily, the rise of sex bloggers means that more women are now tracking their desires over time, offering scope for exciting research in the future.
Why Do We Fantasise?
Freud initially believed that sexual fantasies were repressed memories of childhood abuse, later changing his opinion and deciding they were unconscious fantasies instead. Though some of the women who submitted surveys to Garden of Desires said that abuse had influenced their fantasies, many more – particularly those with submissive fantasies – were adamant that no traumatic experiences had influenced their desires. In his fascinating study of sexual fantasy, Arousal (Virgin Books, 2003), Dr Michael Bader says, ‘While I have come to reject many assumptions of psychoanalysis about the nature of sexual desire, one fact is irrefutable. Psychoanalysis, more than any other theory, has helped us appreciate the power of the unconscious mind and informed our attempt to unlock the meaning of sexual excitement.’ He continues, ‘Our feelings about the how, where and why of sexual excitement are often a window into the deepest levels of our psyches and the deepest sources of our suffering and pleasure.’
It certainly makes sense that a woman’s fantasies give a level of insight into what she values, the way she feels about herself and possibly her sexual desires. Some women fantasize about real-life sexual encounters with a current or previous partner, whether as a way to feel close to a partner, cling on to a relationship that is long gone, or simply provide masturbatory fodder. And some women consciously use their fantasies to take control of their insecurities. As Dr. Susan Block says, “Your sexual fantasies are keys that unlock the doors of your repressed personal history. They can help you to cope with your real-life problems, just as your dreams do. But they tend to do it when you’re awake.”
Tell Us Your Fantasies?
The editors of Psychology Tomorrow Magazine are interested in your sexual fantasies in our continuing effort to understand and accept the full range of human desires. Our plan is collect, organize and publish the most common themes with our experts’ insight; in these fantasies are windows into the deepest levels of our psyches.
Just as no two people’s life experiences can be exactly the same, neither can our fantasies. The mind is an extraordinarily creative instrument and the kinds and images, narratives and metaphors we use to describe our desires, are very much of our of own unique creation. By asking ourselves the following questions and writing down, the themes and narratives of our fantasies come into focus. Language has a way of making fantasies real. Once we put thoughts and images into words and sentences we tend to own them more completely. Take the time to think deeply about your answers to these questions. Your erotic images and thoughts may surprise or frighten you, but keep in mind they have their own meaning and morality.
Inside Your Fantasies
What do you think about during sex involving another person (whatever sex means to you)?
What do you think about when you masturbate alone?
Are there any central or main fantasies?
What mental image(s) or thought(s) actually bring(s) you to climax?
What is/are the specific plot(s) or story line(s) in your fantasy/fantasies?
Do you think about sex with people other than your partner? Past partners or strangers?
How would you describe the character(s) in your fantasy/fantasies?
What action(s) are you taking in your fantasy/fantasies?
How are other people acting towards you? What is your attitude?
What is the attitude of the other person(s) involved?
What sexual thoughts do you have that embarrass you (if any)?
What sexual feelings bring you shame or guilt (if any)?
What are you thinking about when you can’t climax?
What fantasies have you already acted out? What was the result?
Have you had sexual experience(s) that you continue to fantasize about? What in particular was so exciting about the experience(s)?
Do your sexual fantasies include any themes of power, and if so, what form does this take? Do your sexual fantasies include force?
Do you focus on body parts such as breasts or penises? Which ones?
Are articles of clothing such as shoes, leather, scarves or lingerie part of your fantasy/fantasies? How are they used?
What gender(s) are your fantasy partner(s)? Do you fantasise about anything other than people?
Please share your fantasy anonymously below and we’ll post it here right away — or if you’re feeling especially brave, use the public comments further down …