The terms “sexual desire” and “sexual fantasy” are often used interchangeably. Even if they’re not used interchangeably, most people don’t have a clear understanding of what they entail exactly, how they’re different, and how they can share some commonalities. Determining the specific differences and similarities between “sexual desires” and “sexual fantasies” may seem like a matter of semantics. However, understanding the two helps you better understand and make sense of your sexuality. This article explores sexual desires and sexual fantasies.
What is sexual desire?
At its most literal level, a sexual desire is a feeling you get when you’re unsatisfied — not dissatisfied but rather unsatisfied. Scientists and psychologists often compare sexual desire to hunger or the need for oxygen, a bodily urge you need to satisfy to function healthily. Sexual desire is a hard-wired emotional and physiological state, so there’s no point in trying to control it. Furthermore, attempts to control sexual desire can lead to other mental and psychological problems.
...a bodily urge you need to satisfy to function healthily.
Sexual desires are generally formed without human control. They’re a result of several factors, including emotional, visual, aural, biomechanical, biochemical, and hormonal triggers. As such, a wide range of involuntary factors come together in unique formulations to manifest outwardly in your sexual desire. Some say sexual desires are guided by evolutionary needs, such as the desire to perpetuate the species or protect future offspring. However, the “evolutionary theory” of sexual desire doesn’t find many takers.
Psychologists often theorize that sexual desire is rooted in childhood. Children often derive their sexual desires from absorbing lessons from their parents’ sexuality and desires, even if those impressions aren’t understood at the time. As we grow older, those desires may morph, modified by mass media, peers, and various external factors. Due to numerous internal and external factors, sexual desires are formed and expressed outwardly. As such, there’s no way to trace the roots of one’s sexual desire — their locus is often too convoluted to allow simplistic explanations.
What are sexual fantasies?
Sexual fantasies are thoughts, images, or ideas that cause arousal or sexual excitation. Individuals may conjure sexual fantasies from their imagination, dreams, memories, literature, pornography, or movies. Sexual fantasies are fairly universal — most people experience fantasies of different kinds. Furthermore, sexual fantasies are focused on scenarios rather than individuals — they focus on certain sexual or non-sexual acts that cause sexual arousals, such as dominance, submission, pain, voyeurism, and more.
Despite the specific differences in the sexual fantasies of different people, they usually follow similar patterns. Studies have shown that sexual fantasies can be grouped into these categories:
- Multi-Partner Sex — threesomes, orgies, etc.
- Power & Control — domination, submission, etc.
- Rough Sex —BDSM, pain, rape fantasies, etc.
- Novelty & Adventure — public sex, exhibitionism, etc.
- Forbidden Sex — incest and other forms of forbidden sex.
- Non-Monogamy — partner sharing, swinging, etc.
- Gender-Bending — cross-dressing, queer sex, etc.
It’s worth noting that all sexual fantasies are completely valid and normal. Furthermore, sexual fantasies are harmless means of exploring different ideas or possibilities. Most people don’t want to act out their sexual fantasies in reality, even if their imaginations conjure those images. Men who have sexual fantasies of being with other men aren’t necessarily gay (though they can be). And women who have rape fantasies don’t necessarily want those fantasies realized. As such, sexual fantasies aren’t the same as desire.
However, in some cases, sexual fantasies can be similar to desires. For example, your fantasy to engage in BDSM may represent an actual desire, and your fantasies of gay sex may also represent an actual desire. If you have a sexual fantasy, it’s important to analyze whether you truly want those fantasies realized in real life. If so, exploring your sexual fantasy is completely healthy as long as you do so in a safe and consensual environment.
If your sexual fantasy involves rough sex, for example, you might want to discuss it with your partner and establish clear, safe words. There’s nothing wrong with exploring your sexual fantasies, but they should be done under the safest and most ethical conditions. This allows you to play-act your fantasies — some might reject or outgrow the fantasy after trying it out, and others may want to repeat it.
What do desires and fantasies have in common?
Sexual desires and fantasies have this in common — they can’t be controlled, and their roots are almost impossible to trace.
As such, sexual desires and fantasies are completely out of your individual control — though you can control how they’re realized.
Sexual desires and fantasies manifest due to a wide range of complex emotions, sociological factors, childhood acts, hormones, and other involuntary factors. As such, sexual desires and fantasies are completely out of your individual control — though you can control how they’re realized. However, you can choose whether to act on your sexual desires and fantasies, though you must always do so in a safe and consensual environment.