Sexual Fantasies Run Gamut in Both Genders
Most adults share a wide variety of sexual fantasies, and it may be difficult to use sexual fantasy alone as an indicator of mental health problems, the authors of a recent Canadian study report.
Excessive and/or dysfunctional involvement in sexual fantasy is one of the known potential components of sex addiction, a form of behavioral addiction gaining wider recognition in the world of scientific research. In a study published in February 2015 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers from two Canadian institutions used a screening tool called the Sex Fantasy Questionnaire to help determine which types of sexual fantasies commonly appear in adult men and women, and which types of fantasies only occasionally or rarely occur.
Sex Addiction and Sexual Fantasy
Human beings are naturally geared to make sex an important consideration in their everyday lives, and sex is one of the world’s most common pleasurable activities. These facts reflect the core importance of sexual reproduction to human survival. Unfortunately, some people develop a dysfunctional relationship to sex and start to repeatedly use sexual activity, sex-related thinking or sexual fantasy in damaging or inappropriate ways. As with other forms of non-substance-based behavioral addiction, repeated and excessive involvement in sex can trigger long-term functional changes in a part of the brain called the pleasure center, and can thereby lead to the onset of addiction-related symptoms that mimic or mirror the symptoms found in people who have physical addictions to drugs or alcohol.
In a person with sex addiction, repeated and excessive involvement in sexual fantasy may be the primary or only problem. However, dysfunctional involvement in sexual fantasy may only play a minor part—or not appear at all—in other cases of sex addiction. Some sexual fantasies in a sexually addicted person may center on generally accepted and legal forms of behavior, while others may center on activities widely viewed as immoral or explicitly illegal. Crucially, sexual fantasy must have a harmful personal, social or work-related impact on an individual before it qualifies as a component of sex addiction.
Sex Fantasy Questionnaire
The Sex Fantasy Questionnaire was originally developed in the late 1970s. Sex therapists, psychologists and other health professionals can use the 40 items on this questionnaire to gauge an individual’s level of involvement in four types of sexual fantasy. These four types are “exploratory” fantasies touching on sexual activities not experienced in real life, “intimate” fantasies that stress sexual interactions with others, “impersonal” fantasies that de-emphasize the connection between sexual partners and “sadomasochistic” fantasies that emphasize inflicting or receiving sexually exciting pain.
Common and Uncommon Fantasies
In the study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers from Canada’s University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres and Philippe-Pinel Institute of Montreal used a modified, remotely administered version of the Sex Fantasy Questionnaire to help determine how many men and women have specific types of sexual fantasies. This modified questionnaire covered 55 types of sexual fantasy rather than 40 and corrected some of the potentially biased language in the original version of the screening tool. A total of 1,516 men and women took the modified test; women somewhat outnumbered men in the participant group. In addition to finding out which sexual fantasies occur most often, the researchers wanted to know if men and women have different patterns of involvement in specific types of fantasy.
The researchers concluded that 30 of the 55 fantasies on the modified version of the Sex Fantasy Questionnaire occur among more than half of all men, more than half of all women or more than half of all men and women. In both genders, the roster of common fantasies includes sadomasochistic fantasies with a dominant or submissive sexual component. The researchers found that the appearance of dominant sexual fantasies is often associated with the appearance of submissive fantasies in any given individual. Five types of sexual fantasy appeared in more than 84 percent of both men and women in the participant group. Conversely, nine types of fantasy appeared only occasionally and two types of fantasy rarely appeared. The researchers found that people who have at least one submissive fantasy commonly have a generally more active sexual fantasy life than people who don’t have submissive fantasies.
The study’s authors believe that their work underscores the difficulty involved in identifying any specific type of sexual fantasy as out of the ordinary or as a potential indicator of significant, potentially diagnosable mental health problems.