Fantasies can ruin your sex life

Don't get too caught up in sexual fantasies; they can hurt your sex life

Man and woman in an intimate pose

As an adolescent, Mahesh was groomed to be ‘a good boy’: to not make eye contact with girls. He belonged to a religious family; his father was the head priest of a temple. His growing sexuality conflicted with his upbringing, which caused him to go totally berserk in his fantasies. For years he pleasured himself by fantasising about orgies and deviant sexual behaviour. When he was married [through an arranged match], the problems began from the first night. His wife was unwilling to engage in deviant sexual behaviour, and therefore did not match up to his wild fantasies. He would ask his wife to invite her sister for a sexual orgy and would constantly find flaws with her physical appearance. Distressed, she went back to her parents within the first three months of marriage.

Blame it on upbringing

On hearing her story, we asked her whether she could empathise with the fact that it was the rigid upbringing that had caused Mahesh’s sexual repression, which in turn resulted in wild fantasies that were now creating the intimacy problems in their marriage. She understood it, and agreed to give her marriage a second chance if Mahesh too would engage in counselling.

During the course of the session with Mahesh, we gently helped him to see the connections his past and his fantasies had with the current marital problems. Gradually, he was able to disengage from his dysfunctional past and fantasy world and find fulfilment in the ‘real’ relationship. He established normal healthy sexual relationships with his wife, and the marriage was saved.

The root cause

From adolescence onwards, most people have sexual fantasies that serve a variety of functions and result in a wide range of responses within the individual. Some are pleasant or stimulating; others are confusing, embarrassing or even shocking.

Sexual fantasies occur in an astonishingly wide variety of circumstances and settings. Sometimes these imaginative interludes are intentionally called forth to enliven a boring experience, to pass the time, or to provide a sense of excitement. At other times, sexual fantasies float into awareness in a seemingly random fashion, perhaps triggered by feelings and thoughts of which we have little or no awareness.

woman fantasisingFantasising allows individuals to escape from the frustrations and limits of everyday living. Often, a person returns to a particular preferred fantasy again and again, and gets comfortable with or even addicted to it. Occasionally, s/he may play out minor variations in the fantasy, but by and large the central theme remains fixed.

The other side

Sometimes, these preferential fantasies may become troublesome—because of its repeated and exclusive nature, such a fantasy becomes mandatory for sexual arousal. The person doesn’t respond sexually to the partner, since arousal depends on fantasy alone. Sometimes, preferential fantasies can become obsessions that may interfere with behaviour or the thinking-feeling process.

Futher, not all sexual fantasies are wilfully conjured up or pleasurable. Some fantasies recur over and over again despite being unwanted. Other fantasies flood into the individual’s awareness in a frightening fashion, producing inner turmoil or conflict and feelings of guilt and shame. Fantasies of this sort may either result in sexual arousal, or may be so distressing that sexual feelings may shut off.

Where it all begins

During adolescence, boys and girls start growing to become sexually mature and start developing ‘secondary sexual characteristics’. A lot of psychological and emotional changes start happening rather rapidly during this time. Strong sexual feelings and thoughts start crossing the psyche rather erratically. Unusual and unexpected sexual dreams, strong physical attraction for the opposite sex, overwhelming urges to associate, relate, connect and impress the opposite sex are experienced.

These psychological and emotional changes are more ‘body and sex’ oriented for boys and more ‘heart and romance’ oriented for girls. During the initial 3 to 4 years of adolescence when boys are around 12 to 16 years old, they find themselves getting sexually attracted to actresses, models and every other attractive woman around [usually all these are older to them]. In spite of strong sexual urges, they find themselves helpless as these women, being older, show little or no sexual interest in them.

Even girls who are just two or three years older to them find themselves getting attracted to older men and thus ignore them. This frustrates the boys. It is this stage that provokes fantasies, which come handy in taking care of the sexual upsurges. They appear safe, can be elicited at any time and place, are free, and can be modified at will to suit one’s fancies.

Getting lost in fantasies

The yearning to know about something not yet experienced, forbidden or seemingly unattainable is often a key feature of sexual fantasies. Although it is only a make-believe excursion of the mind, fantasies do help young adults find temporary relief, excitement, adventure, self-confidence and pleasure. Through fantasy, the real, unfavourable world can be transformed into whatever s/he likes, no matter how brief or improbable it might be.

In this sense, in the growing years of early adulthood, fantasies are a useful mechanism. However, with every pleasure comes the very real possibility of a person getting obsessed with or addicted to, and losing conscious control over the phenomenon. The same device that was so useful when single, can become an impediment and an obstacle once in a committed relationship.

Generally, imagination, creativity and playfulness are part of the act of fantasising. However, if a fantasy becomes the controlling force in a person’s life, the play element may get completely lost. This situation is not different from the person who gets so caught up in a competitive sport that the playful side of the sport activity is totally lost.

Fantasies and mental health

For almost half a century, psychoanalysts studied fantasies in depth. They viewed ‘deviant’ sexual fantasies—those portraying anything other than heterosexual acts that led to intercourse—as immature expressions of the sex drive and as blocks to the development of a more mature sexuality. Many psychoanalysts strongly believed that such fantasies were most likely to be forerunners of actual ‘deviant’ sexual behaviour.

American psychoanalyst Bernard Apfelbaum describes fantasies as “cut-off parts of us signalling wildly to get back in”. He believes that sexual fantasies arise from ‘dissatisfaction with reality’ and have a high potential for creating relationship conflicts.

For example, if one partner feels that the other’s turn-on comes from a fantasy rather than from personal involvement, an instinctive sense of being disregarded intrudes, blocking sexual responsiveness. Apfelbaum also suggests that having unshared, private, fantasies lessens intimacy and trust in a relationship. “Sexual fantasies always offer us precious clues about what needs to be done to strengthen our relationships,” he says.

Diminishing reality

American psychoanalyst Robert Stoller believes that sexual fantasies are ‘private pornography’ that allow us to gain revenge over a previously painful situation. He says that there is a ‘flame of hostility’ at the core of all sexual fantasies. Another American psychoanalyst Avodah Offit thinks that if reality and fantasy are closely matching, it indicates a well-integrated personality, a kind of psychological togetherness. If fantasy strays too far away from our personal realities, the inconsistencies point to potential personality problems. Offit also regards sexual fantasies as “a pale substitute for the complexities of joy and pain, which are requisites for loving a real person”.

Psychiatrist Natalie Shainess thinks that fantasies during intercourse are “symptomatic of sexual difficulty” and “signs of sexual alienation.” She also believes that healthy women do not fantasise very much except when they are young and inexperienced, and if fantasy persists, “you can assume there is a greater pathology.”

Alan Rapaport, an American clinical psychologist, takes the viewpoint that any fantasy that occurs during person-to-person sexual encounter is ‘debasing’ because it reduces personal involvement. “If a person is caught up in a private fantasy while making love, it interferes with a more sharing and intimate relationship”.

Analysis of a counsellor

Some popular magazines and even books written by sexologists suggest that if you don’t get turned on by your partner, you should fantasise about someone else while having sex. We personally do not agree with this suggestion. These things may work to improve your sex life on a temporary and superficial level. But beware of the great danger in superficial sexual remedies. As you become more and more dependent on outside stimulation, it decreases your natural ability to feel turned on by your partner. You may feel turned on while being with your partner but not by her/him. Two people who are turned on within himself or herself, but not by the other person are people who are having sex, but not making love.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre


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