When we describe our sexual fantasies, we tend to share the details and dynamics, focusing on specific parts of the fantasy and using those to define them. When we explain a dream to someone, we do the same thing: we tell them the individual details of the dream, although that’s not really how we process a dream. We process dreams as entire experiences: the details within it are less important than the overall “sense” we get from a dream. The same is true of fantasies: we might be able to process the individual details, but the overall experience, the sense of the fantasy, is perhaps more important.
Our fantasies are far more complex than they seem at first glance, and they go well beyond physical gratification. They are, in fact, insights into much deeper psychological desires, and depending on what your needs are at any given moment in your life, your desires might manifest as entirely different fantasies. So, how are our fantasies connected to our psychological needs?
Let’s take group sex. The majority of people have fantasized about group sex at least once, with a recent study claiming that 89% of people have indulged in this imaginary situation – with a threesome being one of the most common fantasies on record. It would seem that threesome fantasies in particular are linked with a desire to feel sexually competent and irresistible. More often than not, people see themselves as the center of attention in fantasies involving multiple partners, so the idea that it hides a desire to be seen as sexually competent – able to please many people simultaneously – and being irresistible – as the center of attention – seems to hold some weight. This structure of sexual fantasy is likely to make you feel desired, and capable.
Let’s contrast that with another fantasy that many of us share: a sexual fantasy involving passion and romance. What might these signify? Fantasies in which we are seduced, fawned over, spoiled, and well-sexed, might suggest that the desire we seek is not one of insatiable lust, but one of emotional connection with a partner. Therefore, when a person visualizes watching a sunset and then making love, the real desire you want to fulfill is one of intimacy and meaningful connection.
And so, we come to bondage. What about BDSM fantasies? Research suggests that those that indulge submissive fantasies respond well in their regular lives to peer approval and compliments. Fantasies including submission may well, then be linked with a desire to be accepted, and to garner praise. Obviously, the psychology behind submission is far more complex and interesting to summarise it so simply like that, but it seems likely nonetheless.
BDSM, perhaps above all else, offers an escape from self-awareness. Masochism, for example, in this case referring to the pleasure derived from pain or humiliation, have the effect of increasing mindfulness – they help to focus on the here and the now, rather than wrestling with internal monologue and the complexity of everyday existence. Masochism helps the participants to temporarily escape the insecurities and anxieties that might otherwise confuse their sexual enjoyment. In this sense, BDSM fantasies are not necessarily the desire for a specific sensation, but for a sense of escapist therapy.
Are sexual fantasies more than simple daydreams, then? They are therapeutic, and they help us process the psychological needs we have at any given time. Because these needs change over time, so do our desires, and our fantasies adapt and mold to correspond with them.