Are Sexual Fantasies Ever Bad? (And Do Your Partners Really Need to Know About Them?)

We’ve all heard that there’s a fetish for just about everything. Some of us (hi, hello, over here) have even gone looking to prove it. And we’ve all heard that pornography for every fetish exists somewhere on the internet. So, because that specific explicit material exists, that means someone is watching it, right? After all, it’s made for profit, so someone’s got to be interested in clicking that link or downloading that file for anyone to bother creating it.

So why do I keep finding that my male friends (and acquaintances) are uniquely embarrassed about the types of porn they watch if we are all well aware that we are not the only people consuming whatever genres we find sexiest?

Sure, some genres are more common and more “mainstream” than others. There’s also the problem of illegal porn that’s created from abuse (such as that against underage persons), as well as various schools of thought about whether porn is ever voluntary and to what extent it subjugates women.

But the fantasies that all porn caters to — can fantasies, themselves, ever be bad?

Let’s back up a step first.

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend about self-pleasure. Specifically, my friend texted me to ask if I ever thought about how much time and energy people waste masturbating

I replied that I didn’t think any amount of time masturbating was ever wasted. In fact, I consider it one of many fantastic self-care options. As long as a person has sufficient free time to accommodate the hobby without infringing upon their daily obligations to the rest of their life, no amount of time would be too much.

So, why did he ask? I wondered. Turns out he is looking to exercise more and wanted to adjust his daily schedule to make time for it. Naturally, I asked when he normally masturbates during the week that it was chewing up so much of his free time. He said in the morning, when he has the most alone time.

Now I was especially curious. Why always be alone for it? Why wouldn’t he want it to be in the company of his wife sometimes?

He said he would be embarrassed if she knew about the types of pornography he consumes. He prefers the female domination (“femdom”) genre, which generally involves a heteronormative cis-woman sexually dominating a man who submits physically, emotionally, and sometimes financially to her.

One of the subgenres he was particularly ashamed about he referred to as homewrecking. I asked how that differed from traditional cuckoldry, and he clarified that his homewrecking fantasies involve the idea of a sexually dominant woman “ruining” a man’s relationship with his partner… effectively, the fantasy of a sexually dominant woman “stealing” him away from his not-sexually-dominant wife.

I asked why he would be embarrassed by a fantasy like that — or any fantasy, really, and especially talking about them to his forever partner.

He replied that he wouldn’t want someone to think he actually wanted that fantasy to come true, or that he didn’t think highly of his wife. 

…someone meaning his wife, as I understood.

After all, he adores his wife. They have been a couple for many years, long before they married, and he deeply values their relationship, despite his wife pretending he isn’t sexually submissive and him pretending he doesn’t mind that she will never want to dominate him in bed. He loves her, and he loves and the life they’ve created together.

So is it wrong for him to secretly indulge in the fantasy of being seductively captured away from her?

Of course not, I insisted, because it’s a fantasy.

In college, I divulged to a partner that I loved the fantasy of becoming sexually intimate in pseudo-public — not actually being in public, but in a scenario where there was an illusion of risk of being noticed. When my partner and I were kissing in a school building a few days later and he started pawing at my clothing after a flood of students had just been released from class, I smacked his hands away and asked (ever so tactfully) what the hell he thought he was doing. With the best of intentions, he said he thought I wanted to explore that fantasy. Resisting an eye-roll, I reminded him that he missed the crucial detail of illusion, not actual risk, of detection. Our intimacy being on unmoderated display in a heavily-trafficked area for several hundred peers was not part of that blueprint. (This was also years before I realized that I much prefer to initiate sexual contact with partners, anyway.)

Though he missed the point, my then-partner sparked a conversation I didn’t know we needed to have, a conversation that was fruitful — and necessary! — to our relationship.

Nobody wants everything they fantasize about to actually happen in real life.

That’s what makes it fun!

It’s imaginative.

It’s an escape.

It’s an indulgence.

That is also where communication becomes an even-more-vital component, when fantasies are shared with partners. As with my college example, your partners need to know where you draw the line between fantasies you would be open to (and excited about!) exploring with them versus the ones you would not — as well as which of those fantasies you would want them to instigate, and when, and how.

You have no obligation to provide reasons for why you might want to hold back some of your fantasies, either, nor do they have any obligation to participate if they don’t want to join in. Some fantasies are better left to conversation, some may be too new, too grandiose, or too deep for you to be fully comfortable immersing into reality yet, and some may not be practical with that particular partner. That’s all totally fine.

Erotic creativity is a beautiful human art form. It should never ever ever ever be discouraged. 

Even the weird stuff. Even the taboo stuff. Even the illegal stuff. Even the immoral stuff.

Of course, I don’t mean acting on any illegal or immoral fantasies. Please don’t ever do that. But your thoughts, as thoughts that are not followed-up with behavior involving other people or animals, are not inherently wrong or harmful by themselves and therefore shouldn’t be considered shameful.

I first started talking to male friends about their sexual interests and habits when I was thirteen or fourteen. I realized around that young age that boys don’t tend to want to admit to every genre of porn they watched (or read, or listened to, or fantasized about). Even as an adult, that continues to puzzle me as much as the guilt and disgust that so many of them feel after orgasming to the fantasies depicted within those porn genres.

I have yet to explore (future project!!) if cis-women experience any of the same shame that cis-men do with porn usage and genre selection. I’m pro-porn (though the industry needs far more viewpoints and expressions and far more women involved in production) but currently too lazy to seek pornographic content out more than a couple times per month at most. I don’t expect others in my life to share that infrequency.

I also recognize that the sexual arousal process in cis-men and cis-women works differently after orgasm. People with penises generally go into immediate hormone withdrawal, while people with vaginas generally have a much, much slower withdrawal process and can, under ideal conditions, continue with sexual activity until they feel like stopping or until their arousal level subsides from distraction, fatigue, or natural decline. A friend and former partner of mine can vouch for this on a personal level — when he cheated on his girlfriend one night, he felt a rush of guilt immediately after orgasm. When she cheated on him on a different night much later in the relationship, however, she had a lot more fun for a lot longer before guilt set in for her. That I suspect was heavily influenced by hormonal differences.

But I doubt the biological differences between female and male orgasms play much, if any, role in pornography genre selection or fantasy-related guilt or shame. I suspect it is more an influence of adolescent thought- and behavior-patterns surrounding masturbation and sexual fantasy that impact the differences in how men and women explore and satisfy their sexual fantasies.

I have watched porn with male partners before and always enjoyed the experience. It can be a little awkward at first since the person who selects the genre is more emotionally vulnerable in the moment, but that fades quickly. However, the experience tends to be more intimate than erotic for me because I am more likely to be enjoying the emotional high of the bonding with my partner, but also ruthlessly criticizing the actors’ hyper-gendered performances for the heteronormative genres. (Yeah, her moans are fake or heavily exaggerated; mine are way better.)

Watching porn with partners — or reading erotica together, or both! — can spark wonderful conversation, though, because it gives you specific examples to discuss about what you would like or not like about any variety of activities the subjects may be exploring. Hello freebie icebreaker-entertainment hybrid.

It’s wild to me just how much some men hold back from their long-term intimate partners. Why would anyone want to have a committed emotional, physical, romantic bond to another human if they didn’t feel comfortable being completely forthright about their deepest sexual fantasies with that person? You trust them sexually with your physical body; why not with your sexual thoughts as well?

Not only do they not want to admit it to their partners, but often, they don’t even want to admit it to themselves.

I’ve teased my friend for years about this. He’s argued before that he doesn’t need to indulge his submissive fantasies. He can ignore them. Maybe they’ll even go away.

Yeah, no. Not a chance.

A few times every year when we have that exact same conversation, I remind him that strong sexual preferences and interests are usually cyclical. I’ve seen this pattern strengthen over time in men with fetishes and other paraphilias (less-typical sexual interests), especially. Your sexual interests will change over time, but it’s extremely difficult to “unlearn” a sexual preference. Once a potent idea-seed becomes planted, it grows. Pathways once crossed in your mind become more cemented each time you indulge them.

You can ignore your recurring fantasies for some time, but eventually they will circle back around again.

Some you may naturally outgrow. Others will simply become less interesting to you, whether or not you’ve acted on them in real-life. But a lot of them will remain with you forever.

And really, what’s the problem with that?

Even when you don’t indulge them, thinking about them just to acknowledge that you won’t indulge them still releases pleasure hormones. It’s fun to want something you can’t have. Anticipation makes a pay-off all the more enjoyable and a tease all the more exciting.

I asked my friend why we keep having the same conversation about the return of his recurring fantasies every time he pretends they will go away. He said it’s because he’s happy with his life. Translated, he means that he is happy with his life overall, even though his fantasies are only addressed with himself in the confines of his morning and weekend masturbation routine, and he does not want to risk upsetting that pleasant balance by seeking change to it.

The compromise sufficiently satisfies him, so why rock the boat?

And as much as I hate to admit it, he has a point — not that being happy with your life is reason to withhold such a core component of your sexuality from your lover(s), but because his wife already has made clear that she has no interest in acknowledging or participating in his submissive fantasies. If her disinterest legitimately does not bother him to an extent that he would ever want to leave their relationship over it, this compromise sounds ideal for their particular arrangement. After all, I could see where talking about his fantasies could maybe feel like coercion to her or could spark feelings of alienation within the relationship that need not be present.

That said, I don’t think his compromise should ever be your priority, but rather a consolation if your partner is not interested in hearing about your fantasies that don’t overlap with theirs. (My condolences if this applies to your relationship.)

I encourage your primary sexual relationship goal to be complete (and totally comfortable) openness.

Emotional intimacy and trust go hand-in-hand in long-term relationships. Your partners may be a lot more accepting than you might think. If not, perhaps communication should be the bigger priority before sexual fantasies can be more fully shared and addressed.

(By the way, if you’re curious, I suggested that my friend exercise on weekday mornings before masturbating, and that he not masturbate if he hasn’t exercised. So far, it’s been effective! Habit stacking for the win.)

4 thoughts on “Are Sexual Fantasies Ever Bad? (And Do Your Partners Really Need to Know About Them?)

  1. Interesting post! I’m an uncircumcised guy who *loves* my foreskin, but good heavens, nothing gets me off like the fantasy of getting circumcised to meet a girlfriend’s preference for sensation. And that’s okay.


      1. Wow, that sounds intense – I wonder if they’re in the same ‘family’.

        Have you heard from many guys who fantasize about getting circumcised for a girlfriend or wife’s preference?


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