Sexual Fantasy, The Brain and Guilt
I get a certain amount of emails from men and women who are bothered by the fact that they have strong sexual fantasies. Many of these people feel guilty about the nature of the erotic fantasies they are having, worrying that, because they are so lustful that they may be abnormal. In one case, a man worried that he was evil because his fantasies were violent in nature despite his being a person who would never and had never harmed anyone. Other people worry that they must be immoral or sick because their fantasies are about being harmed in some way. In addition, heterosexual people worry that some of their fantasies have homosexual components. The fact is that everyone has sexual fantasies, that it is part of being human and that it helps in the process of arousal so that two people can make love. It is also true that the sexual response, including sexual fantasy, have a lot to do with how the human brain functions.
Despite the fact that we have a sophisticated brain, capable of doing complex mathematical and scientific calculations and of thinking in ways that are highly abstract and intellectual, it is also amazingly primitive and no different from the reptiles. In fact, there is a part of the brain that is often referred to as reptilian. Specifically, this is the limbic system and it controls our emotional responses, including fear and pleasure and memory.
What happens in sexual fantasy is that sexual impulses become combined with imaginary stories about sex. The variety of sexual stories is vast and range from married people fantasizing about infidelity to having sex with multiple partners. There are also fantasies about oral and anal sex and even, among some men and women, about rape, dominance and submission. It is important to mention that these fantasies are just that and have nothing to do with carrying them out. However, some couples role play these stories or fantasies in ways that are mutually consensual and safe. In fact, over several decades, sexual fantasies became more acceptable as important writings, such as "Morality, Sexual Facts and Fantasies", by Dr Patricia Petersen, Alfred Kinsey's Kinsey Reports, Erotic Fantasies: A Study of the Sexual Imagination by Drs. Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen, and Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden, were published. Today, fantasies are regarded as natural and positive elements of one's sexuality, and are often used to enhance sexual practices.
It's important to remember that the sexual response is governed by the limbic system and that we, therefore, have no control over that response. If the limbic system did not control pleasure we might never get together and reproduce. Live would also be a lot less interesting than it is. The sexual response is not only what gets us together for sex but also gets us together to have deep and emotional relationships. Those relationships are comforting and loving throughout life.
If your sexual fantasies and sexual life is a source of worry, guilt and anxiety, then it's a good idea to seek psychotherapy so these feelings can be sorted out. Admittedly, these feeling can be and are complicated by the religious perspective that sex and sexual fantasy has to do with sin and are, therefore, unacceptable. Even so, there are religious or pastoral counselors who are available for consultation if the feelings of guilt and anxiety become overwhelming.
Your comments and questions are encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD
Thank you - Scott Robertson - Feb 28th 2014
I'd like to thank you for publishing this article. If we're honest, we all fantasise about things which in real life we just wouldn't want to do - whether they are sexual fantasies or not. People who are concerned about sexual fantasies tend to be religious, or I suspect, concerned about their own sexual fantasies and what they say about themselves. But, I agree. No need for alarm. Just accept them for what they are - fantasies. Fantasies only become harmful when we don't consider them different from real life. The old Christian adage that if it's in your head it's as bad as doing it leads to all sorts of problems - people need to realise the moral difference between fantasising about something and actually doing it. Well done. Great article.
The only problem with fantasy life is thinking its a problem? - - Sep 26th 2013
I was disturbed that the author did not address ANY problems that come up as result of our fantasy life. The attitude presented by the author seems to be that the only problem that can occur with our fantasy life is thinking there is a problem. I believe that attitude is a great disservice to our readers. Here are a couple examples that come to mind.
First, concerning what is now historically an unprecedented use of pornography in solo fantasy life. The use of pornography to aid our sexual fantasies has increased significantly since the onset of the internet age, as the delivery system for access to free pornography has made this a quick and easy supplement to one of the most rewarding biochemical events our bodies can produce. This has particularly effected people who have used this delivery system from the very start of puberty. It\\\'s a very different scenario than the one older generations faced with pornography, where the rewarding relationship one has with \\