If the idea of sharing your sexual fantasies makes you want to crawl out of your skin, welcome to the club. Talking about sex with a partner is a vulnerable act anyway, and voicing your sexual fantasies can leave you feeling extra exposed, especially if you think those fantasies are embarrassing or taboo. You might worry that your thoughts and desires won’t line up exactly with your partner’s or that they might judge what you’re into. You might even fear what your fantasy says about you or your relationship.
I’ve heard it all. As a professional sex coach and educator, I’m intimately familiar with how scary it can feel to admit your sexual fantasies to yourself, much less say them out loud to someone who could, in the worst-case scenario, reject you. But it’s really important to talk about your fantasies with your partner—and to give them space to feel they can talk about their fantasies with you too. Of course, easier said than done, right? Here are some steps for approaching the topic of sexual fantasies with your partner in the easiest and most comfortable way possible.
Remember that you’re not weird for having fantasies.
Fantasies aren’t inherently gross or creepy. They're a natural part of being a sexual person.
“The brain...is the most erogenous zone in the body,” Kimberly Atwood, licensed professional counselor and certified sex therapist, tells SELF. “Sex generally begins with the mind and our attitude toward sex, which often means fantasies.”
The fantasies you're having don't mean there's something wrong with or bad about you—in fact, they don’t necessarily have to mean anything about you at all. From “I think about having threesomes with my wife’s best friend” to “I can’t stop thinking about being tied up during sex” there are no limits to the unspoken desires people have. (FYI: Some of the most common fantasies I hear from clients and in my research happen to revolve around group sex and BDSM.)
“Think of [fantasies] as ways to express your [unconscious needs or desires] that you can't control, just like dreams,” board-certified sex therapist Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., tells SELF.
Figure out what your goal is in sharing your fantasy.
Thinking about certain sexual situations doesn’t mean you necessarily want them to happen. Perhaps you daydream about having a threesome but you know that if you watched your partner being intimate with another person, you would freak out. Or you might get off on watching intense bondage porn‚ but the idea of being tied up in real life gets a big nope from you.
This is why it can be helpful to think about your goal in sharing your fantasy with your partner before bringing it up. Do you want your partner to know you on a more intimate level? Are you more interested in figuring out if they’d be down to watch porn about your fantasy as foreplay or center their dirty talk around it? Or do you actually want to play out the fantasy with them?
You don’t need to have this all hammered out before you bring it up. In fact, telling your partner that you don’t know exactly what you want to do with a fantasy is helpful too. Talking these questions through together can be enlightening and can foster intimacy. But thinking about these questions beforehand can help you know yourself and your desires better, at the very least.
Obviously if you decide to enact any of your fantasies together, you and your partner will need to have additional conversations about how to go about that in a way you’re both into.
Explain that there’s no pressure to act on your fantasy ASAP (or ever).
OK, so you’re ready to tell your partner you’ve been thinking about something that turns you on and you want to share it with them. Go for it!
When you do, emphasize that even if you’re interested in trying out this fantasy, there is no pressure to act it out right now or ever if it’s not their thing. Otherwise your partner may feel as though they’re being asked to role-play on the spot.
Then ask how they feel about what you shared, but also let them know they can sit with it for a little while. It’s fine if they aren't ready to react or if they have a different reaction down the line than the one they had when you told them. Ultimately you may find out that your fantasy is one your partner has as well, in which case, jackpot. It can also be a great time to ask if there is a fantasy they’d like to share with you. Being vulnerable might encourage your partner to do the same.
Be prepared for a positive or negative reaction, or maybe even a mix of both.
Speaking of vulnerability, it’s a huge part of speaking honestly about your fantasies. Your partner can have any number of reactions to the ideas knocking around inside of your head. They might be neutral about your fantasy, down to try it, completely uninterested, or even disgusted by it. (Which doesn’t automatically mean they think you’re disgusting.)
You have a right to think about whatever you want during sex or masturbation, but your partner does not have any obligation to fulfill or be open to a fantasy they’re not comfortable with. To that end try to prepare yourself for any reaction that might come your way. And here’s some advice if they react really negatively to your fantasy, since that can be toughest to deal with: Try asking something like, “Why do you feel that way?”
To be real here, there are some times when the fantasy you're sharing is a NBD thing you would be psyched to try one day and other times when it might be a VBD thing that you feel you need in order to be satisfied. If you shared a fantasy that falls into the latter category and your partner’s absolutely not interested, that might call for a larger conversation about sexual compatibility and what you’re both looking for in your sex lives.
But...what if your sexual fantasy is dark or taboo in some way?
Quick disclaimer: This section and the following section discuss topics related to sexual coercion and consent. If you might find that upsetting, I recommend skipping to the final section and reading from there.
The definition of a dark fantasy, or one that feels taboo or wrong, can differ from person to person. For some people, the thought of double penetration or face slapping counts as dark. For others, it’s the thought of harming someone or being harmed (either with or without consent).
No matter your specific fantasy, if it feels dark or strange to you, you might feel conflicted or upset about where your mind is taking you—and whether or not you want to share this with your partner. After all, most of the sexual and erotic stuff we’re exposed to in mainstream pop culture tends to be pretty vanilla, which means that being turned on by anything outside of that can make you wonder if you’re maybe abnormal.
To give you an example of how complex these more taboo fantasies can be, I want to discuss rape fantasies for a minute. For a lot of people, even seeing those words next to each other is jarring, which is understandable. But rape fantasies are more common than many people realize. In a 2009 study in the Journal of Sex Research, 62 percent of 355 women aged 18 and over reported having had at least one rape fantasy.
The first major thing to know about rape fantasies is that they usually aren’t about actually nonconsensual sex. “Most people who have these fantasies are imagining a scenario in which someone is pretending to resist sex but truly wants to have it, which is why some refer to these fantasies as [depicting] ‘consensual nonconsent,’ ” Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author of the book Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life, tells SELF.
There are all kinds of reasons someone might have this type of fantasy. It can come from a desire to give up or take control, not necessarily to harm someone without their consent or be harmed without consent. “One person may have rape fantasies because they have a need to relinquish all responsibility,” Mal Harrison, M.S., a sexologist and director of the Center for Erotic Intelligence, tells SELF. Harrison points out that a similar power exchange can be at play for the person who fantasizes about being sexually coercive. They could be the type of person who’s always putting others’ needs first, so fantasizing about having sex without tending to someone else’s pleasure may give them a moment of feeling carefree and irresponsible. But the human mind is complicated, so there’s no one personality profile that leads to or results in one kind of fantasy.
Of course, we should make it clear that you should never act on anything without getting explicit consent from everyone involved and in fact, you should make sure anyone you’re engaging in a sexual fantasy with is fully on board and understands your fantasy and the scope of how you want things to play out. But even if you know you’d never act on your fantasies—having a fantasy you don’t want to carry out IRL is really common—your thoughts might still scare you. It’s perfectly OK to seek help in understanding where they’re coming from. Which brings us to the next point…
If you’re feeling unsure about your fantasy, a sex therapist or mental health professional may be able to help.
Where do experts draw the line between a dark fantasy that’s “OK” to have and one that might warrant talking your thoughts through with a professional? Most experts believe that as long as you aren’t hurting anyone in real life (or intending to), it’s generally OK to have any type of fantasy. “There is a line between fantasizing and actually acting on the fantasy,” Overstreet says. But if you have a strong desire to act on a fantasy that might hurt someone else without their consent, that’s a sign to talk to someone about that desire.
Lehmiller agrees. “Most people will have a dark fantasy at one time or another, and that in and of itself is not necessarily a cause for concern,” he says. But if you’re nervous because you want to act out the fantasy and doing so might put you or someone else in danger, Lehmiller recommends talking to an expert.
Another sign you should talk to an expert about a dark fantasy: if you find your thoughts really distressing even if you know you’ll never try to make them a reality. “If your fantasy is negatively affecting any area of your life, speaking with a certified sex therapist can help you navigate through it,” Overstreet says. “Sometimes a person who has a dark fantasy may find it disturbing and not understand why they are experiencing it. This is why talking to a trained professional can help.”
Using rape fantasies as an example, they’re generally fine to have if you never actually intend on assaulting someone or engaging in any type of sexual activity without someone else’s consent. They’re also OK if they don’t bother you. But if you had these fantasies because of an urge to commit assault or if you know you’d never act on them but they upset you, that would be a sign to seek help.
Rest assured that therapists are ethically bound to keep what you tell them confidential thanks to the code of ethics mental health professionals must uphold and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which means whatever you tell them stays with them. The exception here comes when they think there’s an imminent threat of you hurting yourself or someone else.
Finally, have empathy for yourself and your partner.
Being a good sexual partner means trying to understand the needs, wants, and feelings of the people we’re intimate with. That calls for a lot of empathy flowing both ways.
Even if your partner truly is not picking up what you’re putting down, having a forthright, honest conversation can bring you closer and amplify your respect for each other. If your partner is a loving person (which we hope they are), they’ll be happy you felt comfortable enough to share your desires with them, no matter their willingness to make them come alive. No matter the outcome of your conversation, allowing yourself to be vulnerable by sharing shows a ton of strength, and that on its own should make you proud.
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Originally Appeared on Self