Sexual Fantasies & How to Talk About Them

By Dr. Justin Relationships unhooking a bra

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that their sexual fantasies are “weird,” “strange,” or “unusual.” In fact, as a sex educator, one of the most common questions I get asked is “Are my sexual fantasies normal?”

The good news is that you probably don’t have anything to worry about. It turns out that most people fantasize about the same things, and that many of the fantasies long thought to be rare are actually quite common.

In this article, I’ll help to put your mind at ease by exploring some of the most popular sexual fantasies. I’ll also discuss how men’s and women’s sexual fantasies are similar or different, as well as how to communicate most effectively with your partner(s) about your fantasies to get more of what you want out of your sex life.


The 7 Most Common Sexual Fantasies

For my book Tell Me What You Want, I surveyed more than 4,000 Americans about their sexual fantasies. I asked them to report not only on their biggest sexual fantasy, but also the hundreds of different people, places, and things they might have fantasized about.

In this survey, I found that there were seven general types of fantasies that most people have had at some point. In a separate follow-up study of nearly 2,000 adults from around the world, I found that these seven themes accounted for 97% of people’s favorite fantasies of all time, which tells us these are the true building blocks of sexual desire. Here they are:

1.) Sex with multiple partners. Almost everyone has fantasized about some form of group sex before, but the most fantasized about scenario for men and women alike is actually a threesome.

2.) Power and control. Most of us have had fantasies about some aspect of BDSM—bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism. This runs a wide spectrum, but often includes things such as being tied up, giving or receiving spankings, and having rough sex.

3.) Adventure and thrill-seeking. Human beings have a craving for sexual novelty and excitement. We grow bored easily when sex is the same every time, so most of us fantasize about mixing it up and doing new, different, and exciting things, such as having sex in semi-public places, experimenting with sex toys, or joining the “mile-high club.”

4.) Taboo and forbidden activities. Being told not to do something often makes us want to do it more. That’s true in general, but also in the bedroom where taboo acts can amp up the excitement factor. Among the more common fantasy taboos are voyeurism (things like watching the neighbors have sex) and fetishism (using unconventional objects during sex).

5.) Passion and romance. Emotional fulfillment is a big part of our sexual fantasies. Fantasies are often about more than just gratifying a sexual need—they’re also about meeting unmet emotional needs, such as feeling desired, validated, or loved.

6.) Having a sexually open relationship. Sometimes people fantasize about sex with multiple partners simultaneously; other times they fantasize about the ability to pursue more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at a time. It’s common for people to fantasize about what it might be like to try swinging (swapping partners), being polyamorous, or just having some type of open relationship.

7.) Exploring your gender and sexuality. We live in a world that tries to lump people into neat little boxes based on their gender and sexual orientation—but people don’t seem to be content with the idea of conforming to these very narrow roles. It’s common for people to fantasize about violating traditional ideas of what men and women are “supposed” to do in bed; it’s also common for people who identify as heterosexual to have same-sex fantasies.

Note that these seven themes can be combined in any number of ways. For example, you could have a fantasy about multiple partners in which you explore your sexuality and play with power and control at the same time.

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How Men’s and Women’s Fantasies Compare

All of the fantasies discussed above are common among men and women alike. Most of the things that women fantasize about, men fantasize about, too—and vice versa. However, there are a few notable differences that have been found in many studies, my own included.

The most common male fantasy is group sex. Men are more likely to have had this fantasy and say they fantasize about it often compared to women. Men are also more likely than women to report having had taboo sexual fantasies, fantasies about being in an open relationship, as well as fantasies about “gender-bending,” in which they push the boundaries of the traditional male gender role, such as by cross-dressing.

By contrast, women’s most wanted fantasy is power and control. Women are more likely to report having had BDSM fantasies of almost every type compared to men—and women report having these fantasies more often, too. Another common female fantasy is passion and romance; women also report having more fantasies about sexual fluidity, with the most common form being heterosexual women who fantasize about same-sex experiences.

Just to clarify, while men and women do differ in the frequency to which they have certain types of fantasies, most men and women are still fantasizing about the same things, meaning there are more similarities than there are differences in our fantasy worlds.

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How to Communicate About Your Fantasies

So, what should you do with your fantasies? Keep them to yourself? Share them with a partner?

What we’ve seen in the research is that people who report sharing and acting on their fantasies tend to be more sexually satisfied—and they tend to be happier with their relationships, too. This makes sense for multiple reasons. For one thing, sharing fantasies can be a form of “dirty talk” that can be used to heighten sexual arousal, while acting on fantasies can potentially introduce you to new sensations and feelings that enhance pleasure.

At the same time, sharing fantasies with a partner can bring you closer by facilitating the development of trust and intimacy. After all, research tells us that mutual self-disclosure is one of the keys to building and maintaining a successful relationship.

What all of this means is that you just might be able to take your sex life and relationships to another level by communicating fantasies with your partner(s). However, it’s important to approach this with caution since, just as there are potential rewards that come along with sharing fantasies, there are also potential risks.

For example, it’s possible that your partner might not share the same fantasies or that they might react negatively. It’s also possible that you might act on a fantasy that doesn’t play out quite the way you expected or that leads to negative feelings, such as jealousy.

For this reason, it’s important to take care in how you share your fantasies, so here are some practical tips:

1.) Take it slow and take turns. You don’t need to blurt out your kinkiest fantasy right away, and you don’t need to immediately tell your partner every fantasy you’ve ever had. That might be too much all at once. Instead, take turns sharing fantasies and build up to the more adventurous ones over time. The goal is to increase intimacy and learn about each other. As trust builds and your sexual communication skills develop, it’ll get easier to share your deeper fantasies and wants.

2.) Manage your partner’s feelings. When one partner shares a fantasy with another, it’s not uncommon for the listener to feel a little insecure—to feel as though they’re inadequate or that something is wrong in their sex life because their partner wants something different. So put a little effort into how you frame your fantasy—tell your partner how attractive they are and how you love the sex you’re having, and then talk about this idea you had for how you could both increase your pleasure. This will likely increase the odds of a positive response.

3.) Don’t freak out if your partner doesn’t have the same exact fantasy. Sometimes, partners are turned on by different things. That’s okay—it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sexually incompatible. The good news is that most people have multiple fantasies, so odds are you’re going to find common ground somewhere. And if you each have wants the other person doesn’t exactly share, get creative and think about whether there are other ways to act out a given fantasy that might be mutually agreeable. For example, if one of you has BDSM fantasies, keep in mind that there are endless options for how you might explore these dynamics.

One caveat to all of this: when it comes to acting on fantasies, always follow the rules of safe, sane, and consensual. Don’t do anything that poses an unacceptable health risk or that is nonconsensual. For this reason, it’s often helpful to come up with a “safe word” so that any partner can clearly communicate that something has moved past their comfort zone.


Hopefully, this article has shown you that you’re not alone in having the sexual fantasies that you do. Once you learn to accept yourself and your fantasies, it becomes much easier to share them with a partner—and sharing them just might help you to take your intimate life to the next level.


Frederick, D. A., Lever, J., Gillespie, B. J., & Garcia, J. R. (2017). What keeps passion alive? Sexual satisfaction is associated with sexual communication, mood setting, sexual variety, oral sex, orgasm, and sex frequency in a national US study. The Journal of Sex Research54(2), 186-201.

Lehmiller, J. J. (2018). Tell me what you want: The science of sexual desire and how it can help you improve your sex life. Da Capo Lifelong Books.

Lehmiller, J. J. (2020). Fantasies About Consensual Nonmonogamy Among Persons in Monogamous Romantic Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Leitenberg, H., & Henning, K. (1995). Sexual fantasy. Psychological Bulletin117(3), 469-496.

Wilson, G. D. (1997). Gender differences in sexual fantasy: An evolutionary analysis. Personality and Individual Differences22(1), 27-31.