What Women Want (In Their Fantasies)

By Dr. Justin Sex Tips a couple embraces at sunset

What people actually do in bed is one thing. What they fantasize about is often another entirely.

In my own research on sexual fantasies, I’ve found that there’s a pretty sizable gap between fantasy and reality. Although most people say they have some fantasies they’d like to act out, few report having ever given it a go, and they might be missing out.

Sharing and acting on sexual fantasies is linked to a number of positive outcomes, including greater sexual pleasure and relationship satisfaction. And there’s a unique benefit for women: women who share and act on their fantasies have more consistent orgasms. That’s right—getting more in touch with our fantasies just might be one of the keys to closing the orgasm gap.

However, many women never share—let alone act on—their fantasies. There are many potential reasons for this. For one thing, many people simply struggle with how to effectively communicate their sexual desires and interests because this isn’t something that’s routinely taught as part of sex education (see here for a primer on fantasy communication).

But another big factor that holds us back is that, all too often, we feel ashamed, guilty, or even embarrassed by our fantasies. This is especially true when we think our fantasies are “weird” or “abnormal,” or that we’re the only ones who have them.

Opening the door to communicating about your fantasies begins with self-acceptance. Feeling good about yourself and your fantasies can make it much easier to share them. And one handy way to do this is to reset your ideas about what a “normal” fantasy is. So let’s take a closer look at some of the erotic thoughts that turn women on.

a man and a woman share a kiss

Sexual Fantasies Across Gender

For my book Tell Me What You Want, I surveyed 4,175 Americans about their sexual fantasies. I found that across genders—male, female, and non-binary—and sexual orientations, there was a high degree of similarity. Thus, most of the things that women reported having fantasized about were things that most other people were fantasizing about as well.

However, there were some things that women were more likely to have fantasized about—and to fantasize about often—compared to men. These included:

  • Kink/BDSM
  • Passion and romance
  • Sexual fluidity

Let’s take a look at each one in turn.

a woman in fishnets and leather handcuffs

Women Are More Likely To Fantasize About BDSM

BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism) is an umbrella term that refers to sexual interests centering around consensual power exchange. This can take a lot of different forms, such as adopting dominant versus submissive sexual roles, being tied up or tying up a partner, and giving or receiving pain during sex (such as by engaging in spanking or biting).

In my research, I see that most women (96%) have fantasized about at least one aspect of BDSM before. Further, women fantasize about almost all forms of BDSM more often than men, particularly when it comes to submission, masochism, and bondage.

One common form these fantasies can take is “forced” sex, in which the fantasizer imagines being with a partner who finds them irresistibly attractive and overpowers them. The sex isn’t truly forced in this scenario; think of it as being ravished. While the fantasizer may provide token or symbolic resistance, they ultimately want the sex—and they’re in full control over who their partner is and how the scene plays out in their mind.

Despite how common BDSM fantasies are among women, many women feel guilty or embarrassed about them. For some, it may be because BDSM has long been stigmatized and pathologized. You might think that in the Fifty Shades era, BDSM would no longer be a taboo—but it is. For others, there may be a psychological conflict. For example, wanting to be submissive or tied up in bed might feel like it’s at odds with broader beliefs in female empowerment and gender equality.

That said, if you have a kinky side, you’re normal. And being into sexual power play doesn’t make you a bad feminist. After all, what’s more empowering than asking for and getting what you want in the bedroom?

Women Have More Fantasies About Passion and Romance

Fantasizing about passion, romance, and/or intimacy is nearly universal. In fact, 99% of persons across genders say they’ve fantasized about these things before! However, women fantasize about passion and romance on a more frequent basis than men.

Just like BDSM fantasies, passion and romance fantasies can take many forms. One of the most common forms involves having sex in a romantic setting, such as on a beach or in front of a roaring fire. On a side note, this information about women’s sexual fantasies reflects another important gender difference: in their fantasies, women tend to put more emphasis on the location/environment in which sex takes place compared to men.

In these fantasies, intimate connection is front and center. It’s about more than a physical sex act—it’s about feeling connected, wanted, safe, and/or loved at the same time.

Some women feel guilty or ashamed about wanting romance. For instance, some may feel as though they’re feeding into a stereotype for wanting something that could have come directly out of a romance novel. Others might feel embarrassed because they don’t think they’re sexually adventurous enough.

But, again, if you want romance, you’re normal! And keep in mind that the more we judge women’s fantasies and our own desires, the harder it becomes to get what we really want.

two hands form a heart shape

Women Fantasize More About Sexual Fluidity

Our sexual attractions don’t fall into neat and tidy little boxes. They’re fluid, flexible, and defy simple categorization.

One of the most common manifestations of this is identifying as heterosexual, but having same-sex attractions. I saw this a lot in my data: among women who described themselves as being heterosexual, a majority (59%) reported having had a sexual fantasy involving another woman before.

There’s certainly some fluidity in men’s sexual fantasies, too—however, the number of heterosexual men who reported a same-sex fantasy (26%) was less than half the number of women who reported the same.

Despite the growing societal acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals, homophobia and biphobia are still rampant. And this can lead persons with same-sex attractions to feel shame and seek to repress them.

However, the reality is that human sexuality—and women’s sexuality in particular—is far more fluid than it has long been assumed to be.

two women touch noses with closed eyes

What Else Do Women Fantasize About?

The fantasies discussed above are far from the only things that women might fantasize about. We’ve focused on the fantasies women are more likely to have than men. That said, according to my data, most women have also fantasized about:

  • Having sex with more than one person at the same time (such as having a threesome)
  • Trying new and exciting sexual activities
  • Doing something that is taboo or forbidden
  • Practicing some type of non-monogamy

Women’s sexual fantasies are highly diverse. And while the specific details of our own individual fantasies are highly idiosyncratic and varied, odds are, the overall types of things you’re fantasizing about are probably quite similar to the kinds of things most other people are fantasizing about as well.


Getting more in touch with our sexual fantasies—and coming to accept them—can help open the door to a more fulfilling sex life. When we stop running from our sexual thoughts and learn to understand ourselves better, this makes it much easier to figure out what we really want and how to communicate about this with our partners.

And by being able to tap into our fantasies with a partner—whether by sharing or acting on them—we can potentially unlock more pleasure and maybe even start putting a dent in that orgasm gap.



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 Research, 54(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. Hachette.