While people may joke that men have only one thing on their minds, guys aren't the only ones with sex on the brain. In fact, according to a 1995 study by Harold Leitenberg and Kris Henning, sexual fantasies are common among both men and women, and approximately 95 percent of both genders say they have had some form of sexual fantasies.
Fantasies play a valuable role in our sex-lives. First off, they fuel arousal: "Thoughts can create real physical changes in your body, and you can use this to your advantage," writes sex educator Emily Nagoski in the Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms. "This is why people fantasize even while they're having sex - the added juice of the fantasy heightens arousal when the physical sensations aren't enough to get us where we want to go."
But while both men and women have undoubtedly healthy fantasy lives, they're not fantasizing about the same things.
In A Billion Wicked Thoughts, neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam report that while men are, indeed, more visual, preferring to fantasize about what they might do to that fetching new colleague the next cubicle over, women prefer to fantasize about what a man might do to them. In short, they're turned on by the thought of feeling desired.
How does this desire play out in their sexual imaginings? Here 5 common female sexual fantasies, and a look at where they come from:
- Sex with a stranger. In a 2001 study published by The Journal of Sex Research, 80 percent of partnered women said they had fantasized about someone other than their partner during sex in the previous two months. Why? Because, while sex within the context of monogamy can be totally hot, it's hard to replicate the intensity of the initial chase. Fantasizing about someone new is a way of recalling how fantastic it felt to be so obviously pursued.
- Being dominant in bed. While it may seem counterintuitive for a woman to want to take charge when what they're really craving is the feeling of being desired, the dominatrix scenario actually revolves around the man worshipping the woman's body, and begging her for attention.
- Exhibitionism. In this scenario, a woman not only gets to enjoy sex with her partner, but also gets to enjoy the knowledge that someone else (or several someones?) is feeling aroused by watching her in action.
- Being sexually ravaged. Sometimes known as rape fantasy, this particular desire is not necessarily what you think. How many spicy hot movie scenes have you enjoyed in which the man pushed the woman up against the wall, forcing a kiss upon her? The thought of a man so bursting with desire is an undeniably a turn on for some women.
- Enjoying a threesome. Being worshipped and adored by two different men -- or a man and a woman -- can be twice as nice.
So what does this mean about women's psychological state? In my experience as a couples therapist, fantasies are rarely a problem. Rather, they can fuel arousal in your sex life, and are a sign of high sexual satisfaction. Why? If you can share a sexy fantasy with your partner without feeling judged or embarrassed, the intimacy within your relationship is obviously strong. Adds Good in Bed expert Ann Potter, "Fantasizing is like putting training wheels on my desires - those desires that are maybe a little too 'out there' for me or my partner to get on board with acting out right away, or ever."
When should you worry? If you're feeling bored or upset during sex and using fantasy as a way of disconnecting or if you're repeatedly fantasizing about someone inappropriate -- like a brother-in-law or a best friend's partner -- there may be cause for concern. In those cases, think about whether there could be any larger, underlying problem in your relationship.
For example, a former client of mine, a young bride-to-be, found herself constantly fantasizing about her future brother-in-law instead of the groom. These sexual fantasies were not a sign of attraction, but were actually a sign of her intense ambivalence over her impending marriage. When she ultimately broke off the engagement, her fantasies about her fiance's brother faded.
So don't fear your fantasies. Enjoy them. Use them to heat things up in the bedroom. And remember: There is a clear difference between fantasy and reality. And sometimes, a wacky fantasy is just hinting at another, perfectly normal desire within you.
Ian Kerner is a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books for Harper Collins, including She Comes First and Love in the Time of Colic. He is CNN.com's sex expert and appears frequently on the TODAY Show. He is the founder of Good in Bed and lives with his wife and two boys in New York City.