Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fantasy and Sexual Health

1. R. If I fantasize about sex, I will become obsessed about sexual thoughts.

2. R. It is difficult for me to share my sexual fantasies with a sexual partner(s).

3. Sharing a sexual fantasy with a sexual partner(s) enriches my sex life.

4. Sexual fantasy helps me learn about what I like and don’t like sexually.

5. Sharing a sexual fantasy is a good way to get to know what a sexual partner likes.

6. I enjoy fantasizing about sex.

7. R. I feel guilty when I fantasize about sex.

8. I enjoy hearing about my sexual partner’s sexual fantasies.

9. Sexual fantasy helps me express my sexual desires.

10. Sexual fantasy is safe outlet for behavior I choose not to act upon.

Score 1 point for each yes response for questions 3-6, 9-10
Score 1 point for each no response for questions 1,2 and 8
The higher your score, the more comfortable you are with sexual fantasies

Sexualizations and Sexual Fantasies.

The idea of sexual fantasies is a topic that also has many negative societal biases and messages that need to be addressed. To begin with, I make a distinction between a sexualization and a sexual fantasy by using a “3-second rule.” This rule is simply based on clinical experience and not necessarily based on any hard and fast research. Nor does it have to be 3-seconds: it could be 2 or 4 seconds as well. As a clinician, I hold that sexualizations are normal, happen outside our realm of control and are part of the sexual drive. In this approach, sexualizations simply happen. They just are. A sexualization is recognition that someone is attractive to you. Often sexualizations can occur outside of one’s primary sexual partner template. A “straight” man can recognize a handsome guy just as a gay man can recognize a beautiful woman. In these situations, there is simply a recognition of the sexuality and sensuality of another person.

What moves a sexualization to the level of a sexual fantasy is the ongoing thought and/or fixation on a particular person, thought or object. That was how the three second rule was created; it was in response to clients asking for a ruler on when that process switches from a sexualizaiton to a fantasy. Throughout the day, many sexualizations occur. It is how a person responds to the sexualization that raises the issue to be addressed.

Fantasies are normal.

Generally speaking, the reality is that fantasies are simply normal aspects of our sexuality. Everybody has fantasies and daydreams. In and of themselves, fantasies are neutral. To be clear, the key concept in this section is that fantasies are normal and healthy. At the same time, it is important to highlight that some fantasies are risky or unhealthy. The content, frequency, intensity and focus of the fantasy may raise some issues to be addressed. This may require you to address your thoughts about fantasies and to examine the content of the fantasies.

Fantasies can be helpful in understanding ourselves and our sexuality. Through examining our fantasies, we can get a sense of what we find arousing. We can understand our needs and share with our partner and support network. Sometimes we can channel our energy into sexual fantasies to allow a healthy release. Sharing our fantasies is difficult for some people, yet the process of sharing these fantasies can create positive intimacy with the other person. And we can experience fantasies about things we would never choose to act upon.

Misperceptions of fantasies.

In moving toward sexual health, it is important to highlight and clarify misperceptions that exist about fantasies. Having fantasies does not mean you are over-sexed even if you fantasize about sex or think about sex often. Sexual fantasies are thoughts and feelings about sexual behaviors and ideas that we find sexually arousing. Sexual fantasies may represent what turns us on. Sexual fantasies are also a form of self-stimulation. Simply having a fantasy does not mean we have to act on that fantasy. Having a fantasy does not mean that we will automatically follow through with the behavior in the fantasy. Fantasies exist only in thoughts and the subsequent feelings; they are not themselves real. That also means that when we have a fantasy of a negative traumatic event, the fantasy is also real.

Application of the primary thinking error and fantasies.

Morin identified the concept of “core erotic thought” which he used to highlight how our thoughts also shape our sexual fantasies. And by examining our most powerful fantasies, we can gain insight into how we see our basic self. In his work, Erotic Mind, he highlighted how fantasies changed in light of the therapeutic process. Specifically, he highlighted how negative and damaging fantasies slowly decreased as the clients addressed the underlying issues. As they moved toward health, Morin argues that the fantasies changed. The application for this section is to emphasize the importance of not only acknowledging the fantasies, but to study them for insights into your underlying patterns of thinking.

Unhealthy Fantasies.

Occasionally, thoughts of inappropriate or unhealthy sexual behaviors may occur as themes in your fantasies. This is important issue for individuals with a pattern of sexually offending behavior. It is also true for individuals in chemical dependency recovery when the fantasies including drug use and sexual behavior mixed together. To a degree, this is simply normal. How you respond to the unhealthy fantasies when you notice they are occurring is the key step toward sexual health. To the degree that you can, it is important that you stop the fantasy or actively encouraging it. This can be done by changing your environment, talking with your network, etc. It is important that you do not masturbate to these fantasies because you might make them stronger or more frequent. An escalation of unhealthy behaviors may occur if you do not interrupt the fantasy cycle. If you recognize the unhealthy fantasies are increasing either in frequency, intensity or content, it might be a warning sign or high risk behavior. Letting your support system know that you are having unhealthy or risky fantasies can be a part of your prevention plan.

If sexual fantasies are used to avoid and/or escape from reality or are the only form of sexual expression, then I would also express concern. Also, some clients have used fantasies as a form of escape from unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Finally, for some people, particular fantasies can start the acting out cycle. Taken together, these types of fantasies should be avoided. They key is for you to figure out which fantasies are healthy and unhealthy.

Creating Healthy Fantasies

We can use sexual fantasies to move toward sexual health. This can be through harm reduction techniques, as well as positive sexuality. In our fantasies, we can create and clarify our values toward sexuality and toward others. One assignment I provide was listed in the sexual history. Identify three favorite fantasies. I’d encourage you to write these out and be as detailed and specific as possible. As you review the responses to those questions, consider the following questions:

What is the content of the fantasy? Explain the 5 Ws: who, what, when, why, when. As you answer these questions, think about how the content fits in with your components of sexual health. What, if any, risk factors or forms of acting out are present? If they are present, how do you change and/or slowly move the plot line of the fantasy toward something that is healthy for you. In this sense, you can shape the outcome of the fantasy. If this fantasy was to occur, what would you think and feel as a result?

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