How to Approach Sexual Fantasy and Desire on Your Own Terms

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Cass BallFantasy is an important part of our relationships with ourselves and our sexual desires. But it can also be a source of shame. How can we find ways to reconnect with our sexual fantasies and create a healthy relationship with desire.

Fantasy is an important part of our relationships with ourselves and our sexual desires. We are all born with imaginative minds — as children, we find it natural to want, to fantasize. At one point, we were all experts in our own desires. It was easy for us to recognize pleasure and imagine how we could repeat that pleasure, expand it, prolong it, refine it. It was easy for us to imagine a life beyond what we know. Over the course of our lives, other people have rejected and belittled us for our desires, and we began to feel shame and quiet ourselves. No one is born feeling shame, but no one passes through life without internalizing it. We learn, through media, our families, and politics, that certain types of sex and relationships are acceptable and other types are regarded with disdain and are punished. Shame can make us believe that our desires are inherently bad.

For many people, an important part of personal healing involves reclaiming one’s access to desire and fantasy. adrienne maree brown, who is an organizer, writer, and doula, combines her thoughts about pleasure, desire, shame, and social justice into the term pleasure activism. In her book, also titled Pleasure Activism, she defines the term as, “the work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy” (13).

Connecting to sexual fantasies is a way to rekindle a healthy relationship with desire. There are many benefits to practicing fantasy. Engaging in fantasy, even when you don’t act on it, can help you break through shame, or transcend boredom. Sharing your fantasies with your sexual partners can be an opportunity to be vulnerable and connect with your partner on a deeper level. Fantasy is an opportunity for fun. For excitement. If you tend to be anxious when approaching sex and relationships, fantasy is an opportunity to ask, “What if everything goes right?” Fantasy can even be a part of the healing process for people who have experienced trauma: being able to negotiate strict boundaries and have your partner prioritize your consent can be a transformative experience.

Even though fantasy is often associated with kink, it doesn’t have to be. Fantasy is just any imaginary scenario that brings you pleasure to think about.

Fantasy in Media

It can be helpful to rely on other people’s fantasies to inspire your own, which is why many people use audiovisual media, like TV, movies, and pornography, for inspiration. But it is important to analyze the context of this media. What types of relationships does it depict? Does it depict harmful stereotypes? What feels healthy about the depiction of fantasy? Another consideration for consuming audiovisual media is that the fantasies that this type of media provides are only visual and auditory, while real-life sex is multisensory, thus limiting our imagination when it comes to all of the amazing ways that we can have sex.

The depiction of sexual fantasy in media provides scripts for fantasies that don’t always align with our values and can sometimes be emotionally and physically violent. In Pleasure Activism, adrienne maree brown writes, “If we aren’t both careful and creative we can get stuck in fantasies that don’t mature and politicize with us. We can get caught in fantasies that perpetuate things so counter to our beliefs and values that we feel ashamed of what we want, even as we find ways to get it” (222).

A quick Google search of “sexual fantasy” yields a bunch of articles about which fantasies are the most common. At first glance, articles like these seem to make an attempt to bring fantasy into the mainstream, perhaps believing that once people become comfortable with these “more normal” fantasies, acceptance will trickle down to the fantasies that are considered more deviant. Trickle-down social justice doesn’t work, though. If we take marriage equality as an example, we were told that trans rights would come next, but marriage equality did not trickle down to employment security, protection against violence, and improved healthcare for trans people. The fight for marriage equality did not interrogate the larger structural issues of capitalism, healthcare, and the privileges that couples experience over people who are single or polyamorous. Similarly, the discourse around normalizing just a few sexual fantasies does not interrogate the larger cultural scripts in our society that tell us that certain fantasies are too deviant, too queer, too kinky.

Other search results include advice articles about how to “spice up your sex life.” Here, too, these types of articles usually assume a heterosexual, cis, abled couple who typically has vaginal intercourse. Many of these articles suggest that you should coerce your partner into “naughtier” play through a lack of communication, surprising your partner, and engaging in submission and dominance without their consent. It is never okay to surprise your partner with unexpected touch, hoping to gain some control over them or to play mind-games. Engaging in fantasy and changing aspects of your sexual relationship always requires active, compassionate communication, and an understanding that your partner might not want to engage in the same fantasies that you do.

A lot of mainstream TV and film depicts a “love-at-first-sight” approach to love, where characters merely lock eyes and “know.” These narratives portray love as something that just clicks. They also often portray a man projecting his desires and expectations onto a woman and never asking her what she wants. In these forms of media, the characters don’t have to talk about consent or boundaries or desires. When they have sex, their clothes just effortlessly slide off. Their romantic and sexual interactions are effortless and often wordless. Of course it’s possible to feel attraction when seeing someone for the first time, but building a relationship and developing love requires consistent communication, vulnerability, and compromise. Communicating your desires with words can feel awkward, especially if you’re new to it, but with the right partner you can laugh through the awkwardness and use it as a way to connect. Connecting to your fantasies can help you communicate with partners.

Another form of media that many people take their fantasies from is porn. Watching porn can be a great way to explore your sexual interests from the comfort of home. Some porn companies upload behind-the-scenes interviews with the performers, sometimes showing the performers giving consent before the scene and their reactions afterwards. These interviews can provide useful scripts for how to negotiate a scene and get consent. However, most of these clips don’t make it to the tube sites where it’s easy to find illegally-downloaded porn. One of the issues with tube sites is that they are free to access, and the most direct way to ensure that porn is being ethically produced is to pay for it. At the same time, this means that young people often cannot access the more radical types of porn that are inclusive and emphasize consent, which are often behind a paywall.

If you are a young person who cannot access porn that is behind a paywall, you can view porn with a critical eye until you are financially independent. Here are some things to consider when watching porn:

Does the video show the performers giving consent? Also note that it’s possible that consent is being given behind-the-scenes. Do some research on the production company. Can you find a performer consent policy? Consent in porn is multifaceted: it involves the performers agreeing to specific sex acts in advance of filming, professional conditions on set, and fair pay.
Get to know the performers on social media. Kayla Jane Danger, who owns her own porn company and directs performers, says, “If the performers are supporting and tweeting about scenes they were in, you should feel comfortable that they are ethical. They’re sharing it because they’re generally proud of the work they have done and they’re happy with the product that comes out of it.”
Ask yourself if you feel represented by the performers and how their identities are depicted. Do you feel represented by the race/gender/sexuality/ability of the performers? How does the porn title and description make you feel? Porn can sometimes perpetuate harmful stereotypes.Does the porn you’re watching feel inclusive of different types of bodies or does it normalize only a few?

Considerations and Prompts for Connecting to Sexual Fantasy in a Healthy Way

Analyzing how media often depicts harmful sexual fantasies is a great way to start thinking about fantasy, and it is important work to become unbound from these societal scripts. Moving forward without a script, however, is really hard work. If you decide to explore your fantasies without a script, know that you are courageous for being on this journey! So many people stick to these scripts so that they don’t have to do the hard work of connecting with their own desires.

I don’t have a perfect relationship with fantasy. As a queer trans woman, I have often felt a disconnect between myself and my desires, and I am on a personal journey to reclaim my access to genuine desire. I am not an expert advising you at the end of my journey with all-knowing wisdom. Rather, I am in the middle of my healing journey alongside you. But I can share some prompts and considerations that have helped me, and may also help you to spark a connection with fantasies of your own.. The goal of these prompts is to create a flowing relationship with fantasy that is specific to you. Don’t worry about what you think you’re supposed to feel and try not to judge your fantasies.

1) Notice What Feels Good

It can be overwhelming to imagine a fantasy out of nowhere. A good place to start can be practicing mindfulness and noticing what feels good in your day-to-day life. Once you practice being present, it’s not that everything you notice will be sexual, but you will have honed the skills that will allow you to recognize sexual excitement in the moment.

Meditation and/or yoga are both great options for practicing mindfulness. Meditation can be an opportunity to keep your body still while practicing breathwork and being present with what comes up in the mind. Yoga combines breathwork, meditation, and movement. Headspace and Calm are two popular meditation apps. Some popular free yoga resources are Yoga With Adriene and DoYogaWithMe.com. Generally, YouTube is a treasure trove of meditative and yoga practices and guides.

In addition to meditation and yoga, daily reflection can go a long way. You might consider writing a list of things that excited you each day. From there, you might notice patterns:

What excites you consistently?
Is there anything that has excited you that has surprised you?
Is there anything that you thought would excite you but actually didn’t?
How does it feel to keep track of desire and excitement?

2) Make a Playlist

Since sex is multisensory, it can be useful to approach sexual fantasy through the senses.

Consider making a sexy playlist. The playlist can be for masturbating, sex with partners, or whatever you want it to be. You don’t have to just choose songs that are overtly associated with sex or that you know other people find sexy, and the lyrics don’t have to be of a sexual nature. You can choose anything! Choose what excites you. The songs don’t have to have lyrics, belong to a specific genre, etc. After you’ve compiled your list of songs, try rearranging them to create a narrative. What can the following aspects of the music tell you about your desires?

Tempo
Mood
Intensity/Gentleness
Color
Instrumentation
Lyrics

Consider journaling about the songs that you’ve chosen. What do you find sexy about these songs? Is there anything you’ve discovered about yourself that you might want to integrate into how you approach sex and desire?

3) Masturbate With Your Eyes Closed

When you masturbate, try closing your eyes! See what comes to mind. Consider putting on the sexy playlist in the background. If you want to, and you have access, you could even watch some porn, or a scene that excites you from a TV show or movie, before you begin to touch yourself, close the video, and then use your imagination to finish the scene while you masturbate. What do you imagine happening? Are you thinking about an experience you’ve already had that you’d like to repeat? Is it something that you’ve never done before? How do your fantasies compare to your lived experiences?

4) Engage Yourself in Dirty Talk

Language can be incredibly sexy and is a fundamental part of sex. During sex, we can use language to communicate pleasure, ask for what we want, ask our partners what they want, instruct our partners, express a need to pause or stop, communicate boundaries, negotiate a scene, express dominance/submission, roleplay, etc. If you have privacy when you masturbate, try verbalizing your desires out loud. If you don’t have privacy, see if you can notice if there are things you would like to say. You can imagine talking from your own perspective, reacting to the sensation you’re feeling. You can also imagine talking from the perspective of a partner who is having sex with you. What do you want to verbalize? What is the tone of your voice? How would you want someone to talk to you?

5) Environment

Does where you normally have sex or masturbate set you up to feel aroused and excited? Are there elements of your space that distract you? Do you have any fantasies about a sexual environment, even if it’s not a real possibility?

If you feel compelled to deepen your relationship with fantasy, it can be useful to try any of these prompts. You might want to try a prompt once or you might want to revisit the same prompts every once in awhile to see how your fantasies shift over time. Remember that none of these prompts are mandatory and you are also free to explore fantasy at your own pace and within your own parameters.

Closing Considerations

If you have any partners, you might choose to tell them about your fantasies. Remember that no one is required to act on these fantasies with you and that you should approach the conversation as an act of vulnerable sharing. If your partner decides to join you in incorporating a fantasy into sex, exactly how that happens is a negotiation between the two of you.

You may notice that all of these prompts involve some amount of self-reflection. While your fantasies might involve other people, ultimately your relationship with fantasy mostly has to do with your relationship with yourself. You don’t have to act on all or any of your fantasies, especially if acting on a fantasy might have negative repercussions. And you are allowed to have fantasies that you know you shouldn’t act on. There’s nothing wrong with you if you fantasize about things you would never want to do in real life. Fantasies can be a safe way to explore your fears and the parts of yourself that you have unconsciously repressed. Of course, if your fantasy is something you want to act on and you feel safe doing so, it can be extremely rewarding to pursue your fantasies. Overall, it is healthy to kindle your relationship with desire. These fantasies are for you, whether or not you share them with anyone or act on them. Your fantasies can also change over time. Just having access to them can strengthen your relationships with others, bring you a ton of excitement, and help you connect to yourself.

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