On the Value of Fantasies

Japanese shunga erotica painting being eaten out by an octopus

The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by Hokusai (1814)

Recently, Emmanuelle de Maupassant posted a link to an article called “The Art of Dreams”. The art in that post contains two prominent themes – mortality and sexuality, which makes sense since sex and death have been cultural obsessions for centuries.

As I was looking through the pieces, two of them stood out. The first was the one above – “The Dreams of the Fisherman’s Wife” by Hokusai. The other is of a girl dreaming that she’s being carried into the woods by a bear. Both have obvious sexual overtones and, given the nature of my own dreams, my mind wandered from dreams into fantasies.

I have always had extremely vivid sex dreams, even as a girl. In fact, I knew I was bisexual before I understood what that meant after dreaming that I was kissing Sleeping Beauty and her prince. I woke up wanting more of both, a feeling I internalized as normal but never talked about. That dream led to my first sexual fantasies, and their influence on my sexuality as it developed can’t be overstated.

Years later, a friend and I were talking about fantasies in college. Her opinion was that if you’re in a relationship, (she was and I wasn’t), having fantasies about someone other than your boyfriend is cheating. I understand now, on an intellectual level, what she was saying, but fantasies were so integral to my sexual development that hearing them spoken of as a form of infidelity left me feeling vaguely bereft, as if what was natural to me was somehow immoral to normal, relationship-having people.

Side Note: I should state that there is a difference between fantasizing to explore your sexuality, and fantasizing to escape an unpleasant or unsatisfying relationship. If you’d rather be in your head than with your partner, that’s a sign that something could be off in the relationship. While I still don’t consider this cheating, it probably isn’t something you should ignore either.

Even though I lost my virginity relatively late, I had a massively active fantasy life, so much so that, by the time I finally did have sex, I jumped into new experiences with an enthusiasm that I may not have otherwise had. I fantasized about threesomes well before I had one. Same thing with group sex, oral, anal, strap-ons, D/s, sex in public and pretty much everything else I’ve ever done.

But it wasn’t just the exploratory quality of my fantasies that formed my sexuality. As I experienced new things, more and more of those experiences were incorporated into my fantasies, so that I began to understand what worked for me in greater depth. Everything, from my love of prowess to shaving (and being shaved by) a lover, was nurtured by an increasingly varied collection of fantasies.

Even impossible or transgressive fantasies are valuable. Some may get explored in real life, while others can’t (or won’t), but the fact that they can be played out safely is important. I want to understand what makes me click because I can bring that understanding to my partners. 

Fantasies are also a surprisingly accurate way to gauge how your sexual focus may have changed. Early on, my fantasies, much like my erotica, were highly situational – getting off on a Maytag dryer, being watched, making someone do something that makes them uncomfortable (but that they also undeniably want). These fantasies explored different situations and helped me understand my various kinks and predilections.

In the past few years, however, my fantasies have changed. As someone close to me noted, I’m after connection more than experience now. That isn’t to say that I’ve done everything I want to do (because I doubt I ever will). What it does mean is that my sexual focus now prioritizes intensity and connection rather than situational novelty, a shift that is also reflected in my work.

If sex is the lens through which I view life, then fantasies are how I keep that lens polished. The notion that fantasizing about someone other than my partners would take something away from the depth of my commitment to them rings as false now as it did when I was eighteen. 

If anything, your fantasies give you access to more of yourself, knowledge that you can then bring to your partners. Whether it’s fucking against a wall because you can’t keep your hands off each other, or ravaging and being ravaged by some sort of subhuman beast, fantasies, dreams and memories help ground you in your sexuality, and it’s your sexuality that you bring to real life.

5 comments

  1. This is a very rich vein to tap. I, too, have a very rich fantasy life that has sustained me through dry sexual spells, as well as energizing sex when I’m with someone. Loved this line: “If sex is the lens through which I engage life, then fantasies are how I keep that lens polished.” A side note: My fantasies are often the source of my erotica. No big surprise there, I guess. But not all my fantasies make it to the page. Like I said, it’s a fascinating topic.

  2. I appreciate this post because the subject seems like a minefield for people and it shouldn’t be. Most writing about fantasies is only “Fantasies are normal and healthy, let’s not talk about them, nothing to see here!” People – even sex bloggers – seem afraid of what their fantasies might reveal about them.

    I remember in college finding one of Nancy Friday’s books in a used bookstore. I thought it would be all tepid hearts & flowers stuff. Instead women were writing in about babysitters and dogs and god knows what and it made me realize how limited our discourse has become. You just don’t see a completely uncensored discussion on this topic in many places – and that’s too bad because as you said, “Even impossible or transgressive fantasies are valuable.”

    1. Thank you, Valerie. I’ve noticed the same thing – it’s an odd reticence to find and I’m still not sure why we have it. I know that it took me quite a long time to become comfortable talking about my own fantasies, especially with partners. Nancy Friday’s books had a great deal to do with my relaxing about it. I would love to start some sort of ongoing discourse on sexual fantasies, but I’m not sure how to do it… it’s worth thinking about.

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