Content note: this post will discuss sexual fantasies that are taboo, including rape fantasies and sexual violence.
Where do our sexual fantasies come from? There are many which clearly spring from simple things like memories of sex we’ve had in the past. Others might be inspired by erotica, pornography or sex scenes we’ve watched on the TV or in films.
But the world of sexual fantasy is much broader than this, and many of us include in our repertoire sexual situations which we would never want to see played out in the real world.
This blog post was inspired by a question put to a popular psychology forum, and it’s one which struck a chord with us. Paraphrased here:
“I often masturbate to things that I would find disturbing if they happened in ‘real life’. I understand that they’re only in my head or ‘acted out’ in porn, but I’m really disturbed by the fact that they turn me on. Is there a way to stop them? What do they mean?”
Sexual Fantasies and Taboo
One of the prominent theories about taboo sexual fantasies is that they are a means of processing something which may have happened, or something that someone holds a deep fear of.
Masturbation isn’t just a way of exploring your body – your sexual fantasies can be a way of exploring your mind, too. Perhaps some of our sexual fantasies are a means of allowing us to explore our fears, but in a way that is safe inside our heads.
When taboo sexual fantasies involve things that would otherwise horrify us – like incest, bestiality or sexual violence – it’s understandable to want to find a reason for that. And many people want to find a way to stop themselves from having these thoughts in the first place.
When it comes to why we have these fantasies, there are a number of theories and possibilities.
Writing in Psychology Today, Dr David Ley considers and rejects a few potential explanations for the (very common) rape fantasy. Perhaps in eroticising our fears, we’re trying to manage the anxiety that comes along with them?
Or maybe fantasising about rape, post-trauma, is a means of trying to identify with the aggressor. Or maybe rape fantasies are simply a reflection of some of the things we’ve been taught to find erotic by society:
“Our society romanticizes rape and violence, in complex and disturbing ways, from the Beast pounding on Beauty‘s door in the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, to the contents of thousands of romance novels, where women “swoon” and “succumb” to male passions and dominance. Fantasies of forced eroticism may, in some cases, be the result of social programming.”
Can I Stop Myself Having Taboo Sexual Fantasies?
While it can sometimes be helpful to have an explanation as to why taboo sexual fantasies arouse us, it doesn’t stop them from being disturbing for some people. For many, the idea that they would get off on something traumatic or taboo is difficult to deal with, and they would rather get rid of the fantasies altogether.
But it’s very tricky to try and tell your mind not to have certain thoughts – we can’t always control the thoughts that pop into our head, and if we shy away from them or try to suppress them they often come back harder and stronger.
A famous psychological experiment demonstrated this by telling experimental subjects ‘don’t think of a white bear.‘ They had to verbalise their thoughts for five minutes – just give a running commentary of things that were going through their head – and one group of subjects had been specifically told not to think of a white bear.
The psychologist then asked them to ring a bell every time they thought of the white bear. Lo and behold – those who had been told not to think about one were repeatedly ringing the bell and getting frustrated at their inability to push the white bear out of their minds.
Later, once they’d been told they should think of a white bear, they thought about it more frequently than a control group which hadn’t first been told to suppress those thoughts. The conclusion was that suppressing thoughts can actually mean you think about them more, not less.
So if you’re having sexual fantasies about taboo subjects and you’re not sure what to do, is there any advice that might be able to help you?
You don’t have to act out your fantasies!
Perhaps one of the most helpful things for people with taboo sexual fantasies to understand is that there’s a whole world of difference between ‘fantasy’ as an idea of something you want to do and ‘fantasy’ as an exercise in itself, which you have no intention of fulfilling.
When we talk about sexual fantasies, often we assume that those fantasies are ‘bucket list’ activities – dreams that someone would leap at the chance of fulfilling.
Perhaps one of the most often-cited examples of this is the threesome: many people fantasise about the idea of a threesome, and if given the opportunity to have one with two people they really liked, with no possibility of fallout or hurt feelings, they would jump at the opportunity to do it.
Which is all well and good for sexual fantasies which you do want to fulfil, but it’s a mistake to think that all fantasies will necessarily fall into this category.
Writing in the Telegraph, agony aunt Dr Petra Boynton summed up this point neatly. When helping a reader who was thinking about fulfilling her boyfriend’s sexual fantasies, Dr Boynton explained that:
“Contemporary sex advice often tells us, however, that fantasizing isn’t just a pleasurable option. Instead we’re led to believe it’s a mandatory part of a person’s sexual life. Often accompanied by a suggestion that you must always be willing to act said fantasy out. The subtext of such messages is if you’re not prepared to both fantasise on a regular basis and take it further you’re sexually unadventurous.”
But not all fantasies are like this. Many sexual fantasies are about things which would be either impossible or undesirable in real life.
Consider the tentacle fetishist, for example: they might enjoy the thought of being squashed by a sea monster with lots of slippery tentacles, but understand that not only is there no such thing as sea monsters, in real life any genuine sea monster would be more likely to eat them than pleasure them!
That’s a fairly extreme example, but it extends to other sexual fantasies too – people who fantasise about extreme sexual violence do not necessarily want to live out their fantasies.
The fact that someone is concerned about their taboo sexual fantasies is often a good indication that they don’t want to carry them out at all!
As Dr Boynton explains:
“Some people really get off on their fantasies. Others just aren’t that bothered. Some people are anxious that fantasising about someone else is a form of cheating. Others are concerned that a fantasy could lead to them acting on (or at least having to entertain the thought of) desires they find distasteful or upsetting.”
If you’re interested in exploring your own sexual fantasies, we’d recommend checking out a great resource from MegJohnAndJustin.com. Meg-John and Justin are both sex educators, and they’ve written a Zine for people who want to explore their own fantasy lives a little more, examining their sexual fantasies to learn a little more about themselves. As they explain on the site:
“When they think about what sex is people often assume it involves getting physical with another person. They might expand this out to also include solo sex and getting physical with ourselves. But they probably rarely think of erotic fantasy (whether solo or shared) as a form of sex in its own right.”