In a fascinating review of literature and research on sexual fantasies conducted by Leitenberg and Henning (1995) some very interesting patterns regarding gender differences and fantasies were found.

Leitenberg and Henning concluded from their research, that despite around 95% of both men and women reporting having sexual fantasies in a variety of contexts such as during masturbation, while engaging sexually with a partner and more general daydream type fantasies, there are distinct differences between the sexes as to when and how these fantasies manifest, and their dominant themes.

On average both men and women reported experiencing their first sexual fantasies between the ages of 11-13, however males report in engaging in regular, rather than sporadic fantasies, from an earlier age than women. In addition men tend to engage in sexual fantasies more frequently than women during masturbation and non sexual activities, but when it comes to fantasizing during sexual interactions with a partner, no significant difference between the sexes was reported.

This may in part be connected with the different nature of sexual fantasies that men and women report engaging in. Overall, men have a higher tendency to fantasize about dominance and doing something to their partner, or having sex with multiple partners, and their fantasies tend to be more visual and explicit. In contrast, women more commonly fantasize about submission, using more romantic and emotional imagery as the impetus for stimulation. However, it was found that four relatively distinct patterns of fantasy were reported by both men and women, including vanilla style fantasies about either imaginary or real (past and present) lovers; sexual power and irresistibility; engaging in a variety of different sexual practices, locations and positions; and lastly, but certainly not least, fantasies around Dominance or submission, often with an implication of physical force.

Sadly, I think, 25% of people (and no gender stats were available on this one, although I do hypothesize…) reported feeling significant guilt about their fantasies. Guilt which is often associated with (understandably) increased sexual dysfunction and a decrease in number of fantasies.

But, if you are in that 25%, please fear not, because the overwhelming majority of sexual fantasies, are healthy expressions of a desire to increase sexual arousal, and not as Freudian theory would suggest, a sign of unhealthy pathology, sexual dissatisfaction, or due to a lack of engagement in happy and healthy sexual activity. In fact, the opposite has been found. It appears that there is actually a positive correlation between enjoying sexual fantasies and sexual satisfaction combined with higher rates of sexual activity.

Ah, it’s always nice when you find out a pleasurable pursuit is actually good for you too…

– Judi Reed, 2012

H.Leitenberg & K. Henning (1995), Sexual Fantasy, Psychological Bulletin. Vol. 117, pp 469-496.