I’ve been reading a rather interesting study on American sexual desire titled Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How it Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life by Justin Lehmiller, PhD.

There are 8 intriguing chapters in this book, and since fantasy is at the root of our sex therapy work right now, I think it might be useful to take this one a chapter at a time and do a bit of personal reflection on it.

Chapter One

This chapter is mainly about the survey that Lehmiller bases much of his theories on. It’s a valuable chapter, though, as it clearly states his definition of sexual fantasy…

“any mental picture that comes to mind while you’re awake that ultimately turns you on….those thoughts and mental images over which you have conscious control and that generate sexual arousal.”

What I found most interesting in this chapter was the introduction to his final data. The seven themes of sexual fantasy that he found most common among participants were (from most to least common):

  1. multi-partner sex
  2. power, control, and rough sex
  3. novelty, adventure, and variety
  4. taboo and forbidden sex
  5. partner sharing and non-monogamous relationships
  6. passion and romance
  7. erotic flexibility–specifically, homoeroticism and gender-bending

He says about this list,

To me, this collection of themes suggests that the American id is primarily characterized by desires to break free from cultural norms and sexual restraints.

When I first read this list, I was a little taken aback. And maybe I shouldn’t have been. I guess, after all these years of writing about sex, I should have realized that our relationship is a little bit “like everyone else’s” and yet quite a bit more “realized” than many.

I’m always a little amazed when I hear that a large portion of our society either has no idea what they are turned on by or is closed to even considering the benefits of exploring sexual fantasy. Or…maybe worse…they know, but they can’t or won’t speak it for fear of being shamed or judged harshly by their lover(s).

When I look at Lehmiller’s themes, I guess I feel a bit validated, in that, if this is what’s the most common…I’m pretty normal. Considering my own fantasies, I’ve had a least a few that have involved multiple partners and taboo or forbidden sex. My fantasies have also included elements of erotic flexibility, power/control, and rough sex.

So, let me re-order his list of themes to fit my own fantasies:

  1. Passion and romance
  2. Power, control, and rough sex
  3. Novelty, adventure, and variety
  4. Taboo and forbidden sex
  5. Erotic flexibility
  6. Multi-partner sex
  7. Partner sharing and nonmonogamy

And when I ask my Husband, He orders them in this way:

  1. novelty, adventure, and variety
  2. multi-partner sex
  3. partner sharing and non-monogamous relationships
  4. power, control, and rough sex
  5. passion and romance
  6. taboo and forbidden sex
  7. erotic flexibility

I find this information fascinating, though general (and we’ll get more specific as we move further into the book). I’m also not completely sure what to do with it yet. But then…I’m assuming that comes with later chapters, too. I’m currently only on chapter 3.

For now, I think it’s important simply to note that my Husband and I have both similar and different fantasy lives. There are commonalities (which we should focus on), and differences (which we should discuss and explore). This list, even though it is general, is a talking point. We can give examples of the types of fantasies we have within each category.

It’s important to be aware of which fantasies we hope to act out and which we prefer remain safely in our heads. Not all fantasies are meant to be realized, and we need to be clear about which is which (to ourselves and others that we share them with). For example, take a look at yesterday’s post: all three of these little fantasy vignettes are things that tittilate the private parts in my brain, but the idea of turning #2 into a reality makes me highly nervous. I’m not sure I’d find it nearly as sexy in life as I do in my brain (though considering why is an important part of this exercise, too).

But we all have different levels of what we can handle. Some people are more adventurous than others. I know for sure that my Husband is much more adventurous than I am. I also know that I am much more adventurous than some others, too.

It’s not a competition, though. We all have fantasies. The thing I want to address here, is that when we have mismatched fantasies (just as when we have mismatched sex drives), and wide differences in our willingness or desire to actualize those fantasies, we have the potential for problems in our sex life. And that’s a piece of the “sexual connection” foundation that Mr. D and I are currently working on.

Which is why I found this chapter valuable.

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7 Replies to “Tell Me What You Want”

  1. This is really interesting Brigit and I love all the resources that you throw up to get you, and me, thinking. I might try this idea of list comparison for me and HL. It could be illuminating. Thanks for sharing. missy x

  2. It seems to me that if this list of topics is offered to different people, then the place of these topics in the list will constantly vary. What you have shown by the example of yourself and your husband.

  3. Pingback: Brigit Delaney

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