Speculating about fantasy

Written by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

I've received multiple questions lately on what it means to have various kinds of fantasies:

I mean, I've heard so many versions of this question that I wonder how many people there are out there with sexual fantasies that are CONGRUENT (rather than non-congruent) with their public sexual personae. Anyone? Surely there's someone?

Answer: yeah that happens. And no, I have no idea why.

I haven't found any satisfactory explanation for why "forbidden fruit" is so compelling sexually. In the context of the dual control model, things that are risky OUGHT to slam on the brakes, right? And things that are unappealing should not adequately simulate the gas pedal, surely?

Well. Turn out no, apparently.

My own best guess, and it is a guess, is that it is related to the ironic effect, where the more you try NOT to do something, the more you end up doing it. Classic example: Right now, whatever you do, DON'T, for the love of god, think about a polar bear.


Dammit, I told you NOT to think about a polar bear. Stop it!

Well okay, so think about a bear, but at least spare me your thoughts about polka dotted elephants.

You see? The instruction "don't" is only meaningful in the context of "Do." Don't what? "Think about a bear." Oh, bear, oh wait, DON'T think about a bear, I did it again! See? Trying not to think about a bear inevitably results in... thinking about a bear.

What if sexual fantasy is like not thinking about a bear? Couldn't decade or two or three of learning, "DON'T be sexually attracted to that person/situation/behavior!" turn into "sexualized thoughts about that person/situation/behavior!"?

I have another idea about fantasies we don't want to come true:

What if the way we construct sexual fantasies parallels the way we remember the past and the way we anticipate future memories? That is, what if our sexual experience in any given moment is not related to what we IMAGINE about our sexual experience? What if there's something fundamentally different about the central nervous system's strategy for imagining a sexual experience than for experiencing external sexual stimulation in real life?

"The mind knows not what the tongue wants," as Malcolm Gladwell quotes Howard Moskowitz. And I'd say the mind knows not what the phallus wants. But I don't mean your actual phallus, I mean the various mental representations of your phallus.

In short, I think that the generation of sexual fantasies is an entirely different brain process from the experiencing of sex through the senses. So what we fantasize about doesn't have to be the same as what we actually enjoy through our senses.

Anyway. Those are two possibilities for why sometimes we get aroused by fantasies that have nothing to do with, or are indeed the OPPOSITE of, what we want in real life.

Haven’t installed it yet?