By Anna Potter
It's a scene from everyone's worst nightmare: You're in the bedroom, making love with your partner, and then, deep in the throes of passion, just when the imminent orgasm is about to occur, your partner screams out someone else's name.
Immediately, both partners are shocked, ashamed and maybe even angry. Hold on, you were thinking of whom just now? What's so wrong with me that you were in your head with someone else?
While we'd all like to imagine that our partners are always thinking about us while we're in bed, as it turns out those who fantasize during sex the most have "higher rates of sexual activity and the most sexual experience" according to one study on sexual fantasy by Harold Leitenberg and Kris Henning. "The usual motivation for sexual fantasies appears to be simply to stimulate or enhance sexual arousal rather than to compensate for a state of deprivation," the authors write.
While most of us have a lot of fantasies, it can be scary to explore them. A safe way to mix it up without stirring up trouble is to use your head: The Journal of Sex Research published a study reporting that 98% of partnered men and 80% of partnered women said in the previous two months that they had fantasized about someone other than their partner during sex. At first, this statistic can be shocking: What, my partner is thinking about someone else while we're getting it on? No way!
But before we cry out accusations of intellectual infidelity, consider this: most people find that they are most sexually satisfied when they are intimate with one person with whom they feel completely comfortable. Along with this intimacy comes the freedom to let go and explore, including fantasizing about other people, places and situations.
Emily Nagoski writes this in the Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms: "Thoughts can create real physical changes in your body, and you can use this to your advantage. This is why people fantasize even while they're having sex, the added juice of the fantasy heightens arousal when the physical sensations aren't enough to get us where we want to go."
Fantasizing is a great way to explore your needs and desires in your relationship, without having to "go all the way," as it were. A lot of people have fantasies about adding a third person into the mix, and while sometimes threesomes work, for many couples who bring another player into their sex lives, a lot of problems are introduced along with that third person.
Jealousy abounds and one or both partners often raise questions of desire, and what should have been a fun foray into a land of excitement ends up causing a huge headache.
I like to imagine that fantasizing is like putting training wheels on my desires, those desires that are maybe a little too "out there" for me or my partner to get on board with acting out right away (or ever). While men and women experience similar fantasies, women often report fantasizing about taking a more passive role and being dominated, and men often report fantasizing about being more dominant in the bedroom. Before we all rush out and buy whips and chains, we can try on these domination fantasies in our heads, and talk it out with our partners.
Ultimately, the fantasy realm is a place to be explored, to enjoy, and potentially to share with someone we love. When we feel free and safe to fantasize in our own heads, we open ourselves up to a world of pleasure, excitement and fun, a world that can be imagined to be thousands of miles away with someone you've just met, or right there in bed with your loving, intimate partner.