Why You Have Sexual Fantasies and What They Mean

... and when to act on them

Portrait of beautiful young woman lying in bed with closed eyes

Westend61 / Getty Images

While the people, themes, and frequency may change, sexual fantasies are completely normal.

In fact, they're so normal that one survey even found that most people have one of seven common fantasies. This survey also considered the changes people make to their bodies and personalities in their sexual fantasies and how those changes compare to real life.

In this article, we'll look at some of the findings from this survey, including the common changes that different people make to their bodies and personalities in their sex fantasies. We'll also explore what your fantasies mean when it's appropriate to act on them.

Most Common Sexual Fantasies

That's right, there are seven sexual fantasies that pop up again and again for lots of different people. These were identified when Justin Lehmiller, PhD, a social psychologist, surveyed 4,175 people about their fantasies.

The survey included more than 350 questions about sexual fantasies, why we have them, and what they mean. At the end of the survey, Lehmiller found that seven main themes were the most common.

  1. Multi-partner sex: No, this doesn't mean going on dates with more than one person and sleeping with both of them at different times, this is referring to having sex with multiple people at the same time.
  2. BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism): This was another common fantasy, which shows that, while this may be taboo, lots of people are curious about it.
  3. Novelty, adventure, and variety: This just means that people have fantasies about doing things that are new to them. For example, having sex in a different setting or position.
  4. Taboo sex acts: This refers to doing something that is socially or culturally forbidden. Because this is dependent on specific cultures, the acts themselves can change based on what is or isn't deemed socially appropriate for different people.
  5. Passion, romance, and intimacy: This refers to being emotionally connected, loved or appreciated with a partner, and it's not exclusive to people in relationships. These fantasies can still pop up if you're single.
  6. Being in a non-monogamous relationship: Swinging, polyamory, watching their partner have sex with someone else, or having an open relationship all fall into this category.
  7. Gender-bending and homoeroticism: These fantasies focus on pushing the boundaries of your sexual orientation. It could mean that you fantasize about things outside of your gender identity, role, expression, or sexual identity.

What People Change About Themselves in Their Fantasies

One of the more interesting findings from this survey involved how poeple saw themselves in their sexual fantasies.

First off, nearly everyone surveyed (97.1%) said they are in their own sexual fantasies. That said, people changed other major factors about themselves, and these changes were common and different for men, women, and sexual orientations.

  • Women were more likely than men to change their bodies in their fantasies; however, gay and bisexual men were more likely to fantasize about changes to their bodies than heterosexual men.
  • Men were more likely than women to fantasize about changing the appearance of their genitals. While this applies to all men, it was more common for gay and bisexual men.
  • Age often pops up, but men fantasize about themselves at a younger age, and women fantasize about a future version of themselves. Lehmiller also found that men are more likely than women to have sexual regret, so their fantasies of going back to a younger age could correlate with them going back to missed opportunities or "the one that got away."
  • Gay and bisexual men were the most likely to report changes in personality in their sexual fantasies.
  • Men reported that they fantasized about becoming more submissive than they normally are, and women reported that they fantasized about becoming more dominant.

What Do Sexual Fantasies Mean?

After researching these sexual fantasies, especially in comparing these fantasies to people's sexual behaviors in real life, Lehmiller explained in a blog post that fantasies are a reflection of an individual's personality, attachment style, and cultural identity.


Lehmiller found that lots of fantasies reflected the opposite of people's real-life personalities. For example, introverts fantasized about being more dominant, and people who are more neurotic fantasized about changing their bodies and personalities.

The least likely people to change themselves in any way were extroverts. Another interesting finding is that people who are more conscientious used their attention to detail to focus more on details of their fantasies rather than themselves.

Attachment Style

The survey found that people with anxious and avoidant attachment styles were more likely to change themselves in every way. Lehmiller speculates that anxious folks who have abandonment issues use their fantasies to become a version of themselves that doesn't have to worry about rejection, and the avoidant folks who have issues with intimacy use their fantasies to create more emotional distance.

Another study backed these findings, adding that people with avoidant attachment styles typically didn't have sexual fantasies involving romance.


Finally, the fantasies clearly say something about our culture. For example, women, gay and bisexual men, were the most likely to focus on changing their physical qualities. Men were more likely to enhance their genitals in their fantasies, which is a clear reaction to cultural body ideals.

One study also found that sexual fantasies often reflect how men and women are depicted in romantic movies and novels, or even in sexual videos.

Lehmiller does make sure to note that not all of the changes that we make to ourselves in sexual fantasies have deeper meanings. It's also important to note that sexual fantasies can play a positive role in people's lives.

One study even found that for women, sexual fantasies help them get aroused and even help when it comes to achieving an orgasm during sex with their partner.

When to Act On Sexual Fantasies

As Lehmiller notes, oftentimes the changes that occur in our sexual fantasies are just a product of an active imagination, and don't mean anything of deeper significance. That said, if you're noticing that you're regularly changing things about yourself in your fantasies that you'd like to see changed in real life, those may be aspects worth considering.

That said, remember that just because you have a fantasy about something doesn't mean you should act on it. If you're in a happy relationship and you have a fantasy about cheating on your partner, that doesn't necessarily mean that your subconscious is trying to tell you that you'd be happier with someone else.

Since they're fantasies, we often create idealized versions of ourselves. That said, if a lack of confidence or a fear of abandonment are holding you back from achieving your ideal version of yourself, it may time to work with a therapist to figure out how you can address these negative patterns of thinking.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lehmiller J. Seven Fascinating Facts About Sexual Fantasies. Sex & Psychology by Dr. Justin Lehmiller.

  2. Birnbaum GE. Beyond the borders of reality: Attachment orientations and sexual fantasiesJournal of the International Association for Relationship Research.

  3. Bruce J. Ellis M.A. & Donald Symons Ph.D. (1990) Sex differences in sexual fantasy: An evolutionary psychological approach, The Journal of Sex Research, 27:4, 527-555

  4. J. Kenneth Davidson Sr. & Linda E. Hoffman (1986) Sexual fantasies and sexual satisfaction: An empirical analysis of erotic thought, The Journal of Sex Research, 22:2, 184-205