Psychologist Justin Lehmiller says that he spent two years talking to more than 4,100 people about their sexual fantasies, and his survey—one of the most wide-ranging studies ever conducted on what type of sex acts human beings fantasize about, and why—came up with some eye-opening findings.
Lehmiller’s survey forms the basis of his new book, Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life, which was published on Monday.
After conducting 4,175 interviews of American adults, who each filled out a 350-question survey, Lehmiller was able to group the sexual fantasies most commonly enjoyed by Americans into seven major categories:
• Multi-partner sex: Threesomes and other forms of group sex were the most consistently reported type of American fantasies.
• Rough sex, or sexual control: Fantasies in this category ranged from playful bondage to serious sadomasochism.
• Novelty and adventure: Americans like to go new places, try new things, and have sex doing it. Or at least, that’s what they fantasize about.
Those preceding three were the most popular categories in Lehmiller’s study. But there were four more categories the Ball State University psych professor found that were nearly as common.
• Forbidden sex: This category, according to Lehmiller, includes fetishes as well as exhibitionist and voyeuristic fantasies.
• Non-monogamy: Americans’ dirty little secret is that they frequently enjoy fantasizing about having sex with someone who is not their spouse or significant other.
• Passion and Romance: It may be a bit sad that Americans need to fantasize about this, but simply feeling loved and appreciated ranks among the seven most common types of sexual fantasies in the researcher’s survey.
• Erotic flexibility: Lehmiller defines this popular category as fantasies about same-sex acts by people who do not define themselves as LGBTQ, as well as fantasies about shifting genders and gender roles.
While none of those categories may seem especially unusual, Lehmiller did turn up some surprising—or at least unexpected—findings. For example, though having a ménage à trois was the single most common fantasy reported in his broad survey, Lehmiller found that group sex fantasies tend to increase with age. Younger respondents to his survey fantasized more often about feeling passion and romance in their sexual experiences than about getting it on with a whole bunch of people at once.
“When we’re younger and perhaps more insecure, our fantasies focus more on making us feel validated,” Lehmiller explained in an interview posted to his blog. “By contrast, when we’re older and have settled into a long-term relationship, our fantasies focus more on breaking sexual routines and fulfilling unmet needs for novelty.”
As might be expected, though he found a high degree of overlap in the type of fantasies generated by men and women—both fantasized about threesomes a lot—he also uncovered some significant and perhaps surprising divergences.
For example, while women are statistically more likely to fantasize about same-sex experiences, men are more likely to entertain “gender bending” fantasies, such as having sex while dressed as a woman, or engaging in sex acts with a transgender person.
Women’s fantasies—again, based on statistical tendencies—fell more into the “rough sex/control” category, while men were more likely to draw on the “forbidden sex” category in their sexual fantasy lives. Women’s fantasies showed a stronger emphasis on the physical setting or location of a sex act. Men, on the other hand, appeared more focused on the identity and characteristics of their partner (or partners) in their fantasized sex acts.
Lehmiller even found political differences in sexual fantasy preferences. Democrats were more likely to fantasize about bondage and other types of rough sex, as well as “gender bending” sex acts. Republicans, statistically, were more into group sex, fetish sex and “cuckolding”—that is, extramarital sex acts with one’s spouse or partner watching—in their innermost fantasy lives.
But perhaps the study’s most surprising result of all was that 97 percent of Americans report fantasizing about sex. The surprise there is that three of every 100 Americans say that they never have sexual fantasies at all.
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