Why People Have Sexual Fantasies About Things They Don’t Want To Do in Real Life
Updated: Mar 23
by Ella Dorval Hall January 16, 2023
A sexual fantasy is an image or idea of something that is arousing to you. It might be something you desire doing, or something you simply enjoy thinking about doing. Because of this imagination component, some sexual fantasies center on things we have no interest doing in real life. For instance, maybe you've caught yourself fantasizing about cheating on your partner or some other scenario that doesn't align with your values and isn't reflective of how you'd act in real life. While it's easy to assume that fantasies are a direct blueprint to the erotic desires we'd like to see out, sex experts say this isn't always the case: There are reasons you have sexual fantasies you don't want to act on in real life.
“[Sexual fantasies] are a way of combining memories with desires and other emotions to achieve some sort of outcome,” says Dulcinea Pitagora, PhD, a psychotherapist and sex therapist. You might imagine a detailed account of a past sexual experience or of a made-up person, celebrity, or even an alien spanking you, taking control, or performing sexual acts on them. You can have sexual fantasies about absolutely anything, and when that does include situations you don't consciously aim to live out, feelings of shame can emerge. But according to experts, there’s no need to devote much thought to content of your sexual fantasies that don't reflect your real-life instincts or desires.
The reason you have sexual fantasies about things you don’t want to do in real life
There are actually several reasons people fantasize about sexual behaviors that they don’t want to try in real life. For starters, playing out a fantasy in your head can feel much safer than doing it in real life. Sometimes, “people fantasize about things they don't want to do in person because it feels safe in their head,” says Marla Renee Stewart, MA, sex expert sexual wellness brand Lovers. When you're simply thinking or imagining, she adds, there's no reason to feel guilty or need to let anyone know about your fantasy, and this can be part of the very allure of fantasizing in general.
“People fantasize about things they don't want to do in person because it feels safe in their head.” —Marla Renee Stewart, sexpert
Practically speaking, some people fantasize about things they don’t actually want to do in real life because it would be impossible to do so, says Carol Queen, PhD, Good Vibrations staff sexologist. If your fantasies involve aspects of science-fiction, like sex with aliens, for example, it’s not even an option to try in real life.
Both of these reasons underscore the overarching value in fantasizing about things you wouldn't do in real life: They’re just that—fantasies. That means they can exist exactly how we want, which is often superior to what may play out in real life. “Even scenarios that we might want to become reality will never exactly play out the way we imagine them because they are different by definition,” says Dr. Pitagora, adding that the real experience may not always live up to your expectations, or you may enjoy exactly how the fantasy plays out in your mind, and you don’t want the real life experience to cloud your enjoyment.
How to know if you want to try your fantasy
The first question to ask yourself is whether the fantasy includes any potentially dangerous or damaging components, says Dr. Queen. For instance, “Are you imagining sex with someone who doesn't desire you back? Is what you desire legal where you reside?” she says. Also take into consideration what, if any, consequences there would be.
Next, imagine yourself actually acting out the fantasy and take note of how it feels. If you feel an aversion as you picture yourself enacting the fantasy, Dr. Pitagora says this may be a sign you don’t want to try the fantasy. Alternatively, if you feel excitement, take note of what exactly excites you.
You might even write down a list of pros and cons of what excites you and what you don’t like, Stewart suggests. If you have a lengthy list of cons and only a few items on the pros side, this might be a sign that it’s not a good fit, and vice versa.
And if you find yourself often stuck in thought trying to understand the reason you have sexual fantasies that you don't want to act on in real life, Stewart recommends seeking out the support of as sex therapist. You may find that there are elements of your fantasy—such as power, sensations, or emotions—that you enjoy and want to try out. Or you may find that this fantasy is enjoyable simply because it’s a fantasy.