That beautiful stranger is looking at you again; your eyes meet across a busy café and that spark jolts straight to your stomach. Your mind is right on cue, quickly imagining the two of you checking into the nearest hotel and getting down to it. But wait...you’re in a relationship already. So, when does fantasizing about someone else become unhealthy? And what—if anything—can you do about this little conundrum?
To answer those questions and more, we consulted clinical psychologist and sex therapist Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist.
Why Do We Fantasize About Other People?
When you’re in a happy, loving relationship, thinking about someone new may set alarm bells off in your mind. But before you spiral into a whirlwind of self-doubt and misplaced guilt, take a second to realize that fantasizing about people is not the catastrophic life event you may be picturing.
Having fantasies is normal! "People fantasize because it is a healthy part of the human experience," explains Jones. "While not all people have sexual fantasies, I would say the largest portion of the population does."
Whether you see a cute stranger on the bus or have a sexy thought about the barista who served you in Starbucks, there’s no reason to freak out. "This doesn’t mean that you are not happy in your relationship, or that you would be unfaithful to your partner, or that you want to have sex with someone else. Sometimes they are just nice thoughts to have," adds Jones.
The Benefits of Fantasizing
Playing a steamy movie inside your head can come with a whole wealth of advantages. Fantasizing about somebody gives your sex life a whole new dimension. Let’s take a look at some of the main benefits.
More sexual pleasure.
Thoughts are just that—thoughts. You don’t have to act on them for them to be exciting or thrilling. However, if thinking about someone else gets you revved up, that might be a positive thing for your sex life. There’s nothing wrong with imagining that certain someone ahead of getting hot with your partner. Sexual fantasies play an important role when it comes to your sexual pleasure, according to research from the University of Granada. Put simply, letting your imagination run wild could help you get in the mood.
Understanding your desires.
While you may be fantasizing about someone else, pay attention to what else is going on. Are you getting it on in public? Are they fulfilling some desire that your partner doesn’t? Are you doing something new in the bedroom? These details could give you an insight into your deeper desires. Rather than judging these fantasies as wrong or inappropriate, consider what they are telling you about your needs. Should your mind keep wandering to that attractive coworker, for example, think about what they represent for you.
So, you might not want to act on your fantasy and sleep with someone else (if you do, that’s an entirely different conversation. See: open relationships). But that doesn’t mean that the fun and games have to end there. Why not use your fantasy as inspiration when role-playing with your partner? "In my professional experience, I have found that people find great fulfillment in finding ways to live out their fantasies," explains Jones. "It has been very helpful in couples therapy, as a tool to reinvigorate their sex lives."
Types of Fantasies
When you’re thinking about getting down to it with another person, what exactly are you up to? Research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine identified some of the most common sexual fantasies. The findings suggested that many women fantasize about submission—i.e. being tied up—while few of those women would like their fantasy to come true. Aside from that, there are a couple of main types of sexual fantasies.
These types of sexual fantasies might include a taboo element. For example, you might fantasize about someone else giving you a 'golden shower,' having sex with a prostitute, or cross-dressing as part of your sexual play. Whatever your desires, it’s important to realize that daydreaming about a hot scenario is not the same as acting upon it. However, you can learn from these fantasies and safely act them out.
The most common types of fantasies are different for men and women. The same research found that women often fantasize about having sex with someone in a romantic location, while many men are drawn to the idea of two women having sex. People of all genders often fantasize about receiving oral sex. Of course, there’s a rainbow array of fantasies you could be having about someone other than your partner. Go with it.
What Does Having Fantasies Mean?
Worried that your fantasy sexual escapades have a deep, dark meaning? Relax. Thinking about someone else doesn’t have to mean that you’re ready to throw in the towel when it comes to your current relationship. Chances are, this fleeting thought is no big deal. "I don’t think they mean anything, except the person perhaps finds the idea and concept pleasurable. And this in itself is a good thing," offers Jones.
"If we are talking romantically or sexually, the truth is a lot of couples lack creativity in the bedroom and often feel that things become boring, so their sex life dwindles down," continues Jones. "Interestingly, some of the same couples have sexual fantasies. So I give them permission and encourage them to act out those fantasies with one another and feel the sense of excitement and exploration that they did earlier in their relationship."
How to Get Rid of Unwanted Fantasies
Fixating on a sexual fantasy that’s not serving you well can be exhausting and troubling. In these instances, you may want to banish those fantasies once and for all. Fortunately, Jones has advice on how to manage this issue.
"People who want to get rid of unwanted fantasies may benefit from seeing a therapist, especially someone who focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy," says Jones. You can speak to your doctor or look online for the support you need. "However, I want to reiterate that thought does not equal action. There is a difference between thinking about something and actually doing something. You should not feel bad about your thoughts."
Sierra JC, Gómez-Carranza J, Álvarez-Muelas A, Cervilla O. Association of sexual attitudes with sexual function: general vs. specific attitudes. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(19):10390. doi:10.3390/ijerph181910390
Joyal CC, Cossette A, Lapierre V. What exactly is an unusual sexual fantasy? J Sex Med. 2015;12(2):328-340. doi:10.1111/jsm.12734