Is It Normal to Fantasize About Someone Other Than Your Partner?

The low-down on your dirty thoughts

Updated 08/27/17

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Ever caught yourself thinking about sleeping with the star of your favorite show? Ever thought about someone else while having sex with your partner? Have you masturbated to someone (or someones) other than your SO?

Are you feeling a bit squeamish about one or more of the questions above?

We’re fed these ideas about faithfulness and sexual shame. We’re told that we are in this until “death do us part” and if so much as look or think about another person you are a bad spouse or partner.

This is a myopic way to look at sexuality and is straight up unrealistic. So, before you go making yourself sick with guilt because you rubbed one out to the hot barista who serves you your double Americano every morning, read this.

Fantasy is a part of the human experience.

Our imaginations are fed and encouraged when we’re children. We’re told to let ourselves freely explore boundless modes of fantasy. This exploration of the mind is just as healthy when you’re an adult as it is when you’re a child.

When you’re older, your imagination just gets a little sexier.

We have rich fantasy lives that include a broad scope of sexuality. Fantasizing about someone else is just your mind at work. It’s a place to explore what brings you pleasure.

“Our brain is our largest sex organ," says Dr. Janet Morrison, PhD, a certified clinical sexologist and sex and relationship coach. "Fantasy, along with erotic touch, is key to arousal. Fantasy plays an important role in stimulating arousal during masturbation sessions.”

Fantasy is an escape to from the real world. You’re not doing anything wrong by letting your mind wander. When you fantasize about being an astronaut or a neurosurgeon, you’re not being disloyal to your career, after all...

It isn’t a betrayal to have sexual thoughts outside of your relationship. Thinking about someone else during sex is your mind’s way of offering you alternative stimulus. It may even give you a few role play ideas for you and your partner to try out.

No, it doesn’t mean you’re unhappy in your relationship.

This is where we tend to get bogged down. We think that if we have a sexual fantasy about another person we must be unhappy in our relationship.

Please give yourself more credit than that. You have a few dirty thoughts about the luscious blonde woman who works the front desk at your gym and you’re a bad person who’s unhappy in your primary partnership? No! If you put yourself under that amount of pressure, of course you’re going to feel terrible. So get out of that vicious cycle and remember that fantasy is a part of being a person. Thinking about other people during sex is not the same thing as going out and having sex with them. Now, if that is something you want to do, that’s another conversation (though this also doesn’t make you a bad person if you do it IRL, by the way).

Our minds are built to create.

Your brain is not a fixed organ that only focuses on what it should focus on. It is an extremely complicated piece of equipment. That said, how many times have you been told you have a dirty mind? This is all rooted in that shame we talked about before. The brain isn’t meant to be boxed in. You’re in a long-term relationship, not dead...

“Long-term relationships that have flourished past the honeymoon phase (usually six months to two years) often need a bit of a boost to get the same dopamine response that came automatically in the beginning," Dr. Morrison says. "Doing something new and exciting with one’s partner (i.e. role-playing one of your favorite fantasies) can help add spark back to a lackluster sex drive.”

Your fantasies are a sexual landscape that your mind wants to fully explore. When you see someone sexy on television, it imprints on your mind—your brain sends signals to the rest of your body from the reward center. Then, when you are masturbating or having sex with your partner later on, your mind goes back to that image. It remembers the positive feelings you accrued when you focused in on that image in the first place.

This is all perfectly normal.

So, before you go drowning yourself in wine and bubble baths because you’re experiencing a recurring fantasy wherein you are the center of an orgy that may or may not include several work colleagues (or just the classic Fabio steam sesh), relax. Everyone fantasizes about other people. No biggie.

Gigi Engle is a sex educator and writer living in NYC. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.

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