Why sexual fantasies can be healthy in a strong relationship
Healthy sexuality is a positive expression of your desires, thoughts, needs and of erotica and is personally defined. It should not necessarily be defined by what your partner wants or by the views of your peer group, or, for that matter, by the influences of your upbringing. That said, there are perhaps some universal characteristics that could be viewed as comprising how all forms of healthy sexuality get expressed in relationships across all cultures. These could be honesty, openness, transparency, safety, trust and mutual respect, to name just a few.
When a relationship bond allows for the sharing of sexual fantasies there can be greater mutual exploration within a safe space. This can help create a more meaningful emotional connection. It can also allow for deeper levels of relating as the degrees of trust deepen.
Uninhibited sharing of personal desire is the antidote to shame. Shame is the antithesis of the healthy outward expression of sexuality. When we feel shame we can go to an internal space, that is often secret and dark and where we are less likely to have our emotional needs met in a healthy way. Shame can trigger self-sabotage behaviour and can perpetuate negative feelings of self.
When sexual fantasies can become unhealthy
Sexual fantasies can become unhealthy when you want to act them out in spite of consequential negative impacts on your relationship and on other aspects of your life. For example, fantasising about being with someone else sexually and lying to your partner about your motives and intentions with that person will damage your relationship. Leading a double life can also create guilt and can contribute to psychological distress. In addition, whilst it may sound counter-intuitive, secretive affairs can also occur within the confines of ‘open’ relationships, when openness and transparency are ground-rules. This is when one person acts outside an agreement as they might, for instance, be drawn to what they perceive to be the forbidden i.e. outside the agreement of an open relationship. That sense of what is considered the forbidden part becomes attractive and seductive.
Sexual fantasies may not be anticipatory fantasy associated with sex addiction
It is important to realise that sexual fantasies can be very healthy expressions of sexuality and are not to be confused with the anticipatory fantasy associated with sex addiction. Having a high sex drive and sharing your fantasies within a committed loving relationship are entirely normal and healthy. Sex addiction, on the other hand, is a behavioural addiction (or sometimes called 'process addiction') when a person engages in repeat behaviour in spite of negative consequences. It can involve loss of control, obsession, preoccupation, objectification of self and others as well as an overwhelming feeling of shame. Anticipatory fantasy can be when shame is activated and this is when someone will call numerous escorts, for example, to find out about the services on offer. The 'high' is not the sexual act, rather it is the constant thinking in the build-up to calling around and the intrigue about the encounter.
Healthy relationships are ones where there are good levels of communication, trust and safety as well as mutual respect.
Seeking help for defining a healthy sexuality
Counselling and psychotherapy can help you to define your own boundaries about what you want in terms of sexual desire and help you to negotiate your needs and desires with your partner. Creating boundaries should not be seen as a sign of secrecy or distrust. The process of creating your own boundaries is a healthy expression of what makes you feel safe and comfortable and what expectations you have about what you want to happen within your relationship.
Therapy can also be a place where you can explore shaming behaviour and address areas of your life that cause unhappiness. Problem areas can be addressed such as people-pleasing, putting the needs of others ahead of your own, low self-esteem, shyness, sexual identity and fear of abandonment.
Article reviewed 20th November 2018.