What Is Fantasy?


An Example of Fantasy as a Tool to Heal



Our fantasies allow us to negate and undo the limits put upon us by our conscience, by our culture, and by our self-image.


If we feel insecure and unattractive, in our fantasies we are irresistible. If we anticipate a withholding woman, in fantasy she’s insatiable; if we fear our own aggression, in our internal reveries we can feel powerful without worrying we might hurt another. If we don’t dare ask, in our erotic imaginings the other knows our needs even before we do; if we feel we shouldn’t have sex, in our private theater we can surrender to a lustful other without having to bear the responsibility—we did what he wanted, it wasn’t us. Fantasy expresses the problem and provides the solution. It is a fervid space, where our inhibiting fear is transformed into brazenness. What a relief to find our shame now curiosity, our timidity now assertiveness, our helplessness now sovereignty.

Fantasy does not, however, always take the form of elaborate, scripted scenarios. Many people think that if they don’t fantasize with carefully orchestrated plots and well-drawn characters, then they’re not fantasizing at all. This is particularly true for women, who seem to have a harder time owning their sexual thoughts in general. My patient Claudia once described to me in fulsome detail, how she would like her husband to approach her. She envisioned a slow, gradually unfolding dance of seduction throughout the day, with tantalizing conversations, light kisses on the nape, gentle touches, warm smiles and sidelong glances. “I want him to touch my arm without touching my breast. I want him to tease me, to move in a bit sexually and then pull back, to make me want. I want to ask him to touch my breast,” she explains.

“And if he did these things?” I ask.

“We would have an entirely different sexual relationship,” she answers.

When I asked her about her fantasy life, she assures me, “I don’t fantasize. Jim does, but I don’t. He is all into threesomes.” I was stunned. I said, “Are you kidding? Your entire description of foreplay and anticipation is fantasy. It’s certainly not reality, is it?”

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To my thinking, sexual fantasy includes any mental activity that generates desire and intensifies enthusiasm. These thoughts need not be graphic, or even well-defined. They’re often inarticulate, more feeling than image, more sensuous than sexual. Virtually anything can work its way into one’s erotic imagination. Memories, smells, sounds, words, specific times of the day, textures—all can be considered fantasy as long as they set in motion the arc of desire.

This article was originally published at Esther Perel. Reprinted with permission from the author.