NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, March 29, 2021

Exploring and Normalizing Sexual Fantasies Without Guilt or Shame

Fantasies, including sexual fantasies, are an integral part of most people's lives--and yet many people feel shame and guilt about their sexual fantasies.  In an earlier article, I began a discussion on this topic (see my article: Are You Too Ashamed to Talk to Your Spouse About Your Sexual Fantasies?).  I'm continuing this discussion with a deeper look into the unconscious nature of fantasies.

Exploring Sexual Fantasies Without Shame or Guilt

The Unconscious Logic of Sexual Fantasies
Most people feel too ashamed to talk about their sexual fantasies--even with their therapists.  They might be in therapy for years before they even bring up the topic.  

Even in couples therapy, where a couple is having problems with sex, they are often reluctant to talk about fantasies.  Therefore, as a couples therapist, my job is to help couples with sexual problems to overcome their reluctance to talk to each other and to me.

In his book, Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies, psychotherapist and psychoanalyst, Michael J. Bader, DMH, explores the unconscious logic related to sexual fantasies and how these fantasies are often the "psychological antidote" to fantasizers' fears, guilt and shame.  

A Sexual Fantasy to Counteract Feeling Unattractive
There are many clinical case examples from his psychotherapy private practice in Dr. Bader's book about all kinds of fantasies.  

As an example, Dr. Bader cites the case of Esther, who began to feel depressed and ashamed of her body after the birth of her third child.  Other people's assurances, including her husband's, that she was an attractive woman had no impact on Esther.  If anything, these assurances only made her feel ashamed of the shame she felt about her body.  

One day Esther revealed a sexual fantasy she used during masturbation while she was in a therapy session with Dr. Bader.  

In her fantasy, there were two men who found her very sexually desirable and they were both having sex with her.  She had a very sexy body and she and the men were all able to enjoy sex.  

Their sexual encounter took place during Mardi Gras while other people surrounding them were having fun and deriving vicarious sexual gratification by watching Esther with these men.  

As a result, by using her imagination, Esther's fantasy counteracted her conscious feelings of being unattractive and bolstered her self esteem.  When Esther realized that her sexual fantasy served to counteract feeling unattractive, she no longer felt ashamed and guilty about the fantasy.  She was able to enjoy her fantasy without the burden of guilt or shame.

In each case that Dr. Baden presents in his book, he and his clients develop an understanding of the underlying psychological dynamics related to the fantasies without pathologizing them.  

When clients understand that sexual fantasies are normal and common and they are rooted in their psychological history, they often feel relieved.  This, in turn, allows them to work through longstanding negative thoughts and feelings about their fantasies.

Sexual Fantasies as a Normal Expression of Desires
By paying attention to fantasies, people can come to terms with their deepest desires.

Whether a fantasy is enacted or not, fantasies help people to learn about their longings, which helps to reduce their shame and guilt.

In addition, when couples learn to take the risk of sharing their sexual fantasies with each other, they often increase their emotional intimacy and enrich their sex life.  They can also undo years of shame and guilt as they learn to be more open and live more fully.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been unable to resolve your problems on your own, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist who can help you to overcome the obstacles that keep you from living a fulfilling life.

Taking the first step by contacting a therapist is often the hardest, but it can also be the step that leads to your emotional transformation.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.


Monday, March 15, 2021

Sexual Pleasure and Developing the Erotic Self - Part 2

Individuals and couples who want to improve their sex life often complain that they have lost the erotic spark, and in some cases there was never was much of a spark to begin with.  In my prior two articles, I began an exploration of sexual fantasies and the development of the erotic self and I'm continuing that discussion in this article (see my articles: Are You Too Ashamed to Share Your Sexual Fantasies With Your Spouse? and Sexual Pleasure and Developing the Erotic Self - Part 1)

Sexual Pleasure and Developing the Erotic Self

Sexual Pleasure and Developing the Erotic Self 
When someone has difficulty sharing their sexual fantasies with a spouse or romantic partner, often the difficulty is that they don't feel comfortable with their fantasies for a variety of internal and external reasons (see Part 1 of this topic).

So, a good place to start is for the individual to become more aware and comfortable with their fantasies on their own before they share these sexual fantasies with a partner.  

For many people, especially women, this means learning to access their erotic self without shame or guilt.  

What is Eroticism?
According to Esther Perel, Ph.D., relationship and sex therapist, "eroticism isn't sex. It's sexuality transformed by the human imagination. It's the thoughts, dreams, anticipation, unruly impulses, and even painful memories which make up our vast erotic landscapes."

How Do You Turn Yourself On and How Do You Turn Yourself Off?
As one way to access the erotic self, Dr. Perel recommends exploring what turns you off and what turns you on.  

So, filling in the blanks for yourself: "I turn myself off when..." and "I turn myself on when..."

There are no right or wrong answers,  Everyone's answers will be different.  

So for instance, your answers for turning yourself off might be, "I turn myself off when I worry about my children" or "I turn myself off when I spend too much time on social media."

Likewise, your answers to "I turn myself on when..." might include, "I turn myself on when I dance" or "I turn myself on when I pamper myself in a bubble bath" or "I turn myself on when I use my vibrator" and so on.

Erotic Receptivity and Openness
To experience sexual pleasure, whether it's with a partner or on your own, you need to start from a place of receptivity and openness.  According to Dr. Perel, this doesn't mean saying "yes" or "no" to everything.  It's about being curious and open to being influenced.  

This brings up the issue that being emotionally and/or sexually shutdown.  For some people, this might mean that they have been shut down for many years. 

Not only are they not open to sexual pleasure, but many people feel they're not deserving of pleasure.  So, for people who are struggling with shutdown, the development of the erotic self needs to start gradually, and one way to do this is by becoming aware of how you experience your five senses. 

Using Your Five Senses to Experience Pleasure
As a review, your five senses are:
  • Sight
  • Sound
  • Smell
  • Touch
  • Taste
It's important to start by being patient with yourself.  This isn't a race.  It's more of a gradual unfolding where you allow your curiosity and openness to develop.

Everyone's list of what's pleasurable to them is going to be different.  Note: I'm not referring to sexual pleasure necessarily because for some people that's too threatening a place to start.  

The idea is to start exploring what is pleasurable to you in your everyday life. This might include:
  • Sight: Noticing what catches your eye while you're out for a walk.  Maybe you come across a beautiful garden where you find beauty in the flowers.  Or, maybe you notice a particular color that brings you joy.  Do you have particular associations or memories that get elicited by what you see?
  • Sound: Listening to your favorite music or the sound of the birds when you wake up in the morning might bring you pleasure.  Are there any memories or associations with these sounds?
  • Smell:  Smell can be very evocative.  Maybe someone passes by and you get a whiff of their perfume or after shave cologne.  Maybe you pass a lavender bush and you delight in the fragrance.  If you allow these scents to transport you, where does your mind go? What do you experience in your body?
  • Touch: Touching or being touched can be very powerful.  For instance, if you touch a silky fabric, notice how you experience the richness of the fabric in your hands.  Or, if you go for a massage, how do you feel when the massage therapist rubs massage oil on your body?
  • Taste: You might experience the pleasure of tasting your favorite food or dessert. Rather than gulping it down, take your time. Savor it. Notice what it tastes like on your tongue. Maybe there are layers of taste to a chocolate dessert and you become aware of it as it melts in your mouth.

Check In With Yourself
As you experience your five senses, you might notice that one sense is more pleasurable to you than the rest.  For instance, you might delight in visual stimuli more than auditory stimuli or vice versa.

Ask yourself how you feel as you indulge each of your five senses.  Has your mood changed?  What do you notice in your body?

You might need to make a regular practice of indulging your five senses if you don't notice anything in particular right away.  As I mentioned earlier, this is just one way to start the process of opening up to your own pleasure.

Becoming More Sensitized to Your Body With Physical Exercise
Exercise, especially cardio exercise, is another possibility to help you to become more sensitized to your body, pleasure and your erotic self (always check with your doctor before you begin any exercise program).

Exercise, especially vigorous exercise, can induce sexual arousal because it affects hormones, neurotransmitters and the autonomic nervous system. 

According to Mary Claire Haver, MD, exercise often increases sexual libido.  The reasons for this might include:
  • Feeling better about yourself
  • Having a positive body image
  • Increased blood flow to your genitals
  • Reduction in stress 
Overcoming Psychological Trauma
Whether your trauma is related to sexual abuse or feelings of inadequacy that have nothing to do with sexual abuse, trauma often gets in the way of experiencing yourself as a sexual being and experiencing pleasure.

Developmental trauma, which is trauma that occurred when you were a child, has a lasting impact.  You might not be aware of the impact all the time, but certain situations might trigger unresolved feelings that impact how you feel about yourself and potential partners.

Ignoring the effects of trauma doesn't help.  You can suppress your conscious feelings related to the trauma, but the trauma lives on deep down in the limbic system of your brain. Whether it was a one-time event or ongoing trauma, trauma often has an inhibitory effect on libido and pleasure. 

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people have problems experiencing sexual pleasure (or any kind of pleasure) because of their history--whether it involves childhood trauma or trauma experienced as an adult.

A licensed psychotherapist can help you to overcome the obstacles that are standing in your way, so rather than struggling on your own, seek help from an experienced therapist so you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.



Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sexual Pleasure and the Erotic Self - Part 1

In my last article, Are You Too Ashamed to Share Your Sexual Fantasies With Your Spouse?, I began a discussion about sexual fantasies and the shame and guilt that people often feel about talking to their spouse or partner about those fantasies.  As I mentioned, aside from sharing these fantasies, many people feel ashamed of their own internal fantasies, which creates inhibitions for eroticism and sexual pleasure.

Sexual Pleasure and Developing the Erotic Self

In this article, my focus will be on defining sexual pleasure, the health benefits associated with sex, and the obstacles to developing the female erotic self. 

Although the emphasis is on women in this article, men can also benefit from this information to help their partner to feel more comfortable with her sexual self.

What is Sexual Pleasure?
Developing the erotic self involves knowing what is sexually pleasurable to you.

According to Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., sex educator and author of the New York Times bestseller, Come As You Are, rather than focusing on having an orgasm, which makes sex too performance based, "pleasure is the measure" for individuals' and couples' sexual activity.  This means experiencing pleasure for pleasure's sake.

According to the American Sexual Health Association, "we learn how to experience sexual pleasure for pleasure's sake by understanding our own sexual desires and responses."  

They state that no matter what stimulates sexual pleasure, "we are all sexual beings" so how you choose to behave as a sexual being is up to you.  There is no right or wrong way to experience sexual pleasure.

What Are the Health Benefits of Sex?
Aside from the pleasurable aspects of sex, according to WebMD, sex has been shown to promote health benefits, including:
  • Improving sleep
  • Reducing stress
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Boosting libido (having sex can make sex better and help increase sexual desire)
  • Lowering heart attack risk
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Counting as exercise (sex uses about five calories per minute)
  • Reducing pain by releasing hormones that help raise your pain threshold
Obstacles to Developing the Erotic Self
Here is a brief summary of the issues that can create obstacles to the development of the erotic self:
  • Early Childhood Experiences, including Trauma: From an early age, children are often forbidden to explore their bodies sexually.  Children who are caught masturbating are often shamed by their parents.  Some parents have even told their children that touching their genitals is a "sin" or that there will be negative consequences to masturbating, like growing hair on the palms of their hands.  So, these children learn that touching themselves is shameful and, by extension, sex is shameful.  In addition, children who are sexually abused are traumatized. They often blame themselves for the abuse and can grow up to associate sex with being "bad" or "dirty."
  • Shame and Guilt Related to Religious or Political Views: Some religions and spiritual communities expressly forbid children from exploring their bodies sexually through self touch and masturbation.  Even more liberal spiritual communities often tell children and adolescents that they will learn about sex after they are married.  However, this causes many adolescents to shut down sexually so they have little awareness of their bodies, and this shutdown continues into adulthood after they are married.  In addition, adults, who have certain political views, might judge their sexual fantasies as being inconsistent with their political views. For instance, a woman who considers herself a feminist might feel ashamed of her sexual fantasy to be dominated sexually by a man (see my article:  Destigmatizing Sexual Fantasies of Power and Submission).
  • Societal Objectification of Women: Women are often used to sell products, like cars, magazines or other products. As such, women are objectified and seen as being sexual solely for the pleasure of men.  
  • Internalized Sexism and Misogyny: Related to societal perceptions of women as sexual beings, women often internalize these perceptions because the message is so pervasive.  
  • Body Image Problems: The images that women often see in magazines, online and on TV are of women with "perfect bodies." The message, which is often not so subtle, is that if you're a woman and you don't have a body like these images, you are inferior.  This often creates problems with body image which can lead to body dysmorphia and, in some cases, eating disorders.
  • Stress, Anxiety and Burnout: Stress, anxiety and burnout are big obstacles to sexual pleasure.  When someone is overwhelmed, they cannot relax enough to experience pleasure.  
Overcoming these obstacles to developing an erotic self can be formidable, but not impossible.  In my next article, I'll focus on how to experience sexual pleasure and develop the erotic self.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been unable to overcome obstacles that are hindering you, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who can help you to overcome these problems.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed psychotherapist so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW -- NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Are You Too Ashamed to Share Your Sexual Fantasies With Your Spouse?

Fantasies, including sexual fantasies, are a normal part of most people's lives.  Sexual fantasies have the potential to spice up a couple's sex life, but couples often feel too emotionally vulnerable to share their fantasies with their significant other. So, when faced with the question of whether or not to share your sexual fantasies with your partner, like so many other things, it depends (see my article: How to Talk to Your Spouse About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

Are You Too Ashamed to Share Your Sexual Fantasies With Your Spouse?

Why Are Couples Too Ashamed to Talk About Sex?
Over time in my work with individual adults and couples, I've discovered that many people feel too uncomfortable to talk to their partner about sex--let alone talk about their sexual fantasies.

Often, when I raise this issue in a therapy session, clients cringe.  Even people who have been in long term relationships have problems talking about sex.

When I explore this with individual clients, I often get responses like, "She'll think I'm abnormal" or "I would be too embarrassed to talk to my husband about sex" or "We just don't talk about sex."

The thought of talking about sex often makes people feel uncomfortable and too emotionally vulnerable.  They're afraid their spouse will shame them, make fun of them or dismiss their fantasies as "weird" or "crazy."  

Cultural, Religious or Political Beliefs as Obstacles to Sexual Fantasies
There might also be cultural, religious or political beliefs that create obstacles.  This isn't to say that in some instances, they're not right. Some spouses can be judgmental about fantasies, especially if they've never learned to accept their own sexual fantasies. 

However, when couples avoid talking about sex and sexual fantasies, they're often missing out on a rich source that would enliven their sex life.

Negative Judgments About Your Own Sexual Fantasies
Another possible obstacle is that a person might feel ashamed of their own thoughts and fantasies.  

For instance, a woman, who identifies herself as a feminist, might judge herself for having a sexual fantasy of being "taken" by a man.  In reality, she might never want this in real life, but in her fantasy, she gets turned on by it--at first.   Then, she feels ashamed of it.

Sexual Fantasies Don't Necessarily Have to Be Acted On
People often don't understand that their fantasies don't necessarily have to be acted on in reality.  These fantasies could be used to get things hot in the bedroom but, instead, they remain closely guarded secrets.

Sexual Fantasies For Self Pleasure
Aside from sharing fantasies with a spouse, sexual fantasies can also be used in self pleasuring/masturbation.  

Women, especially, could benefit from this because it helps them to learn what turns them on and, in many cases, it also helps them to learn about their genitalia.  

To Share or Not to Share Your Sexual Fantasies
At the beginning of this article, when addressing whether to share fantasies, I said, "It depends."  

For instance, if your sexual fantasy involves having sex with the next door neighbor, you might want to think twice about divulging this fantasy.  Then again--maybe that would be a turn on for your spouse.  

As another example, if you and your spouse have been having problems in bed, would it make your partner feel better or worse to hear your sexual fantasies?  Would it improve things or make them worse?

Some people would experience it as a blow to their self confidence. It might make them feel sexually inadequate or as one man said, recoiling after he heard his partner's fantasy, "You want me to do what!?!" 

For many other people, it would open up a dialogue that could inspire creativity in the bedroom.  

So, as I said, it depends.

Start By Asking Yourself: "Would I Feel Comfortable Hearing My Partner's Fantasies?"
It might be good to start by asking yourself what you would feel comfortable hearing from your partner.

For instance, even if you and your partner agreed beforehand not to act on the fantasy, would you feel comfortable hearing your partner's sexual fantasy about someone else?  

Would you be turned on or would it make you feel insecure?  Many people would feel uncomfortable, but others would be very turned on, especially if they felt safe enough in their relationship to know that the fantasy would remain between them.

Taking an Emotional Risk to Talk About Your Sexual Fantasies
Once you have a better understanding of what you would be willing to hear from your partner, if your partner is open minded, you might consider taking an emotional risk to divulge a sexual fantasy.

If your sexual fantasy involves your spouse, you could really spice things up in the bedroom when you tell them about it.  

But it's important for you to feel safe emotionally first. 

This is, of course, assumes that you're in touch with your own fantasies and that you don't brush them aside and dismiss them because you feel ashamed.

I'll continue to explore this issue in future articles.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many individuals and couples feel emotionally and sexually shutdown or they have other sexual problems. 

If you and your partner have problems discussing sex, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in helping people to overcome these problems.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Relationships: Whereas Women Usually Need Emotional Connection to Connect Sexually, Men Often Need Sex to Connect Emotionally

Although emotional intimacy can be expressed verbally and nonverbally, words are usually privileged over nonverbal expressions these days.  Generally, women are much better at verbal expressions of love and intimacy, whereas men often don't have the verbal skills so they use nonverbal expressions (see Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel, Ph.D and my article: Understanding Men Who Get Their Emotional Needs Met Through Sex).

Relationships: Men's Nonverbal Expressions of Emotional Intimacy and Connection

Conveying Emotional Intimacy in My Great Grandparents' Time vs Today
In my great grandparents' time, marriage was a pragmatic arrangement.  Couples didn't expect to be in love during their courtship or the early stage of marriage.  

Instead, the expectation was that love would develop over time.  Marriages were an economic arrangement where men were expected to work and women bore children and took care of the home.  

Since they weren't necessarily in love, they expressed their caring for one another nonverbally through their activities: She cooked for him, washed his clothes, and took care of the household.  He was the breadwinner that sustained the family financially.  

In those earlier marriages, extended family lived together.  Their lives were more entwined, so rather than seeking emotional intimacy, family members sought privacy.  

In my great grandparents' day, couples tended not to ask each other, "Why don't you ever tell me that you love me?" because their nonverbal expressions were sufficient to convey their feelings of emotional connection.  

Today, except for couples who live with family for economic reasons, couples live on their own in more socially isolated circumstances.  So, they rely on each other for emotional intimacy to overcome feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Couples today rely on words to convey how they feel.  Rather than developing emotional intimacy over time, as in my great grandparents' time, couples today expect emotional intimacy immediately.  

Because of women's greater ability to express themselves in words, they are at an advantage in contemporary times. Also, from an early age, women are raised to be relationship builders, so they're generally better at it as compared to men.

Men Often Need Sex to Connect Emotionally vs Women Who Usually Need Emotional Connection to Connect Sexually
Men often express emotional intimacy and enjoy the pleasure of connection through sex.  This puts them at a disadvantage in a culture that privileges verbal expressions.  They're often unfairly accused of having a "fear of intimacy" if they can't put their emotions into words.

Another potential problem is that, whereas men often need sex to connect emotionally, women usually need emotional connection to have sex.  So, many women believe that their significant other is only interested in sex (rather than emotional connection) because they don't understand how men connect emotionally and men are often unable to explain it.

Learning to Value Nonverbal Expressions of Emotional Intimacy and Connection
I'm certainly not suggesting that couples should go back to the way things were in my great grandparents' day.  No one wants that.  Life was hard back then, and women often felt compelled to remain in marriages because they didn't have the freedom to leave.  

Overall, women have more economic freedom today, so there is no expectation that they remain in a marriage.

But, rather than always valuing verbal expressions, can a couple learn to recognize nonverbal expressions of emotional intimacy and connection?

What about recognizing acts of kindness, gifts, spending time together, and other nonverbal gestures that men are more likely to show?

If couples could learn to value these nonverbal expressions of emotional intimacy, there would be much less conflict in relationships.  

Over time, men can learn to develop the verbal skills to express their love.  It takes practice on their part and patience on the part of their significant other.

Getting Help in Therapy
It's not unusual for couples to have difficulty understanding their partner's way of expressing love.

If you and your partner are having problems, rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who works with couples.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.


Monday, March 1, 2021

Destigmatizing Sexual Fantasies of Power and Submission in Relationships

I have been exploring topics related to sexuality in my recent articles, including What is Good Sex?, Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes, Overcoming Problems With Spontaneous Sexual Arousal vs Context-Dependent Arousal and To Rekindle Passion Fire Needs Air.  In this article, I'm focusing on destigmatizing sexual fantasies of power and submission in relationships.

Destigmatizing Sexual Fantasies of Power and Submission in Relationships

Political Beliefs About Egalitarianism vs Erotic Pleasure
The Women's Movement fought hard to reduce gender inequality.  To their credit, the Women's Movement also brought to light the double standard which criticized women for sexual experimentation while applauding men who roamed sexually, including sexist attitudes of "Boys will be boys"and "That's how men are." 

The Women's Movement showed that these gender differences aren't biologically rooted--they're social constructions which needed to change.  

Books like Our Bodies, Ourselves by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective also served to restore a sense of sexual ownership to women--both legally and psychologically.

In her book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, Dr. Esther Perel posits that, while the contributions of the Women's Movement were undeniably positive, there were also some unintended consequences.  She believes that the emphasis on egalitarianism in sexuality, which purged any expressions of power, aggression, and transgression, is antithetical to erotic desire for both men and women.

According to Dr. Perel, while power and control dynamics are problematic in an emotional relationship, these same dynamics, when eroticized, become sexually pleasurable for many couples.

Sexual Dynamics of Power and Submission Have Become More Common
Whereas in the past sexual power and submission were considered fringe behavior, during recent years, these dynamics have become more common and acceptable among consenting adults behind closed doors.

According to a study published in the March 3, 2016 edition of The Journal of Sex Research, nearly 47% of women and 60% of men have fantasized about dominating someone sexually.  

The same study revealed that almost 47% of adults would like to participate in some form of nontraditional sexual activity, and 33.9% said they were involved in some form of nontraditional sexual activity in the last year.

Destigmatizing Sexual Fantasies of Power and Submission
At one point, many mental health practitioners considered sexual power and submission practices to be pathological.  

However, in 2013 the American Psychiatric Association (APA)  destigmatized these sexual practices in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5).  For the first time, the APA made a distinction between consenting adults who engage in these sexual activities and those who force others to engage in these behaviors without consent.

Rather than pathologizing these sexual dynamics, many therapists understand that a couple's political beliefs about equality in their everyday life might be in sharp contrast to what they find sexually pleasurable during erotic play.

Destigmatizing Sexual Fantasies of Power and Submission
The following examples are a composite of many different heterosexual couples and have no identifying information:

Sue and Dan
During the day, Sue, who owns her own business, makes many important decisions involving staffing, business strategy and the financial aspects of her business.  She is a strong supporter of women's rights and considers herself a feminist.  However, when she and her spouse, Dan, are having sex, she prefers to allow him to be the dominant one and she takes on the role of the submissive.

Two years before, when they first started seeing one another, Sue felt embarrassed at first to tell Dan that she preferred to be dominated in bed.  However, when she finally summoned the courage to tell him, Dan was excited about it.  

To start, they established a "safe word," which they agreed upon. They agreed that when spoken the safe word ensures that the current act stops immediately.  They also negotiated other agreements in terms of informed consent about all their sexual activities.

Dan, who usually deferred to Sue in their everyday life, liked the idea of being dominant in the bedroom.  This power dynamic in their everyday life didn't change.  Like Sue, he had never played with sexual power dynamics in his previous relationships, so this was all new to him.  But both of them soon discovered that it added excitement to their sex life.

Jan and Ed
Ed was a senior partner at a large law firm.  He often worked long hours. He was under a lot of pressure to bring in new business for his firm.  

He and Jan were married for five years.  Early on in their relationship Jan and Ed experimented with their sexual fantasies of power and submission.  

Since Ed had many responsibilities at work, he enjoyed being submissive during sex with Jan.  Jan, who had a more passive personality in her everyday life and in her relationship with Ed, enjoyed being dominant during sex.  It really turned Ed on to allow Jan to be in control sexually, and it made Jan feel empowered in a way she had never felt before.  

Occasionally, just to be playful and to add something new to their sexual activities, they switched roles and Jan was the submissive sexual partner while Ed was dominant.  They were both adventurous and liked to be playful with new roles and exploring new fantasies.

Whereas sexual fantasies about power and submission were pathologized as being "abnormal" in the past, they are now accepted by most contemporary psychotherapists as being a normal part of sex.

It's normal for there to be a difference between how a person might be in their everyday life in terms of gender egalitarianism and what they find erotically exciting.  

As discussed in the examples above, a person who has a dominant personality in his or her everyday life might fantasize and enjoy being submissive sexually and vice versa. Some couples alternate roles between being submissive and dominant.

Trust and informed consent between consenting adults are crucial to sexual dynamics involving power and submission.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.