NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Relationships: Fantasizing About Someone Else During Sex

Couples who are in a monogamous relationship make a commitment that they'll be emotionally and sexually committed exclusively to each other.  So, having sex with someone else is definitely outside of that commitment.  But what about having sexual fantasies about someone else during sex?  Is that harmful to the relationship? (see my article: The 7 Core Sexual Fantasies).

Fantasizing About Someone Else During Sex

When Do Sexual Fantasies About Someone Else Become a Problem?
Most sex therapists would agree that sexual fantasies about someone else is normal and natural.  In a study conducted by the Journal of Sex Research, 80% of women and 98% of men indicated that they had sexual fantasies about people other than their partner (see my articles: Sexual Pleasure and Developing the Erotic Self - Part 1 and Part 2).

Sexual fantasies, even when they're about someone else, can help to stimulate sexual arousal, especially in long term relationships when one or both people might not be in the mood to have sex at times.

These fantasies can be the kind of sexual psychological stimulation that can spice things up (see my article: Changing Your Sex Script: Enhancing Sexual Motivation With Sexual Psychological Stimulation).

Many couples, who talk openly about their sexual fantasies, get turned on when they share their fantasies.  They're able to distinguish thoughts from action and neither partner feels threatened by these fantasies.  However, it often depends on the fantasy (see my articles: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

For instance, a wife might be comfortable hearing about a fantasy about an actress from a TV program--someone her husband will most likely never meet.  But hearing her husband's sexual fantasy about her best friend would probably be too close for comfort and not a fantasy that should be shared.

Sexual fantasies about someone else are neither good nor bad per se.  It all depends on how you're using these fantasies.  As previous stated, they can be used to spice things up, but spending too much time dwelling on them can get in the way of developing sexual intimacy with your partner (see my article: Understanding Your Sex Script).

Clinical Vignettes: Sexual Fantasies About Others
The following fictionalized scenarios illustrate the instances in which sexual fantasies can be helpful and when they can be harmful:

Scenario 1: Jill and Ed
Married for 15 years and in a monogamous relationship, Jill and Ed continued to enjoy a passionate sex life together.  

They communicated with each other about what they enjoyed sexually and found ways to keep their sex life passionate by being creative and open to new ideas, including sex toys, watching ethical pornography, and talking about their fantasies.  Part of discussing their fantasies was talking openly about their sexual attractions to TV and movie characters that they watched together.  

They both understood that neither of them had any intention of going outside their relationship to have sex with anyone else.  They used their fantasies about others to understand what these sexual attractions were about and how they could use them to spice up their sex life.  Sometimes, they used these fantasies to engage in sexual role playing, which they both enjoyed.  All of this enhanced their lovemaking and brought them closer together emotionally.

Scenario 2: Ann and Rob
Ann and Rob were in a tumultuous 15 year marriage with many ups and downs.  They frequently argued because Rob continued to live his life as if he were still single by "going out with the boys" often.

While he never cheated on Ann with other women, he would make plans with his friends to go out without consulting with her about plans she might have been interested in.  Although he would promise to change whenever Ann complained about it, he would break his promises regularly, which was disappointing and frustrating for Ann.  

This dynamic and the broken promises also eroded Ann's trust in Rob.  Over time, she became so angry and hurt that it also caused her to lose interest in having sex with Rob.  But sometimes, to appease him, she acquiesced to his sexual overtures.  During those times, she emotionally distanced herself from Rob by fantasizing about a former boyfriend while she and Rob were having sex.  

Rob could tell that Ann was emotionally removed and he would try to talk to her about it afterwards.  But Ann refused to talk about it so, over time, Rob and Ann grew apart and they each became increasingly dissatisfied with their relationship.  Eventually, they stopped having sex.  Instead, they each masturbated privately while thinking about other people.

Scenario 1 demonstrates how sexual fantasies about others can spice up a couple's sex life, especially because the couple is secure and they trust one another.  The fantasies help to get them in mood.  They also help them to be more creative in their lovemaking in terms of creating novelty and sexual excitement.

Scenario 2 illustrates how sexual fantasies about others can be used defensively to ward off emotional and sexual intimacy with a partner.  This couple have a lot of built up resentments that they haven't worked out.  Eventually, this led to a stalemate where they stop having sex and they're just co-existing in the same household.  

This couple could benefit from seeking help from in couples therapy where they can learn to talk about their problems, change their dynamics, and build back trust (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples?).

Getting Help in Therapy
Everyone needs help sometimes.  This is especially true if you've reached a stalemate with your problems.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome the obstacles that keep you from leading 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