NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, April 2, 2023

Sexual Explorations: Substitute the Words "What's Your Fantasy?" With "What Are You Sexually Curious About?"

In her excellent book, Sex Talks, Sex Therapist Vanessa Marin discusses how to make sexual communication easier and less intimidating when talking about potential sexual fantasies (see my article: Exploring and Normalizing Sexual Fantasies Without Guilt or Shame).

What Are You Sexually Curious About?

According to Ms. Marin, many people become intimidated when their partner asks them about their sexual fantasies (see my article: Finding Your Sexual Voice).

I've also noticed this with individuals and couples who come to see me for sex therapy in my private practice in New York City.  

There's something about the words "sexual fantasies" that induce shame and guilt in many people. It's as if they think their partner is asking them to provide detailed full length narratives about things they want to try in bed.  As a result, they feel ashamed, their mind goes blank, and this shuts down the conversation.  

Rather than thinking of sexual fantasies as possibilities in an open ended way, they believe they should know what they like, how they like it, when they want it, and so on.  

But when people approach sex from the perspective of new possibilities, it's not necessary to know every detail because it's an open-ended exploration.

According to Ms. Marin, a better way to approach talking about fantasies is asking, "What are you sexually curious about?" because this helps to open up the conversation to sexual possibilities and it's less intimidating for many people than using the word "fantasies."

For example, being sexually curious, it's enough to just be able to say something like, "I've always been curious about trying the reverse cowgirl sexual position" (or something else) without knowing how to do it or if you'll even like it before you try it. 

Becoming curious and open sexually, as opposed thinking you have to know everything in advance, also makes sexual exploration much less shame inducing and even fun and exciting.

In addition, be aware that some people are much more aware of their sexual thoughts than others.  

Specifically, people who experience spontaneous sexual desire are more likely to be aware of their sexual fantasies. Other people who experience responsive sexual desire might not even be aware of any sexual thoughts or fantasies at all.

This is because people with spontaneous desire experience sexual desire mentally first (sexual thoughts) and then physically.  

And people with responsive sexual desire often experience no horniness until they get physical.  So, people with responsive desire experience sexual thoughts or fantasies after they after they get physical. So, for responsive desire people, physical desire precedes sexual thoughts.

This is why if you ask someone who has responsive desire to tell you about their sexual fantasies before they're physical engaged in sex, they can draw a blank.

A Clinical Vignette - Sexual Explorations: Sexual Fantasy vs Sexual Curiosity
The following clinical vignette is a composite of many different clinical cases to protect confidentiality.  This scenario illustrates the difference between asking about fantasies vs approaching fantasies from a perspective of sexual curiosity. It also illustrates the difference between spontaneous desire and responsive desire.

Sara and Jim
After five years of marriage, Sara and Jim, both in their early 40s, sought help in sex therapy because they were no longer having sex.

Sara and Jim in Sex Therapy

They told their sex therapist that in the prior year, they had sex four times with large gaps of time in between.  In sex therapy, couples who have sex less than 10 times a year are considered no sex couples.  

Both agreed they couldn't keep their hands off each other when they first met and they had sex several times a week back then.  But two years into their relationship after they moved in together, sex became dull and, as a result, they sought each other out sexually much less often.

Although both of them were concerned about their waning sex life, they hoped that, somehow, it would improve after they got married.  

But, over time, things got worse. Instead of improving, they got into a deeper sexual rut and they both admitted to their sex therapist that they didn't look forward to sex anymore because sex had become boring.  In fact, they mostly avoided sex because they didn't know what to do to improve things.

Jim said he tried to spice things up a few years before by asking Sara about her sexual fantasies.  He told the therapist that he was prepared to talk about his rich sexual fantasy life, but they reached a dead end in the conversation when Sara drew a blank.  She told Jim she wasn't aware of ever having any sexual fantasies.  

Sara told the sex therapist she remembered the day Jim asked her about her sexual fantasies and how awkward, ashamed and guilty she felt.  

She said talking about sex was always difficult for her--much more difficult than actually having sex.  So, she just didn't know how to respond when Jim asked her out of the blue about sexual fantasies. She found the whole topic humiliating because it made her feel sexually inadequate.

After a few sessions where the sex therapist assessed each of their family and sexual histories, she explained to them that Jim experienced spontaneous desire where he had frequent thoughts about sex which led to physical sexual arousal for him.  So, she said, it made sense that he would be more aware of his fantasies.

She also explained that Sara experienced responsive desire so Sara wouldn't have been as aware of her fantasies because she needed to be already engaged in sexual activity before she had sexual thoughts.

The sex therapist explained that both spontaneous and responsive desire are normal and neither one is better than the other.  It was more a matter of understanding the differences between them so they could begin to navigate their way to a better sex life (see my article: Understanding Differences in Sexual Desire in Your Relationship).

She also explained that part of the problem might be with the words "sexual fantasies," which can be intimidating to some people. In response, Sara said she did feel intimidated by those words.  So, the sex therapist suggested they approach sexual novelty with open-ended curiosity.  

As a homework assignment, the sex therapist recommended various forms of erotica (visual and auditory) and pornography, including ethical pornography, as a way to stimulate sexual curiosity and explore new sexual possibilities.

When they returned the following week, both Jim and Sara were eager to talk.  Sara said she didn't feel sexually aroused by watching porn, but she enjoyed listening to an erotic audiobook. For her, listening was better than watching, and she had never realized this before.

Sex Therapy 

Although Sara didn't feel immediately turned on, she and Jim planned a sexy romantic evening where they turned off their phones and the TV and eliminated any other distractions.  

Both of them agreed that throughout the week knowing they had a sexy romantic evening planned helped to generate sexual anticipation.

After they set a more romantic context with candlelight and music in the background, Jim gave Sara a long massage to help her to relax.  Then, she was able to talk to him about what she heard in the erotic audiobook that piqued her curiosity.  

Sara was quick to tell their sex therapist that she wasn't aware of any detailed sexual fantasies, but she was curious to try sexual role play because it sounded so hot and fun (see my article: What Are the Benefits of Sexual Role Play?).

Jim was also able to share his sexual fantasies about threesomes.  Although the fantasy was exciting for both of them, they greed they weren't ready to try this in real life yet.  

This was the beginning of Jim and Sara getting curious about what they wanted to explore in bed.   

At the suggestion of their therapist, Sara also began keeping an erotic journal to capture her thoughts about things she heard in erotica that she was curious about.  

As opposed to when Jim initially asked her about her sexual fantasies, Sara didn't feel pressured. Instead, she felt more excited and open to sexual exploration and, over time, her sexual self esteem improved.

When they're asked about sexual fantasies, many people feel too intimidated and pressured. They think they have to come up with full length narratives rather than just being open to talking about sexual exploration.  This is especially true for people with responsive sexual desire, who aren't aware of having sexual thoughts before they engage in sex.

A better way to approach sexual exploration for people who don't respond well to being asked about sexual fantasies is to ask them what they might be curious about.  Even if they don't know at first, there are many ways to explore possibilities through ethical porn, regular porn and other forms of erotica to stimulate ideas and desire.

There's something about the idea of getting curious that allows them to feel more comfortable because curiosity is open ended and it opens up the possibility to find out more.

Getting Help in Sex Therapy
If you're having sexual problems, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who is a sex therapist.

Sex therapy is a form of talk therapy for individuals and couples (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

People seek help in sex therapy for a variety of reasons (see my article:  What Are Common Issues Discussed in Sex Therapy?).

There is no physical exam, nudity or sex in sex therapy sessions (see my article: What Are Common Misconceptions About Sex Therapy?).

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a skilled sex therapist so you can have a more fulfilling sex life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I am a sex positive therapist who works 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.