I often get questions from people who worry about fantasies they are having. Here’s some advice about how to cope with your worries about fantasies and how to explore what they may mean.
It’s Okay To Fantasise
First of all, almost everyone has some kind of fantasy. Whether it’s imagining having sex with someone, or thinking about a particular act, or having a really detailed story with different characters. Most if not all of us have some kind of fantasy (even if it isn’t a sexual fantasy). A lot of people don’t realise that. Fantasies are not something that we really talk about very much. There’s very little sex education about it and it’s not something we often talk to each other about. So having any kind of fantasy can be quite disturbing if we don’t think it’s okay or ‘normal’ to fantasise.
See this about Sex Dreams vs Real Life Sex
Also, what we have been taught about sex and fantasies can also affect how we feel about the fantasies that we are having. If we are taught that sexual thoughts are wrong, immoral or sinful, then when we have a fantasy we may feel really bad about ourselves. So you might want to think about what you’ve been taught about having sexual thoughts. Perhaps you could think more generally about what you’ve been taught about sex and relationships from an early age: from those looking after you, friends, peers, media, news etc etc. How useful are they to you? Do you believe in these things now? What’s right for you?
Fantasy vs Reality
Thinking about eating chocolate isn’t the same as actually eating chocolate (mmm chocolate). Having a fantasy isn’t the same as reality. Just because you have a fantasy doesn’t mean that you will want to act on it. It doesn’t mean that this fantasy isn’t the only thing you might find exciting. It doesn’t have to affect how you want to identify yourself.
This is all good because there are some fantasies that you can’t do: either because they are illegal or non-consensual or really harmful. Or might involve something that doesn’t even exist – like a dragon or a talking plant. It’s really common to have fantasies that you would find really really difficult to do, even in real life. It’s also really common for fantasies to be really far away from what you may actually find exciting to actually do.
Trying Not To Fantasise
Fantasies are thoughts and it’s hard not to have thoughts. It’s really difficult to not think about a thing even if we are told not to think about a thing. In fact, sometimes being told not to think about a thing can make it harder not to think about a thing. Anyone who’s tried meditation, mindfulness practice or yoga will tell you how hard it is not to think. It’s also easy to get distracted and to think about other things when we want to think about something else.
So if try really hard to not think about a thing and then get very angry with yourself when you do, it’s not going to help. You will only make things harder because you will also now be angry. Don’t add more difficult feelings to difficult feelings – cos then everything will be more difficult.
How Can I Deal With It?
So if you do worry about fantasies the first thing that you need to do is to slow down and just try to notice what’s happening. If you try to make yourself stop fantasising, it’s probably not going to work. Just notice that you are having the fantasy rather than just getting angry at you. Try to be more gentle and say to yourself, ‘oh, I’m having that fantasy. It’s just a thought, that’s okay.’ If you find it a bit distressing just treat it like you are having a nightmare. You could do something else, turn over, turn a light on, try to think about different thoughts, read something or watch something.
However, if you are able to, you could stay with it a bit to see what’s happening. Psychotherapists who have done a lot of work in this area (like the humanistic therapist Jack Morin – his book is really good) believe that the best way to help deal with troubling fantasies is not to try and shut them off but to really gently think about them a little bit. If you gently allow yourself to be interested or curious about what you are fantasising about then it can help you to work out what is going on but can also help you to make them a little smaller.
Find Out More About Your Fantasies
Now this can be hard to do and if you find it too hard at any point please stop and take the advice I gave above. Maybe try this a little bit at a time.
The first thing you can is to clarify what happens in your fantasy. Maybe if you can find a way to record it: either write it down, actually record it on your phone, or just draw out some of the things that happen. Once you’ve done that, set it down somewhere and go to it when you are feeling okay to do so. Have a look to see what kind of themes are in the fantasy or in what you think about.
Is there a relationship to what’s going on for you in real life and when you fantasise or what you fantasise about? Like, are you having a stressful time? Are you feeling bad about your body? How’s your home life? How is work/school/college/uni? Are your friendships and other relationships okay?
Think about who is in your fantasies. Are you a participant in them, or are you watching a fantasy play out in front of you. Are there different characters in your fantasies? Could any of those characters be people in real life? Could they be different aspects of you?
If you can, compare your fantasies to what might happen in a nightmare for you. What’s similar or different? How might your fantasies help you to overcome what’s happening in your nightmares?
If you spend a bit of time thinking about this stuff you might start to be able to understand them a bit more. Once that happens you might also start to have different fantasies that might feel more enjoyable and it might make the other fantasies become a bit smaller.
The key with all of this is to be kind to yourself. It might take a bit of time to put any of this advice into practice so break it down into bite size chunks. Just little by little. If it is just too hard for you to do you could find someone that you can talk to about this stuff. A friend, a trusted adult, a therapist. Most schools, colleges and unis have someone that you can go and talk to about difficult things. You could also pay a visit to your local sexual health service where they will be happy to listen to you for a bit or might be able to refer you onto someone else who can help (many clinics have psychosexual counsellors who can help).
For more help
If you’re over 18 you could head over to the sex and relationships advice website from me and my mate Meg-John. We’ve got a zine coming out soon about understanding erotic fantasies.
How to Enjoy Solo Sex – how to tune into how your body feels during masturbation to help you enjoy it more. Some tips here could help you to deal with difficult thoughts whilst you’re masturbating
How to Do Self Care – how to look after yourself
How You Feel About You – how to try and understand how you can feel better about yourself
© Justin Hancock, 2021.
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. Find out more about Justin here