Dear Dr Schwartz,
I am a devoted husband and father in my late-30s. My sexual fantasies have always been mostly ‘vanilla’ in content, but from the age of 7 or 8, I also had dark ones involving women being beheaded. It was never the pain aspect of it, and in the fantasies it was sometimes almost ‘consensual’ – it was the ‘apprehension’ and ‘peril’ of the situation for the woman that aroused me. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it was, after all, a fantasy.
In real life, I am a gentle, sensitive person and the thought of hurting or dominating anybody at all in real life horrifies me. That makes this fantasy even more bewildering. In my youth my dark fantasy never worried me as it had always been a small part of me, and I always knew that I had never – and would never want to – hurt anybody or anything. That is not why I am contacting you.
I am contacting you because of the huge guilt and anxiety that I now feel about ever having those fantasies. I viewed porn in my late-20s and early-30s. It was mostly regular stuff – but I also explored this dark fantasy. I never joined or paid for anything, but looked at free images, like on extreme BDSM sites acted by models, photo-manipulations, stills from movies. I was still sometimes viewing this after I had met my wife – nothing too obsessive, but there were occasions when I could have been at home with her instead. I have not viewed porn (vanilla or otherwise) for years now, and as I have got older the dark fantasies rarely surface any more. But I am now haunted with guilt and shame that I ever thought them, and that I viewed porn to aid those fantasies – or indeed any porn for that matter – whilst in the early years of my relationship.
There has been much in the media in recent years about violent fantasies and porn, and it is this that has made me to wake-up to how inappropriate I have been. I have read a bit about the psychology of fantasies, and am partly reassured that some psychotherapists report that many well-balanced people have dark fantasies – some experiencing anxiety about them – but I never know if they mean fantasies as dark as mine. I mean, seriously? Other commentators say that people with dark fantasies are sick and evil. But I didn’t get to choose what arouses me (did they get to choose?).
One other thing to mention is that I often experience mild OCD-type symptoms, that seem to peak around times of stress. Starting at the age of about 8 (around the time of my parents’ divorce), I have felt compelled to do things in even numbers, blink excessively, and I now over-check things. I don’t know if it is actually OCD, and am not suggesting that it is responsible for my dark fantasies (as I thought about them voluntarily), but it may be contributing to why I constantly ‘mentally beat myself up’ over my situation.
Am I sick and evil? Does my wife deserve to know about all my fantasies (dark or otherwise), and my past porn use so that she can make up her own mind? I even feel guilty that I am contacting you for advice without her knowledge, and feel that I have ‘stained’ our marriage. I would love to be able to open up to her and share with her about the anxiety that I am feeling, but I fear her rejection. Is that fair to her? I have considered talking to a professional about why I have sometimes been so anxious in my life (and wonder if CBT would help), but would not really want to discuss my innermost fantasies, especially if you think there is not an issue.
I would appreciate any clarity you could give to my situation as I am just too anxious about it all. I just want to get back to enjoying life with my lovely wife and kids.
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Despite the fact that the human brained has evolved into a powerful organism that gives us the ability to think in the most scientific, abstract and intellectual ways, it still includes important parts that are very similar to lower animals. These brain centers are responsible for the emotions we experience. For example, the amygdala, part of the limbic system, functions as the center of emotions, immediately reacting in the face of danger, sexual stimulation and a host of other impulses that we don’t think about. We don’t control the amygdala like we control the frontal lobes, the center of advanced thinking.
This primitive part of our brain causes us to have lurid, erotic and violent fantasies. We don’t act on those fantasies because they are so very unrealistic, although stimulating and exciting. This is what has happened to you. Men and women, boys and girls, have all types of sexual and violent fantasies. Psychotherapy affords the opportuity to explore those types of thoughts and reactions. Keep in mind that you are not alone, not the only one, in having these fantasies. Think about it, Hollywood makes a fortune on this in it’s movie making. They appeal directly to our emotional reactions knowing that they will excite and stimulate. That is why they are filled with sex and violence.
As you point out, you are a husband, father and gentle in your approach to life and to people. While you have an active imagination, you do not and would never act on these things, just like the rest of us.
By the way, having sexual fantasies does not mean that you do not love your wife. What is important to keep in mind is whether or not you are making love to your wife when you feel sexually aroused. It may be that you feel guilty about your fantasies because you are masturbating rather than being with her. The fact is that sex should help deepen the relationship between spouses. That does not make fantasy wrong. It just means that she is available for you and the two of you can make love while enjoying one another.
As far as your wife is concerned, a lot depends on how comfortable the two of you are with sharing your sexual and erotic fantasies with one another. There are couples who are open about what they imagine and find it exciting to share. There are other couples who never share fantasies and would deny having such thoughts. Neither one is right or wrong, moral or imoral, normal or abnormal. It’s just being human. For those who share, it’s not about confession but about sexual excitement while having sex.
Forgive yourself for having a human imagination.
As to OCD, yes, your description is of someone who has it. OCD is powered by anxiety and your Email does seem to describe someone who is a very anxious person.
As for psychotherapy, it is never a mistake, not in my opinion. In fact, I suggest it for you so that you can work on and clear up some of these issues with which you are struggling.
Best of Luck