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Sexual Fantasy, The Brain and Guilt

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

I get a certain amount of emails from men and women who are bothered by the fact that they have strong sexual fantasies. Many of these people feel guilty about the nature of the erotic fantasies they are having, worrying that, because they are so lustful that they may be abnormal. In one case, a man worried that he was evil because his fantasies were violent in nature despite his being a person who would never and had never harmed anyone. Other people worry that they must be immoral or sick because their fantasies are about being harmed in some way. In addition, heterosexual people worry that some of their fantasies have homosexual components. The fact is that everyone has sexual fantasies, that it is part of being human and that it helps in the process of arousal so that two people can make love. It is also true that the sexual response, including sexual fantasy, have a lot to do with how the human brain functions.

Despite the fact that we have a sophisticated brain, capable of doing complex mathematical and scientific calculations and of thinking in ways that are highly abstract and intellectual, it is also amazingly primitive and no different from the reptiles. In fact, there is a part of the brain that is often referred to as reptilian. Specifically, this is the limbic system and it controls our emotional responses, including fear and pleasure and memory.

What happens in sexual fantasy is that sexual impulses become combined with imaginary stories about sex. The variety of sexual stories is vast and range from married people fantasizing about infidelity to having sex with multiple partners. There are also fantasies about oral and anal sex and even, among some men and women, about rape, dominance and submission. It is important to mention that these fantasies are just that and have nothing to do with carrying them out. However, some couples role play these stories or fantasies in ways that are mutually consensual and safe. In fact, over several decades, sexual fantasies became more acceptable as important writings, such as “Morality, Sexual Facts and Fantasies”, by Dr Patricia Petersen, Alfred Kinsey’s Kinsey Reports, Erotic Fantasies: A Study of the Sexual Imagination by Drs. Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen, and Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden, were published. Today, fantasies are regarded as natural and positive elements of one’s sexuality, and are often used to enhance sexual practices.

It’s important to remember that the sexual response is governed by the limbic system and that we, therefore, have no control over that response. If the limbic system did not control pleasure we might never get together and reproduce. Live would also be a lot less interesting than it is. The sexual response is not only what gets us together for sex but also gets us together to have deep and emotional relationships. Those relationships are comforting and loving throughout life.

If your sexual fantasies and sexual life is a source of worry, guilt and anxiety, then it’s a good idea to seek psychotherapy so these feelings can be sorted out. Admittedly, these feeling can be and are complicated by the religious perspective that sex and sexual fantasy has to do with sin and are, therefore, unacceptable. Even so, there are religious or pastoral counselors who are available for consultation if the feelings of guilt and anxiety become overwhelming.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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