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Who are you fantasizing about during sex?
May 12th, 2011
08:01 AM ET

Who are you fantasizing about during sex?

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him at his website, GoodInBed.

Tell the truth (or rather, think the truth): have you ever fantasized during sex about someone other than the person you’re actually having sex with? Perhaps there’s a particular celebrity that turns you on, or a former flame, or even (heaven forbid) a brother or sister-in-law?

Do taboo thoughts make their way into your most intimate real-life moments? If so, take a deep breath and relax. You’re not alone, in fact you’re probably in the majority. In one study published by The Journal of Sex Research, 98% of partnered men and 80% of partnered women said that they had fantasized about someone other than their partner during sex in the previous two months. Whew!

CNNHealth's sex expert blogger Ian Kerner stops by to talk about the rise in women using porn on HLN's The Joy Behar Show, Thursday, 9 p.m. ET

The truth is, a healthy fantasy life is one of the keys to a great sex life - even when your partner might not always play the leading role. Most people find that they are most sexually satisfied when they are intimate with one person with whom they feel completely comfortable.

Along with this intimacy comes the freedom to let go and explore, including fantasizing about other people, places, and situations. In one study on sexual fantasy by noted expert Dr. Harold Leitenberg it was concluded that sexual fantasies occur most often in people with the highest sexual satisfaction and the healthiest sex lives. So your fantasies aren’t an indication that something is wrong, but rather that something is right.

Fantasies play a valuable role in our sex-lives. First off, they fuel arousal: “Thoughts can create real physical changes in your body, and you can use this to your advantage,” writes sex educator Emily Nagoski in the Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms. “This is why people fantasize even while they’re having sex - the added juice of the fantasy heightens arousal when the physical sensations aren’t enough to get us where we want to go.”

Fantasies also free the brain to explore secret, extraordinary realms without the obligations of everyday life. Kaye Wellings, a respected British biologist, puts it best in her book, "First Love, First Sex:"

“Fantasies perform a valuable function. Most of us, most of the time, behave conservatively, sexually and otherwise. Our erotic experiences represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of possibilities. Many possibilities only see the light of day through fantasies or dreams, seldom as reality.”

And says Good in Bed expert Ann Potter, “I like to imagine that fantasizing is like putting training wheels on my desires - those desires that are maybe a little too 'out there' for me or my partner to get on board with acting out right away, or ever.”

And when it comes to fantasies, adults do just fine with a permanent set of training wheels, and needn’t bother with graduating to a two-wheeler. The brain is the biggest sex organ and a little fantasizing goes a long way.

So rather than resist your fantasies, let yourself enjoy them. Trying to suppress fantasies may end up doing more harm than good. In the mid-1980s, Dr. Daniel Wegner at the University of Virginia studied the menchanics of thought-suppression in an experiment known as the “white bear study.” Wegner sat people in a room with a tape recorder and told them to say whatever came to mind,  with one exception: Don’t think about a white bear. No surprise, people mentioned the bear constantly. The more they tried not to think about it, the more they mentioned it.

By suppressing a forbidden thought the brain never gets a chance to fully process that thought, and what could just be an innocent fantasy suddenly becomes a guilt-laden white bear that won’t go away.  Most of the time it’s not our fantasies that are the problem, but rather our reactions to our fantasies - the feelings of shame and guilt, as well as our anxieties and fears about what those fantasies might really mean.

But fantasies are meant to be enjoyed and if they weren’t taboo, well then they wouldn’t be fantasies to begin with.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.