To fantasise, quite simply, is to consciously play at make-believe while knowing one is doing so. That’s what makes it so potent and so safe. It’s like creating a mental movie, most often with oneself as the main protagonist, and may or may not involve other people, props, locales, and so on.
In most cases, the act of fantasising is conscious and pleasurable in itself.
Fantasies can be about many different things – food, holiday destinations, the latest electronic gizmos, our careers, relationships, and so on. Sometimes we may work on making them become real, and sometimes we are content with leaving them in the realm of the mind.
Sexual fantasies are fantasies that are sexually arousing or carry an erotic charge for the person having them. ‘For the person having them’ – important words that remind us that people are different, respond differently, and therefore the content of their fantasies may also vary.
Sexual fantasies allow us to conjure up worlds that we want to play with, but in reality, we may not really want. A fantasy is different from a wish. So people may have sexual fantasies about things that they may never act out – like having sex in front of a multitude of onlookers, or with a zebra, or a famous film star or the neighbour next door. And it’s all safe. Like trying out outlandish clothes that you might never wear to be seen in by others, but just for a moment, in the privacy of your room, you want to see how they look on you. It could even be everyday clothes that other people wear, but for some reason you don’t, so you go to a departmental store, pick them out, test them for fit and feel in the trial room, and leave without buying them. We play with fantasies, but that does not mean that they are real or that we want them to be so. With good reason, too. For instance, rape fantasies are reportedly quite common, but that does not mean that women who have them want to be raped in reality. Or, that people who have incest fantasies want to actually enact their fantasy, or that those who fantasise about being tied up like a mummy (the Egyptian kind, not your mother) want to be killed.
Many a time, fantasies involve elements of what is forbidden and maybe that’s what gives them their charge. If the forbidden or socially disapproved of activities (sex in public, for example) were not forbidden, would fantasies about them remain as attractive?
Apart from the joys of mentally playing with the forbidden, sexual fantasies also give us the possibility of exploring, safely and with no commitment, different ways of being and enjoying them, with no consequences to follow. A bit like feasting to one’s heart’s content without having to do the cooking, or the dishes, and, no indigestion and weight gain, to boot!
Fantasies can ignite passion, add excitement to a sexual act (whether alone, with another person, or with a sex toy), keep one’s attention focused on sex when the mind is wandering off or desire is flagging, escalate desire to the point of orgasm, make one feel sexually desirable and desired, and sometimes, even surprised by one’s own creativity or desires.
So, if someone wants to sexually fantasise about Shah Rukh Khan or Aishwarya Rai, or whoever,or a pair of shoes, or a silk scarf, should we grudge them that or despise their fantasies? After all, people have all kinds of preferences… some like vanilla, some like shit. Yes, people’s sexual fantasies may involve poop. Pee. Public toilets. Parrots that talk. (The last one is a joke, but who knows, maybe parrots that talk are the main protagonists in some people’s mental sex movies.)
We may not be turned on by some of their fantasies, but then, they may not be turned on by some of ours. They may think fantasies about doing it on clean white sheets are boring, while we may think fantasising about anonymous sex in a public bathroom is disgusting. Or, we may think a sexual fantasy involving a stranger is passé, whereas they fantasise about sex with their best friend… Each to their own.
Erotic writings and movies invite us into fantasy by identifying (or not) with the characters and then maybe going on to further develop our own scripts. Online spaces offer an astounding opportunity for creating, sharing and even playing out fantasies. The safety of being and remaining anonymous. The liberation of being able to express one’s self. Or create a new self, with a new name, a different persona, and maybe even gender and sexual identity, and interact with other beings who also may not ‘really’ be who they claim to be, but that probably is exactly the fun of it. A place to slip away to, to explore, and uncover, and revel in aspects of one’s being that the business of everyday life does not permit. And for those who want more human connection and an audience, the space of drag performances, for instance, allows them “the power of feeling your fantasy”.
There are other outlets too. In a society where human connection seems to either be too difficult, or too scary, or too effortful, and it’s so easy to order stuff online, there’s a whole market for the acting out of fantasies(mainly men’s) – sex toys of all kinds, including lifelike ‘love dolls’. These are silicone dolls used for sex. They come in a variety of skin tones, with or without flexible fingers, with extra options of choosing from among different faces, different wigs and even lingerie to dress dolly up in. Just think of the permutations and combinations of fantasies that could be enacted with dear dolly – in this one she moves her fingers, here she’s with her straight hair wig, there she’s wearing her purple knickers, and so on…I haven’t found ‘boy love dolls’ on the Internet yet, but then maybe there isn’t much of a demand for them.
But love dolls may not last for long. Because in a society that is getting more and more technological, where talking to a robot is a form of connection, soon there will be sex robots! (And, already, there is a campaign to ban them, the argument being that sex robots will increase misogyny, ‘the sex trade’ and the bad treatment of women. I think that’s as ridiculous as the proposition that the next step for meat eaters is to go from eating animals to humans!)
“Okay,” you may say, “Some fantasies do no harm. A little kinkiness may add spice to life, but what about more bizarre fantasies? Shouldn’t they be controlled? And don’t they sound an alarm that something must be wrong for people to have such strange fantasies…” There are leaps of logic and false assumptions here:that fantasies can do harm; that if uncontrolled they will lead to actions with negative consequences; and, that there are bizarre and strange fantasies as opposed to more ‘normal’ ones.
Fantasies in themselves do no harm. People know when they are fantasising and are able to decide for themselves which aspects, if any, of their fantasies they want to enact. And if they enact them with another person in a mutually consensual way, where’s the harm? Yes, even if it involves heightened physical sensations (that to someone else may seem like ‘pain’) or submissive-dominant role-playing (that to someone else may seem like ‘abuse’), it’s playing with power in a context of consent. No one else’s business.
Strange fantasies? Well, here’s an interesting study done in Canada in which the researchers asked the question: What exactly is an unusual sexual fantasy? They collected data from 1,516 adults in the general population in Quebec province to see what sexual fantasies are rare, unusual,common or typical. Of course, this study was done in Quebec, Canada, so one needs to keep that in mind before generalising it to other parts of the world, but all the same, it is revelatory. So, what’s their conclusion? “Care should be taken before labeling a sexual fantasy as unusual, let alone deviant,” is what they say, in their paper published in the Journal of Sex Medicine in 2014.
Among other interesting findings is this: submission-domination fantasies are common in both women and men, are related to each other (meaning that they are not in opposition), and are also related to more sexual openness and possibly more sexual satisfaction.The researchers conclude their paper saying,“Clinicians and researchers should not rely solely on the theme of a sexual fantasy to determine if it is either pathological or unusual.” They explain that even sexual fantasies that are regarded as ‘conventional’ might be found distressing by some people, for example an openly gay man who has heterosexual fantasies, whereas fantasies that are regarded as being ‘unusual’, such as sadomasochistic fantasies, may be had by people who may be as sexually satisfied, if not more, than people who do not have such fantasies.
Back to the point – let’s not label some fantasies as being weird or deviantor even unusual. But people are not content to leave each to their own. They want to police everything. Even fantasy. As if a fantasy unerringly leads to an act. And that act will lead to progressively ‘worse’ ones – in a sort of “domino theory of sexual peril”, as Gayle Rubin so aptly and ironically put it more than 30 years ago. Fantasies are our mental sex movies, a part of our private sexual lives. And if we choose to act on them alone, with a sex toy, a sex doll or a consenting adult, that is our pleasure, our business and our right.
Cover image by Shreyasi Das
 However, if fantasies have the quality of being unwanted, repetitive, compulsive or cause distress to the person, it would be wise to seek professional help.
 Gayle Rubin, 1984. Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality, in Carole Vance (Ed.) Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, Routledge & Kegan, Paul.