This module aims to help you to:
- Become aware of your current sexual and non-sexual fantasies
- Recognise and reflect on the link between your fantasies and your behaviour
What is a fantasy?
Do you ever think about winning the lottery? How would you spend the money? Where would you go?
This is one example of a fantasy. A fantasy is something that is imagined.
In this section, when we are talking about ‘sexual fantasy’, we are referring to something that is imagined which you find sexually arousing.
It could be a thought about a specific person or people you know or about imaginary people, or even be about you in a situation on your own. It might be about a situation that could possibly happen in the future, or re-running something in your head that you have seen or has happened to you before (e.g., fantasising about a scene in a movie or about someone you met) or something sexual that you don’t think could ever realistically happen in real life (e.g., having sex with a famous person or having superhuman powers).
It is important to recognise that sexual fantasy can involve thinking about things, people or situations that would not necessarily be obviously sexual to other people.
Not everyone relates to the idea of fantasy. However, by accessing this self-help guide it is assumed that you are concerned about your sexual thoughts to some extent. If these thoughts ever involve you imagining acting on any of your sexual interests, however briefly, that would be an example of you using sexual fantasy.
Fantasy and arousal
Sexual arousal can be considered as a continuum, which begins with the trigger of the arousal (‘stimulus’), through increasing levels of arousal which may or may not lead to sexual behaviour and culminating in orgasm/ejaculation. On this continuum, sexual fantasy is depicted after the initial sexual arousal.
Although the initial sexual arousal may not be a reaction you can control, all along the continuum, the arousal can be controlled and interrupted – if you wish to do so – right up until the point of orgasm has begun. However, the desire and motivation to stop the process typically reduces the further along the continuum you allow yourself to progress.
Once you allow yourself to dwell on these thoughts and begin to fantasise, rather than changing the sexual content of the thoughts to something more appropriate or distracting yourself from sexual thoughts altogether, you have already reduced your control.
The same applies to the use of online pornography for those concerned about their use of the Internet: if you allow yourself to search for sexual content when already in a state of sexual arousal, your ability to confine your actions to legal content may be impaired.
Why do people have fantasies?
Fantasies can be about a variety of different things and everybody will have their own reasons for engaging in a fantasy…
- For some, a fantasy will give them confidence, increased self-assurance and a sense of control over a situation by letting them rehearse how they will deal with a situation.
- For others, it may be a form of stress release (escapism) or a way to experience things that they wouldn’t in everyday life (that lottery win).
- Negative fantasies can be a way people try to cope and prepare themselves for something they fear will happen, or a way of punishing themselves.
- Some people use sexual fantasies as a form of sexual outlet; often if they are not meeting their sexual needs within a relationship.
A fantasy can have…..
- Positive outcomes: for example imagining achieving an award or winning a competition.
- Negative outcomes: for example if a partner does not return home on time, imaging that they have been in a car accident.
Some fantasies are…..
- Planned, rehearsed and used repeatedly by a person e.g. scoring a world cup goal.
- Triggered by an emotional response or an external stimulus e.g. replaying bad day at work.
- Sometimes a person’s thoughts stray and it takes them a short time to realise they are fantasising and not doing what they are supposed to be doing.
Sexual fantasies themselves are not necessarily a bad thing; it’s what happens in that fantasy or who is in that fantasy which may need to be addressed. In the next section of this module we consider appropriate and inappropriate fantasy.
Well actually, you are harming yourself because you are reinforcing your attraction to things that are illegal and abusive.
As explored earlier, we can get pleasure from our fantasies. If the subjects of our fantasies are inappropriate, we then associate feelings of pleasure with something that is illegal and abusive. This is particularly true if you masturbate to the point of ejaculation to the fantasy, as the next time you think of the fantasy you will remember the pleasure and arousal.
This is not helpful if you want to control an attraction to children.
So what are appropriate and inappropriate fantasies? We split inappropriate fantasies into three sections:
There are no laws in the UK which relate to fantasy and no such thing as the ‘thought police.’ However when deciding on whether your fantasy is appropriate it is useful to consider whether the content of the fantasy would be illegal if it were to be carried out or acted on in real life, such as having sex with a child. If the answer to this is yes then the fantasy is inappropriate.
If the fantasy involves coercion, force, violence or manipulation; non- consensual acts; where there are disparities in terms of power and control, age, intellectual ability which might impact on a person’s ability to understand and give informed consent then the fantasy is inappropriate. An example would be a 48 year old man having a sexual fantasy about a 16 year old. Is this illegal? No. But is this appropriate? Given that there is likely to be a difference in power, whether that be related to age, money, or life experience then the fantasy would be inappropriate.
Not OK for me
Some fantasies which are legal and healthy for some people may nevertheless not be appropriate for you. For example an adult fantasising about having sex with their partner who is dressed in school uniform may be appropriate for some people but for someone who has a sexual interest in children, it may be unhelpful as it might take them a step closer to a fantasy about a child.
Whether a particular fantasy is considered ‘inappropriate’ can vary from person to person; for example it is more appropriate for a 20 year old person to have sexual fantasies about an 18 year old, than a 60 year old person.
Individuals will rarely focus on one type of fantasy which they frequently re-run. They tend to have a variety of types and themes. The aim of the following exercise is to help you to consider the nature of your fantasies and whether they are appropriate and healthy for you.
Have you recently had a fantasy about a child? If you have, then without thinking about it in too much detail, work through these questions one at a time and see if these help you think about your fantasies differently.
- Where is this fantasy situated?
- What are you doing there?
- Who else is there? What are they doing there?
What this fantasy says about you
- What role does this fantasy place you in?
- How does this fantasy compare to the type of person you are generally?
- How does this fantasy compare to the type of person you want to be?
- How does the fantasy of the content compare to real life?
What this fantasy says about how you view others
- How do you treat the people in the fantasy?
- How do they treat you?
- What if the roles were switched?
What this fantasy says about your view of the world
- What sort of world would it be if you or other people were able to act on this fantasy?
- Is this really the type of world you’d like to live in?
- What is the likelihood of your fantasy ‘expectations’ being met and would you want them to be met?
- What would your close friends and family feel about this fantasy? What would they think?
- How would you feel if your son or your daughter acted out this fantasy with another adult?
Were you struck by any of your responses? The above exercise has helped people identify needs met by fantasy that are not being met in the real world. These are not necessarily sexual needs. For example, some people identify that in their fantasy life they are able to take the role of someone more in control or confident than they feel in their day-to-day life and relationships.
The exercise can be used to work out how healthy a fantasy is. For example, if on reflection you feel it would be unpleasant to be treated in the fantasy the same way you act towards the others in the fantasy, or if you would be ashamed of others knowing about the fantasy, you may decide this is not a healthy fantasy.
The content of a fantasy is one aspect to consider in deciding whether the fantasy is appropriate or inappropriate, but in the next section of this module we explore other reasons why fantasy might be a problem.
Fantasies are a healthy and ‘normal’ part of everyday life and everybody fantasises about something at one point or another.
However, fantasies can become a problem when:
- You engage in fantasies for a long period of time and increasingly often
- You use fantasy to deal with a situation rather than resolving the problem itself
- You would rather engage in a sexual fantasy than engage in sexual activity with your partner
- Your sexual fantasies are illegal, abusive or inappropriate
If you can identify with the bullet points above, then your fantasies may begin to affect the things you care about, such as your family, your friends, your job and your intimate and sexual relationships.
A good starting point in considering if your fantasies are problematic is to look at your fantasies in more detail. The exercises below will help you to start to doing this by exploring your triggers to your fantasies.
Exercise 1 – Thinking about past fantasies
Think of a fantasy that you have had. This can be one you have regularly or a one-off fantasy you have had. It can be a non-sexual or sexual fantasy. Now answer the following questions:
- Where were you when you were having this fantasy?
- Were there other people around? Were these people you know or strangers?
- What time of the day was it?
- What was your mood before you had that fantasy?
- Had anything happened during that day that led you to be in that particular mood?
- What was your mood after you had the fantasy?
Now think about other fantasies you have had and answer the same questions. Do you see themes developing? Do you tend to have fantasies when you are in a particular mood or at a certain time of day? You may find that sexual fantasies follow slightly different themes to non-sexual fantasies; make a note of these differences.
Exercise 2 – Fantasy diary
Over the next week create a fantasy diary to keep a record of your fantasies, both sexual and non-sexual.
- the time of day
- your mood before you had a fantasy
- the type of fantasy (sexual or non-sexual)
- your mood after the fantasy.
Hopefully, you should now be gaining an understanding of why you use fantasy.
So you have identified which of your sexual fantasies are inappropriate. But how do you stop having them?
- For some people this will be easy, but for others it will take time, hard work, a lot of willpower and heaps of self-control. You are not alone if you feel it is too hard to control these fantasies, but YOU ARE IN CONTROL of your thoughts and feelings and you can make a choice as to how much attention you choose to give to them.
- Although thoughts and emotions do influence actions in both positive and negative ways, they do not automatically lead to behaviours. Inappropriate thoughts and fantasies can be managed, stopped and/or changed to appropriate ones. By stopping and changing inappropriate thoughts to appropriate ones you are less likely to engage in concerning behaviours. It is also important to be aware of what triggers your inappropriate thoughts e.g. being in contact with children.
- There are people who have inappropriate sexual thoughts and feelings regarding children but who never go on to abuse. This is largely because they have recognised this and have sought to manage these thoughts and feelings in some of the ways described below, so that they do not progress to behaviour.
- Many individuals use fantasy management techniques to help stop having these harmful sexual fantasies. Next time you have an inappropriate sexual fantasy, try and use one or more of these to help you stop.
Have a read through the techniques below. Next time you have a harmful sexual fantasy, you need to try and use one of these to help you stop. The more you use these, the more you will learn what works more effectively for you. It may be that you need to rehearse them or use a combination of these to get it just right.
Challenging your thoughts
‘Why am I having this fantasy; what good is it actually going to do me?’ These are examples of questions you can ask and challenge yourself with. Be firm with yourself.
You could also ask about the consequences to implant fear. ‘What would happen if someone walked in and could see what I was fantasising about?’ ‘I know if I keep having this fantasy, I am more likely to act on this fantasy; what are the consequences if I was caught?’.
Change the ending or the subject of your fantasy. For example, if you are beginning to indulge in fantasy about a child you have seen, change the child to an adult. In order to gain the same satisfaction, this will probably not be an immediate solution, but you could start by changing small features like hairstyle or body form and over time change the whole situation. In contrast, try a different fantasy all together which is new and exciting…. and legal!
Imagine someone walking in to your fantasy and catching you. This person has to be someone who you would never want to find out, like a close friend or family member. Or maybe the police. Note that this technique should not be used if you are aroused by the idea of someone finding out.
Sometimes we need to remove ourselves from the situation in which we are fantasising. Get up, get out of that room, leave the house if you have to. Go anywhere that stops you from having that sexual fantasy. Put yourself around people so that you can’t masturbate.
Do something that prevents you from thinking about a fantasy. This could be reading, watching TV, going for a walk. It could be ringing a friend or going for a drink. Anything that takes your thoughts away from that fantasy.
Imagine your fantasy as being like a giant wave. It will build and build to a peak and then suddenly go the other way and decline in intensity. If you do not masturbate, eventually the urge to do so will go away. This happens with all urges, not just sexual urges; for example if you are craving chocolate, eventually this craving will go away. Urges never stay.
Eating well, exercising, sleeping and relaxation; all of these contribute to a happier, healthier you. If you ensure all these are in check, you will find managing sexual fantasies much easier.
Praise your success
The most important thing is to praise yourself for your success. If you are able to stop a particular fantasy, congratulate yourself. Treat yourself to something nice to eat or do something you enjoy. Stopping fantasies can be difficult, especially if you are used to having them, so you need to give yourself credit for that.
What do I do if my sexual preference is children?
We understand that some people have no sexual interest in adults. They often report an exclusive and life-long sexual interest in pre-pubescent or pubescent children. If this is true of you, then we understand that asking you to replace a child in a fantasy with an adult may not work for you.
Rather than try and change your sexual interest, your task is to learn how best to manage your sexual thoughts, feelings and fantasies. Of course there are no easy answers but the aim is to try and reduce both the frequency of your sexual fantasies and their intensity. We hope the suggestions and advice below are helpful:
- Try to avoid sexual fantasies about children when masturbating. Of course this can be difficult, especially if you are not attracted to adults. To help, try focusing your attention exclusively on the physical sensations you experience while masturbating. Experiment with different sensations e.g. use of lubricants.
- Reduce the amount of time spent thinking or fantasising about children in a sexual way. The more time you spend having sexual fantasies about children, the more these thoughts will govern your mental and sexual life. So, the less time you spend thinking about children in a sexual way, the better.
- Develop a busy day-to-day lifestyle with a range of activities and interests that hold your attention. The more our minds are focused on things that we find engaging and rewarding, the less time we spend thinking about sexual things. This helps people feel more in control of their sexual thinking. And, of course, it helps people feel better about their lives more generally.
- Try and spend time with others. People tend not to day-dream, or have sexual fantasies, when they are interacting with others, for example, at work or when socialising. Their minds are otherwise occupied.
- If you are aware that you use sexual fantasies as a way of coping with other things in your life e.g. an escape from things that are worrying you or as a way to relax, find other ways of coping with these things. This will help you reduce the frequency of your sexual fantasies.
- Self-care is important too. If you feel OK about yourself, you are less likely to use sexual fantasies as a prop for your emotional health. Mindfulness (http://bemindful.co.uk/) is a technique that has been shown to improve people’s mental health and resilience, as is good ‘sleep hygiene’ (see below).
- Don’t beat yourself up. For many people, it simply does not feel realistic to never have sexual fantasies about children or to never masturbate. That’s just how it is. Mindfulness can help people come to terms with their feelings about this. Compassion and self-acceptance is a better mind-set than one of despair and resignation.
Most individuals report that good quality sleep is important to their general sense of wellbeing. Many individuals who have problems related to fantasies about children, sexual preoccupation and problematic pornography use report that these difficulties can be especially difficult at night time, often disrupting sleep patterns. Furthermore, problematic sexual fantasies may be more readily triggered in the bedroom, last thing at night, if this has become your routine.
It can help to follow routines and practices that facilitate good quality sleep patterns, sometimes referred to as ‘sleep hygiene’. These include:
- Sticking to a regular wake and sleep pattern, by aiming to wake up and go to bed at the same times every day of the week. Some people choose to stay up and wake much later during the weekends, which tends to disrupt the sleep pattern into the following week.
- Avoid daytime napping. If you do nap, it is best to avoid napping for longer than 30 minutes.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and food consumption too close to bedtime. Most people know that tea, coffee and cola drinks contain caffeine (except the de-caffeinated varieties, of course), but not everyone is aware that chocolate contains caffeine and can disrupt sleep if consumed in the evening.
- Regular exercise can promote good sleep.
- Get some daily exposure to natural light, as this helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
- Use your bed for sleep, rather than as a place to read, watch TV, listen to the radio, or use your phone, laptop or tablet. That way, bed becomes associated with sleep rather than with these other activities.
- Consider aspects of the bedroom environment which may be contributing to sleep difficulties (e.g., temperature, uncomfortable bed, inadequate curtains or blinds).
- Try to avoid mentally engaging activities close to bedtime. It can take some time for the mind to ‘switch off’ and if you are feeling alert you are less likely to fall to sleep.
Be aware that it may take some time before the positive changes you make to your sleep routines take effect. If you regularly find you are having problems with your sleep-wake cycles or are feeling sleepy during the daytime, you should take advice from your GP.