Fantasies can play an essential role in keeping a sexual relationship vibrant. Men and women’s fantasies differ and understanding the differences can heighten the couple’s experience together.
Laurie Watson: Welcome to Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy with your host sex therapist, Laurie Watson, author of Wanting Sex Again. And today, we have Dr. Adam Matthews, couple’s therapist. Welcome.
Dr. Adam Matthews: It’s good to be here. Laurie.
Laurie Watson: You know, today, we’re going to talk about his and her fantasies. Both what they are? What they might be? And what to do when fantasies run against each other and one person’s fantasy doesn’t match the others or one resist that? And I know that this comes up so many times in couples work.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. I see a lot of couples that are a little bit resistant to the idea of fantasy in their relationship.
Laurie Watson: In general.
Dr. Adam Matthews: In general, yeah. And want to know what is the purpose that it serves? What is the main way that they can use fantasy in their relationship and not be scared of it? Do you see this as a question in your couples as well?
Laurie Watson: I think so. Absolutely. And I think people, the first thing they think of is the fantasy that my partner might be having about another? That fantasy might feel very threatening. But I think a broader sense of fantasy can range from a preference to an actual film in our head about an act that we’ve seen or a sexual scene that we’ve seen or something, an imagination or a memory that we’ve participated in. Those could be fantasies as well.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And then, so bringing that into the relationship then is probably very vulnerable.
Laurie Watson: It is.
Dr. Adam Matthews: And very exposing for whichever member of the couple is bringing it into the relationship.
Laurie Watson: Right. I don’t think that women can really turn on sexually unless they have some sort of imagination going on though.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay.
Laurie Watson: I mean, I think they have to have what we would call fantasy and what I sometimes call to be softer and imagination. Or can you dream about something that you would really like to happen between you and your partner without that mental turn on? I just don’t think women turn on physically as easily.
Dr. Adam Matthews: So, you think that they’re using it already, whether they know that they’re using fantasy or not?
Laurie Watson: Or they should. They should use it as a bridge into desire and to get themselves ready.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And I’m wondering about the difference between how men use fantasy and how women use fantasy?
Laurie Watson: What do you hear from the men in your practice? What do they say about their fantasy?
Dr. Adam Matthews: Well, I think that they are often, it’s more — kind of what you initially started describing there, that it’s not always about their partner. But it’s always not, not about their partner. I don’t know if they have — if that makes sense. The fantasy may be very generic, and it can be filled by almost anybody. But that the fantasy is about something that is somewhat unattainable in one sense. The classic that you might hear is Princess Laila and the gold bikini, type of fantasy. I like fantasies that they have seen that have happened. They may get from culture. They may get from just their own personal experience. But generally, it’s not relational, I guess is what I would say.
Laurie Watson: It’s an idealized sexual fantasy that excites them sexually.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, very idealized.
Laurie Watson: And I think that women sometimes get afraid of a male fantasy of, you want this instead of me. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that. It could just be, “No, I just think this is hot.”
Dr. Adam Matthews: This is a turn on.
Laurie Watson: This is exciting.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, that’s right.
Laurie Watson: And I don’t think that every fantasy needs to be shared with our partner or talked about. But I think we are eventually going to talk about that in this podcast about the things that people do share with each other and how can they do that. But yeah, I think you’re right. And I think that a male fantasy is often more genitally based. I mean, it’s about the act. It’s about something that is being done.
Dr. Adam Matthews: It’s about sex.
Laurie Watson: Yeah. And I would say most females don’t necessarily fantasize about the act. They might also fantasize about the date, about the dinner that’s going to be had together, about the romance. I mean, I would say even my own husband is disappointed in my sexual fantasies. Because they’re not as explicit as he wants them to be. You know? I mean, I think one time I remember saving up and finding this passage in this book that I said, “Okay, I’m going to share with him this really vulnerable sexual fantasy that I have.” And you know, about five minutes into reading it to him, I looked over and he’s fast asleep. I’m like, “Honey, how could you do that to me? You know, I’ve never told you this.” And he’s like, you know, “But you didn’t, where was the fantasy? You never got to it.” And I’m like, “No, that was the fantasy.”
Dr. Adam Matthews: So, it’s my understanding that for women, it’s a lot more emotional. It’s a lot more about connection. It’s a lot more relationship.
Laurie Watson: About the setting.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, about the setting. About how sex is approached, about the buildup, perhaps.
Laurie Watson: Yeah, I think so. It’s sort of like a woman fantasizes about Christmas Eve, the dinner, the lighting, the dress up, the wrapping of the presents, the anticipation. And a man often fantasizes about Christmas morning. Open the presents.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Just rip off the paper, get on with it, open it up, see what you got.
Laurie Watson: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay. Because I think men can just jump into fantasy very quickly. Like it could just jump into fantasy very quickly. Like it could just be, we are in it. With no buildup at all.
Laurie Watson: Right. And their mind is filled with sexual fantasy, I think because their body is pumped full of testosterone. And so, that keeps them just sort of full of fuel, you know? So, any woman walking by, any little innuendo, any joke, anything they see on the internet or on television or wherever, I mean boom. You know, it’s sex. It’s a sexual fantasy. Whereas for women, it’s not really like. I think they’re sort of gathering kindle. What’s the wood?
Dr. Adam Matthews: Kindle.
Laurie Watson: Like kindling wood.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.
Laurie Watson: I mean, right. Okay.
Dr. Adam Matthews: To get us started, to get the fire started.
Laurie Watson: Thank you. I couldn’t think of anything but — But they’re not gathering those electronic books. No, that’s not what I mean. The old word, right? And so, they’re making way for this by collecting sexual images and ideas sort of throughout the day. Whereas, I think men are already ignited.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. But you do think it’s important to share the fantasies that you’re having with your partner at some point?
Laurie Watson: Not necessarily.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay.
Laurie Watson: I think it’s important to bring to our partner our sexual ideas, so that we can form a sexual life that is to our liking.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay.
Laurie Watson: But not necessarily, I mean, it depends on the fantasy, right? I mean it depends on what it is and how threaten your partner is with it? But you can say, look at, you know, this is something that I really want to try with you. You know, I’d love it if you dress up like this. Or I’d love it if you touch me like that. Or I would love us to go do it in the backyard on the trampoline? Or I’d love us to try it here, or there, or the other place. Or I think bringing the fantasy into a request, forming it, and shaping it as a request is one way of really designing the sex life so that you get the excitement out of it that you need.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. That sounds like being really intentional about your sexual life, that the fantasies that you’re having, maybe things that you want to pour into your sexual life and being intentional about that is what you’re saying is important.
Laurie Watson: I think so. And certainly, some people are free enough to say, “Hey, you know, I saw this woman and I just thought she was so hot.” And their partner is not threatened by that. And that’s — and sometimes that keeps the neuroticism between the couple, right? If they’re safe enough to share that sort of thing versus the secret fantasy. And I want to be clear here, we’re not talking about fantasies of wishing to actually be with someone else. We are talking about just how our minds work. You know that we’re sexual beings and sexual creatures and we have imaginations about sex and that’s normal.
Dr. Adam Matthews: And I think it’s important, well it feels important for women to understand that men for this is constantly going. This is almost nonstop.
Laurie Watson: All the time.
Dr. Adam Matthews: And it’s not about, like you said, a desire to be with somebody else.
Laurie Watson: If you are young enough.
Dr. Adam Matthews: It slows down.
Laurie Watson: I will say, my older male clients say, “Well, I don’t think about it like I used to. Like every four seconds, you know. Yeah, I think about sex a few times a day, but I don’t think it’s as constant.”
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, but well, men that’s how we construct it typically constructed in fantasy instincts. And it’s in a story. That’s how the frame for sex, when we’re thinking about it, that’s the framework of it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just how it works.
Laurie Watson: Absolutely. It’s a great thing. I mean, I think, you know, I wish I could be male to experience that sort of level of testosterone and how exciting that was.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.
Laurie Watson: Yeah.
Dr. Adam Matthews: And then for men, understanding that women, to participate in a woman’s fantasy and to have her participate in ours, that there’s got to be some of that, the buildup and consideration of her relational and emotional fantasy that goes into that.
Laurie Watson: Yeah, I think so too. And I have a great example. Let’s come back to that after this break. You’re listening to Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy with Dr. Adam Matthews and sex therapist, Laurie Watson.
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Laurie Watson: Okay. We’re back with Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy with sex therapist, Laurie Watson and Dr. Adam Matthews, couple’s therapist. And today, we’re talking about his and her fantasies. What they are, what to do about them, how to share them, if to share them. And Adam, I was thinking as we were talking and on break, that you know, a lot of what I’ve just said is stereotypical. I got to say women have explicit genital sexual fantasies sometimes too.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Absolutely, yeah.
Laurie Watson: And they want certain things to happen in bed. So, it’s not like they never think about that. And I think men sometimes would like a little setup.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, well I think the relational part is the relational and emotional component is definitely important for men as well, even if we deny it. So yeah, like everybody seems to be different, but there are some things that maybe we can say that are pretty standard common differences maybe between men and women. Would you say is that fair?
Laurie Watson: Yeah. I would say so in general. I think one common fantasy I hear from women, and we’re not necessarily going to talk about all the fantasies at this point. But is the wish for more male energy about relationship and act. Which feels crazy because I think men are holding back their energy for fear that they’ll be rejected. And then, women go ahead and fantasize the great seducer with all this talent and his burst of desire for her. And how aroused he is in the moment. You know, which sometimes boils down unfortunately in a married relationship too, “Um, do you want to have sex tonight?” You know, and so that gets tamped down and both of them I think need to acknowledge fantasy and how that plays out. And maybe this is where they need to share with each other what they really want. Because they may be holding back the very thing that would excite them.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And I think men are sometimes scared about being perceived as dirty or for lack of a better word.
Laurie Watson: Only wanting one thing.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Or a horndog or something like that. Kind of label like that, and not as nuanced caveman like. Whatever the stereotypical cultural term for that is.
Laurie Watson: But somehow, it’s bad.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Bad.
Laurie Watson: That their sexual energy is somehow or another bad and not what woman want.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, so they hide that.
Laurie Watson: I agree. I agree. They hide that. And they take that away from the sexual relationship to protect the woman from this thing that they’ve been labeled bad or they get the feeling that they’re bad and then the relationship goes flat.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, yeah.
Laurie Watson: And they go flat.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Well, it becomes very hard when you want to feel that your partner does not see you as — wants to participate in the sexual relationship as much as you do. And I think women do.
Laurie Watson: Some women do. And you’re right though, I think some men, and obviously I’m skewed because as a sex therapist who I see in my office is frequently, the low desire woman and the higher desire male. And you know, it’s so disheartening. I mean, there’s so many jokes about it, right. You know, the best anti aphrodisiac food is wedding cake. And you know, all of that kind of stuff gets played in. And this fear and men have bait and switch, where you were sexual before and you’re not sexual now and all of that. And somehow or another they get labeled as the bad one. Wanting sex is somehow or another bad.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And relating that back to kind of the fantasies, I think the fantasies, that tends to be the way a lot of times that we communicate about sex. And so, when there’s fear there of being rejected or there’s fear that another person isn’t going to be on the same page with their fantasies. Is that we just don’t end up talking about sex at all. And so, I’m wondering too, when that happens, have you had clients where their fantasies just don’t line up? Or one person is rejecting of another person’s family, the other fantasies and how are you begin to deal with that?
Laurie Watson: Yeah. Over and over I have that. And it can be either way. I had a woman who she was having sex about once a quarter. And she said, you know, “I think I would have sex about twice a week if you could do some of these things.” And her fantasy list was simple. Didn’t cost anything. It was like shave before you come to bed, take a shower, wear your cowboy boots, light a candle. I mean most of them free.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Doable.
Laurie Watson: Doable, simple and free. And his sense was, “No, I don’t want to do all that crap. I mean, sex should just be natural. It should just happen.”
Dr. Adam Matthews: Spontaneously, out of the blue.
Laurie Watson: Spontaneously. Because I think what you’re saying, he was feeling all that sexual fantasy. And that was the way he thought about sex and this other setup fantasy was not his. And he didn’t want to do that. It felt like work. And I think likewise, a male fantasy maybe for a particular act. I want to do this. I mean the number one fantasy for men really is for oral sex. And of course, in this office, I hear a lot of women who don’t want to do that. And I know we’re not going to talk about oral sex today necessarily, but what do you do if this is something deeply important and intrinsic to your sexuality and your partner doesn’t want to do that?
Dr. Adam Matthews: It almost feels from the conversations that I’ve had with couples. It seems to almost be a rejection of themselves, in one sense. Like I’ve shared this fantasy with you. You don’t want to do it. In some cases, you may demonstrate, send a message that you’re repulsed by it or it’s the complete opposite of turning you on. And so, then it feels like it’s a rejection of the person themselves. Because it’s deeply personal.
Laurie Watson: Yeah. Our sexual self, I think is so vulnerable and so deeply rooted in who we are, to put something out there of what you want or what you like is a vulnerability. And I think that sometimes people aren’t careful with that. They don’t realize that the person, what they’re asking for is a part of who they are. And so, they’ll just be blatantly rejecting, “Oh, that’s disgusting. That’s gross. I would never want to do that.” Not realizing that maybe the person took some courage to put it out there. And its part and parcel to who they are.
Dr. Adam Matthews: How does a couple begin to move past that? I mean, I think somebody out there might say, “Oh, well, I guess I just have to do it, or I have to participate in something that I don’t want to or doesn’t turn me on.” Like, “I have to just kind of grin and bear it,” so to speak.
Laurie Watson: And that’s so soulless, right?
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, it’s so empty.
Laurie Watson: And if your partner agrees to do it that way.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.
Laurie Watson: I think it’d be difficult to get pleasure out of the act that you want if your partner is saying, “Well, okay, I’ll do it. I’ll give it to you.” I mean, it’s like, “Okay, just lay down and think of England.” I mean that is so soulless.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, absolutely. It’s not connecting either.
Laurie Watson: I think in a good sexual life, even if our partner asks us something, to do something, and brings a fantasy about how they want it to go that night or how the direction of the sex life that they want to take. I think we have to be very careful, very tactful, and very respectful realizing that even if my initial reaction is, you know, worry, fear, disgust, whatever it is to know that this, I’m going to be with this person forever. We’re in a monogamous commitment. And I need to find a way to think clearly about what they’re asking for and not be reactive. Which of course is the center point of all communication, right?
Dr. Adam Matthews: That’s right.
Laurie Watson: Is to take down our reactivity and to react and to have some curiosity. Both sides, you know, I tell the person who hears something that they really don’t want to do is first of all, be curious. You know, is this something that you just want to talk about, and we don’t actually need to do? Like let’s say, they feel like I could never do that in a million years. Would my partner be satisfied with a lesser expression of it? You know, if we just talk about doing it and how exciting it sounds to you, would that be fun and exciting? Or do we need to act it out for you to be fulfilled?
Dr. Adam Matthews: So, it’s asking a lot of questions, it sounds like.
Laurie Watson: Right. You know, maybe he says, “Well, I want to tie you up.” And she says, “You know, that feels too controlling. I feel afraid of that. I would never want to do that.” But maybe if they asked enough questions, they would get down to something that was acceptable. Maybe she could hold onto some scarves tied to the bed posts and be psychologically tied up. And he would find that really exciting and really great. You know? So, I mean, there are often ways to fulfill.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Variations, yeah.
Laurie Watson: Variations, right. And sometimes I think you come up against a sexual fantasy that you want. And your partner is not going to do and is never going to do. And how do you cope with that disappointment when your partner says flat out, “No, never going there. Never going to do it. What do you see in this?”
Dr. Adam Matthews: One of the things that I hear you talking about, something that I try to talk about with couples as well, which is a respect for each other in this. That I’m going to respect your fantasy first of all. And I’m going to respect that side of you and not reject it and ask questions about it. But then I’m also going to respect your ability to say no to me. And to have an openness that says, “We’re going to have a fulfilling sex life. We’re going to work it out together and we’re going to find something that both of us find fulfilling.” It’s almost like the compromise of, “I don’t like Chinese food. You don’t like burgers. But we both like Mexican.” Something like that that like, but I respect your choices, both the choices, the desires that you have and the ones that you don’t.
Laurie Watson: I like that. I really like that. That the respect is more important and out of that respect, perhaps they find compromise that is still exciting and fulfilling.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.
Laurie Watson: Yeah. One act alone, even if it would be disappointing not to have that. Doesn’t necessarily define everything.
Dr. Adam Matthews: I think that’s one of the keys. Because if I feel, and this is what I hear a lot of people, well if I can’t have this fantasy, then we just can’t have a fulfilling sex life. Or if we can’t do it this way, it’s not going to be fulfilling. That’s the part that, I hope that people can move away from. And there’s lots of different ways to cut that pie.
Laurie Watson: Be fulfilled.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Right.
Laurie Watson: And as much as I think the one party needs to respect the, no. I think the other party needs to examine the no on the inside, you know?
Dr. Adam Matthews: Oh, yeah. That’s good.
Laurie Watson: What is it about that you really feel you can’t do this? Is it an act that was pushed on you at some point, that would be a worst case scenario? Was it something that you know, you learn in childhood was bad about this act? Was it your own sort of obsessive compulsive parts like, I think I deal with a lot of clients, men and woman, who don’t like the smells, juices, you know, flavors and tastes of sexuality of the sex act. And they need to kind of grow beyond that. And they can. But they’ve never realized it isn’t hardwired in them. Because they haven’t analyzed it enough.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And so, that seems to me to be about us growing together in our sex life. I examine me. You examine you. And we’re going to grow together to make it better than it is right now. It seems to talk about the intentionality we were talking about before. We’re going to grow this thing together. And it’s going to be something that we both want.
Laurie Watson: I like that. And I would say that’s the tip of the day, right? That if you approach a real difference, there needs to be both respect and self-analysis, in order to work it all the way through.
Dr. Adam Matthews: I love that.
Laurie Watson: So, thank you, Dr. Adam Matthews for being with us and talking about his and her fantasies. And what they are and how to get through to each other when you have some differences. You’re listening to Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy, with your sex therapist, Laurie Watson, and author of Wanting Sex Again. You can find us on the web at ForeplayRST.com. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter. So, join us and give us your comments. We’d love to hear from you and that’ll help direct our show.
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