There are some questions that come up more naturally when you’re starting to date someone new. What do you do? Where are you from? How do you spend your Sundays? As you get further down the road, the conversations become a bit more loaded but are still just as common: defining the relationship, goals and desires for the future, and so on. The topic of sex does not come naturally to many people. How many of your partners have asked you what your sexual fantasies are? Moreover, how many of your friends even discuss it with each other?
There’s often an unnecessary shame around fantasies, paired with feelings of embarrassment and the perceived need for secrecy, when in fact, research shows that many of the most shied-away-from fantasies are a lot more common than you might think. In a study of 4,200 Americans, Dr. Justin Lehmiller found some of the most common fantasies to be group sex, power play (i.e., dominance, sadism or masochism, etc.), non-monogamy, fetishes/kinks, and sexual fluidity, among others.
Board-certified sex therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist Shadeen Francis said, “sexual fantasies can be about transcending and feeling creative and liberated in a completely different world, free from any of the constraints of everyday life.” Fantasies give us a chance to go outside of our typical comfort zone and discover other scenarios that might give us pleasure. Still, broaching the subject with a new partner (or even someone you’ve been with for a long time) can be intimidating, to say the least.
But talking to your partner about your fantasies—or embracing them on your own—is just as impactful as talking about masturbation, and these conversations can even help improve your sex life. While Francis reminded us that “not all fantasies are things that we actually want to do or are ready to do,” she emphasized that “sharing [your] fantasies can increase intimacy” with your partner. So how can we start to build that line of communication?
If you’re hesitant to approach the subject, here are four ways to ease the discomfort of talking about your fantasies with your partner.
1. Keep it Fun and Light
In a recent podcast interview, clinical sexologist Dr. Kristie Overstreet said to think of fantasies as a “sexual buffet.” She suggested presenting your desires to your partner as options. Be open about the things you’re interested in and make sure they know that they can choose which of them they want to try or not try. What partner is going to turn down a sexual buffet, right? Keep the conversation light and fun to remind your partner that there’s no pressure to act on your fantasies if they do not want to.
2. Set the Mood
Francis recommended being mindful of the time and place that you choose to start the conversation. You want your partner to be in the right headspace, and you want to feel comfortable too. This situation is going to be different for everyone. For some people, it could mean bringing it up after you’ve had sex and the subject is clearly top of mind. For others, it could be over dinner at home. More often today, it could be over text message. If that’s the case, make sure you have their time and attention so you aren’t left wondering and waiting for a response.
3. “I have a friend who…”
The oldest trick in the book. Not quite ready to admit that you spend your nights fantasizing about group sex or non-monogamy? Dip your toe in the water by telling them about your “friend.” This way, you can start to get a read on how your partner feels about the topic. If you aren’t thrilled about their reaction to hearing about your “friend,” you can decide whether this is something you’re alright with tabling or if holding it back is going to put a strain on your relationship. Again, maybe you want to keep your fantasy a fantasy, but if you have an inkling to act on it, creating this openness with your partner is important for the health of your relationship.
4. Lean on pop culture and the media
One step beyond a fictional friend, Dr. Overstreet suggested treading into telling your partner about something sexual you’re interested in by telling them you saw it in a movie, heard it in a podcast, or read about it in an article. If you’re nervous to say this is an existing fantasy, saying you saw, heard, or read about it will help normalize it and take the pressure and spotlight off you. Hey, you can even use this article if you want.
“We create scenarios to achieve a feeling, to get needs met,” Francis explained. The fantasies we create in our mind can be a great way to discover more about ourselves. And as Francis reminded us, “whatever else you want to do with the fantasies is up to you and the power of consent and communication.”
Whether you decide to share your fantasies with someone else or keep them for yourself, the most important thing is to continue to tune into your desires and don’t shy away from the things that bring you pleasure.