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Just how different are men and women's fantasy lives?

Are women’s and men’s fantasy lives vastly different, or are they basically the same except for a few variations on theme and frequency? We suppose it depends on who you ask and what they believe. Because people’s prior beliefs about how women and men approach sex can really affect the way they interpret research on the matter.

Take a recent article in an Australian newspaper that begins, “We’ve all heard it before: Our brains are our most powerful sexual organs. But what goes on inside those well-used organs is largely down to gender. According to new research…” In other words, men’s fantasy lives are from Mars and women’s are from Venus.

The article then links to a press release about the original research… with the following headline: “A study shows that men and women have the same sexual fantasies” [sarcastic italics ours]. To really underscore the point, the first line of the press release reads, “A study conducted at the University of Granada [has] demonstrated that there are not significant differences between men’s and women’s sexual fantasies.” [ditto on the italics]

Um, we know that people are pretty invested in the idea that men and women are really different in bed, but this takes the cake! What the study actually found is that men and women tend to fantasize about the same things, but at different rates. Which we think is totally fascinating — so we have no idea why people feel the need to misinterpret the data. (Oh, wait, we do have an idea: People are comfortable with the idea that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. They don’t necessarily like the idea that women can enjoy sex as much and as creatively as men.)

The researchers interviewed 2,250 Spaniards (half men, half women) between 18 and 73 years old who had been in a heterosexual relationship for at least 6 months. Here are a few of the fascinating — and true! — things they discovered:

  • Almost 100% of the men and women had experienced a “pleasant” sexual fantasy at least once, while about 80% had experienced a “negative or unpleasant” sexual fantasy. The press release is in pretty badly translated English, so we’re unclear on what exactly “negative or unpleasant” means — that you didn’t enjoy the fantasy? That you enjoyed it but felt bad afterward? That you enjoyed it even though society says you shouldn’t have? That you didn’t enjoy the fantasy but climaxed anyway and are totally flummoxed by this, just like Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Grey?
  • Men and women differed in their takes on what makes an “unpleasant” fantasy: Men were more likely to list homosexual sex as an unpleasant fantasy, while women were more likely to list “being forced into sex” as an unpleasant fantasy.
  • Men are more likely than women to fantasize about “exploratory sexual activities” like group sex. Then again, we’d like to see this research repeated in another year or so, when Fifty Shades has been fully absorbed into our collective sexual consciousness.
  • Women are more likely than men to fantasize about being forced into sex. Then again, perhaps they’re just more likely to admit to this — at least, that’s what our Wise Guys think. By the way, this article on HuffPoUK has some great insights into women’s fantasies about coercive sex.
  • Both men and women have intimate or romantic fantasies about their long-term partner.
  • Overall, men fantasize more often than women (exact figures not given).
  • That said, women have “pleasant” sexual fantasies more often than men (again, exact figures not given). Or perhaps women are just less conflicted about their fantasy topics.

All in all, the research kind of leaves us hanging. A big tease, if you will. But we’re excited that people are starting to study sexual fantasy more, as we think it’s a vast, largely unexplored realm — and the more research there is, the more people will understand that (a) sexual fantasy is totally normal, (b) sexual fantasy can improve your sex life, your libido and your relationship, and (c) women fantasize too!

In the meantime, if you’re looking for further reading, check out the book Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head: The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies by our pal Brett Kahr.

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