What is normal when it comes to sexual fantasies?


Off and on, depending upon whether it coincides with my eating dinner, I listen to the daily CBC-produced radio program Q with Jian Ghomeshi that is broadcast by my local NPR station. It is a reasonably good program, more heavy on longer interviews with arts and cultural figures than the CBC show it replaced that was called As It Happens.

So I was shocked to hear that the host had been fired last Friday after it was revealed by the Toronto Star that he indulged in very violent sexual encounters with women. The details given are lurid and shocking. Ghomeshi claims that it was all consensual and that anyway it is his private life, but eight women (seven of them choosing to remain anonymous in that story, but today a new figure has come forward describing a similar experience) have provided detailed accounts that suggest otherwise, and describe Ghomeshi in ways that suggest he really enjoyed taking women by surprise and beating them up quite severely as sexual foreplay.

I tend to take the view that what consenting adults do is their own business and have got used to the idea that people get pleasure from an array of practices that would never have occurred to me and seem to be quite unpleasant. Even if consent was given here (and it seems doubtful from the early reports), the descriptions of what went on were of such a nature that they gave me pause, wondering how anyone could enjoy doing such things and raises the question of what exactly is ‘normal’ and if anything does lie outside some ultimate boundary.

Coincidentally, I read today about a study that looked into male and female sexual fantasies and tried to distinguish between what is normal and what is not. Here are some results:

  • The nature of sexual fantasies are varied among the general population. Few fantasies can be considered statistically rare, unusual, or typical (see glossary).
  • However, not surprisingly, the study confirms that men have more fantasies and describe them more vividly than women. The study also tells us that a significant proportion of women (30% to 60%) evoke themes associated with submission (e.g., being tied up, spanked, forced to have sex).
  • Importantly, unlike men, women in general clearly distinguish between fantasy and desire. Thus, many women who express more extreme fantasies of submission (e.g. domination by a stranger) specify that they never want these fantasies to come true. The majority of men, however, would love their fantasies to come true (e.g. threesomes).
  • As expected, the presence of one’s significant other is considerably stronger in female fantasies than in male fantasies. In general, men in couples fantasize much more about extramarital relationships compared to women.

This study only looked at the prevalence of fantasies to arrive at some judgment about what might be considered normal. It is not necessarily the case that what is rare, and thus ‘not normal’, need be condemned as wrong.

Comments

  1. doublereed says

    I would say that “normal” is a dangerous, loaded word in most cases. After all, if something is not normal then it is abnormal. There are better words with less connotation.

    Importantly, unlike men, women in general clearly distinguish between fantasy and desire. Thus, many women who express more extreme fantasies of submission (e.g. domination by a stranger) specify that they never want these fantasies to come true. The majority of men, however, would love their fantasies to come true (e.g. threesomes).

    I’m sorry but this is a ridiculous comparison, and gives me no insight to the findings of the study. It gives the impression that men’s fantasy’s are less violent than women’s fantasies, and that it why there’s more of a distinction between fantasy and reality. I have no idea if that’s accurate.

    The study also tells us that a significant proportion of women (30% to 60%) evoke themes associated with submission (e.g., being tied up, spanked, forced to have sex).

    30% – 60%? That’s… kind of a wide range…

  2. tecolata says

    The difference between fantasy of being forced to submit and actually being forced to submit is that in fantasy the fantasizer (if that’s a word) is in control. She/he writes the script, so to speak. How anyone can mix up fantasy of submission with assault is beyond me.

    I really hesitate to ever call it “rape fantasy” because the whole point of any sexual assault is to remove all control and agency and humanity from the victim. The opposite of fantasy.

  3. moarscienceplz says

    Agree with Tabby Lavalamp. This is not a question of “normal” vs. “fringe” sexual fantaises and desires. Ghomeshi forced women to do things they did not want to do – he raped them!

    There are both men and women who enjoy BDSM. The humane ones find each other on BDSM sites or places that cater to those desires, and they discuss in advance what is OK with everybody and what is not. They do not try to turn a “vanilla” into a submissive by force or surprise.

  4. WhiteHatLurker says

    Agree with Tabby Lavalamp. Gomeshi should be charged with assault and sexual assault. And, likely, he will be very soon.

  5. Holms says

    I would say that “normal” is a dangerous, loaded word in most cases. After all, if something is not normal then it is abnormal. There are better words with less connotation.

    Agreed, common and uncommon are not only more accurate terms, but also come without negative connotations.

  6. lanir says

    Anything sexual that actively involves another person requires their consent.

    Anything that is not a common expectation requires more care and explanation to make sure everyone is on the same page.

    These things are easy to understand but people get caught up in all sorts of silly preconcieved notions because sex is involved. So let’s simplify it with an analogy.

    Imagine this (or just about any other story involving sex you want to talk about reasonably) is instead the story of people inviting friends to their house. What they do with their friends most of us would think is their business and not ours. Obvious exceptions exist but generally if nobody is harmed we don’t care what they’re getting up to. Now for this scenario, imagine they go out in the back yard and decide to play football. How do you do this? You ask and if this meets with approval, you play. If the other party isn’t interested you don’t play. And you certainly don’t randomly tackle people without warning and then claim you were just playing football. And that’s kind of what is being described by the women. To properly portray all of the problems, we’ll say flag football is the norm so tackling is rather unusual to begin with and would need to be mentioned before play starts to begin with. And the guy doing the random tackling is either your boss or someone who can destroy your career if you speak up about it.

    I think the analogy works fairly well. Anytime you want to do something unusual such as play a different way or play with different numbers of people or special rules you need to talk about it first. Sex is very much the same in that respect. The risk of harm if someone is making up their own rules as they go along is if anything even greater with sex but with that caveat the logic structure suffices to get the general idea across. Consent and agreement on how to play is everything.

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