Earlier this year, Dr. Justin Lehmiller published his book Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. Dr. Lehmiller is a researcher and writer about human sexuality. I became familiar with his work from his blog, Sex and Psychology and use his textbook in my graduate Human Sexuality Course. I was excited to see him write something for the general public as his previous writings have been more academic.
Dr. Lehmiller wrote this book based on the results of a survey he conducted in which he asked more than 4,000 Americans over 350 questions about sexual fantasies. He also obtained information about sexual histories, psychological profiles and demographics. What emerged from the data is that Americans fantasize about sex a lot and many things that might not seem “normal” are quite normal after all.
When people come in to treatment for anything relating to sex, I always get questions about what is normal. How often do people have sex? How much porn viewing is normal? I have a fetish, does that mean I am not normal? For some reason, we are worried about our sexual appetites and arousal templates not being normal. I always answer that there is no such thing as normal but after reading this book, the “normal” that so many people assume about American sexuality is not terribly normal at all.
So, what are the top seven things Americans fantasize about? The number one sexual fantasy is about multi-partner sex. Coming in at number two is power, control and rough sex. Third is novelty, adventure and variety. Fourth is taboo or forbidden sex. Rounding out the bottom three are partner sharing and non-monogamous relationships, passion and romance and erotic flexibility (homoeroticisim and gender bending).
Instead of summarizing the entire book (go read it for all the juicy details), I’ll give you some fun facts. Men and women are different in how they fantasize. Interestingly, Dr. Lehmiller found that when women fantasize, they don’t really fantasize about a particular person but in their fantasies, women frequently see themselves as the object of desire. They are the focus of the fantasy, not the other person. Men, on the other hand, tend to be the actors in a fantasy, acting on an object of desire.
What do your politics say about your sexual fantasies? Well, if you are a Democrat, you are more likely to fantasize about things like intimacy, bonding and BDSM. The Republicans, on the other hand, were much more likely to fantasize about things that are a bit more taboo such as orgies, infidelity and swinging. Republicans were also more likely to fantasize about things like exhibitionism and voyeurism. Why you ask? Dr. Lehmiller suggest that we tend to want what those in positions of authority tell us we can’t have!!!
Dr. Lehmiller’s book is a helpful resource for both therapists and non-therapists alike. Many Americans deal with a great deal of sexual shame. They either have been told or believe that their sexual fantasies, desires or behavior are wrong, sinful, perverted etc. The fact is, the opposite is quite true. When we hold sexual shame, we tend to repress our true sexual feelings. This can cause problems in relationships but also in our own mental health.
I will end this short review with the following quote from the book:
“What all this tells us is that we need to stop judging whether sexual desires are healthy or unhealthy based only on how many people in the population have them. Instead, what we really need to do is look at sexual interests on a case by case basis and ask ourselves two questions that have nothing to do with how many people have them: (1) is this sexual activity consensual or non consensual? (2) does it pose an unacceptable risk of harm to one or more people that goes well beyond the usual risks of having sex?” p181
Dr. Lehmiller has a slightly different take on what I say frequently to my clients and students about sexual desires. I don’t care what it is as long as it is consensual and legal!
I encourage you to read Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. If nothing else, maybe it helps erase some sexual shame, which is something our culture needs more of!