We may think of fantasies—especially sexual fantasies—as something frivolous and superficial.
This mindset goes back to childhood daydreams that we may have had about being a superhero and saving the world, for instance. As adults, we know that it had nothing to do with real life and it was a momentary escape into something that felt good in the moment.
We may also have been admonished as children to stop “wasting our time” fantasizing.
In adulthood, fantasies can be of a sexual nature that we don’t expect—or even necessarily want—to be played out in real life.
As someone who likes to look at life from a lens that digs down beneath the surface, I wasn’t surprised to learn that women have sexual fantasies just as much as men do, despite what is conventionally believed.
What is surprising is that these fantasies can actually point to something from childhood.
If your girlfriend has admitted to having a hidden fantasy, it’s most likely about more than simply a sexual “thrill” and physical pleasure.
Here’s a play-by-play of what we—as well as a couple of experts—believe is really going on.
1) First of all, it’s important to understand that fantasies are a very individual thing
According to sex researcher Justin Lehmiller, it’s impossible to make blanket statements about the underlying reasons people have about a particular fantasy. He says that someone could have the same fantasies for totally different reasons.
“Our fantasies are very complex and the degree of emphasis and focus on sex differs from one person to another, because what we find erotically appealing, or what turns us on, is so incredibly different from one person to the next,” Lehmiller told Insider.
In his book, Tell Me What You Want, Lehmiller surveyed 4,175 Americans about their favorite sexual fantasies. He found that emotional needs are often deeply connected to what people find arousing.
2) Fantasizing about being dominated in the bedroom can be about the desire to let go of control
Maybe you grew up in a household where there was a strict sense of discipline.
You didn’t speak out of turn and you had what today is often referred to as “helicopter” parents—they were also hovering over you as a form of “protection.”
Or it could be that your childhood was very regimented. After school, you had music or dance lessons, followed by tutoring, dinner, homework, 30 minutes of TV, and then lights out at 9:30 pm. Practically every minute of the day was accounted for.
Weekends were about family time, but the routine was to visit Grandma on Saturdays and then church on Sundays. Sure you had fun times with friends, but these were chaperoned outings that had to be scheduled well in advance so they could “fit” in with the flow of your life.
Now that you’re an adult with the control to do whatever you want and however you want, you find that you yearn for that control in some semblance of your life—and it’s the bedroom.
“If you fantasize about being dominated in the bedroom, it could be because you want to lose control,” says Lehmiller. It takes the pressure off you to perform—something that was imposed on you since childhood.
“I think submission for a lot of people, they find it to be a very freeing sort of experience that allows them to get out of their head and get into the moment,” adds Lehmiller.
3) Threesomes can be all about attention
This one is certainly a popular sexual fantasy and it could relate to not having received enough loving attention growing up.
Maybe you were the middle child whose needs were often missed, dismissed, or glossed over.
Perhaps you were raised by a single parent whose attention was mainly focused on the two jobs they had to work to keep the roof over your heads as well as food on the table.
So the “latch-key” kid in you had no choice but to spend lots of time alone after school—and even on weekends. You internalized the idea that you weren’t important enough to make time for.
A threesome can fulfill the deep-seated desire of having all of the attention focused on you and solely you. This can make you feel sought out, wanted, fascinating, and the center of attention.
4) Consider this viewpoint on voyeurism
If your girlfriend is turned on by the idea of a voyeuristic fantasy, it could signal a comfort level with her body and sexuality—something that perhaps wasn’t always the case.
Exploring elements of exhibitionism could be an example of her sexual evolution.
Examples of voyeurism could include wanting to make a video of your bedroom “escapades,” for instance.
Psychologists say that people with voyeuristic fantasies often enact them with their partners which is completely healthy.
They say it’s also an escape and satisfies a person’s deeper psychological needs as it points to a release of inhibitions.
5) Exhibitionism can be about a deep desire to be “seen”
Having a sexual fantasy that involves being intimate in public places, for instance—also known as a form of exhibitionism—could point to a psychological desire of wanting to be seen.
This could stem from your girlfriend growing up with a “good girl syndrome.”
Perhaps she was raised with the conception that “nice girls” shouldn’t talk about or enjoy sex. The fantasy might portray her need to bring the idea of having sex out in the open.
Sex therapists also say that the primary goal of exhibitionism is to purposely put oneself in a vulnerable spot and that the vulnerability evokes sexual assignment.
The takeaway: understand the exploration of sexual fantasies as part of a person’s sexual evolution
Having sexual fantasies that might be considered “taboo” isn’t something to be ashamed about. Rather, they can signal something deeper from your partner’s past.
Fantasizing about something that is taboo or disturbing does not mean you’re a bad or “sick” person,” emphasizes sex expert Laura Anne Stuart.
“Unless your fantasies are negatively affecting your relationships with others, it’s best to accept that fantasies are a normal part of human sexuality and that sexuality is something that we don’t fully control.”
Lehmiller adds that sexual fantasies can serve to create a cognitive space to induce and increase arousal and reduce anxiety.
“It may provide a space for escapism so the person can show up fully as their sexual self,” he explains. “Fantasy may allow the exploration of themes such as power in a healthy and controlled manner.”
Psychotherapist Silva Neves also has an intriguing take on sexual fantasies:
“Sexual fantasies can be about transcending ourselves, and feeling creative and liberated in a completely different world, free from any of the constraints of everyday life,” she says.
She says that sexual fantasies can help us to integrate our fears and issues.
“Sometimes fantasies are driven by violating prohibition, that is a very potent driver,” she says “If a person feels that something is perceived by society as bad, edgy or not politically correct, even if it’s legal, it can be liberating to play it out in secret without judgment.”
Communication—and indeed a safe space—is the key.