I have a newsboy cap.
Actually I have two of them. One is black and one is green because I like options as much as I love hats. When I say newsboy cap you probably totally know what I’m talking about. They were ubiquitous among the young men who delivered and/or sold newspapers on street corners. At least as seen in black and white photos of the 30s. They are soft and comfortable and keep the sun out of my eyes. They are brilliant for hiding a bad hair day.
I also have zero desire for becoming a newsboy. I like being a therapist. And I think it generally pays better, at least most days, then selling newspapers curbside.
Human beings have a unique capacity to “try on” (whether literally or figuratively) multiple ways of expressing who we are. It helps us define not only who we are, but also who we are not. Freud Is famous for saying “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” And it is equally true that sometimes a newsboy hat is just a newsboy hat.
And sometimes a fantasy is just a fantasy.
Fantasy Does Not Define Reality
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) is the manual that clinician use to assign a diagnosis. It refers to “anomalous” fantasies. As a licensed clinician with a post-doc in sexology I realize I have very wide margins of “normal” but I can’t be the only one who wonders what anomalous is supposed to mean in this context.
More than 30 years ago, the Masters and Johnson research team started releasing their findings about sexual fantasies. About 75% of our sexual fantasies are “normal” sex. Which means the other 25% is about things that have some level of intrigue for us but isn’t something we necessarily want to try out. For example? The researchers noted that among homosexual and heterosexual men, both groups fantasized about having sex with a person not of their traditional orientation. That was as high on the list as BDSM fantasies, group sex fantasies, and all the other common fantasy behaviors that people experience. In fact, more recent research, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, tried to parse out what fantasies are “normal” and what are “atypical.”
And guess what? Sexual fantasy is so complex and diverse that the study authors found it exceptionally difficult to define anything as either typical or rare. A rich fantasy life is just an integral part of being human.
Dr. Adrian Warren, a licensed clinician in private practice in San Antonio, TX notes that sometimes fantasies can represent what Jung referred to as the shadow self, the darker part of our human nature. He relates to fantasies as symbolic ways of exploring the shadow aspects of human nature, which is far different from presuming they are indicative of being a terrible or evil human being. He states “Like all shadows they are only 2-dimensional objects of light and dark. The outlines probably do, to one degree or another, represent a truly dark side of us. But they are filled in by thoughts, fantasies, nightmares, and dreams that rarely take form. The details hidden inside the shadow are incredibly intimate and vulnerable.”
The sexual inventory checklist I use with clients about sexual activities has four options: yes, no, I don’t know, and fantasy only. This stems from the fact that I’ve had clients tell me, with great horror, that after sharing a fantasy with a partner, their partner went to great trouble trying to fulfill it for them…and they had no genuine interest in making it real.
Being intrigued by an idea or turned on by it isn’t the same thing as being interested in trying it out in real life. Human beings are storytelling animals. They may be a reflection of our true desires, or our shadow selves. Only the person having the fantasy knows for sure.
Fantasy is Not Obsession (2/3rds of Women Don’t Actually WANT to Be Raped)
A 2015 study of women published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that that up to 62% of women in the study had experienced rape fantasies. Do 62% of women secretly harbor a desire to be raped? Maybe some losers on 4chan think so, but I seriously doubt it. This is the important part.
The researcher looked at how often the fantasy occurred. And the respondents essentially said “hardly ever.” As in once a week, maybe once a month.
And when the researchers unpacked the “why” behind the rape fantasy? It wasn’t tied to the idea of not having to take responsibility for a sexual encounter but was actually tied to a younger generation being experientially open and fantasy allowing them to express that without actual violation.
The women who reported this particular fantasy had HIGHER self-esteem overall, more positive attitudes about sex overall, and a general wider variety of sexual fantasy overall. Rape fantasy was a small part of a much larger picture.
Dr Jacqueline Parsons, a licensed counselor and neurofeedback practioner with offices in Marble Falls, TX and San Antonio, TX agrees, noting “There’s no such thing as a normal sexual fantasy-topics include BDSM, same sex encounters, rape fantasies, etc. Individuals often get more adventurous in their heads than in their bedrooms.” She goes on to state that Freud was just dead wrong when he proclaimed that a happy person never fantasizes. In reality, it’s a sign of an active and healthy imagination.
Fantasy and Role Play Can Allow an Authentic Identity to Be Present
I’ve seen a far greater number of clients in my private practice who are into sexual role play. The internet has made it so much easier to find people with similar interests and engage in a sexual relationship with them setting up elaborate stories and settings in which they can enact certain roles that would be otherwise impossible.
I’ve seen this be especially true of my clients who are trans* or otherwise gender non-conforming. If you feel uncomfortable in your physical body presentation, role playing as someone else allows you a new level of freedom. Many younger clients have told me that role playing games were their first self-awareness of the gender identity. That starting in puberty they found themselves picking characters of their authentic gender instead of birth assignment.
A lot of people are just big fans of certain characters and really enjoy cosplay. Bringing that cosplay into their sexual relationships simply enhances the experience. Whether you are dressing up as your favorite Marvel character, wearing a firefighter’s uniform, or even just a newsboy cap, you don’t need to hate you body to enjoy being someone else now and then!
So When IS It A Problem? Things To Watch Out For
While I am totally the queen of “you do you and let your freak flag fly,” sexual fantasy and role play can end up being problematic. Here are some warning signs: