What does it mean if I think about someone else during sex? Is fantasizing about a celebrity during sex a form of cheating? Who’s more likely to fantasize about someone other than their partner – women or men? Jess tackles these questions and more in this week’s podcast.
**This transcript is our best automated version of the live podcast.**
Welcome to the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast. This is Jess O’Reilly, your friendly neighbourhood sexologist, and today I am in Phoenix for a cool event Body, Sex & Business and my next stops are in New York and Dallas, so perhaps I’ll see you in your city over the next few days.
This episode is brought to you by Desire Resorts and Cruises. Set sail on a clothing optional experience from Barcelona to Rome with me at the end of April. There are only a handful of cabins left, so get ‘em while the getting’s good.
Today I’ll be answering more listener questions about sex and relationships and we’re receiving a boatload every day. I’m having trouble keeping up, so I’m trying to categorize the questions thematically so that I can answer related questions all at once.
In the past few weeks, I’ve received a bunch of similar questions with regard to fantasizing during sex and they all have so much in common which tells me that this is a serious concern for many of you.
These questions tie in with the topic of my TED talk, Monogamish.
If you’re not familiar with my TED Talk from TEDx Vancouver, Monogamish, I’ll tell you a bit about it now:
It’s the single piece of media that elicits the most hate mail and I hope it remains so — meaning that I don’t want to produce something else that gets people just as angry at me. The haters call me everything from a dumb porn star to a pedophile. I read the comments on it once totally by accident and I started crying, so I’ve never been back. But you’re probably more concerned with the content than with my personal experience, so to sum it up, in this TED talk, I argue that the state of the modern relationship seems to be in crisis when we examine divorce rates, marital satisfaction rates, and infidelity rates. I argue that so-called pure monogamy, the notion of only having eyes for one soulmate forever and ever is unrealistic for most people if you want excitement and a hot sex life. Open relationships work with similar outcomes to monogamous ones, but they’re not for everyone and so I present an alternative option (not a solution), but an option, I call monogamish. This is the middle ground between monogamy and consensual non-monogamy and it involves looking at other people, thinking about other people, maybe even interacting in a flirtatious way with other people and sharing all of this with your partner to heighten the connection, growth, and passion in the relationship. If you want more, go watch the talk…so I can get on to the questions.
We’ll start with two questions from the same listener. She says I can use her name…Tonya is 29 and she asks…
1. If you are having sex with your boyfriend and your mind wanders and you picture someone else what does that mean?
It means you’re perfectly normal and you’re excited by novelty, challenge and/or the unknown. Just like we dream about a range of partners, scenarios and lifestyles, so too do our fantasies reflect this desire for variety.
2. Tonya also asks “So is it worse to visualize someone else’s face or to just think of them? If I literally think about another person’s body or face, I feel like it’s somehow worse.
I don’t believe that one is worse than the other. I think it’s healthy to fantasize about people other than your partner. I know it can seem scary (especially if you reverse the roles), but couples whose relationships have stood the test of time (especially those who still have hot sex lives!) will attest to the fact that a willingness to push comfort zones is essential to a lasting sexual relationship.
Having said that, I don’t write the rules in your relationship. You do — along with your partner.
Normally I’d say it’s up to you both to decide what is appropriate to the relationship, but when it comes to thought, I don’t know that your partner really gets a say. I think trying to regulate a partner’s fantasy will do more harm than good.
If you haven’t heard of the White Bear experiments, they’re worth examining in relation to your question. Research suggests that the very act of trying to suppress a thought only results in a higher frequency of it occurring. The reoccurrence of the thought is called the ‘rebound effect’. You may have heard of the white bear experiments. Study participants were divided into two groups. One group was told NOT to think of a white bear for five minutes and then told they could think of anything they wanted including white bears for the next five-minute interval of the experiment. Another group was simply told they could think of anything including white bears for five minutes. The first group – the group that was first told to suppress a thought – thought about white bears more often. Evidence that trying to suppress a thought has the opposite effect.
So if you try to suppress a thought or your partner expects you to do so, or pressures you to do so, it’s unlikely that it will work anyway.
3. The next question is from a listener in Detroit who wants to know…If I’m thinking about someone else in bed, does it mean my relationship isn’t going to last? Should I end it now?
Absolutely not. Thinking about someone else during sex isn’t a universal sign that your relationship is hanging by a thread. I know it’s scary. I know it probably makes you feel a little threatened, insecure or jealous to acknowledge that your partner also thinks about other people during (or before or outside of) sex. I get it.
I’m actually more concerned with what you’re not telling me. Is there something else in the relationship that’s concerning you and you’re fixating on this one issue – thinking of someone else in bed — to avoid dealing with something else.
But back to your question…Thinking about other people in an erotic way can have the opposite effect on your relationship if you have a foundation of love and trust and reassurance. When you admit to feelings or thoughts that make you uncomfortable; if your partner meets you with love, understanding, and support, intimacy deepens. And having tough conversations in which one or both of you have to say “I’m a little threatened” or “I feel a bit jealous” or “I need your reassurance”, also cultivates intimacy which lays the groundwork for eroticism within the context of predictable, stable relationships.
I suppose you might be concerned if you’re only turned on by one thing. But this could be the case with any fantasy. And it’s not universally concerning as long as you are with a partner with whom you’re compatible.
If you’re consistently fantasizing about someone AND you also feel an emotional attachment to, it might be time to reexamine that relationships — maybe even cut off that relationship. You should note, however, that having harmless crushes is normal when you’re in a committed, happy relationship and some research suggests that these crushes can actually be good for your relationship.
4. A listener from Vancouver asks…If I get off thinking about someone else, is it cheating?
Cheating is something that you have to define with your partner.
If you really believe that you can only be turned on by one person for the rest of your life, that’s perfectly fine.
For most people, however, this doesn’t work. They either break up or stay together in sexless marriages because the prospect of breaking up is scarier than actually working on their sex lives.
What constitutes cheating for one person may be perfectly acceptable for another. The key is talking about it openly with your partner. And embracing those vulnerable feelings (e.g. jealousy, insecurity) instead of projecting, withdrawing or lashing out.
5. And this one is totally anonymous, no name or city — Is it okay to fantasize about a celebrity or someone I don’t know?
Again, this is up to the couple.
Fantasizing about a celebrity (or talking about it with your partner) is often an effective and safe way to acknowledge that you’re sexual — not just sexual within the context of your current relationship – but sexual as a human being. You’re unlikely to ever meet your celebrity crush, so I think it’s an excellent way to explore the monogamish territory. I think most people are far less threatened by a distant image than by someone you know personally.
6. I think our sex life is good, but sometimes I think about another dude. Does this mean the sex is actually bad?
It doesn’t mean the sex is bad. You have to decide if the sex is good or bad. And not every encounter can be a ten out of ten!
It may, however, be an indication that you’re craving variety or novelty and this is the perfect opportunity to talk to your partner about your needs. Don’t wait! If you’re not getting what you want in bed, speak up. Do it constructively : I love ________. I’d also like to try ________. What do you think?
7. I seem to think about my mentors, bosses, and teachers in sexual ways. Do I need therapy?
If you find these thoughts distressful or they interfere with your daily functioning, it might be helpful to speak to a professional. BUT know that it’s normal to feel attracted to people in positions of power. There are many theories as to why we are attracted to teachers, mentors, bosses, etc., including the idea of relinquishing control can be highly erotic. There is so much pressure when it comes to sexual performance that taking on a submissive or student role can help to increase our ability to be present by reducing this pressure.
People in positions of power can make us feel safe and some people are turned on my safety. People in positions of power can also make us feel threatened and some of us are turned on by a sense of danger. Instead of worrying, why not play this out in the bedroom with your partner? You may be craving more dominance and submission in your sex life.
So to answer your question more clearly, thinking about a teacher or boss isn’t cause for concern or an indication that you should see a therapist; if however, these thoughts are distressful or interfering, then certainly seek additional support.
8. Who is more likely to think of someone else other than their partner in bed? The man or the woman?
‘Ellis and Symons’ research reveals that fantasies differ between men and women. They classify men’s fantasies as more lustful noting that men think about a greater number of partners and value visual images as more important than the fantasy of touch. Women are more likely to fantasize about the response of their lover and the themes tend to be more personal and emotional. Women also tend to focus on seduction and the content of their fantasies builds toward explicit sexual activity more slowly. As always, there is great variation even among the sexes, so if you find that your fantasies differ from research findings, fret not.
Though men fantasize about a greater number of partners, women tend to require more novelty. This is why they’re often into sex during the early stages of a relationship – it’s new and exciting.
The bottom line is that fantasizing about people other than your partner is extremely common regardless of gender.
Monogamy in terms of thought is unrealistic in most relationships. If it works for you, that’s perfectly fine (people love to use individual examples to tell me that I’m wrong), but in most cases, it doesn’t work. Just like eating the same food every day in the same quantity at the same time in the same location isn’t realistic, sex also thrives in the context of variety and novelty.
This podcast episode is brought to you by Desire Resorts.