How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
Is it normal to have fantasies that I would absolutely never want to indulge in in real life, even ones that I am morally disgusted by? I’ve always been horrified by the possibility of pregnancy and even mildly dubious consent in sexual situations, but I find myself thinking of those kinds of scenarios when I want to get off. Is this something I should be concerned about? I’m a nonbinary person who’s decidedly feminist and is personally opposed to having kids, but my fetishes seem to directly contradict those aspects of my personality. What’s up with this?
Stoya: Jesse Bering talks in Perv about this—or at least something similar.
Rich: I knew you’d mention Perv!
Stoya: It’s a good book.
Rich: It really is.
Stoya: Bering describes arousal as overcoming disgust, and mentions that after orgasm, the disgust sometimes returns quickly.
Rich: So Justin Lehmiller, a researcher and therapist I’ve talked to a few times for this column, also discusses this sort of thing in detail in Tell Me What You Want, which is a booklong breakdown of the results of a large survey about Americans’ sexual fantasies.
Rich: Where fantasies are concerned, forced sex is far from uncommon: “Nearly two-thirds of the women I surveyed reported having them. It’s not just women who have forced-sex fantasies, though. More than half of the men I surveyed fantasized about being forced to have sex, too.”
Stoya: This fits with my anecdotal experience
Rich: And the thing about these fantasies that play with the notion of consent is that they’re, in general, ultimately consensual, since the fantasizer guides the fantasy. A forced-sex fantasy doesn’t necessarily bespeak a death wish.
Stoya: I just handled a question from a woman whose moral code is at odds with her sexual desires, and I want our writer to know that they’re not alone in feeling conflict about their desires. Also some fantasies are just that—fun to imagine, with no need to ever follow through on acting them out.
Rich: Right. One of the things that you said in a previous chat that really made things click was about BDSM and submitting as a woman. Instead of upholding a patriarchal system, it can be a way of examining it up close and working through it.
Rich: Thus, there is no inherent ideological conflict in being, say, feminist and submissive.
Stoya: So working stuff out via fantasy or actual sex can be an entirely healthy exercise.
Rich: This may be somewhat controversial, but Lehmiller also said he noticed queer people being more likely to admit to taboo fantasies than nonqueers: “Broadly speaking, what I found was that people who identified as anything other than heterosexual were more likely to fantasize about sexual freedom in numerous forms. Specifically, nonheterosexuals were more likely to fantasize about BDSM, nonmonogamy, taboo acts, and gender-bending. If you think about it, the common denominator for all of these interests is that they involve breaking free of cultural rules or constraints for how we should act or behave. Therefore, one potential explanation is simply that having a nonheterosexual orientation predisposes one to developing these other interests because breaking one sexual taboo makes it less costly to violate others.”
Stoya: I would meddle with the wording a smidge. But it all makes sense to me.
Rich: Yeah, overall, it’s intuitive. Of course, locating where these fantasies come from is virtually impossible and pure speculation. But like Judd Nelson says in The Breakfast Club: Being bad feels pretty good. The very taboo nature of these fantasies may be what’s so attractive about them.
Rich: I’ll borrow Lehmiller’s brain one more time. Regarding the managing of this stuff, he writes, “When people believe that their sexual desires are uncommon, weird, or abnormal, they tend to repress them—they keep these desires to themselves, with perhaps Google being the only other entity that has any clue. That isn’t healthy. When we feel ashamed or guilty about what turns us on, it can potentially lead to sexual performance difficulties.”
So for the sake of our writer’s mental health, embracing this stuff, and understanding the vast gulf between reality and fantasy could be very useful.
More How to Do It
I’m having a wonderful affair with a man. We’re both married, but we’re careful and responsible—it’s what we both need to survive in our marriages, and it’s what’s best for both of us. The problem is social distancing because of the coronavirus. Our spouses and kids are now both home full time, and getting away to see each other has been impossible. I’m miserable without the sex and companionship, and so is the man I’m seeing. At one point, he suggested meeting in our cars by the grocery store. I obviously declined. Then today, he called me and said to go to my window and waved to me from his car. I feel like I am on the verge of doing something risky. What can I do to keep my head on straight here?