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Fantasies, Tell Me What You Want #474
On the Regular version of today’s show …
Dr Justin Lehmiller joins me to talk about his research surround fantasies and sex.
On the Xtended version …
Justin and I continue the conversation about fantasies and discuss more about where they come from and what to do with them.
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Narrator: You are listening to the regular version of Sexy Marriage Radio, passionatelymarried.net. You've turned on Sexy Marriage Radio, where the best sex happens in the marriage bed. Here's your host, Dr. Corey Allen.
Corey Allan: Welcome back to another episode of Sexy Marriage Radio, where this time Pam, we're recording with a little puppy in the room.
Pam Allan: Yes. Yes, we've got a puppy and there's been some... You know, that newborn kind [crosstalk 00:00:37]-
Corey Allan: Like having a newborn.
Pam Allan: She's smart though. It's been good.
Corey Allan: Yeah. So all that's to say there could be some noise in the background. Who knows, because it's a puppy. It's like life-
Pam Allan: We're good.
Corey Allan: ... Things don't always go the way you plan. Sometimes you get interrupted, but how do you recover and keep going? I think that's the whole point of what makes married life great.
Pam Allan: That's right.
Corey Allan: That's what makes sex great. And that's what we want to talk about here in Sexy Marriage Radio land.
Pam Allan: That's right.
Corey Allan: So thank you for taking this time out of your day each and every week to spend it with us. We want to hear from you and what's going on in your part of the SMR Nation world and way you can let us know that is you can give us a call at (214) 702-9565, leave us any kind of a voicemail with your question, your comments, your topic that you want us to dive deeper on or explain a little bit more. They set up last week's episode that we did on gridlock in the Xtended content was continued in Slack by the Academy, and then further continued in this month's, June's, coaching Q&A call that happens every month-
Pam Allan: Yeah, great conversation.
Corey Allan: ... With a community of people trying to explain more. And that's the whole point of what we want to try to do because sometimes 30 minute show's just not enough.
Pam Allan: Right.
Corey Allan: So if you want more, let us know, (214) 702-9565 or firstname.lastname@example.org. And then also, we'd love it if, as part of the SMR Nation, if you'd help us spread the word. Jump on iTunes or Spotify or Google Play, rate and review and leave a comment, particularly, because that helps spread the word and expand the horizons of what our show is trying to create and reach more and more people so that they can see and taste what married life really can be and all that that means. And it's also a little sad if I think about it right now-
Pam Allan: What is sad?
Corey Allan: ... Because normally, this time of year, we would be running out shows that we recorded while at the Sexy Marriage Radio Getaway.
Pam Allan: Yeah. Yeah, I'm with you there because that's always a lot of fun. We got live audiences, we're talking and going through things and it's fun to see their facial reactions when we're talking about things because we kind of feed off of that too. So we really miss having that this year.
Corey Allan: Right. So because the Getaway didn't happen in 2020 with all that's gone on in our world, we miss that. We miss the opportunity to have met several members of the Nation, but worry no more, it's coming up again next year in 2021.
Pam Allan: Yeah, we'll be back in person for that. Well, that's the plan. I say that-
Corey Allan: As long as-
Pam Allan: Oh my gosh.
Corey Allan: As long as the world continues in a upward trajectory, we plan on doing this again in 2021. And obviously circumstances can change, but it's on the books for in June. More details will be coming. We'll open up registration later on into the fall and hope you can come see us.
Pam Allan: I'm just thinking of an elder at a place we would always go and his phrase was always, "Lord willing and the creek don't rise."
Corey Allan: Lord willing and the creek don't rise.
Pam Allan: All the time. So Lord willing and the creek don't rise.
Corey Allan: Depending on where you are in this part of the world, the creeks are rising in some regards, metaphorically and figuratively, with the way things have been going lately. But we're here for you and we look forward to the chance to maybe get to spend some time with you because Getaways are a fantastic way to spend four days.
Well, it's interesting because also we got an email that came in after last week's show because I made a reference to the Kinsey Institute and research that they were kind of the pioneers in the sexuality research field. Masters and Johnson came along right after them and then the field really started expanding. And if you go back even a macro-level, Murray Bowen is a part of that whole concept of studying systems and dynamics and relationships where before, everything was kind of predicated off of what Freud did on just doing the inner workings of a person. And so then they started moving it to the external and the relationships and the dynamics and that's where my training resides.
But an email came in that says, "Hey, Corey, first of all, I really enjoy your podcast. I particularly enjoy the interaction with Pam on the show." I do too.
Pam Allan: Thank you so much.
Corey Allan: "Her insight is greatly appreciated. On podcast 472, I referred to Alfred Kinsey and even noted him as a sexual pioneer. Maybe I'm throwing the baby out with the bath water, but Kinsey was a well known deviant with the research claims he did. And I have a hard time giving him any credibility."
I'll agree. He was a well known deviant. A lot of the research that he did is like, in today's standards for sure, but even back then, in today's standards, it's like really? But the sad thing, but also the positive thing to me, is we get better, we start looking out for people more, as things are evolving, that's the world, right? This is my personal opinion, I don't want to be held hostage for opinions I might've had years and years ago. So it's recognizing that we change, we evolve, we grow, and that's what matters to me. Because I could have ... And this is to set up the conversation of the research of my field, particularly the research of sexuality. There were really bad standards when it started. It was horrible in some regards. But then the field and the public started recognizing we've got to start looking out for people with the research as it's conducted because it can't just be, "Oh, let's use people as guinea pigs," and let's actually look out for their wellbeing, which makes the field more concise and stronger, but it also makes the public more aware and better.
And so I agree with the idea that some of the research in the field, the way it all started was like, oh, the way they collected all of that, that's bad. I mean, the Stanford Experiment is one of the ones that's the most prominent have taken normal everyday people, college kids, sticking them in a created prison, and then watching over several days when the ones that were just by random chosen to be the guards started becoming abusive to the prisoners. And it's not at all ... It was just a make-believe. But we were able to undercover some of the deviousness of our own beings.
Pam Allan: Right. The word pioneer doesn't necessarily mean pure or that it was necessarily good in the way it was done, something was discovered. So we, in hindsight, want to take away what we can in knowledge and be better from it.
Corey Allan: Right. And that's what we've done with the shows over the years is, I'm a big proponent of the data is what matters, right? That's the takeaway I can use and apply it to my values. Because a lot of times the researchers, and we've had this over the years, we've had people on the show that their values aren't going to completely align with what we do here at Sexy Marriage Radio, where it's marriage, it's monogamous, that's our message. It's God honoring, it's sacred. A lot of the field and a lot of the world doesn't subscribe to that same level of value. They still honor marriage in a sense, but it's a lot more open. And so I'm of the belief that just because the values may not overlap completely does not mean the data isn't still beneficial. Which is an interesting segue to today's show because Dr. Justin Lehmiller is my guest, is on the show, and he's actually a research fellow with the Kinsey Institute.
Pam Allan: Okay, okay, so that email was timely for a segue, right?
Corey Allan: It was perfect timing. And we did not coordinate this, it just worked out this way. But the conversation that he and I have in the regular version today is all about his work in the world of fantasy. He actually did a bunch of research of just getting a bunch of different respondents and diving into what are the most predominant fantasies people have. And then also trying to uncover what is it that makes it so struggling to tell people about those, especially a spouse. Because this is one of those areas ... We've talked about fantasies in times ...
Pam Allan: You say especially. So you think it's harder to tell a spouse the fantasy than someone who's a non-spouse?
Corey Allan: Yes, because now all of a sudden that preconceived pressure of "Oh, so now you're going to want to do this. Oh, so now ..." And there are some things that I really, ... It's that whole idea of we get into the depths of a relationship where you say, "I really want to know you," and then you learn some things about your spouse and you're like, "I don't know if I wanted to know that because I can't unhear that." Right?
Pam Allan: Sure. Mm-hmm (affirmative). But now I've got to deal with it. Now it's extra work for me.
Corey Allan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And that where married life then becomes the challenge and the growth will that it can become, all of us growing and maturing, because then I move from the world of fantasy to what is my actions associated with how I live my life. That's what really matters to me. But Dr. Lehmiller and I have a conversation about that, his work, in the regular version and then the Xtended version, which is longer and deeper, we go a little bit deeper in some of his work on where do these things come from. And if you want to hear more from the Xtended content, you're going to go to passionatelymarried.net/smracademy and you get to hear a deeper conversation plus there's no ads.
Pam Allan: Right. I like it.
Corey Allan: So all that's coming up on today's show.
So joining me for today on Sexy Marriage Radio is Dr. Justin Lehmiller. You have a PhD in Social Psychology, is that what I-
Justin Lehmiller: Correct.
Corey Allan: Am I remembering that correctly? Okay. And he has a new book out called Tell Me What You Want that dives straight into the world of fantasy. You also host and write a podcast. I mean, there's a lot that you got going on, I see, so you're pretty prominent around the interwebs, if you will. But where I want to go with you Justin, today, is man ... Because the whole book, Tell Me What You Want, is really just diving into fantasies and the whole idea of talking and the fear and the reluctance that we have on this subject, yes?
Justin Lehmiller: Yes. So, most of us have sexual fantasies and most of us have many different fantasies over the course of our lives, and this is one of those areas where we're never really taught anything about fantasies. For example, what is a normal fantasy and how do we communicate with our partners about them? And should we ever act on them? And if so, how do we go about doing that in a safe way? And so what I wanted to do was to write a book that really gives people the information that they need on this subject, and then also some practical tools and skills they can use to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality in a healthy way.
Corey Allan: Okay. Because that's what's so interesting to me, Justin, because you know, like you and I were talking right before we started the recording today, that a majority of the SMR Nation is going to be under a spiritual or Christian religious umbrella, which when you put religion and fantasy together, those two suckers don't ever align well. I mean, most of the experience that I get is, "No, we can't even talk about that. No, we can't even ... No, no, no, no." You just got to shut all that down right away. But what I'm fascinated by is you're talking about, just because of the research you did was across the board of society, so it was a pretty good representation of people across all orientation, gender, age, a lot of different respondents involved, they're still the same kind of reluctance and hesitancy and uncertainty.
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah. So for this book I surveyed 4,175 Americans. They ranged in age from 18 to 87. They came from all 50 states. They are diverse in their gender and sexual identities. They come from a range of religious and political backgrounds. And so it really allowed me the opportunity to look at to what extent our fantasies vary across different demographic groups and also how different groups feel about their fantasies and the extent to which they communicate about them and also just how much commonality do we have in our sexual fantasies across these different groups and segments. And one of the things I see is that there's a lot more that we have that binds us together than it separates us.
Corey Allan: Isn't that kind of a common occurrence in almost any topic, it seems?
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah. And so this is one of these things with fantasies where most people think that they're weird or unusual and it turns out that they're not. The things that you're fantasizing about, odds are, are the same kinds of things your partners or friends or other people in your life are fantasizing about as well. And so you don't need to feel so weird about having those thoughts. It doesn't mean that you need to go act on every single one of those thoughts, that's a totally different thing. But just in terms of the way we feel about our fantasies, I think there's a lot we can do to reduce a lot of that shame and guilt that we have because that's what really gets in the way of healthy sex lives and relationships is all of that inner turmoil and anxiety we have that holds us back.
Corey Allan: Right, that starts squashing us or making us feel the shame component or the guilt component when in reality, it's the whole other world going on in our head. That, should I feel shame about that or not? Because aren't we way too judgmental a lot of times, it seems, on our own thought life?
Justin Lehmiller: We're way too judgmental of ourselves and we're also very judgmental of our partners. And this is one of those things that gets in the way of maintaining a happy and healthy relationship is that a lot of us are afraid to talk to our partners about what we want or what turns us on because we're worried about being judged by them. And when we've got that hanging over our heads it makes it really difficult to talk about anything when it comes to sex.
Corey Allan: Right. Well, absolutely. I mean, that's part of the reason why SMR exists is largely just trying to start conversations and help frame conversations for couples to take place in their own home that then makes sense and aligns with their values and their morals of what they want in their life. And that's where I think the stuff that you do and a lot of the other things that are just out there, because there is, I mean ... It's interesting because if you talk about the world of sex therapists or sex researchers, that's not a really big group of people.
Justin Lehmiller: It's not. The sex research therapy and education community is really small because I go to these conferences all the time and it's kind of funny in a way because sexual issues are really the biggest reason that people go seek any type of relationship counseling or therapy. And there's very few people who have the certifications and have had the education to be able to help people adequately address those problems. I actually worked in a counseling course in our entire curriculum on sexuality and relationships. And it's like, how do you expect somebody who is training to do this for their career to get everything they need to know in the context of a single course in one semester?
Corey Allan: Well of course. So it seems like one of the things we may need to do, Justin, is just as you define the idea of fantasy, from what you've come across, when someone says, "So what's a fantasy? And how do you know a fantasy from reality?" What do you do with that?
Justin Lehmiller: So a fantasy, very simply defined, is a mental thought or image that turns you on. Something that crosses your mind, where there's some experience of sexual arousal that accompanies it. And what I find in my work is that 97 to 98% of people report having sexual fantasies when they're defined this way. I should say that they're different from sexual dreams, which occur while you're sleeping and those are driven by a non-conscious process. So fantasies occur while we're awake and active and we can bring them to mind on command if we want. So people can draw upon their fantasies while they're engaged in self-pleasure or during a partnered activity. Sometimes people fantasize because they're bored, right? Fantasies serve a lot of different functions in our lives.
Corey Allan: Right. And then is fantasy always something that's going to lend itself into the sexual side of it? I mean, with what the research it is you did, I would say yes, but would you say if we go out another layer?
Justin Lehmiller: Sure. You can have fantasies about anything, but my focus is really on those fantasies that lead to some feeling of sexual arousal. And one of the things that I look at in my work is sort of what's the overlap between fantasy and desire. So when you have one of those thoughts that turns you on, do people actually want to act on it? And what I find is that for people's favorite fantasy of all time, the one that they think about most often, for most of them, about 80%, it is something that they would like to incorporate into their sex life at some point. But I find that only about one in five people have ever actually acted on it before. So there's this big gap between-
Corey Allan: Interesting.
Justin Lehmiller: ... What people say they want and then what they're actually doing.
Corey Allan: Why do you suppose that is? What makes that ... That's a pretty big gap.
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah. And so I asked people a lot of questions about what's preventing them from acting on their fantasies and people are kind of all over the board in what they say, but the most common factors are one, that they don't think their partner would be willing or they're worried about their partner judging them for crosstalk a fantasy that's different. Another is just uncertainty about how to go about doing it. They lack the knowledge and skills to actually do this. And then there's also this kind of fear of what would happen if I act on this fantasy. Some people have safety concerns, some people are worried about potential risks to their health, for their partner's health, or the wellbeing of their relationships. So it's really a lot of fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and fear of disapproval.
Corey Allan: Kind of like normal everyday existence.
Justin Lehmiller: More or less.
Corey Allan: All right, because this is also what's interesting, Justin, because I was at a conference just this last year and we went in, it was the whole world of brain science and neurobiology and just kind of understanding the wiring of things. So there was a little segment talking about fantasy and the presenter asked the question just with a quick poll of the audience, how many fantasize or how many are really good at fantasizing or how many don't. Because this is the one thing I come across quite a bit, "I don't have any fantasies." So he then proceeded to just show pictures of people that are just from magazines, nothing inappropriate, not even close to suggestive, but just good headshots of people. And he was like, "Okay, so this person, are they confident? Or are they not?" Just started asking a bunch of, "Do you think they like sex? What do you think is their favorite kind of sex?" It just lit up the room with everybody, "Oh no, they don't." And it's all these kinds of things.
After we did this for like four or five minutes with a bunch of different photos, and then he stopped and goes, "And you say you guys don't have fantasies." Isn't that exactly what you're talking about here? Where it's something that's, it's the imagination, it's the correlation of something that I take from me, the psychobabble side of that is projection, but that's all this is, isn't it? And you're talking about how do I have that aspect of my life and honor it to steer it towards the reality of my life too.
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah and a lot of people just aren't comfortable talking about their fantasies at all, or even admitting that they have them. And it's ultimately really tied down in these feelings of shame and embarrassment and feeling like your fantasies aren't normal and there's something wrong with you for having them. And so when you've got all that reluctance, it makes sense that you're going to have a lot of people who don't admit to have fantasies.
Now, one thing that is interesting is that there are some people who legitimately can't have sexual fantasies in the form of mental images because they have this condition called aphantasia where they can just literally not pull to mind a mental image of anything, whether it's sex related or not. So there are some people who can't fantasize, but the vast majority of people can and do. It's just whether we're open and talking about them, varies a lot.
Corey Allan: That's the bigger gap then we're talking about.
Justin Lehmiller: Yep.
Corey Allan: Is what do I do with that? Do I share it with someone else? Because you're also talking about the ability to bring up a fantasy with someone in the context that I believe in with Sexy Marriage Radio and marriage, that a lot of times ... I mean, in a couple of weeks my wife and I are celebrating 27 years. And so if I bring to her, "You know what, I finally want to share this fantasy I've had ..." That's loaded. That's this whole, "Okay, awesome. But what took you so long to share that?" There's a lot of other things associated with it because you're talking about a real vulnerable move.
Justin Lehmiller: Absolutely. And this is where fantasy discussions sometimes can go off the rails, is when somebody has a long standing fantasy that they don't share with their partner for potentially decades. And the partner who is receiving that information might feel like they were betrayed in a way because their partner didn't ever share that side of themselves. And we see this often in the world of sex therapy where people come in, who have been in these very long term relationships and suddenly they're having a conflict over sex because one partner never revealed their fantasies or desires. So I think that speaks to the importance of having these conversations early on in your relationship. And then also having regular check-ins with your partner about what it is that turns you on because one of the things I see in my work is that people's sexual fantasies seem to change as they age. And so it's-
Corey Allan: And that was going to be my followup question was, is it pretty common that there's a transition of my fantasy or a morphing of it?
Justin Lehmiller: Yeah. And so this is one thing where almost all of the research that's out there on sexual fantasies is based on college students. And that's because college students are the most readily accessible population for research.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Justin Lehmiller: What I've said in a lot of my talks on this topic is that college students are actually the least interesting group of people you could study if you want to learn about sexual fantasies, because they have a much narrower range of content. Sex is something that is very new to them and so their fantasies are, I guess you could say a little bit more basic in some ways. And it's really when you look at people in their forties and fifties where their fantasies seem to be much more adventuresome. And I think a big part of the reason for that is because most people in that age bracket have been in longterm monogamous relationships for a long time and human beings have this inherent need for sexual novelty. And it's easy to fall into a sexual routine with a longterm partner and so I think in our fantasies, we're often trying to break free of that and find other ways to meet that need for novelty.
Corey Allan: Okay. Because that's just introducing something new, something titillating, an experience. Because I think isn't there also a component of this, Justin, that while there might be something that ... In the context of what we're discussing, you're talking about a fantasy as something that produces a sexual desire or a spark. But isn't there closely tied to it, an emotional component, a mental component that we've sexualized it and yes, that's appropriate, but there's also this whole, I can have some fantasies that are really emotionally driven, more than sexually driven.
Pam Allan: Absolutely and I would actually say that most fantasies, no matter what they're about, usually have some emotional component to them. I actually find it's pretty uncommon for people to say that they fantasize about completely emotionless sex. And when you start looking at the specific types of things people are fantasizing about and you start analyzing them, you can see the different types of emotional needs that people are trying to meet. And so it's very easy to look at a fantasy and think that it's just about the sex, but it's usually not. For example, there's often this deeper need to feel wanted or desired that comes out those fantasies, or they want to feel like they're sexually competent or good at sex. So there's a lot of validation that we're trying to get through our fantasies. And so it's often not really about the sex as much as it is about bolstering the way that we feel about ourselves.
Corey Allan: Yeah and I like that framework because I think that that's kind of our whole goal anyway. I believe fully that relationships are designed to help us grow up and be better and challenge ourselves. That a marriage done right is a people growing machine, because you're challenging each other to just become better. It's not just your spouses responsibility to be better for you, it's your responsibility to be better for them. And if I can look at that concept of what is it, because that's the stuff that ... I think you can put this in the category of you never solve this thing. It's like all the problems we've got in marriage or sex or fantasy or whatever, is there ever just this, "Oh, okay," and now all of a sudden I can rest. No, it's just a better understanding and then I still figure out how to use it better.
Justin Lehmiller: Absolutely. Relationships are a process and they're always changing over time. And I think a lot of people sort of fall into this trap where they think early on you've established your compatibility and then everything will just work out easily from there. And I don't really advocate for that type of approach. I try to encourage people to take a growth mindset for relationships and to recognize that problems can and will emerge, but that they can be overcome and you just have to work on it. And we see that people who take this approach in the research that their relationships last longer, they're more satisfying. And so that willingness to work with your partner on issues and also work on yourself is so important for relationship success.
Corey Allan: It absolutely is. And Justin I applaud you for the work that you do and the willingness to be part of the small crowd that's diving into where everyone exists in some way, shape, or form it seems. So for those of the people in the SMR Nation that want to check out more of your work, how do they find you?
Justin Lehmiller: My website is Sex and Psychology at sexandpsychology.com and you can find links to my books and my social media. I'm blogging and writing about the science of sex on a very regular basis. And my goal is to provide adult sex education that is based in research and data and science, because I think that when we're trying to improve our sex lives, that's really going to be the best guide point that we can use to get to where we want to be. So that's what makes me different from lot of the other folks throughout there who are just advocating based on their personal experiences. My blog, my writings, my work, are not about me. They're about you. They're about what the data say.
Corey Allan: Got you. Well, Justin, thanks so much for the time and I look forward to continuing the conversation on the other side in the Xtended.
Justin Lehmiller: Thanks for having me.
Corey Allan: So it only seems appropriate, Pam, that as we close out today's episode, because of the conversation I got to have with Dr. Lehmiller, I'd like to hear all your deepest, darkest fantasies as we wrap this up.
Pam Allan: No problem. I'll share them right here with everybody. We'll get right on that. Oh, the music came on, sorry.
Corey Allan: Man look at that timing.
Pam Allan: Sorry.
Corey Allan: Yeah, we'll just save that for you and I.
Pam Allan: Yeah, deal.
Corey Allan: This has been Sexy Marriage Radio. If we left something not done or you've got some thoughts that have been spurred on from our conversation or what's going on or what's just happening in your world, we want to know, especially if we can help address anything. (214) 702-9565 is the way you can call us or email@example.com. So wherever you are, whatever you've been doing, thanks for taking some of the time out of this week to spend it with us. See you next time.
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