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What Exactly Is an Unusual Sexual Fantasy?

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What Exactly Is an Unusual Sexual Fantasy?

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IntroductionAlthough several theories and treatment plans use unusual sexual fantasies (SF) as a way to identify deviancy, they seldom describe how the fantasies referred to were determined to be unusual.AimThe main goal of this study was to determine which SF are rare, unusual, common, or typical from a statistical point of view among a relatively large sample of adults recruited from the general population. A secondary goal was to provide a statistical comparison of the nature and intensity of sexual fantasies for men and women. This study also aims at demonstrating with both quantitative and qualitative analyses that certain fantasies often considered to be unusual are common.Methods An Internet survey was conducted with 1,516 adults (799 ♀; 717 ♂) who ranked 55 different SF and wrote their own favorite SF. Each SF was rated as statistically rare (2.3% or less), unusual (15.9% or less), common (more than 50%), or typical (more than 84.1% of the sample).Main Outcome MeasuresAn extended version of the Wilson's Sex Fantasy Questionnaire with an open question.ResultsOnly two sexual fantasies were found to be rare for women or men, while nine others were unusual. Thirty sexual fantasies were common for one or both genders, and only five were typical. These results were confirmed with qualitative analyses. Submission and domination themes were not only common for both men and women, but they were also significantly related to each other. Moreover, the presence of a single submissive fantasy was a significant predictor of overall scores for all SF in both genders.Conclusion Care should be taken before labeling an SF as unusual, let alone deviant. It suggested that the focus should be on the effect of a sexual fantasy rather than its content. Joyal CC, Cossette A, and Lapierre V. What exactly is an unusual sexual fantasy? J Sex Med **;**:**–**.
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ORIGINAL RESEARCH—BEHAVIOR
What Exactly Is an Unusual Sexual Fantasy?
Christian C. Joyal, PhD,*Amélie Cossette, BSc,* and Vanessa Lapierre, BSc*
*Department of Psychology, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, Québec, Canada; Philippe-Pinel
Institute of Montreal, Montreal, Québec, Canada
DOI: 10.1111/jsm.12734
ABSTRACT
Introduction. Although several theories and treatment plans use unusual sexual fantasies (SF) as a way to identify
deviancy, they seldom describe how the fantasies referred to were determined to be unusual.
Aim. The main goal of this study was to determine which SF are rare, unusual, common, or typical from a statistical
point of view among a relatively large sample of adults recruited from the general population. A secondary goal was
to provide a statistical comparison of the nature and intensity of sexual fantasies for men and women. This study also
aims at demonstrating with both quantitative and qualitative analyses that certain fantasies often considered to be
unusual are common.
Methods. An Internet survey was conducted with 1,516 adults (799 ; 717 ) who ranked 55 different SF and wrote
their own favorite SF. Each SF was rated as statistically rare (2.3% or less), unusual (15.9% or less), common (more
than 50%), or typical (more than 84.1% of the sample).
Main Outcome Measures. An extended version of the Wilson’s Sex Fantasy Questionnaire with an open question.
Results. Only two sexual fantasies were found to be rare for women or men, while nine others were unusual. Thirty
sexual fantasies were common for one or both genders, and only five were typical. These results were confirmed with
qualitative analyses. Submission and domination themes were not only common for both men and women, but they
were also significantly related to each other. Moreover, the presence of a single submissive fantasy was a significant
predictor of overall scores for all SF in both genders.
Conclusion. Care should be taken before labeling an SF as unusual, let alone deviant. It suggested that the focus
should be on the effect of a sexual fantasy rather than its content. Joyal CC, Cossette A, and Lapierre V. What
exactly is an unusual sexual fantasy? J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340.
Key Words. Paraphilia; Sexual Fantasies; General Population
Introduction
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders defines paraphilia as
unusual [1], atypical [2] or anomalous [3] sexual
fantasies (or urges or behaviors, criterion A; see also
criterion G1 of the ICD-10 [4]). What constitutes
an unusual (or usual) sexual fantasy is not clear,
however. Sexual fantasies (SFs) are generally
defined as any mental imagery that is sexually
arousing or erotic to the individual [5]. From a
clinical point of view, determining when a sexual
fantasy, usual or not, is a disorder is fairly straight-
forward: it is obligatory, compulsive, and/or results
in sexual dysfunction or causes distress or impair-
ment to the individual (criteria B of the DSM-V
and G2 of the ICD-10). From a legal perspective, a
criminal sexual interest clearly involves a non-
consenting or a minor partner. But beyond this,
what exactly is an unusual SF? The DSM-5 and the
ICD-10 provide roughly the same eight examples
of unusual SF: fetishism, masochism, sadism (sado-
masochism in the ICD-10), frotteurism, exhibi-
tionism, pedophilia, transvestism, and voyeurism.
The grounds on which these fantasies are consid-
ered unusual are not specified, however. Clarifying
the ambiguous boundaries between usual and
unusual SFs is important for both clinical and
328
J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340 © 2014 International Society for Sexual Medicine
theoretical purposes. Surprisingly, such clarifica-
tion is seldom available.
A landmark review of the literature concerning
the nature of SF of individuals recruited from
outside clinical populations was published by
Leitenberg and Henning nearly 20 years ago [5].
They reported that although both men and
women tend to have similar fantasies, men seem to
fantasize more about impersonal relationships and
domination, whereas women seem to fantasize
more about romance and submission. The authors
stress, however, that their data were obtained
largely from college students. Given that age
(lower) and education (higher) are known to be
associated with a greater diversity of sexual fanta-
sies [6–10], in order to obtain a more accurate
picture, participants should be recruited from
outside college settings. Leitenberg and Henning
[5] underlined another limit in studies of SF: their
tendency to use cluster analyses and bias responses
by reporting sexual interest related to items that
have necessarily been preselected for inclusion in
the questionnaire. It comes as no surprise, for
instance, that questionnaires containing items
related to sadomasochism will generate a statistical
cluster of items related to sadomasochism (e.g.,
Ref. 11). In the same vein, one would expect that
sadomasochist persons would obtain higher scores
than others on a sadomasochistic subscale [12]. To
partially avoid this circular logic, items used in
closed-question questionnaires should be varied
and selected on the basis of objective criteria. Fur-
thermore, open questions should be included in
the questionnaire.
We systematically reviewed the literature pub-
lished since 1995 (or not included in Leitenberg
and Henning) on SF among samples of individuals
recruited from nonclinical settings in an attempt
to determine which sexual fantasies are unusual.
The search was exhaustive and performed with
four major engines (Google Scholar, Web of
Science, Medline, and Dissertation and Theses),
using the keywords “sex,” “sexual fantasies,”
“general,” and “general population” for studies
published until the end of 2012. In all, 17 studies
published in English or French were identified. As
shown in Table 1, most of these studies are either
based on samples of participants recruited in
college settings or fail to provide inferential or
comparative statistical analyses. One study used
open questions with persons recruited among the
community, although the qualitative analyses were
based on a limited number of themes [22]. Only
one study adopted a hybrid design (quantitative
and qualitative analyses), although it was limited to
college female students [19]. Still, these studies
confirm that although men tend to report a higher
diversity of sexual fantasies than women, both
genders acknowledge themes that are often labeled
as unusual (Table 1; see also Ref. 36 for paraphilic
interests, not fantasies, among college students).
Few investigations of SF have been performed
with persons recruited from the general popula-
tion. Ogas and Gaddam [37] compiled keywords
entered in Internet search engines between July
2009 and July 2010 and found that among the 20
most popular sexual topics, 7 could be labeled
unusual or abnormal (youth, incest, domination,
submission, bestiality, transsexual, and grannies, in
that order of incidence). Of course, this study was
not directly related to individuals’ fantasies and
young educated males are overrepresented among
Internet users searching for sexual content. Still,
their findings make it possible to generate some
hypotheses.
The same year, Ahlers and colleagues [30]
reported that among 367 men aged between 40
and 79 and living in Berlin, more than half (58.6%)
acknowledged at least one “paraphilic” SF, includ-
ing voyeurism (34.9%), fetishism (30%), and
sadism (21.8%). Again, these ratios might apply
only to older and particularly libidinal men living
in Berlin (the response rate was only 19%), but
they contradict the idea that such fantasies are
unusual or atypical. Five large-scale surveys of
sexual fantasies or interests among samples repre-
sentative of populations were recently obtained in
Europe (in France: Brenot [9], N=2,153 men, and
Brenot [10], N=3,404 women; French Institute of
Public Opinion, 2009, N=1,016 men and women
[28], and French Institute of Public Opinion,
2011, [29] N=579 women; in England: Khar
[25,26], N=18,299 men and women; see Table 1).
However, none of these large-scale studies
included quantitative (statistical) or qualitative
analysis of the data. Basic statistical analyses are
warranted to determine the extent of deviation
from the norm, if any, of each sexual fantasy, as
well as the level of difference, if any, between
genders. Qualitative analyses of open responses
are also needed to determine whether sexual inter-
ests related with themes not included in predeter-
mined lists of items would emerge.
The cases of masochism and sadism are particu-
larly interesting. First, clinical settings have typi-
cally considered these fantasy themes to be
unusual (e.g., Ref. 38). Fantasies involving spank-
ing, forcing someone to have sex, tying someone
Sexual Fantasies in the General Population 329
J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340
Table 1 Studies of sexual fantasies in samples drawn from nonclinical populations published since (or not included in)
the review in Leitenberg and Henning, 1995 [5] (in chronological order)
Study Sample Measure Outcome summary Statistics
Tantillo, 1980
[13]
College students N=901
N=436 ;N=465
Unpublished
questionnaire
116 items
Males >females significantly more frequent
general–typical, fetishism and social group sexual
fantasies
Females >males significantly more frequent
submissive fantasies
More sexual fantasies =more active sexual life
Principal component
four factors:
General-typical;
Fetishism;
Sadomasochistic;
Groups.
Hurlbert, 1993
[14]
College students N=68
N=34 heterosexuals
N=34 homosexuals
NS Heterosexual women evidenced more positive
dispositions toward sexual fantasy
NS
Hsu et al., 1994
[15]
College students; N=160
N=54 ,N=106
Mean age: 25 years old
NS Men fantasize more than women NS
Laumann et al.,
1994 [8]
Representative sample
(United States)
Custom-made
questionnaire
Receiving oral sex: 45% vs. 28.8% =very
appealing
No comparative statistics
N=3,432; 1,511 ;
1,921
Section 7: “Fantasy” Giving oral sex: 33.5% vs. 16.5% =very
appealing
Age: 18–59 “How would you rate
each of these
activities”
Watching others: 5.3% vs. 1.5 =very appealing
Sex with a stranger: 4.1 vs. 0.9 =very appealing
O’Donohue
et al., 1997
[16]
Adult convicted child
molesters
Sexual Fantasy Few differences between sex offenders and students t-tests
N=37 (final sample) Questionnaire (SFQ) Child offenders >college students about children
College students N=76
(final sample)
College students >child molesters about bondage
Plaud and
Bigwood,
1997 [17]
College students N=116
Wilson Sex Fantasy These males had significantly more exploratory,
intimate, impersonal, and total sexual fantasies than
sexual fantasies reported by female respondents in
the older, original study using the WSFQ (Wilson,
1981; N=45).
Principal component
analyses
Questionnaire (WSFQ) No results for single items
Significantly more intimate, impersonal, and total
sexual fantasizing when compared with males in
Wilson (1981).
College students in this study reported fewer deviant
themes of sexual fantasizing when compared with a
group of sexually variant men in Wilson (1988).
Daleiden et al.,
1998 [18]
College students N=135
Unpublished
questionnaire
The highest mean score for college students was on
the Traditional/Romantic subscale
MANCOVA
Incarcerated non-sex
offenses
127 items Scheffe corrected
Juvenile offenders N=164
The second highest score for college students was on
the Variety of Partner subscale
Incarcerated sex offenses
juvenile offenders
N=302
College students obtained significantly higher scores
(and no significantly lower score) than sex and
non-sex offense juvenile offenders on four fantasy
subscales: Nondeviant, Traditional/Romantic, Variety
of Setting, and Mildly Coercive.
Strassberg and
Lockerd,
1998 [19]
College students: N=137
The Sexual Fantasy
Checklist*
Virtually every woman reported engaging in sexual
fantasy on a regular basis.
Frequencies
Mean age: 21.1 ±3.6;
80% single
Fantasy log for three
favorite sexual
fantasies
More than half the subjects reported having engaged in
a fantasy involving force.
Qualitative analyses
Women reporting fantasies involving force scored as
less sexually guilty and more erotophilic than those
not reporting such fantasies.
Women reporting fantasies involving force also had
more sexual experience and engaged in more
fantasizing about non-forced experiences than the
other subjects.
A history of exposure to sexual force or coercion was
unrelated to the report of fantasies involving force.
Renaud and
Byers, 1999
[20]
College students
N=144 ;N=148
Mean age: 19.8 ±3.0
Wilson Sex Fantasy Males >females: Having sex with two other people,
participating in an orgy, having sex with anonymous
strangers, looking at obscene pictures, watching
others have sex, having sex with someone I know,
having sex with someone much younger
ANOVA (Bonferonni
corrected)
Questionnaire Females >males: Wearing clothes of the opposite sex,
Exposing myself provocatively, activities contrary to my
sexual orientation, tying someone up, kissing
passionately
Having my clothes taken off, being spanked, hurting a
partner.
Robinson and
Parks, 2003
[21]
Community sample
N=129 in couples (85
lesbians; 44 bisexuals)
15 fantasy questions
from Hariton and
Singer (1974)
79.1% endorsed “nontraditional” sexual fantasies. Frequencies
62.8% endorsed power-dominance sexual fantasies. No comparison group
330 Joyal et al.
J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340
Table 1 Continued
Study Sample Measure Outcome summary Statistics
Zurbriggen and
Yost, 2004
[22]
Community sample
N=162; 85 ,77
Mean age: 29.7
Bachelor degree: 76.5%
Fantasy log for two
sexual fantasies (not
necessarily favorite)
Males >females: fantasies about dominance Qualitative analyses
Men tended to focus more on the desire and pleasure
of their partner.
Men’s fantasies of dominance were associated with
greater acceptance of rape myths.
For women, greater rape myth acceptance was
associated with emotional and romantic fantasy
themes.
Shulman and
Horne, 2006
[23]
Internet survey; N=261
Mean age: 27.9 ±8.8
College degree: 49.1
Sexual suffering
subscale of the
Female Sexual
Fantasy
Questionnaire
Low levels of sex guilt and high levels of erotophilia
predicted forceful sexual fantasies
Regressions
Correlations
Birnbaum, 2007
[24]
From universities and
community centers
N=176 (69 ; 107 )
Mean age: 25.5 ±4.1
Education 13.7 years ±2.3
20-item questionnaire Women >men romantic and emotional fantasies Factor analysis
Men >women dominance and unrestricted sexual
fantasies
Correlations
Men anxiously attached were more likely to report
romantic fantasies
Hierarchical regressions
Attachment avoidance was negatively associated with
romantic themes among men
Khar (2007,
2008) [25,26]
18,299 and
Adults from the general
population
Interviews Approximately 30% of the sample reported masochistic
fantasies.
Frequencies
Being humiliated and inflicting shame is “one of the
most popular themes” and several persons vacillate
between both (but no stats).
No comparative statistics
42% never fantasize about their spouse
58% sometimes fantasize about their spouse
30% regularly fantasize about their spouse
55% have actually cheated on their spouse
90% fantasize about cheating
90% fantasize about non-spouse during sex with
spouse (men =women)
Only 30% fantasize regularly about spouse during
masturbation
25% fantasize about celebrities (slightly more men,
particularly younger men)
No qualitative analyses
Williams et al.,
2009 [27]
College students
N=103
Mean age: 19.7
MASA adaptation§95% of the sample reported at least 1 “deviant” sexual
fantasy: sadism (62%); bondage (62%); sexual
assault (68%); frotteurism (72%); voyeurism (83%)
Frequencies
Correlations
IFOP, 2009 [28] Representative sample
N=1,016
Adults
Closed questions about
pornography
For approximately one-third of males, anal intercourse,
breast size, and double penetration are important.
Frequencies
More than two-thirds of men need good-looking actors.
Similar proportions of men (19%) and women (18%)
judge penis size of actors important.
IFOP, 2011 [29] Representative sample
N=579
Adults
Closed questions about
pornography
Half of women like watching lesbian scenes. Frequencies
43% like watching cunnilingus.
73% prefer actors with natural look.
65% think realistic scenarios are important.
Ahlers et al.,
2011 [30]
Community sample
N=367
(19.2% of total sample)
Individual interviews
Mean age: 57.5 ±10.1
A German
questionnaire
Presence of at least 1 paraphilic fantasy: 58.6%;
voyeurism: 34.9%; etishism: 30.0%; sadistic: 21.8
Frequencies
Fantasies and behaviors
related with DSM
paraphilia
Logistic regressions
Brenot, 2011 [9] N=2,153 via Internet
All engaged heterosexual
Custom-made
questionnaire
83.2% reported having sexual fantasies. Few frequencies
adults (mean age: 43.1)
61% fantasized about having sex with two women. No comparative statistics
Higher education: 55.5%
10% of masturbatory fantasies involve their spouse. No qualitative analyses
Brenot, 2012
[10]
N=3,404 via Internet 71.4% reported having sexual fantasies. Few frequencies
All engaged heterosexual
adults (mean age: 35.3)
Higher education: 62.5%
Custom-made
questionnaire**
Those who reported no sexual fantasies at all (27.7%)
were judged to be less satisfied sexually, to
masturbate less frequently, to be less interested in
pornography, and to have a lower mean number of
lifetime sexual partners.
No comparative statistics
Inclusion of the current partner in sexual
fantasies =popular.
No qualitative analyses
Fantasies about multipartnership =popular.
*Adapted from Refs. 31 and 32; this checklist contains only 16 fantasies
Adapted from Ref. 33; this subscale contains only six fantasies
Khar published two books about the same study [25,26], although the updated version [26] contains less statistical information than the original version [25]
§Adapted from Ref. 34
Available in German in Ref. 35
**Unfortunately, questionnaires in Refs. 9 and 10 were not identical and some comparisons between genders could not be made (e.g., childhood sexual abuse)
NS =not specified.
Sexual Fantasies in the General Population 331
J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340
up (domination), and being spanked, forced to
have sex, or tied-up (submission) have been ranked
on various evaluative instruments as deviant (e.g.,
the Clarke Sex History Questionnaire [39]) or
paraphilic (e.g., the Sex Fantasy Questionnaire
[11]; the Sexual Fantasy Questionnaire [16]; the
Kaufman Sexual Fantasy Questionnaire [18]).
Similarly, healthcare providers typically consider
fantasies of coercion, sadism, or forcing to be
deviant [40]. Gee, Devilly, and Ward [41], for
instance, specify that “unlike general sexual
fantasy, deviant sexual fantasies may contain
themes involving the intentional infliction of harm
in a sadistic or otherwise sexually aggressive way”
(p.316). However, the grounds on which these (or
any) sexual fantasies can be considered as deviating
from the fantasies of most of the population are
not clear. Large-scale studies of individuals
recruited from the general population are essential
to answer this question but are surprisingly rare.
Second, SF themes of submission and domina-
tion are not unusual, at least among college stu-
dents, both in women and men [19,42,43] (see
Table 1; see Ref. 36 for sexual interests). Between
30% and 50% of female [42] and male [43] college
students report submissive SF. Narrative reports of
data collected among the general population
suggest that SF involving domination, submission,
and fetishism are fairly common, although this
finding did not include qualitative or quantitative
analyses [9,10,26].
Interestingly, women with submissive SF report
more intense and more diverse sexual fantasies
(erotophilia) than women without submissive
sexual fantasies [19,23,43]. A growing number of
studies among nonstudent women have focused on
the presence of fantasies of submission, being
overpowered, or having forced sex, although these
studies were based on either small groups of par-
ticipants [22] or on narrative reports [10,26]. Still,
Khar [26] suspected that submissive and domina-
tive SFs are not oppositional but instead tended to
be reported by the same individuals. These sug-
gestions should be tested empirically.
The main goal of our study was to survey a
relatively large sample of participants recruited
among the general population using a comprehen-
sive, validated, and objective questionnaire in
order to statistically define rare, unusual, common,
and typical SF among men and women. The aim
was also to estimate and compare the intensity of
interest for each SF. Thus, this study is strictly
statistical without intention to define abnormality
or pathology. Another objective of this study was
to include complementary qualitative analyses
based on an open response from participants. A
third goal of this study was to put emphasis on
noncriminal paraphilic themes of submission and
domination.
It was hypothesized that although men would
report more diverse and more intense SF than
women, on average, few SF themes would be sta-
tistically unusual in both genders. It was further
hypothesized that themes of domination and sub-
mission would be reported by both genders, and
that submissive SF would be a good predictor of
overall fantasy score. If confirmed, these results
could have a significant impact in sexual medicine,
both at theoretical and clinical levels. For instance,
they might call for a revision of the definition of
paraphilia, as well as a revisit of the assumed sin-
gularity of certain SF themes observed in forensic
context.
Methods
Participants
Participants were recruited in a mid-major city
(population 130,436 in 2011) in the province of
Quebec (population 7,979,663 in 2011 [44]) using
five different approaches: (i) advertisements in
public places (e.g., shopping malls, sport centers,
universities) that provided the location of our labo-
ratory, the address of a website hosting an online
version of the questionnaire, and code for intelli-
gent phones that brought users to our question-
naire; (ii) interviews with the authors on a radio
show aired on an important regional station and in
a local daily newspaper as well as three leading
provincial magazines specializing in entertainment
and style, women’s interests, and men’s interests;
(iii) presentations to large groups of individuals in
residencies for the elderly (social clubs, sport teams,
classrooms); (iv) word of mouth (snowball effect)
and a Facebook page used by friends and acquain-
tances of the authors; and (v) contact with univer-
sity staff (clerks, administrators, professors, etc.) via
institutional mailing lists. A total of 1,516 persons
participated in this study. Slightly more women
(n=799, 52.7%) than men (n=717, 47.3%) par-
ticipated, which is usual in studies of sexual fantasies
(e.g., Refs. 9, 10, and 25). The female–male propor-
tion is close to that of Quebec’s general adult popu-
lation (51.1% and 48.9%, respectively [44]). The
mean age of the participants (29.6 ±10.8; range
18–77 years) and their mean number of years of
formal education (14.9 ±3.6; range 6–30 years) are
slightly different from that of the active adult
332 Joyal et al.
J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340
general population in the province of Quebec (32.5
and 12.5 years respectively [45]). More importantly,
an especially high proportion of individuals aged 55
or more did not participate (only 10% of the sample
is in this age group), which is typical in studies about
sex, especially when done through the Internet
[9,10,23]. Consequently, the sample is not repre-
sentative of the general population. The vast major-
ity of respondents (85.1%) stated that they were
heterosexual, 3.6% stated that they were defini-
tively homosexual (significantly more women, 6%,
than men, 1.5%), with the rest indicating that they
were bisexual (12.6% of women and 9.8% of men,
not significantly different).
Instrument
To determine the nature and intensity of the sexual
fantasies of our participants, we used a modified
version of the Wilson Sex Fantasy Questionnaire
(SFQ [11]). The SFQ is a 40-item instrument that
is among the most widely used measures in the field
of sexual fantasies [12,46]. The SFQ, however, was
constructed more than 30 years ago to measure
both fantasies and behaviors, which meant that
some items had to be removed or modified. Ques-
tions related to past experiences (e.g., “Being
embarrassed by failure of sexual experience”),
petting (“Having your clothes taken off;” “Taking
off the clothes of someone else;” “Kissing passion-
ately”), nonsexual behaviors (“Being sought after
by the opposite sex”), and unclear or vague ques-
tions (“Being seduced as an innocent;” “Being
promiscuous”) were discarded. When missing,
questions directly related with specific paraphilia
were added (e.g., exhibitionism, frotteurism, fetish-
ism). The Internet was then consulted to determine
whether other sexual themes should be added or
whether further modifications should be made to
the SFQ. The sites www.Alexa.com and Google
Trends (www.google.ca/trends) identified the 10
most visited pornographic sites during the last 3
months of 2012. These sites categorized porno-
graphic materials within the following main
themes: female models, couples (hard core), ama-
teurs, barely legal, ejaculation, large breasts, small
breasts, lesbians, group sex, interracial, transves-
tism, fetish, male models (gay), MILF, urination,
and bestiality (see Ref. 47 for a similar approach).
www.WordTracker.com confirmed that most of
these words were among the top 100 keywords used
in 2010, which corresponded roughly with those
reported by Ogas and Gaddam [37], although the
latter included cheating, transsexuals, anal, and
grannies. Thus, questions about ejaculation, large
breasts, small breasts, watching two women having
sex, and cheating, not included in the SFQ, were
added to the survey. In the final version, 55 closed
questions were included in the questionnaire and
participants were asked to rate them (intensity of
interest) from 0 to 7 (0—not at all; 1—no; 2—very
weak; 3—weak; 4—mild; 5—moderate; 6—strong;
7—very strong; Table 2). A final, open question was
also added to the questionnaire (“If your favourite
sexual fantasy was not included in the question-
naire, please write it down here”). Basic socio-
demographic questions (gender, age, and number
of years of education) were asked prior to questions
involving sexual fantasies. [Correction added on 12
November 2014, after first online publication:
Ratings for intensity of interest were corrected
from 1–7 to 0–7.]
The questionnaire was available online through
SurveyMonkey Pro, a web service specializing in
Internet surveys (www.surveymonkey.com). The
Identification Protocol number (connection ID)
and the computer number (computer ID) of each
respondent were usable only once, so participants
could not complete the questionnaire twice (or at
least could not use the same connection and com-
puter to do so).
Statistical Analyses
Quantitative Analyses
First, ratings (0–7) from all participants were
totaled for all closed questions in the questionnaire
(Table 2). These sums reflect the average level of
interest or intensity related to each sexual fantasy.
The average scores of all fantasies (between 1 and 7)
were then computed separately for men and women
(the sum of these averages would equal that of the
total sample). The magnitude of the differences
between genders for these scores was assessed with
a series of 1 factor ANOVAs corrected for multiple
comparisons (Plevel adjusted at 0.001). Endorse-
ment of sexual fantasies was defined as a response
ranging from 3 to 7 inclusively and rates of endorse-
ment were obtained for each gender. These preva-
lences were used to define statistically rare fantasies
(shared by less than 2.3% of the participants or two
standard deviations below the mean), unusual fan-
tasies (shared by less than 15.9% of the participants
or one standard deviation below the mean),
common fantasies (shared by more than 50% of
participants, the mean), and typical fantasies
(shared by more than 84.1% of participants or one
standard deviation above the mean). Chi-squares
were computed with these rates to estimate the
magnitude of difference between genders, also
Sexual Fantasies in the General Population 333
J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340
Table 2 Total intensity*, mean intensity, and presenceof sexual fantasies in men and women (in descending order of
intensity; bold: P<0.001 between genders; italics: statistically unusual fantasies§; underlined: statistically abnormal
fantasies§; grayed: common fantasies)
Item Intensity*
Mean intensity ±S.D.
Presence of
fantasy (%)
씸씹
I like to feel romantic emotions during a sexual relationship. 7,897 5.53 ±1.8 4.85 ±1.9 92.2 88.3
I have fantasized about taking part in fellatio/cunnilingus. 7,580 4.67 ±2.5 5.4 ±2.1 78.5 87.6
I have fantasized about having sex in an unusual place (e.g., in the office; public toilets). 7,279 4.77 ±2.1 4.84 ±2.2 81.7 82.3
Atmosphere and location are important in my sexual fantasies. 7,186 5.0 ±1.9 4.45 ±2.0 86.4 81.2
I have fantasized about having sexual in a romantic location (e.g., on a deserted beach). 7,115 4.98 ±2.1 4.37 ±2.2 84.9 78.4
I have fantasized about having sex with someone that I know who is not my spouse [. . .]. 6,820 3.87 ±2.6 5.19 ±2.2 66.3 83.4
I have fantasized about masturbating my partner. 6,336 3.89 ±2.5 4.5 ±2.4 68.1 76.4
I have fantasized about being masturbated by my partner. 6,320 4.1 ±2.5 4.2 ±2.5 71.4 71.7
I have fantasized about having sex with two women. 5,570 2.21 ±2.6 5.31 ±2.3 36.9 84.5
I have fantasized about watching two women make love. 5,498 2.49 ±2.7 4.90 ±2.4 42.4 82.1
I have fantasized about having sex with an unknown person. 5,398 2.82 ±2.7 4.38 ±2.5 48.9 72.5
I have fantasized about making love openly in a public place. 5,291 3.26 ±2.6 3.75 ±2.5 57.3 66.1
I have fantasized about being dominated sexually. 5,203 3.79 ±2.7 3.04 ±2.5 64.6 53.3
I have fantasized about giving cunnilingus. 5,037 2.1 ±2.6 4.68 ±2.5 35.7 78.1
I have fantasized about having sex with a star or a well-known person. 4,969 3.04 ±2.7 3.55 ±2.6 51.7 61.9
I have fantasized about giving fellatio. 4,500 4.19 ±2.5 1.61 ±2.6 72.1 26.8
I have fantasized about dominating someone sexually. 4,498 2.66 ±2.5 3.3 ±2.5 46.7 59.6
I have fantasized about being masturbated by an acquaintance. 4,446 2.15 ±2.5 3.8 ±2.6 36.8 64.7
I have fantasized about being tied up by someone in order to obtain sexual pleasure. 4,326 3.02 ±2.7 2.67 ±2.6 52.1 46.2
I have fantasized about masturbating an acquaintance. 4,320 1.93 ±2.3 3.88 ±2.5 33.1 65.9
I have fantasized about being masturbated by an unknown person. 4,255 1.96 ±2.5 3.8 ±2.7 33.4 62.5
I have fantasized about having anal sex. 4,122 1.81 ±2.4 3.74 ±2.8 32.5 64.2
I have fantasized about having sex with more than three people, all women. 4,060 1.24 ±2.2 4.28 ±2.7 24.7 75.3
I have fantasized about masturbating an unknown person. 3,964 1.65 ±2.3 3.69 ±2.64 28.0 62.4
I have fantasized about tying someone up in order to obtain sexual pleasure. 3,934 2.38 ±2.6 2.84 ±2.7 41.7 48.4
I have fantasized about watching someone undress without him or her knowing. 3,922 1.78 ±2.3 3.49 ±2.6 31.8 63.4
I have fantasized about having interracial sex. 3,759 1.59 ±2.4 3.47 ±2.6 27.5 61.2
I have fantasized about having sex with a woman with very large breasts. 3,666 1.10 ±2.1 3.89 ±2.6 18.6 68.6
I have fantasized about ejaculating on my sexual partner. (For men only) 3,526 N/A 4.82 ±2.4 N/A 80.4
I have fantasized about having sex with someone much older than me. 3,472 1.92 ±2.5 2.71 ±2.6 34.2 48.0
I have fantasized about having sex with more than three people, both men and women. 3,357 1.84 ±2.5 2.63 ±2.7 30.9 45.2
I have fantasized about having sex with two men. 3,297 3.27 ±2.7 0.96 ±2.1 56.5 15.8
I have fantasized about being photographed or filmed during a sexual relationship. 3,226 1.83 ±2.4 2.46 ±2.5 31.9 43.9
I have fantasized that my partner ejaculates on me. 3,145 2.39 ±2.6 1.73 ±2.6 41.3 28.7
I have fantasized about having sex with someone much younger (legally). than me 3,104 1.04 ±2.0 3.17 ±2.7 18.1 57.0
I have fantasized about petting with a total stranger in a public place (e.g., metro). 2,930 1.13 ±2.0 2.83 ±2.7 19.8 48.4
I have fantasized about indulging in sexual swinging with a couple that I do not know. 2,911 1.5 ±2.2 2.38 ±2.5 26.9 39.6
I have fantasized about spanking or whipping someone to obtain sexual pleasure. 2,913 1.34 ±2.6 2.57 ±2.7 23.8 43.5
I have fantasized about being spanked or whipped to obtain sexual pleasure. 2,881 2.11 ±2.5 1.67 ±2.2 36.3 28.5
I have fantasized about having homosexual (or gay) sex. 2,702 2.2 ±2.7 1.32 ±2.4 36.9 20.6
I have fantasized about having a sexual relationship with a woman with very small breasts. 2,697 0.67 ±1.6 3.02 ±2.5 10.8 52.3
I have fantasized about indulging in sexual swinging with a couple that I know. 2,573 0.99 ±2.0 2.48 ±2.7 17.5 42.3
I have fantasized about being forced to have sex. 2,569 1.6 ±2.4 1.8 ±2.4 28.9 30.7
I have fantasized about having sex with a fetish or non-sexual object. 2,316 1.51 ±2.3 1.55 ±2.2 26.3 27.8
I have fantasized about having sex with a prostitute or a stripper. 2,226 0.76 ±1.8 2.25 ±2.6 12.5 39.5
I have fantasized about having sex with more than three people, all men. 1,910 1.7 ±2.5 0.77 ±1.9 28.3 13.1
I have fantasized about showing myself naked or partially naked in a public place. 1,854 1.03 ±1.9 1.44 ±2.1 16.6 23.2
I have fantasized about watching two men make love. 1,637 1.17 ±2.1 0.98 ±2.1 19.3 16.2
I have fantasized about sexually abusing a person who is drunk, asleep, or unconscious. 1,498 0.66 ±1.6 1.35 ±2.1 10.8 22.6
I have fantasized about forcing someone to have sex. 1,448 0.63 ±1.5 1.32 ±2.1 10.8 22.0
I have fantasized about wearing clothing associated with the opposite sex. 828 0.43 ±1.3 0.67 ±1.7 6.9 10.0
I have fantasized about my sexual partner urinating on me. 628 0.21 ±0.99 0.64 ±1.7 3.5 10.0
I have fantasized about urinating on my sexual partner. 584 0.2 ±1.0 0.59 ±1.6 3.5 8.9
I have fantasized about having sex with an animal. 263 0.18 ±0.8 0.16 ±0.8 3.0 2.2
I have fantasized about having sex with a child under the age of 12 years. 128 0.05 ±0.5 0.12 ±0.8 0.8 1.8
*Sum of scores given to each fantasy on the Likert scale (from 0, not at all to 7, completely). N/A =not applicable; S.D. =standard deviation
Defined as a rating between 3 and 7 on the Likert scale
1 factor ANOVAs with correction for multiple comparisons for mean scores of intensity all Fs >14.0 and Chi-squares with corrections for multiple comparisons for percentages
of presence (all Pearson’s values >12.0 after Yate’s continuity correction, and all adjusted residuals >3.5)
§Statistically unusual: one standard deviation on the normal curve or <16%; statistically abnormal: two standard deviations on the normal curve or <2.3%
[Correction added on 10 November 2014, after first online publication: Data in the Mean intensity and Presence of fantasy columns for items 31 and 32 were
reversed.]
334 Joyal et al.
J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340
corrected for multiple comparisons (Plevel
adjusted at 0.001). A correlation matrix with effect
sizes was then computed to determine the strength
of association between items (e.g., submissive and
dominative items) and a simple regression was
computed to specifically assess the predictive value
of the presence of a single sexual fantasy (“I have the
fantasy of being dominated sexually”) for the
overall fantasy score, as suggested by Shulman and
Horne [23] and Strassberg and Lockerd [19].
Qualitative Analyses
A total of 372 persons (158 women or 19.8% and
214 men or 29.8%) described their favorite SF.
Analyses of these written descriptions followed the
guidelines of Merriam [48]. The first step, category
construction, was conducted by two raters (1 male
and 1 female). In this open coding phase, general
themes of sexual fantasy contents were indepen-
dently extracted (each rater individually) from the
scripts (type of behaviors and ambiance, age,
genders, objects, etc.). Between 35 (rater 1) and 42
(rater 2), sexual themes were found from this initial
phase. Then, analytical coding was performed by
comparing both listings and deliberations between
raters to obtain a single list of fantasy themes that
approached saturation (exhaustive, exclusive),
without containing exceptions (e.g., themes
endorsed by only one person). During this phase,
potential ambiguities or redundancies were dis-
cussed and resolved (e.g., Should interest for feet be
labeled as fetishism or partialism?). In addition,
potential distinctions within single categories were
considered (e.g., receiver and giver were added as
subcategories of oral and anal sex), whereas similar
themes of lower occurrence (less than 1%) were
merged (e.g., specific clothing, fabrics, costumes,
and role playing were considered as “fetishism”).
In the end, a list of 31 themes emerged for
coding: Exclusive involvement of spouse or inti-
mate partner; Location is described (specify
exotic/unusual private place or public place,
specify open or closed place); Ambience is
described; Intimacy is described (e.g., caresses with
spouse or lover); Infidelity is specifically described;
Involves an acquaintance; Involves a stranger;
Involves an authority figure or a celebrity; Involves
a sexual object; Oral sex (non-homosexual; specify
giver or receiver); Anal sex (non-homosexual;
specify giver or receiver); Homosexual activities;
Partners swapping; Focused on own submissive
behavior; Focused on own domination behavior;
Involves more than three persons (group sex;
specify if the participant is active or passive);
Involves a teenager (13–17 years old); Involves a
children (12 years old or less); Involves a trans-
sexual (shemale); Involves a significantly older
person (more than 15 year difference); Voyeurism
(specify: alone spying an unaware stranger or
watching spouse having sex with another woman
or watching spouse having sex with another man);
Fetishism (includes foot fetish, nonsexual objects,
and specific clothing); Triolism (specify with
spouse or with two strangers); Transvestism; Exhi-
bitionism; Partialism (focused on a specific body
part, excludes feet); Bestiality; Involves female
ejaculation (squirting); Incarnating a women to be
penetrated; Involves urine; Involves weightlessness
(zero gravity); Miscellaneous rare themes (single
occurrence). Inter-rater agreement was assessed
overall (%) and for each theme (kappa).
Ethics
This study was approved by the ethical committee
of the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres.
Results
Quantitative Analyses
As shown in Table 2, two sexual fantasies were
found to be statistically rare (endorsed by 2.3% or
less of participants): having sex with a child under
the age of 12 (0.8% of women and 1.8 of men, not
significantly different) and having sex with an
animal (3% of women and 2.2% of men, not sig-
nificantly different). Among the other 53 sexual
fantasies, 9 were statistically unusual (endorsed by
15.9% or less of participants): 7 for women (urinat-
ing on partner, 3.5%; being urinated on, 3.5%;
wearing clothes of the opposite gender, 6.9%;
forcing someone to have sex, 10.8%; abusing a
person who is drunk, asleep, or unconscious,
10.8%; having sex with a prostitute, 12.5%; and
having sex with a women who has very small
breasts, 10.8%) and 4 for men (urinating on
partner, 8.9%; being urinated on, 10.0%; having
sex with two other men, 15.8%; having sex with
more than three other men, 13.1%).
At the other end of the spectrum, only five
sexual fantasies were statistically typical (endorsed
by more than 84.1% of participants): feeling
romantic emotions during a sexual relationship,
fantasies in which atmosphere and location are
important, and fantasies involving a romantic loca-
tion (both genders, no significant difference);
receiving oral sex and having sexual intercourse
with two women (typical for men). Among the
Sexual Fantasies in the General Population 335
J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340
remaining sexual fantasies (N=39), 23 were
common in men and 11 were common in women
(see Table 2).
The proportion of women acknowledging sub-
missive fantasies is not negligible. Being sexually
dominated (64.6%), being tied up for sexual plea-
sure (52.1%), being spanked or whipped (36.3%),
and being forced to have sex (28.9%) were all
reported by significant proportions of women.
Interestingly, the same sexual fantasies were also
reported by significant proportions of men
(53.3%, 46.2%, 28.5%, and 30.7%, respectively).
As suspected by Khar (2008), the fantasy of being
dominated is significantly correlated (effect sizes
of at least 0.30) not only with other submissive
fantasies (being spanked or whipped, r=0.58;
being tied up, r=0.60; and being forced to have
sex, r=0.40) but also with fantasies of domination
(r=0.50), spanking (r=0.36), and tying up
someone else (r=0.39). Furthermore, the mere
presence of the fantasy about being dominated
sexually was a significant predictor of the total
score of sexual fantasies (B=0.398). Thus, the
regression model predicts sexual fantasy score sig-
nificantly well. In fact, the simple presence of the
fantasy of being sexually dominated explained 16%
of the variance (R2) for the total fantasy score. This
was true both for women and men.
As for overall ratings of all SF, they were signifi-
cantly higher, on average, for men (153.7 ±56) than
for women (114.9 ±57; F [1, 1,500] =178.10,
P<0.0001), as expected. Also expected was the fact
that significant differences emerged between
genders for specific fantasies. For instance (see
Table 2), among the six most popular SF (those with
6,500 total points or more), feeling romantic and
pleasurable emotions during a sexual relationship
(first rank), fantasies in which atmosphere and loca-
tion are important (fourth rank), and fantasies
involving a romantic location (fifth rank) obtained
significantly higher scores from women than from
men. On the contrary, receiving oral sex (second
rank) and having sex with someone other than the
respondent’s current partner (sixth rank) were rated
significantly higher for men than for women (bold
figures, Table 2). A gender difference in responses
regarding anal sex is also evident: it is fantasized by
approximately two-thirds of men (64.2%) com-
pared with only one-third of women (32.5%). Inter-
est for this fantasy was also significantly less intense
for women (mean rate 1.81 ±2.4) than for men
(mean rate 3.74 ±2.8, P<0.001). Besides, more
than half (56.5%) of women reported have fanta-
sized having sex with two men, and 28.9% of them
reported having fantasized having sex with more
than three men (Table 2).
Interestingly, the percentages of women and
men fantasizing about homosexual activities sig-
nificantly exceeded the percentages of declared
bisexuality or homosexuality. More than a third of
women acknowledged fantasies about giving cun-
nilingus (35.7%), having sex with another woman
(36.9%), and making love with (36.9%) or watch-
ing (42.4%) two other women having sex,
although only 19% considered themselves either
bisexuals (12.6%) or homosexuals (6%). Similarly,
approximately a quarter of men fantasized about
giving fellatio (26.8%) and a fifth fantasized about
having sex with another man (20.6%), although
89.5% classified themselves as heterosexuals.
Qualitative Analyses
First, inter-rater agreement was excellent overall
(92%) and for each theme (kappas between 0.74
and 1.0). Second, although individual sexual fan-
tasies were more detailed than the closed ques-
tions, the majority were variations on themes
already included in the questionnaire (Table 3).
New themes had a low occurrence (e.g., incarnat-
ing a women being penetrated, sex with a pregnant
woman, sex with a virgin, bestiality, fisting,
unbirthing, sex with twins, sex with virtual charac-
ters), with the notable exceptions among men of
shemales, non-homosexual receiving anal sex, and
watching spouse having sex with others. Overall,
men reported more themes (28 excluding single
occurrences) than women (19). Interestingly,
approximately half of women with descriptions of
submissive fantasies specified that they would
not want the fantasy to materialize in real life.
This result confirms the important distinction
between sexual fantasies and sexual wishes, which
is usually stronger among women than among men
[10,26].
Discussion
The main goal of this study was to survey a rela-
tively large sample of individuals recruited from
the general population about the nature and inten-
sity of their SF using a broad and unbiased ques-
tionnaire to determine which fantasies are
statistically rare, unusual, common, and typical. Of
55 fantasy themes, only 2 were rare and 9 were
unusual. It is clear that one should be careful
before labeling a SF as the majority of the 55 on
the questionnaire were not found to be either rare
or unusual.
336 Joyal et al.
J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340
Table 3 Themes extracted from qualitative analyses of favorite SF reported by women (a) and men (b)
(a) Themes reported by women (N=158) in descending order of prevalence (percentage among responses)*
1. The location is specified: 27.2%
(A) Exotic or unusual private place (e.g., deserted beach, swimming pool, forest): 21.4%
(B) Public place (e.g., office, restrooms, bar, aircraft, etc.): 5.8%
2. Spouse or current lover is exclusively involved: 20.1%
3. Focus on own submissive behavior: 18.8%
4. Specifically involves a stranger: 14.3%
5. The type of ambience is specified: 11.7%
6. Exhibitionism: 8.9%
7. Involves homosexual activities: 8.2%
8. Group sex: 7.8%
Active role (with and ): 3.9%
Passive role (surrounded by ): 3.9%
9. Specifically refers to an authority figure or a celebrity: 7.1%
10. Involves a sexual object: 6.5%
11. Voyeurism: 3.9%
12. Focus on own domination behavior: 3.9%
13. Triolism (with 2,1-1or 2): 3.2%
14. Involves non-homosexual oral sex (receiver): 2.6%
15. Specifically involves infidelity: 2.5%
16. Partner’s swapping: 1.9%
17. Report absence of fantasy: 1.9%
18. Involves an acquaintance: 1.3%
19. Anal sex (receiver): 1.3%
(b) Themes reported by men (N=214) in descending order of prevalence (% among responses)*
1. Voyeurism: 15.0%
(a) Strict sense; alone, spying an unaware stranger: 3.3%
(b) Extended sense; watching spouse having sex with another woman: 3.3%
(c) Extended sense; watching spouse having sex with another man (candaulism): 8.4%
2. Fetishism§: 14.0%
3. Triolism (with 2or 1-1): 12.6%
(a) With spouse (ménage à trois): 5.6%
(b) With strangers or acquaintances: 7.0%
4. Oral sex (non-homosexual): 11.7%
(a) Receiver (fellatio): 10.8%
(b) Giver (cunnilingus): 3.3%
5. Anal sex (non-homosexual): 11.7%
(a) Receiver (with strap-on or shemales): 6.1%
(b) Giver (with ): 5.6%
6. Location is specified: 11.3%
(a) Exotic or unusual private place (e.g., deserted beach, swimming pool, forest): 7.5%
(b) Public place (e.g., office, restaurant, bar, aircraft)**: 3.8%
7. Homosexual activities: 8.9%
8. Involves an acquaintance: 8.5%
9. Group sex (or only ) active: 8.1%
Active role: 7.5%
Passive role: 0.6%
10. Spouse or current lover is exclusively involved: 7.9%
11. Focused on own submissive behavior: 5.2%
12. Focused on a specific body part (partialism)††: 4.7%
13. Focused on own domination behavior: 4.2%
14. Involves an authority figure or a celebrity: 4.2%
15. Specifically involves a shemale: 4.2%
16. Involves a teenager (or aged 13–17 years old): 3.3%
17. Involves intimacy‡‡: 3.3%
18. Transvestism: 2.8%
19. Involves someone significantly older (more than 15 years): 2.8%
20. Ambience is described§§: 2.8%
21. Incarnating a women to be penetrated: 2.3%
22. Involves female ejaculation (squirting): 2.3%
23. Exhibitionism¶¶: 1.9%
24. Specifically related to a stranger: 1.9%
25. Involves urine: 1.4%
26. Specifically related with weightlessness (zero gravity): 1.4%
27. Infidelity is specifically described: 0.9%
28. Miscellaneous rare themes***
, Females; , Males
*Multiple themes could be extracted from a single response; hence total percentage exceeds 100. Percentages represent the rate of participants endorsing each item
All fantasies in public places actually involved semiprivate locations (e.g., closed office, closed restrooms); no fantasy took place in an open public location (e.g., streets, park,
playground, etc.). They also all involved a partner, i.e., no individual sexual activities were depicted in public places
All exhibitionistic fantasies involved sexual activity with a partner before an audience or solo activity in front of partner. No fantasies involved exhibitionism in a strict sense, i.e.,
solitary behavior in public places in front of an unaware, unknown target. The majority of exhibitionist fantasies (76%) involved spouse or lover
§Includes specific clothing or fabrics, nonsexual objects, and feet
Fantasies of anal sex with another man were classified as homosexual behaviors
**All fantasies in public places involved a partner (no individual sexual activities) and none involved an open public place
††Exclude feet, categorized as fetishism
‡‡Included caresses from or to spouse, to be intimate with lover, hearing or seeing wife having an orgasm; having different positions with spouse, being nude with spouse, being
initiated by an acquaintance, imagining having sex with wife after losing weight
§§All ambience descriptions were related with positive feelings (i.e., no ambience inducing fear or other negative feelings)
¶¶No fantasies involved exhibitionism in a strict sense, .i.e., solitary behavior in public places before single unaware, unknown target; they all referred to sexual activities with
a partner before an audience
***Themes with single occurrence: Fisting, unbirthing, unknown pregnant woman, bestiality, twins, virtual character, virgin, double penetration, food, and between breasts
Sexual Fantasies in the General Population 337
J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340
A secondary goal of this study was to further
determine the nature and prevalence of sexual
fantasy themes by asking participants to freely
describe their favorite sexual fantasy. It was found
that, in general, freely reported themes corre-
sponded to those of the questionnaire. These
results confirm compilations of Internet search
keywords suggesting that approximately 30
themes are sufficient to describe the SF of the vast
majority of persons [37]. As expected, men
reported more themes (28) than women (19). An
intriguing result in the present investigation is the
significant presence among men of themes related
with shemales, receiving anal sex (non-
homosexual), and watching spouse having sex with
others. Discussing the possible origins of these
counter-intuitive themes is beyond the scope of
this study, but others have proposed their views
[37].
A third goal of this study was to specifically
investigate whether SF of domination and submis-
sion are unusual in a sample of participants
recruited outside college. Among women, it was
found that SF of being dominated, being spanked
or whipped, being tied up, and being forced to
have sex were reported by 30%–60%, confirming
several studies conducted largely with college stu-
dents (reviewed in Refs. 1 and 42). Interestingly, it
was also found that significant proportions of men
reported these fantasies, in accord with studies
involving college students [43]. Still, the fantasy of
being dominated was significantly greater for
women than for men, on average, whereas the
fantasy of dominating was statistically stronger for
men than for women, on average.
Qualitative analyses of the open response also
confirmed that certain themes of favorite sexual
fantasies are currently (and incorrectly) considered
unusual (Table 3). For instance, voyeurism (men),
fetishism (men), and submission (women) were
each included in the favorite sexual fantasy of more
than 10% of respondents (Table 3). These results
concord with the survey of Ahler and colleagues
[30], and impressions from narrative reports
[9,10,26].
Another interesting finding was that reports of
submission fantasies were significantly associated
with reports of domination fantasies, indicating
that these fantasy themes are not separate or in
opposition [26]. Furthermore, higher intensity of
sexual fantasies was significantly predicted by the
presence of the fantasy of being sexually domi-
nated. This was true for both women and men.
This result is in accord with suggestions by
Strassberg and Lockerd [19] and Shulman and
Horne [23] that women with sexual submission
fantasies are more erotophilic. It also supports the
hypothesis made 25 years ago by Pelletier and
Herold [49] (see also Ref. 50) that forced-SFs are
just one of many manifestations of sexual openness
and, therefore, the presence of submissive sexual
fantasies does not necessarily indicate a special or
unusual sexual interest. As stressed by Khar [26]
and Brenot [10], women with submissive sexual
fantasies may, in fact, be more satisfied sexually
than women without such fantasies (see also the
pioneer study of Hariton and Singer [31]). The
present study suggests that the same holds true for
men and for women outside college populations
[23]. Given that the presence of sexual fantasies of
submission and domination were highly corre-
lated, these so-called unusual fantasies alone are
not good indicators of psychopathology; in fact,
the contrary may well be true. Future studies of SF
should include a measure of sexual satisfaction to
ascertain this possibility.
This study indicates that there are very few sta-
tistically unusual sexual fantasies. Definitions of
paraphilia should better define terms such as atypi-
cal and unusual and concentrate more on patho-
logical aspects such as rigidity and necessity of
certain sexual fantasies. Future definitions of dis-
orders of sexual interest should also focus more on
the subjective complaint associated with any sexual
fantasy than focusing on its content.
Overall, the results of this study should be
interpreted with caution, however. First, volun-
teers in sex studies have more experience and
they are more open toward sexuality than persons
who refuse to participate in such studies [51,52].
Thus, certain SF rates might be inflated by vol-
unteer bias. Moreover, this study is based on an
Internet survey. Although Internet surveys make
it possible to reach more people, we were not
able to confirm demographic variables such as
age and sex of respondents. The age variable was
not used in our analysis, but it is possible that
some responses reportedly by women were actu-
ally provided by men and vice versa. However,
rates of dishonest replies for 20- to 30-minute-
long questionnaires filled in online are low, and
other Internet surveys have successfully overcome
this potential problem by recruiting a large
number of participants, as was done here. Still,
this sample was not representative of the general
population and more surveys conducted by pro-
fessionals on representative samples of identified
participants are needed [26], with statistical
338 Joyal et al.
J Sex Med 2015;12:328–340
analyses. In addition, the questionnaire was
modified from the original version [12,46].
Although questions about SF are rather straight-
forward, psychometric properties of this version
of the questionnaire were not available. Finally,
the open question asked participants to write
down their favorite sexual fantasy if it was not
already included in the questionnaire. In retrospect,
this phrasing dissuaded many participants to
reply, so future qualitative investigations should
ask for any sexual fantasy.
Overall, many sexual fantasies are typical or
common. Clinicians and researchers should not
rely solely on the theme of a sexual fantasy to
determine if it is either pathological or unusual.
Whereas many people with conventional SF might
find them upsetting or painful (e.g., an openly
homosexual man who has heterosexual fantasies),
people with fantasies that are considered unusual,
such as sadomasochistic fantasies, may be as sexu-
ally satisfied, if not more, than individuals who do
not have such fantasies.
Acknowledgment
This study was sponsored in part by a team grant to the
Groupe de Recherche sur les Agresseurs Sexuels
(GRAS, Jean Proulx, director) from the Fonds de
Recherche Québécois sur la Société et la Culture
(FRQSC).
Corresponding Author: Christian C. Joyal, PhD,
Department of Psychology, Université du Québec à
Trois-Rivières, 3351, boul. des Forges, C.P. 500, Trois-
Rivières G9A 5H7, Québec, Canada. Tel: 819-376-
5011-3559; Fax: 819-376-5195; E-mail: christian
.joyal@uqtr.ca
Conflict of Interest: The author(s) report no conflicts of
interest.
Statement of Authorship
Category 1
(a) Conception and Design
Christian C. Joyal; Amélie Cossette
(b) Acquisition of Data
Amélie Cossette; Vanessa Lapierre
(c) Analysis and Interpretation of Data
Christian C. Joyal; Amélie Cossette; Vanessa
Lapierre
Category 2
(a) Drafting the Article
Christian C. Joyal
(b) Revising It for Intellectual Content
Christian C. Joyal
Category 3
(a) Final Approval of the Completed Article
Christian C. Joyal; Amélie Cossette; Vanessa
Lapierre
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Thesis
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