Sex is a topic we never stop exploring because of its unparalleled complexity in our lives. It’s the way our genes replicate and also a way that humans bond and also a place for our imaginations to play. That’s a lot of meaning for one activity. Because human sexuality is so multi-layered, a lot of us find ourselves having desires that we find confusing. A friend of mine recently asked how they could tell the difference between sexual fantasies that are “normal,” and fantasies that are cause for concern. I checked in with some experts in the field of sexuality to help.
First of all, there is no “normal.” “Worry about whether or not we are normal is one of the most common difficulties people have with their sexuality — behavior as well as fantasy — and this preoccupation leads to dysfunction on so many levels,” says Carol Queen, a sex educator at Good Vibrations (one of the most famous sex shop brands in the world) and one of the authors of The Sex and Pleasure Book. “Worrying about being normal promotes anxiety and shame.” Queen says that when she does sex education work that, “Am I normal?” is the most common question.
"It's more important to be able to be yourself than to conform to a vague notion of what normal is."
Secondly, as Queen explains, it doesn’t matter if your fantasies are “normal” or not, for two reasons. “One, they are fantasies. They are thoughts that can exist independently of a person's behavior,” Queen says. “Two, even if a person chooses to act out a fantasy, the important metric is whether they can do so in a safe and consensual way. It's more important to be able to be yourself than to conform to a vague notion of what normal is.”
Once we set the idea of normalcy aside, we can get to some more important matters. If your fantasies scare you or your partner, you might want to look into them with the help of a therapist. “Sometimes it is possible that repressed sexual trauma manifests itself as a particular kink,” says Angela Watson, a sex therapist and author at Doctor Climax, a sex toy review site. “Your kink should satisfy you as a sexual being, not placate mental anguish within you,” she explains. If you are using a particular kind of sex act or fantasy in order to cope with emotional pain, it doesn’t mean that the fantasy is bad or wrong, but it may mean that you have some emotional work to do that would benefit your emotional state in and outside the bedroom.
So how can you tell the difference between a kink that’s just a kink and a kink that is potentially carrying emotional weight that needs to be dealt with in therapy? Most of the experts I spoke with agreed that your fantasy is probably only problematic if you need the kink to be satisfied in order to get off and the kink itself is not sexual in nature. “If a sexual encounter is only satisfying when certain boxes are ticked that are unrelated to sex, you might have a bigger issue worth exploring,” says Watson. To put this in practical terms, if one of your kinks is humiliation (a very common kink), that’s fine unless you cannot come to orgasm unless your partner berates you for, say, your terrible parallel parking ability.
Your fantasy is probably only problematic if you need the kink to be satisfied in order to get off and the kink itself is not sexual in nature.
It should go without saying that no matter what your fantasies are, if you want other folks to participate in them, they should be able to do so with full awareness of what they’re getting into, you need their enthusiastic consent, and they should be legal. “A kink should be able to be enjoyed by two — or more — consenting adults and should not contravene any existing laws,” Watson says. “I mean laws like theft, assault, or murder as opposed to laws meant to control lifestyle choices. If your kink results in fun that doesn't hurt anybody mentally or physically and isn't punishable by law, why contain them?” Don’t worry, Dr. Climax, I surely won’t.
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