“My ultimate fantasy is to have a threesome with a girl and a guy…but not with my boyfriend.” – Anonymous sexual fantasy submitted to The Psychology of Human Sexuality
Think about your current partner or the last person with whom you had a romantic relationship. Did you ever fantasize about cheating on that person with someone else? If so, you’re probably not alone, as evidenced by the fantasy described above. But just how common is it for men and women to dream about sex outside of their relationships? And is this behavior something to be concerned about?
To address these questions, 349 university students and employees involved in heterosexual romantic relationships completed a survey inquiring about the number of sexual fantasies they had in the past two months.1 Participants indicated how often their fantasies featured either (1) their current partner, or (2) someone else.
Let’s first look at the overall proportion of fantasies that involved one’s partner compared to someone else. For men, the percentage of fantasies about cheating was higher than the percentage that included one’s partner (54% vs. 46%). For women, however, the opposite pattern was observed (i.e., 64% included their partner, while 36% were about cheating).
Second, let’s look at the number of people who had ever fantasied about cheating. Results indicated that almost all men (98%) and the vast majority of women (80%) reported having fantasized about someone other than their current partner at least occasionally (and keep in mind that some people might engage in this behavior but aren't willing to admit it, meaning that the actual numbers could be even higher). For both men and women, most of these fantasies were about someone they had never physically been with; however, about one-fifth of men and one-third of women reported fantasizing about former sexual partners.
Beyond gender, researchers found that a number of other factors predicted frequency of fantasizing about cheating. Specifically, these fantasies were more common among people who had been in their relationships longer, people who had a larger number of sexual partners in the past, and people who had previously cheated on someone in real life.
So what does all of this mean? Although cheating fantasies are somewhat more common for men than for women, it would appear that having at least occasional cheating fantasies is a normative behavior in relationships for both sexes. Also, if anything, these fantasies many only increase in frequency the longer a relationship goes on. Of course, these data are limited in that they only reflect heterosexual individuals drawn from one university; however, there is nothing in these data to suggest that fantasizing about someone other than your partner is necessarily pathological or damaging to a relationship. So if you find yourself dreaming about sex that doesn't include your partner, it's not necessarily a bad sign or something you should feel guilty about--the fact of the matter is that almost everyone else (including your partner) is fantasizing about the same thing.
1Leitenberg, H., & Hicks, T. V. (2001). Sexual fantasies about one’s partner versus someone else: Gender differences in incidence and frequency. The Journal of Sex Research, 38, 43-50.
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