Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head? The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies

As is often the case on road trips and long flights I was able to get some good reading and writing done… maybe I need to find a way to do this more. Anyway, I finished reading “Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head?” by Brett Kahr. This 400-page book is the culmination of a multi-year study conducted primarily in the UK (though there are some US participants) about people’s sexual fantasies. These fantasies are what goes through a person’s head during masturbation and sex with a partner. The research was conducted through online surveys completed by over 23,000 people and 122 intensive face-to-face interviews with volunteers. It appears to be the most comprehensive attempt to catalog and interpret human sexual fantasies that anyone has ever done.

While I found the intentions of the study and premise of the book fascinating my feelings towards the book are bitter-sweet. As a Freudian psychotherapist Kahr spent much of his time focusing, analyzing, and, in my opinion, unjustifiably fishing or hoping for childhood trauma to explain sexual fantasies that people had. He mentions alternative approaches like evolutionary psychology only twice and only in passing. I understand that he is a Freudian but if his attempt was to objectively or comprehensively attempt to look into sexual fantasies and their foundation (if one exists) he should have brought in some alternative view points. To him humans seem to be born as a blank slate with no genetic predispositions or tendencies in place from evolution.

Kahr often at times come off as a bit judgemental and sex-negative, and even a bit LGBTphobic. He focuses several times on homosexuality possibly being linked to childhood trauma and child rearing but little acknowledgement of a biological aspect. He also seems to see all cross-dressers as “transvestites”. It also seemed like a negative judgement when he penned the term “intra-marital affair” to describe thinking about someone other than your spouse, as if thinking of another is a form of cheating. Some may agree that fantasies are cheating (but if they really are based in trauma or evolution it is cheating we have little to no control over) not everyone does and I think it weakens the betrayal of true affairs if we attach that phrase to a passing thought during masturbation.

Clearly, I have some problems with Kahr’s approach, but I want to give him some benefit of the doubt, it is possible that there is a generational gap and cultural one between he and I. He is British and a bit older than I, while Americans and our friends across the pond are similar in many ways I can’t help but wonder if the stereotypes about prudish non-sexual Brits might have some truth to it. It has also been almost a decade since this project started and a lot has changed in sexual research and views on fantasies in the last 10 years, particularly with the exponential growth of internet access and the pornography that comes with it.

There were also some wonderful things within the book though, and I actually very highly recommend it. Kahr’s analysis later in the book provides a lot of great information and provides some support to his hypothesis in some of the cases. There clearly can be a trauma at the foundation of sexual fantasies, and many of these trauma fantasies are causing great distress and harm to the individuals. In cases where people can’t live the lives they want or have the relationships they desire it is a problem, such as the case of “Julius” who has only been able to masturbate to mental images of a girl who tormented him in his adolescence and he has not had a long-term relationship in nearly 50 years.

I would have loved to see more research and questions about the ramifications of opening up about your fantasies to your significant others. Kahr mentions a few in one chapter but for the most part glosses over any potential benefits and instead focuses on trauma and harm. In my experience being open and honest with your partner about desires and what goes on in your head can have a bonding effect and open the door for new real life experiences. If we decide to enter into a partnership something as intimate and important as sex should not be a taboo subject. Much of the negative aspects seem to come from our social stigmas against sexuality as much as childhood events. As a culture if we can admit that sex is a healthy and enjoyable part of the human experience we can reduce the pain, suffering, and shame that seems to accompany so many fantasies.

Kahr does admit that this is just a beginning, and like a good scientist he hopes others will dive into the data, conduct their own studies, and come up with alternative hypothesis. I would love to see a larger sample size of humans from more diverse backgrounds. What is true for Brits (and in this case a few Americans) may not be true for Australians, Italians, Russians, Kenyans, Colombians, Thai, Egyptians, etc. The more information the better and it looks like this is a field ripe for research and exploration.

I definitely recommend this book for many different people. If you just have an interest in sexuality there is a lot to love about this book, as well if you are interested in seeing how a Freudian interprets things, though I would recommend skipping or skimming Section II if you get bored with it. You can only read poorly written erotica for pages and pages for so long before it becomes a blur. It is also a good resource for people who have anxiety about what goes on in their own heads. It will become quickly clear that “normal” fantasies don’t exist, and because of that there is really nothing that is “weird” or “abnormal”. Some people don’t fantasize at all, some think only about their spouse, some focus more on feelings while others have elaborate situations they play in their head, some people think of college professors, siblings, strangers, movie stars, and inanimate objects. Some people like to be raped, piss on people while they are shitting, or change genders. Some like to be whipped while others like to be bought a nice romantic dinner followed by a massage and some cunnilingus. The limits to human sexual fantasies are only restricted by the combined imagination of billions of people.

Advertisements

The Future

Making plans for the long-term is a funny thing. It is almost always out of our control and the universe has a way of throwing us unexpected curveballs, but we humans insist on making plans and pursuing them. This doesn’t seem to be a bad idea as long as you don’t continue down a failed or impossible path because you refuse to reevaluate your plans. I am no different than anyone else in this respect. I make plans… no specifics or expectations but I do try to align myself along a certain path and make preparations for where I think my life is going. This last week was an eye-opener in that respect and I have begun to make more plans for life after the 2-year bicycle ride.

We have all heard the cliche that you should do what you are passionate about. Your career, your life, your happiness can (should?) all be aligned. To be honest, until recently this never really rang true in my life, at least not in a long-term sense. I’ve had jobs in many places but nothing that really kept me passionate or in one place/career for long. I think that may be changing though. I have found what I am passionate about…. sex. Not just having an orgasm (that is awesome too) but about helping people and relationships deal with unhealthy views of sex. Particularly people who don’t fall into traditional orientations. I want to help individuals and couples dealing with the issues that are somewhat unique to LGBT, polyamorous, and sexually open relationships. People who would normally not be able to go to a therapist for fear of being judged, over analyzed, or told they should stop their non-traditional life to find happiness.

Luckily, I have a friend who is interested in going along a similar path. After literally dozens of hours talking we have a little plan… a plan that may shift, alter, and change but it is at least a guideline. While on my bike ride I am going research programs to get into Marriage and Family Therapy with a specialization in sex, I need to study and take the GRE’s, read all the literature we can get our hands on, and also work on getting any necessary prereq’s out of the way via free online programs or community college online courses. I am confident this can be done while on the trail.

After getting into and finishing a program my friend and I would like to set up a practice together. As a male/female team who has overlapping but different interests I think our practice could be incredibly successful. The end goal isn’t simply a practice in a city though. We would also like to round out our education with yoga and massage therapy, and then put together retreats to peaceful locations that people can sign up for. These retreats could have a variety of uses… single people dealing with sex or body issues, couples looking to bring together more intimacy and exploration, or some other random awesomeness we haven’t solidified. In addition, we may also jointly do some research or write a book or three together. 

All in all, I am excited. It has been a long time since I was really passionate or interested in a particular career or skill set. Hopefully following this path will continue to lead me to a happy life. If people have any recommendations, resources, or whatever I am always open to advice. 

How Much Do You Need?

I stumbled upon this article this morning and it really spoke to me. The article is titled “You Don’t Have To Be Rich In Your 20′s” has kind of a corny title but touches on something that I think is very important. Much of our 20′s and 30′s are spent in an unnecessary rush to secure money, settle into one location, and set up a sense of security. This may not be the best way to live. We no longer live in a time when you need to jump straight into a career or family in your early adulthood, there is time to explore your desires and creativity. Too often we are encouraged to sacrifice our wishes, our sense of adventure, our drive to explore, and the incredible life lessons that come from loving, heartbreak, and making “mistakes”.

There is such a rush to gain some sort of sense of security, security which is more of an illusion than reality. Big bank accounts, owning a home, settling into a job that makes you miserable, and jumping into a family while young sounds like security but it is fleeting and can dissappear much more quickly than it came. And what good is this security anyway if you are told to subdue your life, desires, and friendships… what is the point of falling in line and feeling safe it if it kills your soul? Life is something to be actively experienced, not viewed from a distance behind a white picket fence or a computer monitor. We probably only get one chance at life on this rock, I think that one chance shouldn’t be gambled away on the safe bet. Whether you are 20, 40, 45, or 95 years old it is not too late to get an adrenaline rush, scare yourself, travel to new lands, fall in love, and go to the grave assured that you had a kick ass time. 

The whole article is good and a quick read, check it out if you have a few minutes. (You Don’t Have To Be Rich In Your 20′s)