What Do Unusual Sexual Fantasies Mean?

We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Please send your sex and relationship inquiries to tips@bustle.com. Now, on to today’s topic: where do unusual fantasies come from, and what do they mean?

Q: “When I was really little, if I would see anything on TV about swimming — specifically swimming underwater — I would start to feel the need to masturbate.

This strange feeling has been with me my whole life. Even now, when I have sex with my husband, I feel like I'm swimming. When I masturbate or have sex, I usually have a kind of scene in my mind that I'm trying to swim to the surface, and the climax hits when I break the surface. I even hold my breath.

I have no idea why this is or where it comes from, though in life outside the bedroom, I love the water and swimming (but deeply fear drowning). I've looked online and I can't seem to find anyone else who has the same water-based fantasies. The only thing I've discovered is that holding your breath can increase blood flow, which I guess would make things more intense down there.

But that doesn't fully explain everything. I'm just really, really curious — what is this? Why do I do this? Was I a dolphin in another life? (Not that you would know the answer to that.)”

A: Sexual fantasies are such a complex topic. Even though they give us a lot of pleasure, they can also cause a lot of stress — especially if you don’t understand your fantasies or where they come from. Here are five things to know about unusual fantasies.

Fantasies Are Totally Normal

The most important thing for you to know is that fantasies are completely normal. Pretty much every person, in every culture across the world, has sexual fantasies of some kind. Fantasies can cause tons of anxiety, so I think it’s important to start with the basic awareness that everyone has them.

We Don’t Really Know Where Fantasies Come From...


As common as sexual fantasies are, there isn’t a lot of research done on them. That’s partially because they’re such a taboo topic, and partially because they’re really hard to study. Unfortunately, even with the research that has been conducted to date, we don’t really know where fantasies come from (that's an unsatisfying answer, I know).

Sometimes fantasies do make sense logically; some people have clear memories that they can trace their fantasies back to. For example, someone may have had their first kiss at a community pool, and developed a fantasy about the water from that. You said you watched scenes on TV involving the water when you were very young, so that could be an explanation of why water is so prominent in your fantasy world — it could simply be that water was associated with the same time period you were first exposed to or learned about sex.

...Or What They Mean

Similarly, researchers aren’t really clear on whether or not fantasies “mean” anything. Lots of people have the same types of fantasies, but when you examine specific fantasies, there aren’t any clear patterns that emerge about the kind of people who have them or why they have them.

For example, fantasies about being forced to have sex are very common. Many people assume that having such a fantasy “means” you’ve been abused in the past, but the reality is that there’s just no concrete connection. While some people who develop "rape fantasies" do so because of their histories with abuse, just as many (if not more) people who develop them have never been abused. I know it would be nice for me to be able to share, “Ah, you have a water fantasy? Let me tell you exactly what that says about you…” but there’s just no rhyme or reason to it.

Fantasy & Fear Are Often Related


All that being said, one thread that often emerges is the relationship between fantasy and anxiety or fear. The physical experience of being anxious or afraid — heart thumping, pulse racing, breath quickening — can be quite similar to the experience of being turned on. That might be why a lot of people develop fantasies around things that scare them. Many BDSM fantasies are a great example of this.

It’s probably not a coincidence that you get so turned on by the water, and at the same time deeply fear drowning. When you have that experience of holding your breath and feeling your lungs start to scream for air, the feelings of being afraid may get mixed up with the feelings of being turned on.

Our fantasies can also involve parts of ourselves that we don’t typically like to acknowledge, which is why it can be interesting to take a look at the roles you tend to play in your fantasies. If you act one way in your day-to-day life, you might act another way in the bedroom. For example, a lot of high-powered businesspeople enjoy being extremely submissive in the bedroom. And a lot of people who are shy and reserved in real life enjoy being dominant between the sheets. I’m not sure if there’s a specific connection to make with your water fantasy, but maybe being in the water is your way to feel free, unrestricted, or playful. Maybe that’s a side of yourself that you don’t usually acknowledge. Or maybe you’ve always thought that your fantasy was “strange,” (I hope it’s clear by now that it’s not), and there’s a part of you that kinda enjoys being “unusual.”

You Get To Choose What Role You Want Your Fantasy To Play In Your Sex Life

Even if you never fully understand why you fantasize about the water so much, don’t forget that you’re still in control of the role you want your fantasy to play. Whenever I write about fantasies, I like to point out that there’s a big distinction between your fantasy life and your real life — just because you fantasize about something doesn’t mean you actually enjoy it, or want or need to do it in real life.

It doesn’t sound like this fantasy is damaging you or your sex life in any way, but you get to be the ultimate judge on that. Do you enjoy playing with the water fantasy? Are there ways you could flesh it out even more? Does your husband know about it? Could he play with the fantasy with you? Sharing fantasies can be a great way to bring a couple closer! At the very least, I hope hearing that fantasies like yours are totally normal helps you feel more relaxed about it.