But if you’re doing it all the time, there’s a problem
The human mind is a mysterious organ that can suddenly conjure an aardvark undergoing a gynecological exam while operating a hot air balloon. So it’s difficult to know when or if we should feel too bad about anything we cook up, especially when we’re being intimate with others. Case in point: A guy writing to sex columnist Dan Savage wants to know if thinking about other women during sex with his girlfriend is grounds for shame and guilt, or if he is innocent of the sex thought crime charges levied against him.
Writer Guilty Over Nebulous Ecstasy (GONE), asks:
I’m a 32-year-old guy, my gal is 34, and we’ve been together for two years. Every time we get it on or she goes down on me (though not when I eat her out), my mind wanders to fantasies involving porno chicks, exes, or local baristas. A certain amount of this is normal, but I’m concerned that this now happens every time. When I’m about to come, I shift my mind back to my partner and we have a hot climax, but I feel guilty. Advice?
First off, we must all feel collectively uncertain about our roaming sex thoughts because some variation on this question — what do you REALLY think about during sex? — has been asked on Reddit over and over and over. Those answers range from funny to weird.
“The 1957 Milwaukee Braves starting lineup,” one commenter writes. “Can I cum in her” and “should I just cum in her,” another offers. “Dead puppies,” another says. “What can I say, it’s the only way to not let the first one off too fast.” Most of the answers center around thinking of how good it feels, to simply lasting as long as possible. “Don’t cum don’t cum don’t cum don’t cum,” is one such regular answer.
While deeply insightful, such answers don’t actually get at the letter writer’s question, which is, basically, is it okay to think about other people or not? There’s no honest way to know how often people fantasize about someone else, fictional or otherwise, while having sex. It’s unprovable, and there’s great incentive to lie. (We did conduct a private Twitter poll just out of curiosity, and as of this writing, roughly 32 percent of respondents said they do think about someone else “sometimes” during sex. No one said they always did it. About 39 percent answered “rarely”; an impressive or dishonest 29 percent said “never.”)
One online survey of 1,300 people in 2015, from a sex toy company in London, found not-too-far off results: That 46 percent of women admit they’ve thought of someone else during sex, while 42 percent of men throw some other lady into their mental rotation. Hard to say why — perhaps women are slightly less satisfied in bed and need that extra visual boost — but the people most fantasized about were close friends, colleagues and bosses, and exes. Yes, many people dipped back into memories from people they’d actually slept with. Some people went on to sleep with the people they’d admitted to fantasizing about while with others.
While that’s going to be terrifyingly gross news to some, most experts on sex or relationships maintain that imagining someone else up top while giving an entirely different person the business down below is generally normal and benign—with some caveats, of course.
One therapist writing at Psychology Today takes the angle that it’s okay every once in a while to think of someone else, but wouldn’t be cool on a regular basis to think of someone else every time you do it. Seth Meyers (presumably not that Seth Meyers) writes:
Once in a blue moon, if you find yourself in the middle of an intimate act fantasizing about another, you should not be horrified or feel guilty. If you find yourself fantasizing about someone else on a regular basis, your fantasy has become a coping mechanism to handle feelings about your relationship. You could be bored or angry at your partner, and your fantasy becomes your defense against incorporating intimacy with your partner.
In other words: I’ll give you the literal real estate of my body, but not the mental real estate in my mind! Solid move.
A therapist at Health.com says to go to town on the rich inner fantasies front:
So thinking about other men — celebrities, complete strangers, aliens, whatever! — by no means implies that you’re unhappily married or not sexually satisfied by your mate. In fact, having a variety of sexual fantasies is actually a positive thing if it helps improve your arousal when you’re with your partner.
Note: Alien erotica is real.
Two experts — psychologist and sex therapist Gail Wyatt, and gynecologist Lewis Wyatt—writing at The Root also say that the practice of calling up a virtual rolodex of other people during sex is very common. Sex with one person may become routine, and by basically inserting this other fantasy into play, they explain, you can spice up your own relationship on the sly to your partner’s benefit. They write:
Actually, the question is not who you are thinking about but for what reason. If you are using fantasy to heighten your sexual arousal and ability to experience an orgasm with your partner, that is not cheating. There is no question that fantasizing can make sex more pleasurable if your partner receives the benefits (more pleasure and perhaps an orgasm)…