Therapists who once viewed perverse sexual fantasies as the furtive compulsions of a lonely minority are seeing them in a new light, as more and more "normal" people report them in therapy and new studies suggest that even violent fantasies are surprisingly common.
The new research is focusing on fantasies involving what most experts would call aberrant sexual acts, like bondage or cross-dressing, rather than more prosaic fantasies such as making love in an exotic locale or, perhaps the most popular fantasy among men and women alike, making love to someone other than one's partner.
...30 percent of men are sexually aroused by watching portrayals of physical violence against women, leading researchers to assume they fantasize about such violence... A study of college-age men found 12 percent had sexual fantasies involving children...
The new approach may be most controversial in seeing perverse fantasies as commonplace and in suggesting that this form of "perversion" is as common in women as in men.
Simply being aroused by a given fantasy is not necessarily a sign of perversion. Indeed, experts disagree on where normal sexuality ends and perversion begins.
But the hallmark of all perverse fantasies, said Dr. Arnold Cooper, a Cornell University psychiatrist, is that the sexual partner is treated as "a nonperson, someone with no feelings." [Emphasis added.]
Most experts on sexuality see nothing wrong with sex fantasies. Standard clinical wisdom holds that, so long as fantasy does not harm anyone, it is not a problem and, indeed, can even enhance a couple's sex life.
But many influential psychoanalysts are focusing on the sometimes subtle difficulties in intimate relationships that such fantasies can create, and on the range of purposes they serve, from filling empty relationships and allaying depression to bolstering self-esteem.
The new thinking holds that deep within such adult fantasies as having an obedient harem of love slaves or an urge for sexual humiliation lurk infantile longings such as for an attentive love or the need to overcome a profound sense of powerlessness.
But the fantasies cannot help repair such emotional traumas, the psychoanalysts say, in part because they make those who rely on them emotionally unavailable to their partners.
The new view was summed up by Dr. Gerald Fogel, a psychoanalyst at Columbia University, who said that virtually everyone has aberrant sex fantasies, but that they are not always conscious of them. "Even so, they usually emerge over the course of psychoanalysis in almost everyone," he said.
Many sex therapists disagree. For example. For example, though agreeing that a surprisingly high proportion of ordinary people sometimes have perverse fantasies, Dr. Gene Abel, a psychiatrist at Emory University in Atlanta, said, "People in psychoanalysis, or people who volunteer for studies of sexuality, just are not a representative sample. No one yet knows the true prevalence of perversion in the normal population.
Another major area of controversy is the contention of some psychoanalysts that women are as prone to perverse fantasies as men.
Many studies have found that most officially diagnosed perversions, such as pedophilia or fetishes, are extremely rare or non-existent in women, leading sex researchers to assume that perverse fantasies are rarer in women than in men.
But the new approach says the forms they take in women often are more subtle and so have escaped psychiatric notice.
Indeed, a study of the fantasies that arouse women, published last month, found that a surprising number have what psychoanalysts would describe as perverse fantasies and that the fantasies are highly arousing.
For example, fantasies of being watched while having sex, watching someone else have sex and being forced to have sex were among the most common and the most arousing fantasies, the study found.
The women read written descriptions of 112 fantasies, rated how arousing they were and reported how often they had had such fantasies in the past year.
The study of 119 women, which measured the genital blood flow of some of the women during these fantasies, were published in Behavioral Research and Therapy.
The study, done by psychologists in Australia, corroborates other recent studies of the content of women's fantasies, and is the first to use direct measures of sexual arousal to establish how powerful the fantasies are.
More troubling, though, are some of the data for men. A study of college-age men found 12 percent had sexual fantasies involving children, according to Abel, who has just completed the research.
And an earlier study, at the University of California at Los Angeles, found that 30 percent of men are sexually aroused by watching portrayals of physical violence against women, leading researchers to assume they fantasize about such violence. [Emphasis added.]