Short bio: I am a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute (Indiana University) and author of the blog Sex and Psychology ( I have researched and taught about the science of sex for the last 10 years, including 3 years at Harvard, where I taught a popular sexuality course. I have authored a few books on the subject, including a textbook (The Psychology of Human Sexuality) that is used in college classrooms around the world. I have a new book out today entitled Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life (, which is based on the largest and most comprehensive survey of sexual fantasies ever conducted in the United States. I surveyed over 4,000 Americans about their biggest sex fantasies. Tell Me What You Want looks at not just what we fantasize about, but where our fantasies come from, what they say about us, and how to talk to our partners about our desires.

My proof:


Twitter: @JustinLehmiller

Instagram: @JustinJLehmiller

Media coverage of Tell Me What You Want:

EDIT (3:55 PM EST): Thanks for this amazing response and for the wonderfully insightful questions! I have to step away for an hour to do a couple of interviews, but I'll be back at 5:00 PM EST to answer more questions. Keep them coming!

EDIT (5:00 PM EST): I'm back and ready to answer some more questions. Let's go!

EDIT (7:30 PM EST): Thanks again for all of the great questions. This has been amazingly fun! I need to break for dinner and catch up on work, but I'm happy to come back and answer a few more questions before bed tonight.

EDIT (Midnight EST): I'm back to answer a few more questions before calling it a day. Let's do this!

EDIT (1:30 AM EST): It's my bedtime. Thank you for a fun and fascinating day of discussion! You've asked a lot of great and important questions. I hope you check out the book and keep the conversation going!

Comments: 2914 • Responses: 56  • Date: 

Portarossa2647 karma

I write smut for a living, and I've always found that people are really eager to talk about their sexual fantasies when they find out my job and feel that they're not going to be judged for them.

Have you found that when people find out your line of work, they open up really easily, even outside of a professional setting?

justinlehmiller3158 karma

Oh, yes. This happens to me All. The. Time. At the bar. At the pool. At dinner parties. Everyone has questions about sex, but very few people feel comfortable asking their questions.

As I often say, people have an easier time having sex than talking about it--and when they find someone like me who isn't phased by anything and isn't going to judge them, then they finally feel like they can open up and ask all of the questions they've been dying to ask. I've heard it all.

jory4hawks2414 karma

What’s the most common fantasy?

justinlehmiller5084 karma

By far, the single most popular fantasy was having a threesome. Group sex in general was popular, but threesomes were the most popular form.

Interestingly, while threesomes were the most popular fantasy, they were also the fantasy that was least likely to turn out well when people tried to act on it. I suspect this is because most people don't have a script for how a threesome or group scenario should go. So they end up in the situation, but don't know quite what to do and it just doesn't play out like it did in their head.

Rafael871124 karma

This corroborates what a European youth survey -- Generation What -- found: most women who tried sex with more than one person, disliked it. Most men liked it, but the ratio of likes per dislikes is more modest than for public sex, gay sex, and so forth.

Artemis_Churro1045 karma

So does the survey take into consideration the genders of the participants? I feel most men would like it more if it were MFF than MMF, or MMM. The one time I tried a MMM threesome, I couldn't walk, sit down or speak for like three days

justinlehmiller1022 karma

I actually did a whole separate study on interest in threesomes and am writing up the data for a journal. But the short answer is that, yes, the gender ratio matters. Among heterosexuals, women are more interested than men in threesomes that include at least one same-sex partner.

Boredeidanmark390 karma

What fantasies did people enjoy the most when trying them?

justinlehmiller867 karma

Non-monogamy fantasies (like swinging, cuckolding, etc.) actually had one of the highest rates of success. Fantasies about sexual novelty (like trying a new position or having sex in a new setting) and passion/romance fantasies had very high success rates, too.

It's interesting that non-monogamy tended to work out so well when group sex didn't, but I think that's because the group scenarios are just totally unfamiliar to most people--they don't have a script for how it's supposed to go.

PloxtTY2227 karma

Is there an explanation for the rise in popularity of brother/sister pornography?

justinlehmiller5057 karma

Honestly, I'm not surprised that incest porn is as popular as it is based on my survey results. Believe it or not, 1 in 5 people said they had fantasized about incest before, with incest defined specifically in my survey as "sex with a blood relative." That said, just 3% said they fantasize about incest often--so while a lot of people have been turned on by the thought of incest before, rarely does it become people's preferred fantasy content.

In terms of the appeal of incest, a big part of it stems from the fact that it's a major social and cultural taboo. We come to want what we we're told we can't do--it's a psychological principle called "reactance."

Another part of the story behind why taboo acts are popular fantasies is because when we're sexually aroused, our disgust response lessens. So things that we normally find to be gross became less so when we're turned on. But once we orgasm, that disgust response tends to come roaring back quickly. So what people think is hot when they're turned on may cause revulsion when they aren't in the mood.

Portarossa52 karma

A lot of these answers are answering why people like it, but I think the bigger question you're getting at is why we're seeing a rise in it now -- and I think you can trace that to Game of Thrones.

All of a sudden, Jaime and Cersei are going at it, and more people are exposed to the idea of incest being something that you can do too -- think of the impact that, say, Fifty Shades of Grey had on the number of people dabbling in BDSM for the first time. But what's a guy to do? He can't exactly go and bone his sister or Mommy Dearest, can he? So he turns to porn.

(If you're familiar with mainstream romance/erotica, you will have seen a big uptick in the number of books featuring step-siblings a couple of years ago, for the same reason. 'Step' is the way writers get around the idea of not squicking out the censors, but you couldn't move for stories about people boning down with their almost-siblings.)

People making porn notice that there's suddenly an appetite for incest, which is great for them. Why? Because it requires zero extra investment to turn a regular porno into an incest porno: you just have to get your actors to change their lines a little bit. It makes it very easy for them to pivot towards this new desire, which means that it's everywhere in porn, which means that more people are stumbling across it while casually browsing, which means more people will find it works for them, which means the industry will put out more material, which means... well, you know. Lots of incest in your PornHub.

justinlehmiller153 karma

For me, the really interesting question (which we don't know the answer to) is whether interest in incest is really rising, or if people are just finally acknowledging an interest in it because GoT and other media depictions have brought it out into the open.

This is something we need to be really careful with because people often point to porn as the cause of lots of sexual desires, but we don't know if the desire was there before porn, or if porn just helped bring that desire out into the open more.

Ciscoblue1131892 karma

What is the most obscure yet fascinating fantasy you've come across on an educational level?

justinlehmiller4448 karma

I only received one fantasy like in the survey, but it really stuck with me--it was from a woman who described a desire to become a "human cow." Basically, she wanted to be force fed hormones that would make her lactate continuously. She then wanted to be tied up in the center of town and used as a human "milk machine" where people would come milk and have sex with her at will.

After writing the book, I discovered that there's actually a whole porn genre devoted to this sexual interest (in fact, a quick search on Pornhub yields 1500+ hits for "human cow). I also saw a fascinating VICE article about this recently:

I think this fantasy is largely just an interesting variant of broader BDSM desires (coupled with a lactation fetish). Humans are endlessly inventive and flexible when it comes to ways of fulfilling these desires psychologically.

Rafael87173 karma

Speaking of cows, or non-human animals in general, this non-scientific survey found that women are more likely than men to have fantasies about dogs. Did you happen to ask questions about that or related subjects? 🤔🤔

justinlehmiller356 karma

Interestingly, I found that men and women were equally likely to report having had fantasies about sex with animals. This was interesting because previous research suggested that this was almost an exclusively male interest. And, yes, dogs were the most popular animal, followed by horses.

I deal with this subject in the bonus chapter, which comes free with the book by filling out the form on this page:

schneidrew1734 karma

Why do you think that people are so frequently aroused by fantasies (and pornography) that they don’t actually wish to act out in real life?

justinlehmiller2003 karma

Great question! The way to think about this is that our fantasies and our desires overlap to some degree, but they aren't one and the same (think about a venn diagram with overlapping circles). So just because we fantasize about something doesn't necessarily mean we want to do it. The non-desire-based fantasies may result from things like having a very active imagination or being what's called a sensation seeker (meaning you have a heightened need for sexual excitement). So some fantasies are just the product of a wandering mind or the search for thrills and don't really have deeper meaning.

usernametaken09871720 karma

What do you think we should do in terms of improving sex ed in public schools?

justinlehmiller3901 karma

Funny you should ask because I just wrote an op-ed on this very subject today, which was published in USA Today. The short answer is that we need to move away from the abstinence and "just say no" model to teaching sexual communication skills, like they do in the Netherlands. When "just say no" is the only communication skill you have, you can't possible be prepared to navigate healthy sexual relationships.

throwaway9432031634 karma

Is there any help, or treatments a professional can offer If a person has a sexual fetish that is fairly invasive to their normal everyday lives and affects their normal romantic relationships? Nothing immoral or illegal, but a nuisance in normal everyday life and and extremely disruptive to a normal relationship.

justinlehmiller1714 karma

Yes--there are actually a lot of different treatment approaches, but I would refer you to someone who has a background in clinical psychology for the answers (such as my friend and colleague Dr. James Cantor who specializes in this area) because I specialize in the academic and research side of sex.

Tana1234863 karma

Can you ask them to do a AMA?

justinlehmiller1197 karma

Yes! I will suggest it to him!

Bella-Lugosi1308 karma

During your research did you notice any regional patterns with fantasies? With the internet being so easily available I wonder if you feel that’s broadened or narrowed peoples sexual imaginations.

justinlehmiller1352 karma

I didn't look at geographical or regional differences in fantasy, but I do suspect that they exist and that's something I'll have to explore in future work. I have seen some studies finding that porn searches differ in different parts of the USA, and if we assume that what people are searching for on porn sites reflects their fantasies (which seems reasonable, given that 80+% of my participants said they'd sought out porn reflecting their fantasies), then I suspect we'd see regional differences in sex fantasies, too.

gaycuckhusband1131 karma

During your research was there any fetish that surprised you in terms of popularity?

justinlehmiller2035 karma

Feet were more popular than I was expecting. In fact, I found that 1 in 7 participants said they'd had a fantasy before in which feet or toes played a prominent role.

It was also interesting that about 1 in 20 guys said they fantasized about breast milk. I wrote an article for Playboy a few years back about lactation fetishes, so it was interesting to me to see how popular this was. It helps to explain why websites where breastfeeding women sell their milk to men are popular--and also why "lactation bars" have even started opening in some places (where men can literally drink from the "tap").

AndrewKemendo197 karma

1 in 7 participants

At what point in does it go from "fetish" to normal?

Like for example breasts for men are "normal" but what is the ratio of people who would say they had a "fantasy in which breasts played a prominent role?"

justinlehmiller500 karma

Quick clarification: Just because someone has had a given fantasy before doesn't necessarily mean that it's their favorite or preferred content. We need to distinguish fantasy from fetish. When someone has a fetish they usually *need* their fetish object to be aroused and to reach orgasm. Most of the people who had fantasized about feet wouldn't meet fetish criteria because they weren't fantasizing about feet most or all of the time.

lo_and_be195 karma

I’ve always been curious about the directionality of foot fetishes. It’s popularly associated with a male fetish for female feet. Did you find that? If so, why do you think that is?

justinlehmiller365 karma

I did find that. I just peeked back at the data and men were 3X more likely than women to say they'd had a fantasy about feet/toes before.

We don't know with certainty why that is, but what I can tell you is that men in general are more likely to have fetishes than women (and not just for feet). Some have argued that it's because men's sexuality is more "fixed" whereas women's is more "flexible." I have a whole chapter in the book that gets into this theory.

thatguy2526123 karma

I'm guessing "providing" milk is a common fantasy of females, if "lactation bars" exist.

justinlehmiller252 karma

The fantasy definitely goes both ways--there are men who fantasize about drinking breast milk, and women who fantasize about being milked or feeding their partner. I saw both in my survey.

clawclawbite1046 karma

So, as someone in the field for a while, what most surprised you in the survey results?

justinlehmiller2007 karma

There were a lot of things that surprised me. One was just how much similarity there was in the kinds of things that men and women were fantasizing about. It turns out that most of the stereotypically masculine desires (like threesomes and group sex) and stereotypically feminine desires (like passion and romance) were things that almost everyone was fantasizing about, regardless of gender. Men's fantasies are more emotion based than you might think, while women's fantasies are more sexually adventurous than they've been given credit for.

I don't know if this is "surprising," but one other thing that really interested me was how our fantasies were related to age. The data suggest that people's fantasies change as they get older. For example, interest in threesomes increased up until about age 40, at which point it stayed high until the mid-50s. Then it started to decline again. I think what's happening here is that our psychological needs are changing as we age and our fantasies are adjusting to compensate. So, for instance, when you're young, sex--any sex--is new and fresh and exciting because you haven't been doing it very long. But when people enter long-term monogamous relationships, they start craving novelty after a while (and group sex is one way of adding in novelty). Then as they get much older, their needs adjust and change again and novelty becomes less important (and practical).

Cocomorph1038 karma

Have you ever encountered anyone whose sexual fantasies involved sex research/researchers?

justinlehmiller2332 karma

If you can think of it, someone has fantasized about it.

Funny story--when I used to teach undergraduate college courses on human sexuality, one of my favorite activities of the semester was to ask students to anonymously submit their favorite sex fantasy. I would then read some of them out loud and ask the students to look for themes, but also to guess whether the fantasy was written by a man or woman. It was an interesting exercise to not just learn about diversity in fantasy content, but because it also challenged some of the students' stereotypes about what men and women want. Anyway, long story short, in the process of running this exercise, I learned firsthand that some people do indeed have fantasies about sex researchers.

mnslice830 karma

So what you're saying is students have written down that they want to fuck you 😂

justinlehmiller776 karma

Basically, yes.

Non_sum_qualis_eram919 karma

Do you ever hear a fantasy which sets of alarm bells? If so, what do/can you do about it?

justinlehmiller1616 karma

Fantasies become a potential source of concern when they focus on activities that are either nonconsensual and/or would cause great harm to you or others if acted out AND when these fantasies become your preferred or go-to content. Having a really dark fantasy on occasion isn't itself a cause for concern because that happens to most people from time to time. It's when a dark fantasy becomes something you're constantly thinking about it and there's a concern that you might act on it that you should seek professional help.

sorenkair422 karma

How deep into the rabbit hole did you go?

I'm guessing you didn't look into pedo/zoophilia forums. Or worse.

justinlehmiller973 karma

Oh, I did. Unfortunately, however, I ran into a word limit set by my publisher and wasn't able to get into everything I wanted to in the book. However, there's a bonus chapter that explores pedophilia, zoophilia, incest, and more. Anyone who orders the book can read it by filling out the form on this page:

PittsburghDM371 karma

How do you differentiate that in the long term? As a for instance, i was in a relationship where we regularly had CNC (consenting non consent) play. We were safe, we had conversations, we knew our limits and would stop if something was wrong. I have always felt that if its something that is agreed upon and something both parties enjoyed that there was nothing wrong with it. The biggest piece for it was communication and aftercare. Would you agree with that?

justinlehmiller649 karma

A lot of people have CNC fantasies (or as some call them "forced sex fantasies" or "rape fantasies"--though I don't like the latter term because CNC bears no resemblance to actual rape). I have a whole section on this in the book and it's one of the fantasies that people are most concerned about acting out. The idea of it is appealing to many people, but you have to have a LOT of trust and excellent communication with a partner in order to act it out safely. Trust and communication are really the keys to acting out any fantasy in a safe way.

Craftcrafter90279 karma

How common are non-consent fantasies? I just want to get a ballpark because I'm finding it hard to find a partner who shares this fetish and I'm always worried about bringing it up because it might come off as creepy or scary.

justinlehmiller519 karma

Far more common than most people would think. About 2/3 of the women I surveyed and 1/2 of men reported fantasies about being forced to have sex.

MeditatingLemur801 karma

What is the most commonly misunderstood fantasy?

justinlehmiller1753 karma

After conducting this survey, I would say that almost all fantasies are misunderstood. Across the board, people reported thinking that their own fantasies (whether they were about group sex, BDSM, taboo activities, nonmonogamy, or something else) were rarer or less common in the population than they really are. We misunderstand our own fantasies and have a tendency to assume that we're weird or abnormal--and that's a big part of the reason people find it challenging to talk about sex, even with the people they're having sex with.

With that said, I will say that BDSM in particular is a fantasy that a lot of people misunderstand. They assume that everyone who's into it is into wild and crazy things and, further, that they are psychologically disturbed and come from troubled backgrounds (a la Fifty Shades of Grey). The truth is that most people who are into BDSM are perfectly well adjusted psychologically and most BDSM desires are at the more mild end of the spectrum (and, in fact, when pain is involved, it's often more symbolic than anything).

gaycuckhusband774 karma

I've had a Tumblr dedicated to gay cuckold porn for quite a while. And I noticed a definite uptick in interest after marriage equality started becoming a reality in the US. How often do you see a correlation between the popularity of fetishes and societal change? Can fetishes be trendy? Or are they intrinsic to who you are?

justinlehmiller957 karma

I actually published a paper on gay cuckold fantasies earlier this year that might interest you (freely available through this link):

Anyway, to answer your question, yes, I do think our desires change to some degree in response to broader cultural trends and changes. Our fantasies are shaped by a LOT of different forces, though, including our evolutionary history, our own learned experiences, our unique personalities, and our culture. So culture is just one piece of it.

citrusfetish610 karma

This is such a cool AMA lmao

justinlehmiller125 karma

Thank you! Glad you're enjoying it!

CountAardvark235 karma

Sorry, but I have to ask - do you face or have you faced problems with people turning up their noses at academic research about sexual fantasies? I don't know, because I'm not involved in that sphere, but reading "I published a paper on gay cuckold fantasies" elicited an automatic response of 'it's hard for me to take this seriously' even though I know that the work you do is perfectly legitimate and there's no real reason to laugh it off. What has your experience been in academic circles when sharing your research to those in different fields?

justinlehmiller370 karma

Sure--people (even those in my own field of psychology) don't always take my work seriously. And I've encountered a lot of academics who get uncomfortable when they learn that I study sex at all (let alone that I study things like gay cuckold fantasies!).

Related to this, colleagues have also dismissed my teaching evaluations for my sexuality courses because they think "oh, anyone could teach that course and get high ratings." Actually, that's some major BS. It's *very* hard to teach a sexuality course and teach it well (and not come across as creepy, weird, or judgmental).

In short, yeah, it's hard to be taken seriously sometimes as an academic who studies and teaches about sex. But I've never let that stop me.

sbzp635 karma

Do you think the current debate around consent is having an impact on how people talk about sex between one another, especially in terms of discussing desires and fantasies?

justinlehmiller1085 karma

There's definitely a connection here--but the way I see it is that we have a serious problem communicating sexual consent and a serious problem communicating about sexual desire and they both stem from the same issue, which is that most of us are just really uncomfortable talking about sex and have never been taught sexual communication skills.

If sex education focused instead on developing and building sexual communication skills and abilities, we could solve a lot of sexual problems!

doompaty120 karma

Do you have some tips communicating about sex? I feel like we don't have a good set of culturally inert vocab words to talk about it. Everything has a connotation, unfortunately.

justinlehmiller71 karma

It's one of those things where you have to ease into it. You don't just want to leap into a "tell me your fantasies" conversation because that can seem, well, intimidating and very personal.

It's helpful to start a relationship with a norm of sexual communication where you can talk about safe sex, contraception (if applicable), pleasure, etc. without it feeling weird. Don't shy away from that. Once you've built up your sexual communication skills with a partner and established trust and intimacy, you can start talking about and sharing your fantasies and desires in a healthy and productive way.

ManInBlack829551 karma

Do you find your job/research desensitizes or burns you out sexually/personally, or does it have any effect on your relationships/love life? Like you have to think about it all day, people are talking about it with you outside of work. Do you get burnt out or are you able to separate work and play?

justinlehmiller966 karma

The most challenging part is when my friends come to me with their sexual problems when I'm out trying to forget about work and I just want to relax and have fun. I really, truly feel for them and want to help them--but I need a break from work sometimes. Yes, my job is fun and I can't imagine anything better than getting to study, write, and talk about sex all day--but there are times when I need to shut it off.

Also, when I meet new people, say, out at a bar, one of the first questions they usually ask is what I do for a living (a very American question, by the way--I've never been asked this when I'm out in Europe. Americans are very work-focused, but I digress). When I don't really want to talk about sex, I just say that I'm college professor or something and leave it at that.

TCMassacre474 karma

Hello, my academic step-brother! I got my MS under XA, but defended my dissertation under DW.

What are the challenges of communicating the science of your message when you write for a non-academic audience and how do you overcome them?

justinlehmiller689 karma

The biggest challenge in communicating about science to the public is making sure the nuance gets through. Science rarely gives us simple and easy answers--there are usually a lot of caveats and complexities (and, boy, are there a lot of those in the book!). So the hard thing is trying not to oversimplify the findings, while also keeping them at a level that people can understand and engage with.

Unfortunately, this kind of communication is NOT something we are taught to do in graduate school. I've had to learn it all on my own and it's taken a LONG time to get decent at it. I think I'm still learning. What I'd really like is for science programs to start teaching graduate students how to communicate to people other than their peers. If you can't explain your work and why it's important to the public in a way they can understand, that's a serious problem in this day and age.

pm_your_foreskin_438 karma

So what can you tell us about furries? And just how prevalent is it really?

Your work sounds super interesting!

justinlehmiller675 karma

There's actually a whole section on furry fantasies in the bonus chapter (

What I can tell you is that they aren't very common--it's only about 1% of people who said they fantasized about being a furry often. I found some interesting connections between furry fantasies and other fantasies about physical transformation (e.g., becoming an adult baby)--specifically, people who fantasized about one kind of transformation were more likely to fantasize about others. I think these changes are all fundamentally about creating a temporary escape from self-awareness where you can lose yourself in the moment and let go and enjoy sex.

Moosebandit1375 karma

If a child ever asked what your job was, how would you explain it to them?

justinlehmiller1445 karma

That's easy. I'm a scientist.

Sam-Gunn306 karma

So... Like was there a point where you went "Ive had so much sexual and relationship experience, I'm now a professional" and that's how you started your career? How did you conduct your research? In the library, or in the field?

These may seem like funny questions, and they are, but I'm using humor to get at a point I do want you to explain to me, namely how you got into this line of work, and what such work entails!

Thanks in advance, and I'll be sure to read up on your studies!

justinlehmiller646 karma

LOL. In a lot of ways, I feel like I ended up in this field accidentally. I went to graduate school to get my PhD in social psychology (at Purdue). My main focus initially was on the psychology of romantic relationships and what makes for a healthy relationship. Serendipitously, I was assigned to be a teaching assistant for a human sexuality course one semester and it totally rocked my world! I didn't even know that studying sex was a thing I could do, especially as someone who went to a Catholic school for my undergrad and Master's degrees where there wasn't even a sex course on the books!

The experience of being a TA for this course was life-changing and, after that, I applied to teach my own sexuality course at Purdue--in fact, by the time I graduated in 2008, I taught it 8 times myself! I found that I absolutely loved sex research and had so many questions that just weren't answered yet, so I made it the focus of my career from that point on.

iamnotasloth112 karma

Not OP, but I can tell you that the first step to becoming OP would be to get a Phd in Social Psychology. Doing research like this is waaaaaay closer to being a guy in a lab coat who studies rats all day than it is to being a free love sex therapist like Barbara Streisand in Meet the Fockers. It's all statistical analysis of surveys you develop (much more complicated than it may seem) and being incredibly well-versed in current research in the field from fellow statistics nerds. AKA reading dry, academic papers nonstop all the time.

Not saying you can't become familiar with a field like this as a layman, but if you really want to get into it it's going to mean getting the same amount of education as any other scientist with a Phd. Just with the added perk that the thing you're studying is really unique and fascinating to most people.

justinlehmiller264 karma

Just a quick follow-up--people think sex researchers are running Masters and Johnson-style studies all the time and that it's like being on a porn set or something. It's not. Most of my work time is spent in front of a computer and there's not porn on. It's just me and my data analysis program and a word document.

Vio_284 karma

have you ever done any research on fanfiction and its economy?

It would be a fascinating research field for literary and economies of such.

justinlehmiller225 karma

Never done any research on that, but would love to see it, too!

Rafael87284 karma

How did data collection happen? Did you interview people live? If so, do you think there were, as far as you could see, social desirability issues - things people were reluctant to talk about?

justinlehmiller421 karma

I conducted a large online survey. In total there were 369 questions and I had a sample of 4,175 participants who came from all 50 states. I asked people to write out their biggest sex fantasy in narrative form, and then to complete a survey that asked about hundreds of people, places, and things they might have fantasized about. Then they completed several personality inventories and answered questions about their sexual history and demographics.

Any time you do survey research, there's the potential for social desirability concerns to emerge. However, the way we address this is to ensure participants have complete anonymity. When people know their responses can't be traced back to them, they're far more willing to open up and be honest. In reviewing the data, people admitted to having all kinds of taboo sex fantasies--in fact, taboos were one of the most of the most popular themes that emerged! If people were really concerned with coming across in a socially desirable matter, then I doubt people would be admitting to so many taboo sex fantasies.

JediPearce116 karma

I remember taking that survey! It was awkward as hell writing the essay, but I knew it was important to get a good sample size. I'm glad you were able to make use of all the data!

justinlehmiller30 karma

Thank you for participating!

jeffinRTP232 karma

Is there a reason that some people have certain types of fantasies and not others?

justinlehmiller404 karma

There are a LOT of reasons, and this is something I really get into in the book. Our fantasies are shaped by our personalities, sexual histories, and where we find ourselves in life at a given moment (e.g., Are you satisfied with your relationship?). All of these things come together to create a unique set of psychological needs that are reflected in our sex fantasies. Our fantasies are about so much more than just providing physical gratification--there's often much a deeper emotional meaning behind them. And because we all have a different set of needs, we can develop very different fantasies.

Coronis12205 karma

Do more women than men prefer being dominant/submissive or vice versa?

justinlehmiller403 karma

Great question! One of the interesting things I found was that there seemed to be this desire among heterosexuals to break free of the sexual script that dictates that men should be the initiators and women should be the "gatekeepers" when it comes to sex. Heterosexual women often fantasized about being more dominant than they were in reality, while heterosexual men often fantasized about being more submissive.

symes190 karma

So how do you define fetish? If everyone engaged in a particular thing, would it still be a fetish?

justinlehmiller347 karma

Fetishes involve objects that one relies on for sexual arousal. They most commonly consist of things like shoes, boots, and underwear--but body fluids (like breast milk and urine) and body parts (like feet and armpits) can also become fetish objects. Generally speaking, the presence of the fetish object enhances arousal (and orgasm) and, in some cases, the person can't get aroused (or orgasm) unless the fetish object is there.

How many people have it isn't really a key consideration in terms of whether it's considered a fetish. Fetishes can be common or uncommon. I think the issue is that a lot of people just hear the word "fetish" and assume "weird." The problem I see is that there's just a lot of stigma that's attached to the word "fetish." Having a fetish doesn't mean you have anything wrong with you.

sw-falcon94144 karma

When you were conducting the research was there anything that jumped out at you, surprised you, and made you think “Oh wow"?

justinlehmiller277 karma

One of the things I found surprising was how women expressed more BDSM fantasies of pretty much every type than did men--and this was true even for fantasies about sadism (i.e., inflicting pain on a partner). Based on previous research, I had been led to believe that sadism was an interest that men were far more likely to have than women, but that wasn't the case in my findings. I'm not entirely sure how to explain that discrepancy, unless it's specific to the types of sadistic acts I inquired about, which focused on things like spanking, biting, and dripping hot wax. I definitely want to follow up on this in future work.

WheresMyChelios98 karma

Did you take any data about political affiliations and whether certain fantasies are correlated with certain leanings or ideologies? I'd be really interesting to know if middle of the road Democrats differ from anarcho-whateverists and alt-right people and more conservative Democrats.

Also, thanks for taking some time out to answer these questions! What I've read so far has been super interesting, informative, insightful, and entertaining!

justinlehmiller255 karma

Oh, man. Going to open a can of worms here for sure, but I did find that there were differences in fantasies based on political affiliation. I focused specifically on Republican vs. Democrat and one of the most interesting findings was that Republicans reported having more taboo sex fantasies than did Democrats, while Democrats fantasized more about BDSM than did Republicans. I talk a bit about this in the book and what I suspect the underlying reasons might be.

Gordon-Ramsey-Snow90 karma

Are you aware of similar studies in other countries?

If yes, how does the US compare with other regions?

Do the types of sexual fantasies correlate with sexually conservative / liberal societies?

justinlehmiller113 karma

No, but this is something I want to explore in future work. I have actually collected some international data on sex fantasies that I haven't dug into yet, but I do expect to see some differences because (as I argue in the book) our fantasies are shaped, in part, by our culture. So, for example, what is considered attractive and desirable in a given culture is likely to make its way into our fantasies. What I think would be interesting to look at is how fantasies differ in cultures where standards of beauty are different or where sexual behaviors and practices are different.

whereismytinfoilhat84 karma

It seems like gay men tend to link their sexual identity (liking men) and fetishes/sub culture (bear, jock, etc.) with their self identity, to the point where it’s outwardly expressed and not necessarily staying in the bedroom. Did your research extend into that?

I’m super curious to know how this subdivision of ga men based on physical and sexual preferences is affecting gay men.

justinlehmiller97 karma

I didn't really get into this in my work, but I do think it's interesting the way that gay men tend to break into these different subgroups in a way that heterosexuals rarely do. Would love to see some research on this, but don't know of any yet.

GrumpySatan82 karma

Based on your research, when participants acted on sexual fantasies or desires, which ones typically best improved a relationship? Which ones typically harmed the relationship, if any?

I'd be interested to know if there is any research on how someone's general happiness is correlated to their exploration of sexual desires. Do more adventurous people find more happiness in their life? less? or is there no correlation?

justinlehmiller98 karma

For the most part, people said that acting on their fantasies--regardless of what they were--improved their relationship. But the most successful fantasies in this regard were non-monogamy (things like swinging and cuckolding), passion/romance, and novelty/adventure (things like trying new positions or toys or having sex in new settings).

As for the adventurous question, I didn't look at that in my research, so I'm sorry I can't answer it!

snoopervisor74 karma

I once heard older straight men (50+) often start fantasizing about homosexual experiences. Does your study show such a correlation?

justinlehmiller124 karma

Yes! I found a positive correlation between age and same-sex fantasies among heterosexual men--and that's something I discuss a bit in the book. It's interesting because there's NO correlation among heterosexual women.

gussiemanlove74 karma

how much can trauma affect sexual preferences and fetishes? For example, having a taboo fantasy as a result of sexual assault.

justinlehmiller131 karma

Fantastic question, and this is covered in chapter 4 of the book. I found that being a victim of a sex crime was related in several ways to the content of people's sexual fantasies. I know that some of my findings in this area are going to be controversial, but the key takeaway in my view is that different people find different ways of coping with sexual traumas through their fantasies. In the process of conducting this survey and writing this book, I have concluded that our sex fantasies are actually quite therapeutic--they help us to deal with our psychological needs at a given moment.

As one example, I found that sexual victimization was related to having more fantasies about emotionless sex. I think this finding is explained by the fact that some people cope with sexual trauma by trying to separate sex and emotion.

There's a LOT more to it than this and I wish I could get into all of it, but that'd be another whole AMA in and of itself!

thergoat71 karma

Did you find anything interesting regarding different sexualities (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual), in terms of similarities and differences?

justinlehmiller155 karma

People had a lot in common with respect to their sex fantasies regardless of sexual orientation. However, I did notice some differences. Specifically, non-heterosexuals reported more fantasies about non-monogamy, BDSM, and taboo activities. I think part of what might be going on here is that sexual minorities feel freer to report or acknowledge stigmatized fantasies than heterosexuals.


What is your best advice for those that have fantasies and are in relationships with people who have zero interest in the same fantasies?

justinlehmiller123 karma

The good news is that most people have a lot of different sexual fantasies, so even if you aren't a match on one fantasy, odds are that there are several others where you will have common ground. My advice would be to look for areas where you are a match and to avoid trying to push or force your fantasy on a partner because that isn't going to turn out well for anyone. Also, if your partner isn't into a given fantasy, you might consider whether there are alternative ways of fulfilling it that are more desirable to them (e.g., if your partner wants to try some form of non-monogamy to introduce some sexual novelty but you aren't down for that, you might consider whether role-playing or something else could be a compromise that meets both of your needs).

allanbeavercreek36 karma

Are fantasies something that is passed down from parent to child? Like are the chances of the child having similar fantasies. Even though that child has not seen/heard the parent talk about it.

justinlehmiller44 karma

That's not something I necessarily looked at; however, I do believe our fantasies are shaped, to some extent, by our evolutionary history. I talk about this a bit in the book because it helps to explain why there's so much commonality in the kinds of things that people are fantasizing about.

So I don't think it's so much about fantasies passing down from parent to child as it is about fantasies just being passed across generations because certain desires were adaptive in our ancestral past.

a_lot_of_fish21 karma

Do fetishes come from nature or nurture? I.E., is it possible to develop a fetish that you haven't had in the past? Gotta say I'm a bit jealous of people who have foot fetishes, feet are everywhere (including on partners) and it'd be pretty awesome to get to experience sexual pleasure from seeing or touching them.

Do you think it's possible to "learn" a fetish, and do you have tips for this?

justinlehmiller23 karma

There's a lot here, but the short answer is that fetishes appear to be largely learned. In fact, psychologists have conducted studies in which they've literally conditioned people to develop mild fetishes! Hell, they've even conditioned rats to have fetishes, too. Here are a few things I've written on the subject:

OrangeCassetteTapes18 karma

Are there any fantasies that (besides those that are non consensual/illegal) that you would warn people to steer away from for their own mental health?

justinlehmiller17 karma

ANY fantasy regardless of whether it's consensual/nonconsensual, legal/illegal, kinky/vanilla, etc. can potentially become harmful for one's mental health if it becomes a compulsion. So the content of the fantasy isn't really the issue because I've seen people who struggle with managing very vanilla, consensual desires.

The warning flags are when a fantasy (regardless of what it is) starts to feel like it's taking over your life, you can't control it, and it's interfering with work or relationships.

In short, if someone has a very dark fantasy here or there, it's not necessarily something to worry about. It's only when that becomes your preferred fantasy content or if starts to take over your life that it's time to seek help.