What Are People Thinking About When They Masturbate?

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by Randall S. Frederick

The best part about masturbating is that no one has to know when you did it, where you did it, or what you were thinking when it happened. It’s your little secret. Unless, of course, you reveal all the dirty deeds to sex researchers – which is exactly what 1,500 individuals did last year for a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, titled appropriately, “What Exactly is an Unusual Sexual Fantasy?” I’ll let the statistics answer that question.

  • 64% have fantasized about being masturbated by an acquaintance.
  • 48% have fantasized about touching a total stranger in a public place.
  • 10% have fantasized about cross-dressing.
  • 10% have fantasized about a partner peeing on them.
  • 9% have fantasized about peeing on their partner.
  • 16% of men have fantasized about watching two men make love, even though only 12% identified as gay or bisexual.
  • 29% have fantasized about being ejaculated on.
  • 30% have fantasized about being forced to have sex.
  • 52% have fantasized about having a relationship with an under-endowed partner (“very small breasts” or penis).
  • 28% have fantasized about having sex with a non-sexual object.

Keep in mind, “While the people you want to have sex with in real life might fit a certain type—i.e. looks, hygiene, personality—the objects and scenarios of  your fantasies don’t have any constraints,” says Christian Joyal, Ph.D. of the University of Quebec, who conducted the study. Generally, only two sexual fantasies were found to be rare for women or men, while nine others were unusual. Thirty sexual fantasies were common for one or both genders, and only five were typical. Primarily, the study determined that themes of submission and domination were not only common for both men and women, but were significantly related to each other. Moreover, “the presence of a single submissive fantasy was a significant predictor of overall scores for all sexual fantasies in both genders” – meaning that those who held a fantasy dealing with submission fell into predictable subcategories but, alternatively, those with a dominant role in their fantasies were less predictable.

More, what Dr. Joyal found was that men favor fantasies that involve acquaintances or women they know in the real world, as opposed to celebrities or fictional characters. Separate research from the University of Vermont shows that a key aspect of a sexual fantasy is that it includes the quotidian (even, yes, people you know). “The fact that [a] sex scenario could theoretically happen – even if they wouldn’t want it to – is a big turn-on,” says Dr. Joyal. “That’s why, even if their fantasies may be much tamer than those in the list above, they still conjure up random real-world people when they masturbate,” a friend, a relative, work colleague, or a former teacher. In a study conducted by Boise State University and published in 2011, “60% [of women] said they were sexually attracted to other women, 45% had kissed another woman and 50% had same-sex sexual fantasies.”

“Most of the time, if you’re in a relationship already, this is probably just your mind being active, not some secret lust struggling to break free,” says Men’s Health Sex Professor Debby Herbenick, Ph.D. “Hence your 10th grade math teacher undressing in your head—and maybe even peeing on you.”

In a related study published in October of 2014, Dr. Joyal looked at the nature of sexual fantasy and paraphilia, a pattern of recurring sexually arousing mental imagery or behavior that involves unusual and especially socially unacceptable sexual practices (such as sadism or pedophilia), among both men and women. The study specifically looked at what fantasies are considered “unusual” or “deviant” and how they came to be labeled that way. The 2014 study was conducted online with 799 women and 717 men who ranked 55 different sexual fantasies and wrote their own favorite sexual fantasy. Each fantasy was then rated as statistically rare (2.3% or less), unusual (15.9% or less), common (more than 50%), or typical (more than 84.1% of the sample). There also, submission and domination themes were not only common for both men and women, but were also significantly related to each other.

Uniquely, “examples of paraphilic interests were given, separated by erotic activities (e.g., spanking, whipping, bonding) or erotic targets (e.g., children, animals, shoes, rubber).” The 2014 study concluded that care should be taken before labeling any fantasy as “unusual,” let alone “deviant.” In other words, there’s no such thing as getting too crazy with your sexual interests and that focus should be on the effect of a sexual fantasy rather than its content.

“If you think of a fetish that’s a 10-out-of-10 level of intensity – someone in chains on an iron cross in their basement – it might seem really strange and uncommon,” says Scott Jacoby, Ph.D., a sex therapist at the Kenwood Therapy in Minneapolis, MN, who specializes in alternative sexual behaviors. “But if you take the same fetish down to a level 2, a partner saying, ‘Why don’t you tie my wrists to the bedpost?’ [for instance], it seems really realistic and ordinary.”

A forthcoming paper, to be published in the Journal of Sexual Research in July of 2016, will reveal similar results. The abstract summary states that

A total of 1,040 persons classified according to age, gender, education, ethnic background, religious beliefs, and area of residency and corresponding to the norm for the province of Québec were interviewed. Nearly half of this sample expressed interest in at least one paraphilic category and approximately a third had had experience with such a practice at least once. Voyeurism, fetishism, frotteurism, and masochism interested both male and female respondents at levels above what is usually considered to be statistically unusual (15.9%). Interestingly, levels of interest in fetishism and masochism were not significantly different for men and women. Masochism was significantly linked with higher satisfaction with one’s own sexual life. As expected, the online mode generated more acknowledgment of paraphilic interest than the telephone mode. These results call into question the current definition of normal (normophilic) vs. anomalous (paraphilic) sexual behaviors.

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