“Troubling” fantasies

"Am I Normal?": A woman worries about only being able to orgasm alone while fantasizing about gay male sex

Topics: Salon -- After Dark, Am I Normal?,

"Troubling" fantasies (Credit: iStockphoto/drbimages)
Send your "Am I Normal?" questions to tracy@salon.com.

Hello Tracy,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year and a half and having sex with him for a year. I’m getting concerned. I haven’t had an orgasm with him at all. He does please me and I’ve been so close to climaxing a few times but something always stops me.

I’ve had orgasms before but only by myself or in my dreams. The most troubling part is that I don’t dream/fantasize about having sex with him. Or any straight guy for that matter.

I’ve had a few dreams where I orgasm in my sleep while fantasizing about gay men having sex. Even more disconcerting is that in one of those dreams I was a “bottom” gay man who had female parts. I’ve also had deviant dreams and fantasies where I orgasm and they also do not involve straight men. I don’t fantasize about females either because it doesn’t do anything for me.

I am very confused. Am I normal?

– Confused Woman

All right, Confused Woman, we have two concerns here: Your lack of orgasms during sex with your boyfriend and your fantasies about being a bottom gay man with a vagina. First, to the issue of climax, just consider the feverish search for “lady Viagra” and other magic fixes to increase desire and orgasms. When Big Pharma goes after something it’s because there’s big money, and there’s big money because lots of women struggle with this issue.

Elisabeth A. Lloyd, author of “The Case of the Female Orgasm,” surveyed research on orgasmic frequency and found that, when it comes to penetrative intercourse without clitoral stimulation, only a quarter of female respondents regularly climaxed during sex; and five to 10 percent never orgasmed. (Including manual stimulation, Alfred Kinsey reported that 39 to 47 percent of women orgasmed regularly during sex.) We also know that women report having more orgasms as they get into their 30s and 40s. As sex researcher Debby Herbenick puts it in her recent book, “Sex Made Easy,” “learning to experience orgasm takes practice.”

It’s probably easier to orgasm alone because there is less pressure, self-consciousness and concern about your partner’s experience. (I could go on and on about how women are socialized to put men’s desires first, to prize our partner’s pleasure over our own — but I’ll leave it at that.)

Now, to the issue of your “troubling” gender-bending fantasies: Girlfriend, there is no cause for concern. Russell Stambaugh, a clinical psychologist and board member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, explains, “Fantasies have many different tasks to perform, so it is very common to report ones that seem strange.” (And, honestly, yours isn’t even that strange.) Stambaugh says that one of those tasks is “to compensate for things we can’t get in reality” — others are “to let off steam,” “to reassure us” or to “provide novelty, which often intensifies excitement.”

Fantasies are by definition fantastical. It’s incredibly common for people to get off on either impossible or entirely unrealistic scenarios. “Just look at genre fiction: historical romances, science fantasy and police procedurals, for example,” says Stambaugh. “Many recreational readers are consuming well-crafted, bizarre and elaborate fantasies they could never actually experience in reality. Some fantasies are much more fun in the imagination than they would be in reality.” You seem to have zero desire to make your fantasy come true, which is lucky because it would be hard to do so, short of gender reassignment.

Plenty of straight women fantasize about gay men. When another reader asked me about her taste for gay male porn, I wrote that the genre “is an erotic vacation of sorts for hetero women where the usual gender baggage is left behind. Guy-on-guy scenes don’t automatically call to mind real-world power dynamics between the sexes or the social and political history of male-female roles.” That’s not to mention that gay porn luxuriates in, and lingers on, the male form in a way that straight porn does not. These same explanations might apply to the personalized porn film playing in your head.

The only real problem in your letter is your concern itself. “As long as you accept that [your fantasies] don’t mean that there is anything wrong with you,” says Stambaugh, “you needn’t feel confused, and enjoy them for what they are.”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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