For the rest of the month I will be answering questions from anonymous community members – questions that may have a broader applicability to our community as a whole. Do note that today's question is on the topic of sexual fantasies and my be triggering for some readers. Please make sure you have supports in place if that could be the case for you.
My question is about sexual fantasies. I was listening to a betrayal trauma podcast and they talked to a sex therapist about creating healthy sexuality after betrayal. They gave a trigger warning at the beginning of the podcast but I thought this would be relevant to where I am at in the journey, so I listened. However, it was so triggering I had to turn it off. This sexologist talked about sexual fantasies and how couples need to listen to each other and talk about their fanatsies in order to create healthy sexuality after betrayal. And then she gave an example of a couple where the husband had a voyeuristic fantasy and he imagined that somebody else was looking at them while they were being intimate and this was exciting for him. And from what I understood this sexologist talked about fantasies in a positive way. So this was way too triggering.
So my question is in restoring sexuality after betrayal are sexual fantasies a part of this? I haven't thought about this before but that sounds scary to me. I don't know if I ever want fantasy in our sexual intimacy. I mean fantasy—my husband's fantasies are what led to betrayal. And then for this woman to give this example and put it in a positive light was so hard for me to hear. Can voyeurism ever be positive? If a person was not an addict but had this kind of fantasy would it be ok for a couple to indulge in that? Could that type of fantasy lead to addiction?
Wow. What a triggering thing to have to hear, particularly given your husband's past. And, I could see it potentially triggering many women in our community or even just women that hold to Christian values around sex.
I’m afraid there is a lot that sexologists and sex therapists say is “healthy sexuality” that really sounds a lot like sex addiction to me... or at least something that could lead to sex addiction. Even some of the Christians in those fields get sucked into this sometimes which makes me really sad. I believe they mean well: they are thinking that couples may need to make sex more "creative", and things like fantasising and certain practices are a way to go about it. I think it’s the opposite. I believe these practices makes it less creative and less intimate.
As regards the fantasies it might help to note that there are two major types of sexual fantasies: 1. ones I bring into our sex life (which seems to be the example given by the sexologist) and 2. scenarios around our sex life that I may have imagined at another time outside of sex that give me ideas for how/where/when I might like to express myself sexually with my spouse.
With regards to the latter, I would ask the person engaged in such fantasizing if imagining these scenarios is bringing them closer to God and their partner or further away. If they feel the answer is "closer", or they're not sure, I'd suggest they check out with their spouse if their fantasies make the spouse feel more special and cherished. If they get an answer of "no" (or "further" for the first question) I'd suggest working through (possibly with a counsellor) what the fantasies are about for them. If this were one of my clients I'd want to explore if their fantasizing is giving them a "dopamine high", being used as an escape from negative emotions, leading to solo sex, causing them to see their real life sexual encounters negatively, etc. Any "yes"es to the former would lead me to suggest the fansising has the potential to become addictive and is not healthy.
Returning to the first type of fantasy I mentioned (fantasies during sex with my spouse), the book I recommend for couples ready for sexual reintegraton is Best Sex for Life*. In that book the reintegration exercises get you to practice being extremely present with your partner, and speaking out loud as part of staying present. Staying present doesn’t leave much space for fantasy during sex.
Also, I would say that a lot of unhealthy fantasies (e.g. where there are others besides the spouse, where the spouse is pictured in ways they would not want to be) are an evil twist on the spiritual aspect of sexual intimacy. For example, one might be aware of the heavenly reality, during sex that the Holy Spirit is in both individuals and so this is a joy-filled, three-in-one union just as God is a joyful three-in-one union. This is not the same as some sex offender watching a couple, unbeknownst to them, and getting sexually aroused… the latter is a twist on the former. Satan wants to defile the former and make it disgusting so that people don’t find themselves “getting God better” for having engaged in holy, joy-filled, passionate-about-you intimacy.
I hope this answer helps. I think your gut insticts were excellent. I'd just remind you as well that there is no "expert" (including myself, as a counsellor) who knows what you need in your relationship as well as you do. Keep trusting that gut and asking for what you need.
*Best Sex for Life, does however, promote a couple practices I do not personally think would be helpful for those coming out of sex addiction (and possibly not for anyone). It is still a book with a lot of helpful content however, so if you decide to get it, consider downloading my 1-page guide on it.