This Saturday is not just Valentine’s Day — it’s also opening night for “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
The film is based on the titillating book published in 2011 that attracted over 100 million readers, many of them women.
The raunchy romance novel involves dominance/submission partnerships, sadism and masochism, and other sexual practices that, while not necessarily uncommon, had not before been the focus of a bestselling book.
Author Erika Mitchell (who wrote the book under the name E.L. James) may have just recently shown the world exactly how popular fantasizing about S&M is, but scientists have known for decades what men and women like to fantasize about.
Since the ’70s, social scientists have been studying sexual fantasies. And while it’s impossible to accurately study the varied fantasies of millions of people across numerous cultures, several studies suggest that when it comes to sexual thoughts and desires, the divide between men and women is strong.
Researchers at the University of Quebec investigated which specific sexual fantasies were most prevalent among a sample of 1,516 men and women living in the province of Quebec, most of whom were between the ages of 20 and 40. They published their results late last year in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The subjects reported whether they had or had not fantasized about a number of scenarios the researchers provided in an online questionnaire. According to the study, the ten things women fantasized about the most included being dominated sexually and sex in a romantic location. The chart below shows all ten:
In contrast, men fantasized more about different partners and more than one partner at a time:
The fantasies that ranked in the top 10 for both sexes were:
- “having sex in an unusual place” (an office, for example)
- “having sex in a romantic location”
- “masturbating my partner”
One important distinction that the Quebec team discovered from their survey was that most women said they didn’t want to experience their fantasies in real life, whereas the men said they did. So while between 30% and 60% of women reported fantasizing about some form of submission (being tied up, spanked, or forced to have sex), most said they preferred to read and think about it rather than live it.
The Quebec team’s results echo the findings of an earlier study published in the Journal of Sex Research in 1990. Regarding the different types of sexual fantasies between men and women, the authors wrote:
- “Male sexual fantasies tend to be more ubiquitous, frequent, visual, specifically sexual, promiscuous, and active. ”
- “Female sexual fantasies tend to be more contextual, emotive, intimate, and passive.”
The researchers surveyed just 182 females and 125 males — most between 17 and 29 years old — all of whom were attending a California state university or junior college at the time.
From the subjects’ responses to a paper-and-pencil questionnaire, the researchers found, among other things, that women were more likely to see themselves as the objects of sexual desire in their fantasies. Men, on the other hand, often saw their partners, not themselves, as sexual objects and were more likely to fantasize about different people. In fact, one third of the males reported having fantasized about more than 1,000 partners over the course of their life.
Both studies surveyed a small, select group who were mostly heterosexual. The results probably don’t accurately capture the fantasies of different, more diverse groups.
To learn more about the types of sexual fantasies men and women told the researchers about, check out the list of questions that the Quebec team asked their participants. How do your fantasies compare?