Q: I've heard that sexual fantasizing is bad for my marriage, but other people tell me it's okay. I don't know what to believe. Is it okay?
A: With the phenomenon of the New York Times bestselling book 50 Shades of Grey, lots of women are wondering what the big deal is with fantasy—is it a friend or enemy to marriage?
Let me tell you about two people I know. I met Mary through my life coaching practice. She almost divorced after 30 years of marriage because, "I hadn't been physical with my husband because I felt like it was detrimental to my spiritual walk with God. That may sound crazy, but I just couldn't be intimate with him without having racy thoughts run through my brain that made me feel guilty afterward. I thought surely God would never approve of my mental activities."
But then Mary sought counseling prior to signing the divorce papers. Her therapist asked, "If God designed your brain in such a way that you can become aroused simply by entertaining certain thoughts, could that be a blessing instead of a burden?" Rather than lose her marriage, Mary decided to lose her guilt instead. Her newfound freedom to enjoy the way her sexual brain works transformed their relationship. That was 22 years ago, and today their sex life is richly rewarding—even after 52 years of marriage!
Now meet Kayla. She and her husband, Josh, hadn't had sex in almost a year. They'd chalked it up to being too busy with three preschoolers to have any energy left for sex at the end of the day. Yet both admitted they'd moved in separate directions when it came to personal gratification: Josh toward pornography, and Kayla toward romance novels. Their sexual imaginations were indeed running wild, but not with thoughts about each other.
Isn't it interesting how in one case sexual fantasies enhanced a marriage, yet in another case they wreaked havoc. Here are a few lessons:
First, we are created by God as sexual beings, and arousal definitely begins in the brain. We simply can't reach climax while mentally drafting our grocery list or even reciting our favorite Scripture passages. We must allow our brain to venture into sexy territory in order to experience orgasm—something God designed the human body to experience. (Yeah, God!)
Second, those raised in Christian homes were often sent messages (overtly or covertly) that sex (including healthy sexual fantasy between you and your spouse) was anything but holy, pure, or natural. As a result, we may experience guilt, shame, and inhibition, as Mary once did. These negative emotions aren't beneficial to our sexual health, nor the health of our marriage.
Third, we must recognize that our unhealthy fantasies (especially about other people or deviant sexual acts) aren't a roadmap toward future fulfillment. They're more often a roadmap of our rocky past. Since it's humanly impossible to experience overwhelming pain and overwhelming pleasure in the exact same moment, what does our brain do with negative emotions? It compartmentalizes our pain, fear, and anxiety long enough to experience the euphoric pleasure God intended. In fact, unhealthy sexual fantasies are simply the brain's way of trying to heal itself from past pain or emotional trauma. So if you find the nature of your fantasies troubling, a counselor can help identify the reasons why your brain may be wandering in that direction. Such discoveries can be healing!
Just as fire can be both useful and dangerous, so go our sexual fantasies. Therefore, we must learn to channel our sexual thoughts in a direction that draw us toward our spouses, not away from them.
Entertaining fantasies of an extramarital partner; comparing our spouse to a real or imaginary person and thinking of all the ways he doesn't measure up; becoming disillusioned with real life because our fantasy life is so much more exciting—these are examples of how fantasy can harm rather than help.
However, savoring thoughts of some of your best sexual moments together; imagining how you may initiate sex next time; becoming more spontaneous and generous in the marriage bed—these thoughts can certainly keep the home fires burning!
Shannon Ethridge, M.A. is an AACC-certified life coach and author of the bestselling Every Woman's Battle and the recent release, The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual Thoughts. www.shannonethridge.com