Decades after the sexual revolution and the gay liberation movement, the shame and censorship that surround sex still persist. Even though outlooks have evolved over time and progressively relaxed, taboos around sex have proven to be persistent .
Sexuality is a part of human life that stands at the crossroads of religious, psychological and social commands, which made it so that, for a very long time, sex outside a traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationship was deemed morally unacceptable and was strenuously repressed.
As queer individuals, we’re well aware of the repression our society imposes on sex, since our community has historically been at its centre. It was only 30 years ago that consensual sex between adult men was decriminalised in Ireland. Things have changed, sure, but it’s not completely all fun and games. At a time when the far-right uses a rhetoric of “perverse sexuality” to attack and silence our community, it is painfully clear how normative conceptions of what should be considered acceptable sexuality still work to oppress all those who don’t comply with the rules.
In one way or another, sex has always been subject to social condemnation. That’s why we’re often reluctant to discuss it openly or why we might feel like we’re doing something forbidden when we do talk about it.
However, there is an area where we’re free to explore sex in all its glory without fear of being judged or condemned by others: our imagination.
Erotic fantasies are defined as sexually arousing mental images that can either emerge spontaneously or be intentionally evoked and manipulated. Sexual Health Educator Seema Anand referred to them as “pleasure through imagination” - a way that our mind has to conjure scenarios, faces, bodies, actions and words with the purpose of achieving sexual bliss. The beauty of erotic imagination is that we can enter new spaces of our own creation where the rules of the real world can’t bind us and where whatever - or even whoever - we want is possible.
For queer people, erotic fantasies hold a special place, because they can be a fundamental part of our identity development. While studies have found that homoerotic fantasies are common even among heterosexual people, for a queer person such fantasies can be the first exploration of one’s own attraction.
I’m talking about those times when we were young and inexperienced - or grown-up and more experienced, there’s really no correct time frame - when we would fantasise about our classmate, or that person from our sports club, or the person we saw every day on the bus. It’s a first, often involuntary step, one that we probably didn’t even recognise while it was happening. It’s probably even one that caused a great deal of emotional turmoil.
Indeed, our erotic fantasies can spark complicated feelings. Because as much as keeping our desires in our minds provides a certain freedom from the judgement and condemnation of others, our imagination is not as immune to our own biases. Which inevitably brings us to question whether what we fantasise about is ‘normal’.
In fact, worries about being normal are one of the most common difficulties that people encounter when exploring sexuality. When our fantasies and desires do not conform to what is socially expected according to the dominant heteronormative ideology, fear and confusion might arise.
It’s a vicious cycle and, once again, it all comes down to repression around sex. The taboos that bind sexuality don’t allow us to talk openly about it and in turn the fact that we don’t talk about it means that we don’t realise that a lot of people share the same fantasies and desires that we have.
And there’s more. Our fantasies can often be populated by social taboos. Things that are considered forbidden, immoral or perverse - at least according to the boundaries imposed by our culture, religions and the media. Our fantasies can appear strange to us, sometimes extreme, maybe contradictory to who we believe we are as a person. But are they really?
Some of the most common fantasies that people have are about dominance and submission and rough sex. They often involve the assuming and relinquishing of power, they may include some type of restraint or even physical pain all things that the BDSM community is familiar with and practices in safe and consensual ways.
Multi-partner sex - which includes threesomes and orgies - is also a common fantasy. Voyeurism, which consists of getting aroused by watching one or more people engage in sexual acts, and at the other end of it, exhibitionism, meaning the act of becoming aroused by others watching while you’re exposing your body or having sex, are popular. All these things are so common in people’s minds and yet, they still pertain to the domain of the transgressive and the taboo.
It’s not always about the taboo, though. Some people have elaborate fantasies about romantic sex, although giving a clear definition of what such fantasies entail is a bit more difficult. What is romantic to someone may not be to others and all of the above fantasies may be, in certain circumstances, considered romantic.
Other folk have sexual fantasies where they’re not even present. Their erotic mental images unfold like a movie playing behind their eyes, but they’re not the main character in the scene.
The people they fantasise about could be fictional or just people other than themselves. They could be people of another gender, with new looks and personalities and entirely different pasts. The range of what is sexually possible in the sphere of our imagination is broad. In 2019, the website Pornhub released an annual review that highlighted how one of their top searches was for “alien sex”. Many booktokers on social media are recommending “fairy smut” to their followers. There is an entire Wikipedia page set up to explain what “tentacle erotica” is. The point is, with so much diversity in the realm of our erotic mental images, it’s safe to say that there really is no such thing as normal.
Now let’s clarify something: erotic fantasies are different from sexual behaviour and even sexual desires. Although the three may coincide at times, it could also very well happen that we fantasise about something that we have absolutely no interest in trying in real life. That’s the beauty of it: the possibility to create a different reality where all things are possible. It can be incredibly fun and exhilarating.
And if we wish to bring our fantasies outside of our minds and into the real world, that can also be a lot of fun, but there are a few things we must remember. At this point, we’ve heard it so many times, but I personally don’t think there can be too much repeating: establishing consent with all partners involved is imperative. This means not only getting explicit and non-coercive permission before engaging in certain acts, but also remembering that consent can be revoked at any point. Checking in with your partner (or partners) throughout the experience and halting your actions the moment they tell you to is what consent should look like. Discussing boundaries beforehand and establishing safe-words are also healthy measures you can take to ensure your sexual experience is satisfactory for all involved. Treating your partner (or partners) with respect when they share vulnerabilities or concerns is also very important.
Whatever you decide to do, whether it is to turn your fantasies into reality or keep them locked in your head for some occasional alone time, just let go of all the shame, biases and judgement and let your imagination run free.