Is it bad to fantasise about someone else while in bed with your partner?

Words by Evangeline Polymeneas


What’s your fantasy?

Although being completely present in all your sexual encounters is ideal, every once in a while, your mind can slip away. A stray thought or two about your upcoming deadline or ever-increasing shopping list is not a cardinal sin, but what about if you start fantasising about somebody else?

If you’re in a healthy and loving relationship, having fantasies about somebody else can start to ring alarm bells in your mind. If you catch your mind wandering during sex you might start to question your relationship or fall down a rabbit hole of guilt and self-doubt. Surely the only person you should be thinking about is your partner, right?

For more advice on spicing up your sex life, head to our Life section.

That is the ultimate question. Is fantasising about someone else while in bed with your partner wrong? To get an expert’s perspective, I spoke to sexologist Aleeya Hachem. “I don’t think it is at all,” Aleeya says right off the bat.

“It’s a fantasy, it exists in your own mind, it doesn’t mean you’re going to go and act on it. We rely on sexual fantasies to become more aroused. They heighten the sexual experience for us. It’s a point of escapism and a place to play out things that you might find arousing – it’s a safe space that exists inside your mind and that’s okay.”

Aleeya turns the tables on me by asking if I think it’s wrong. I stumble through a string of awkward sentences and conclude at a very unconvincing “I plead the fifth” before admitting that “I don’t know, but I would think if my boyfriend was thinking about another person, I would be upset. Isn’t it kind of… micro-cheating?” 

Micro-cheating is a phrase I recently stumbled across on the Internet (as one does). It’s what couple’s therapist Alicia Muñoz refers to as the act of cultivating, in small ways, inappropriate intimate connections outside your relationship. Fantasising about someone else while in bed with your partner is surely an act of cultivating intimate connections, right?

“I think it’s so individual,” Aleeya says. “There was a study that asked couples what they considered cheating. Is talking to another girl cheating? Is having an emotionally intimate conversation cheating? And it gradually got more intense until it reached [asking whether] having sex with someone else was cheating. The results varied between individuals as well as couples.

“If you feel guilty about it, then perhaps it’s micro-cheating because if you feel guilty you likely have feelings for the person [that you are fantasising about] and you want to act on it perhaps. But if you associate [fantasising] with just a fantasy rather than something you actually want to do, then I don’t think it’s micro-cheating at all.”

While listening to Aleeya I found it difficult to grapple with the idea of having sexual fantasies without the input or inclusion of my partner. Surely a healthy sexual relationship involves constant communication about your sexual desires and wants? I put this to Aleeya.

“I don’t think you necessarily need to share all fantasies with your partner,” she says. “There is a difference between a fantasy and something that [you] want to act out, or something that [you] want to do.

“We’re allowed to keep secrets from our partner. I think that’s what is controversial – that there is this idea that we should be so open with our partner, 100 per cent of the time… but at the end of the day, sexual fantasies are allowed to be private. You’re not obligated to share everything.” 

Ultimately, wondering whether it’s bad to fantasise about someone else while you’re in bed with your partner is like asking whether it’s okay to be sexually attracted to other people while you’re in a relationship. Just because you’re in a healthy, monogamous, relationship doesn’t mean you’re totally cut off from having sexual feelings about other people.

“It’s unrealistic to expect that you’re only 100 per cent attracted to your partner,” Aleeya explains. “It’s normal to be sexually attracted to other people. Our partner can’t provide everything to us all the time and it’s unrealistic to expect them to. There are periods where you can’t have sex or you’re not the most attractive; relationships ebb and flow and go through different seasons.” 

When you put too much pressure on your relationship it can lead to feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction because when your expectations aren’t met, you’re disappointed. “Having realistic expectations that you’ll be attracted to other people and that your partner will probably be attracted to other people at some point is okay and it takes the pressure off,” Aleeya says.

Essentially, whether it’s bad or not depends on your intentions. If you’re having these thoughts to arouse yourself and have no intention of acting on them, then full steam ahead – your imagination has no limits. But if you’re not sexually satisfied in your relationship and you’re fantasising with an intention or desire to act on those fantasies, then you might want to have a conversation with your partner.

“Normalising fantasising is so important because so many people feel shame about them,” Aleeya says. “Right now, I think every Victorian is fantasising about going to Bora Bora, lying on a beach and drinking a margarita.” She’s not wrong.

For advice on strengthening the communication in your relationships, try this.

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