Last month, I finally got to read The Fantasy Fallacy by Shannon Ethridge. It had been in my kindle for a while just itching to be read. The Fantasy Fallacy addresses a timeless question I think, but made even more timely in our particular age, especially right on the heels of the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. Our culture seems to be accelerating lately in it’s process of bringing sexual immorality into the forefront. Part of this shift is to make acceptable erotic literature to the masses.
One of the questions this shift forces us, as Christians, to focus on is what constitutes sexual immorality, where is the line? This book focuses on the question “What do we do with fantasy?” Is it evil? Is it OK? Is it from the devil, or part of God’s design for us?
I’m going to go through each chapter of the book and provide a little taste of what’s in store for you should you pick it up.
Why Discuss Sexual Fantasies?
The Fantasy Fallacy opens with a great analogy for the culture of discussing sex within Christianity which I’m going to paste here, since it’s such a great opening, and it’s not too long:
After miles of wandering around in the dark, a weary traveler enters a lonely gas station. The attendant is perched on a stool behind the cash register with her eyes glued to the pages of a paperback novel.
Attempting to make his presence known, he clears his throat with great exaggeration. “Uh-huh-hum!”
“Yes?” the attendant asks, not bothering to lift her gaze.
“I’m looking for a road map,” the traveler responds.
The attendant’s head pops up, her brown eyes shifting all around the store to see if anyone else is hearing this conversation. With a deer-in-the-headlights look on her face, she responds directly, “No, sir. We don’t carry road maps.”
“Oh, well, can you tell me where another gas station is that might have one?”
Annoyed, the attendant looks up once again and replies emphatically, “You’re not gonna find one around these parts.”
“What do you mean? Surely there’s a road map somewhere in this town that can help me figure out where I’m going!”
“Nope. Road maps don’t exist for this area. And if I were you, I wouldn’t go around asking for one, or else folks are going to assume you’re one of those kinds of people.”
“What do you mean, ‘road maps don’t exist for this area’? Surely this frequently traveled path isn’t uncharted territory! And what do you mean, ‘one of those kinds of people’? What are you talking about?” the traveler asks with great irritation.
“I mean no one is familiar enough with this region to create a road map! If you get caught asking for one, the police will know that you’re one of those people—one who doesn’t know where he’s been and doesn’t know where he’s going! We don’t allow that around here, mister, so get lost!”
“I am lost!” the traveler screams, quickly losing his patience. “That’s why I’m here—asking for a road map!”
“Look, you’re not going to find a road map around here! And if you ask again, I’m calling the cops!” the attendant threatens, hands on hips, eyeballs protruding out of sockets, and neck veins swelling with a combination of adrenaline and righteous indignation.
“This is ridiculous! Am I on Candid Camera? Am I being Punk’d? This can’t be real!” the traveler insists.
If you haven’t picked it up, the idea is that Christianity tends to shy away from discussing sex, especially the really interesting and controversial aspects of it. If you start asking questions, you get the feeling that you shouldn’t be, that perhaps you’re wrong just by asking. Of course, people just aren’t comfortable with it, they don’t mean to shove you away, but they don’t know how else to react. Sadly, most turn to secular information to get the answers they need instead of insight from a community of Biblical believers. This is why Shannon’s book stands out. She was not afraid to ask the questions, to draw us a “map” as it were, to this strange land we are lost in.
The Benefits of Boundaries
In this chapter, Shannon hits on a theme I’ve been noticing for much of my life. In Christianity, we often see Spectrums, often people want to lean way over to one side, or way over to the other side, when I believe the truth is often in balancing the knife edge. Some examples are freewill vs. predestination, law vs. grace, Christ’s divinity vs. His humanity. In these, and others, the Truth, I believe is smack in the middle, sometimes you just need to see it from a different light to realize they are two sides of the same coin.
This chapter starts with a discussion on the Psychology/Theology spectrum (illustration on the right). Often, people believe that you can either follow psychology OR follow theology. This is parallel to the same spectrum of science or religion in many ways. Shannon argues that both can be reconciled and discusses how. The world tries to tell us that “Anything goes”. We even see quotes from textbooks on psychotherapy that fantasy is acceptable for any scenario:
Fantasy is a safe way to experience a sexual activity that a person might not morally, safely, legally, or maybe physically, be able to do in real life. The only limit is your imagination.
– Human Sexuality: Meeting Your Basic Needs (Tina Miracle et all), page 349
This happens to be the same viewpoint in Grandma’s Sex Handbook that I reviewed just over a year ago. This is the Liberal Extreme, the “anything goes” view. The church, on the other side of the spectrum, has historically taken the position of “Don’t do it, don’t talk about it, don’t think about it and pretend no one else does either.”
The truth in somewhere in the middle. Some fantasies, you cannot control, they come unbidden, but there is a big difference between harboring/entertaining them and acknowledging/releasing them. As well, some fantasies are not all bad. Fantasizing about your spouse, thinking of what tonight’s activities might bring, this can be useful in planning a night of passion, or in prepping a libido that takes a bit to warm up.
She also discusses the Repression/Expression spectrum. I think, in the church, we most often encounter (in marriages, but rarely known in public) the repression side of this spectrum. Those that go the other route tend to not stay in the church. But, unfortunately, those that decide sex is evil or gross often find a way to repress their sexuality to the point that they have little or no drive. The mid-point of this spectrum is of course to express sexuality freely within your marriage, but repress it when it comes to people other than your spouse, thereby balancing to two against each other.
Lastly, she describes 3 types of sexual fantasies:
- Autoerotic thoughts – Those that come unbidden.
- Erotic thoughts – Those that are erotic and we entertain.
- Illicit thoughts – Those that are unlawful or inappropriate.
She spends some time discussing these three types of fantasy, how we should respond to each, and what, if any, place they should have in our life. For example: Erotic thoughts are fine…if you are married. Erotic thoughts prior to marriage is like playing with fire. It may be fun, the the chance of getting burned is high.
The Faces Behind Sexual Fantasy
This chapter is a discussion of the archetypes within sexual fantasy, on figuring out what the symbols in your fantasy mean. This comes from the psychological viewpoint that ourselves are rooted in our past, and so, any fantasies we have that are unwanted are there due to some trauma in our past. It shares some examples of finding archetypes in your fantasies and some examples of how they relate to people’s pasts. By no means is this a diagnostic manual for figuring out your specific issues, but it does a good way of abstracting the concepts so you can apply them to your own situation.
Pornography: The Fantasy Factory
Moving on, there is a discussion on pornography that I found extremely well written and insightful, and frankly, a bit difficult to read given my past. It echoed my own realizations of why I fell into that trap, what I was really looking for in my life. It goes on to discuss why we look for these things, what God means to us, and how our fallen state causes us continue to try and reach for something we have lost, something we were designed to have: true intimacy with God. Unfortunately, many of us go looking for this lost intimacy in the wrong places.
It feels much safer to look at porn than to look at our own pain, to masturbate than to humbly ask for what we need.
She shares the statistic that 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted to pornography. Ultimately, the real solution is to face our brokenness and get healing.
Bartering with Our Bodies
This chapter is about how we trade ourselves trying to get the things we want. Unfortunately, it’s a bad trade. Girls have sex looking for a father-figure they never had. Boys have sex looking for the sense that they are a “real man” because no one ever told them how to be one. People have affairs with younger partners trying to regain a lost youth, a sense of immortality that we all long for.
The point of this chapter is to realize what our compass is, why we are the way we are. What are we looking for ultimately? To realize that God is what we really want, that father figure, that sense of knowing we are important, that eternal life everlasting. And to realize that trading our bodies will never accomplish it.
When “One Flesh” Isn’t Enough Flesh
90% of adults fantasize about someone other than the person with whom they are having sex
41% imagine sex with someone else’s partner
39% fantasize about sex with a work colleague
25% fantasize about celebrities
28% of women fantasize about sex with two men
58% of women fantasize about sex with two women
Why do we as humans want more than we have, when we already have enough? The answer is simple: we’re greedy. And it’s not a new thing. Look at Solomon in the Bible. Wisest man to ever live…and even he wasn’t wise enough to resist this temptation. Eventually, I think he figured it out though, at least I hope that’s what he meant by writing Ecclesiastes 1.
Shannon goes through a few theories of why the fantasy of multiple partners is so prevalent, and some stories of people who followed through with the fantasies, only to realize that fantasy does not reflect reality. Lastly, she lays out just why “One Flesh” was designed to be shared between 2 people and not more.
Grappling with Gay and Lesbian Fantasies
I’m so proud of Shannon for tackling this one. This is a topic that is certain to make you enemies, no matter what you say. Just by bringing it up, you automatically alienate a sizable section of the population. She tackles the nature vs. nuture argument (not in full, just a brief synopsis). Ultimately, and it seems she agrees with me (or I with her), nature or nurture, it doesn’t matter. In the end, there is a difference between being attracted to the same gender and acting out those attractions.
But Shannon does more than that, she explores why people have these fantasies. She also shares a few stories of people who have struggled through this.
Our Fascination with Pleasure, Pain and Power
Now, this was a topic I was really interested in reading about, particularly since my posts on bondage. Shannon first explores rape (ravishment) fantasies, why they exist, what do they mean, both for those who fantasize about being the victim and those who have fantasies about being the perpetrator.
Short answer is the “victims” typically want to lose control, either because they spent too much time being in control at home, or because they feel guilty about sex, so if someone else is controlling it…it’s not their fault. And “perpetrators” tend to be hurting themselves. One quote that stood out was “Hurting people hurt people”, and that’s true in any area of life.
There is a very short discussion of incest fantasies, which typically is formed through some event (or lack of event) in childhood. It is the minds way of trying to regain something lost.
Finally we get to the topic of BDSM. Honestly, I was expecting this much earlier. The Fantasy Fallacy was marketed as a response to 50 Shades of Grey, which I haven’t read, but I know enough of it to know the key points. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed here. It didn’t go into the depth that I was expecting after the rest of the book. A lot of the discussion revolved around warning people that if their partner exhibited signs of wanting to hurt them, control them or cause pain without consent, then run away.
Oh, one interesting point was a bit of research showing that, in women, when they have an orgasm, the part of the brain responsible for sensing pain lights up.
And lastly, she addresses fetishes with a few stories of people with fetishes and how they got to the cause for them and how they could cope with the fetish.
Putting Fantasy in Its Place & The Rest of the Story
Putting Fantasy in Its Place is basically filled by 2 testimonials, one of Shannon’s own experience, and another woman called “Lilly”. It shows how they dealt with the issue of fantasy in their life, and how they “put fantasy in it’s place”. You’ll just have to read them for yourself. Finally, The Fantasy Fallacy ends with a conclusion of course, and a call to action to put fantasy in it’s place, and not believe it’s lie.
My Opinion of The Fantasy Fallacy
I really enjoyed The Fantasy Fallacy, I found Shannon’s take on the subject matter to be logical, biblical, compassionate and insightful. Honestly, I found myself smiling at a lot of it recalling times I have offered much of the same thoughts to people who have asked. I would recommend this book to anyone who has any questions or struggles regarding fantasies, sex dreams, unwanted sexual thoughts, pornography use, or anything along those lines. This book will help them put them into perspective, understand where they might be coming from, and help you to heal.
Also, it is full of real life experiences, stories and testimonials. Some of them are shocking, but they are all real. This is not a dry book on Biblical Psychotherapy. This is really life, applied biblical truth with an insight into the mind.
So, whether your dealing with these issues or not, The Fantasy Fallacy is still an amazing read, both entertaining and insightful, and I would highly suggest it to anyone. If you’re interested, you can pick it up at Amazon.
9 thoughts on “Book Review: The Fantasy Fallacy”
Thanks for the thorough review. I also find it interesting that, ” … in women, when they have an orgasm, the part of the brain responsible for sensing pain lights up.”
Interesting information. I totally agree that the lack of sex discussion in the Church has created two different sects of people, both of whom are incorrect. I was interested that she discussed gay and lesbians fantasies as well, since that is usually ignored. I also agree with Robyn that it is interesting that the pain receptors in the brain light up during female orgasm. Orgasms really do border on painful sometimes due to the intensity, and surprisingly enough, we find those to be the “best” kind. I think it is important to recognize that what Shannon calls “autoerotic thoughts” are normal and not sinful (that would just promote shame). How you take those thoughts intertwine them with your marriage and the Holy Spirit is what matters.
I may have to read this. I got my MA in Counseling from Liberty University and since they are a conservative Christian college, there was a great deal of information I had to learn about meshing psychology with Christianity. I am always eager to learn how others do this as well, because I think it is important not only in counseling, but in the Church as a whole. Thanks for the review!
A thought-provoking review!
Thanks for sharing at Essential Fridays,
Mel from Essential Thing Devotions
Great article, I just ordered The Fantasy Fallacy from Amazon and can’t wait to read it
Glad you enjoyed it!
I read both this book and Pulling Back the Shades recently because the 50 Shades movie came out this year. Pulling Back the Shades focuses primarily on that series, but Shannon’s The Fantasy Fallacy covers so much more and has truly changed my life (and sex life). I was convicted when reading Sheila’s Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex that I was dissociating during sex but was appalled when I admitted to myself that I was basically entertaining rape fantasies during sex with my husband. I was terribly confused and didn’t dare admit this to anyone because in the fantasy, I usually was the male aggressor even though I am female. Why would I fantasize about being a guy?? A guy forcing sex on someone?!
I am SO thankful for Shannon’s book, which helped me to understand that this was my brain’s way to try and heal from sexual things that I was coerced into during high school. I was trying to gain back that control I lost when I was forced to do things I didn’t want to do. Knowing this, I was able to spend time actively forgiving these boys from my past and letting go of the hold they unknowingly had in my marriage. I have healed and grown so much as a result of reading this book and digging deeper into my own psyche. I highly recommend this book if you have ever had any kind of fantasy that makes you uneasy.
I think this book is just what I need just now. I have been praying for a long time to keep my thoughts pure. However my sexual drive is getting lower and lower. This book sounds like it might help me to get the balance. Thank you so much for your review.
Got it. Reading it now. Thanks again.
Happy to help 🙂