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SWM 071 – Is it okay for Christians to have sexual fantasies?

Are sexual fantasies okay for Christians? Does it matter what the fantasy is? If it's only in your mind, does that make it okay?

This topic comes up fairly frequently in questions from readers and listeners. I thought today I’d take the opportunity to deal with sexual fantasies, fantasizing about immoral behaviours, and whether or not it’s okay to fantasize about someone else.

Here’s a question I received back in January that I honestly forgot to answer.  I was going to include it in the typical monthly roundup, then decided to make it its own post, and promptly forgot to do so.  Hoping that late is better than never, here we go:

My wife and I have had a reasonably active sex life for most of our relationship. There have been ups and downs of course, but for the most part, we really have no complaints that way. 

One part of that sex life that has been around since very early on is fantasy. We both, me somewhat more than her, enjoy and get very aroused by telling each other different fantasies. The ones that are the most effective and “fun” are ones that involve other people, and even more, same-sex activity. She gets extremely aroused and has very intense orgasms when I tell her about me having sex with another man, vice versa when she tells me about having sex with another woman. Neither of these has ever actually happened, it’s strictly fantasy, and neither of us actually has a desire to fulfill these fantasies, but they continue to be part of our sex life. 

I don’t feel guilt or shame about this at all as I feel it’s only in the fantasy realm. She is all over the map. Sometimes she feels intense guilt and shame, sometimes she is ok with it. Sometimes, she tries hard to not go there, and other times she asks me to take her there. It’s quite confusing for both of us.

I just want to get some feedback and perspective on this in an open, Christian forum. I’m quite certain that we are not the only couple that has this “problem” if you would call it that.

Thanks.

So, let’s talk about sexual fantasies, what’s appropriate for Christians, and what’s not. 

Are sexual fantasies okay?

I think most people have had a sexual fantasy at one point or another, and they come in two sorts:

  1. A random thought that pops into your head
  2. A scenario that you cultivate and put energy into

Random thoughts can happen at any time.  These are temptations – ideas that just flit in and out.  Some we can control, some we can’t.  They’re not all bad, and they’re certainly not all good. 

Then there are the thoughts that we focus on.  We grow.  We feed the sexual fantasy, we build a scenario, we enjoy the daydream, the eroticism of it.  These are no longer temptations, fleeting thoughts, but now they’re an action we have committed, if only in our mind.  But, it’s a choice to invest energy into the thought.

Sometimes we turn those random thoughts into cultivated scenarios and so they jump from one type to another.  At other times, we deliberately create them.

When is this okay, and when isn’t it? 

Temptations are not sin

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15 NKJV

These fleeting fantasies that pop into your head, without any intent are just temptations.  We can let them pass, or choose to entertain them.  If they’re a thought that you don’t want, then don’t give it any attention.  Our brains tend to focus on what we pay attention to.  So, if you beat yourself up about temptations, then your brain will tend to think that those thoughts are pretty important, and are more likely to bring them up again.  But, if you simply acknowledge them as a stray thought and let them go, they’re less likely to bother you again.

That’s not to say all fleeting sexual fantasies are sinful.  Thoughts of sex with your spouse aren’t necessarily problematic – and entertaining them can actually be beneficial.

Having a sexual fantasy about your spouse can be a good thing

Fantasizing about your spouse, whether it’s one of those quick thoughts or one you latch on to and grow into a bit of a daydream can be beneficial.  It can stoke your desire, making you look forward to future encounters in your marriage.  Fantasizing can be used to plan out a future session so that you don’t have to think too much about it in the moment.  It can be used to test out ideas in your head that you might be uncomfortable with, but also interested in trying in your sexual relationship.

One of our supporters brought up this verse:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Philippians 4:8 NKJV

Which encourages us to fill our minds with good things – like sex with our spouse, rather than impure things which we’ll get to in a minute.

Fantasizing about your spouse can be dangerous

All that said, I think there are times when it’s dangerous and counterproductive.  That’s when you’re not really fantasizing about your spouse – you’re just pretending you are.  Let’s say you see another person, and something about their body really turns you on, so you fantasize about their body, but with your spouse’s head on it.  Now, to me, you’re just trying to rationalize having a mental affair.  Now, that might be an extreme case, but what if you fantasize about your spouse, but maybe at a lower weight or higher muscle mass?  Is that really any different? 

What if it’s not just physical characteristics? What if you are imagining them doing and saying things that are completely out of character for them?  Things that you know they’d never do.  Are you really fantasizing about your spouse anymore?  To me, that’s a line I feel shouldn’t be crossed.  You’re no longer fantasizing about your spouse, but about a fictitious character you’ve created.

Is fantasizing about immoral things wrong?

Now we get to the crux of the question embedded in this statement made above by our anonymous reader:

I don’t feel guilt or shame about this at all as I feel it’s only in the fantasy realm.

In other words, does what happens in my imagination really matter, or is that a safe place to explore sin?

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.

Mark 7:21-23 NKJV

Jesus didn’t seem to think so.  He was pretty strict on the idea that what you think about counts.  This is because sin isn’t about behaviour – it’s about character.  Getting to heaven isn’t about doing the right things, but about being the type of person who would actually want to be there.  You can’t “work” your way into heaven.  You need to have the character of someone who recognizes that they don’t deserve to be there.  Now, works will come out of a person with that sort of character, but it’s not the works themselves that save you.  That’s why two people who do the exact same thing with different intents end up being treated differently by God.

So, then if you commit adultery in your mind, doesn’t that still count as sin?

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

Matthew 5:27-28 NKJV

Jesus seemed to think so, and I happen to agree with Him – and not just because He’s God.  He also said:

Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.

Matthew 15:11 NKJV

Which makes sense, because if our thoughts can be sinful, then of course anything that follows from them, words or deeds, must also be sinful.  David as well linked the idea of thoughts and words together in the Psalms:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:14

Now, again, I don’t think this is talking about when one is tempted and rejects the temptation, but rather when you entertain those thoughts – when you let the temptation create a foothold in your mind, which then changes your behaviours.

And it’s not just adultery.  We see this same standard applied to murder:

Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

1 John 3:15

Likewise, we see this in the Old Testament in the 10 Commandments we see it with theft.  Theft is called out as a sin, but so is coveting, which is the thought of “I want this so badly, I would take it from him.”

I think this shows a pretty clear principle that sin originates in the mind, not with the action. Entertaining sinful thoughts is still sin.

So, where does that leave us with the original question:

The ones that are the most effective and “fun” are ones that involve other people, and even more, same-sex activity. She gets extremely aroused and has very intense orgasms when I tell her about me having sex with another man, vice versa when she tells me about having sex with another woman. 

Regardless of your position on homosexuality, this is still entertaining the thought of adultery and then using that thought to get aroused.  I can’t see any way around saying that, yes, I would certainly consider this to be sinful because it shows an issue in the character – one that is okay with the idea of adultery rather than revolted by it.  And that’s not a character trait one should cultivate if you have your life goal of being more Christ-like.

Why do your wife’s views seem to change regarding sexual fantasies?

I also wanted to address this part:

I don’t feel guilt or shame about this at all as I feel it’s only in the fantasy realm. She is all over the map. Sometimes she feels intense guilt and shame, sometimes she is ok with it. Sometimes, she tries hard to not go there, and other times she asks me to take her there. It’s quite confusing for both of us.

So, there are a few things that could be happening here.  If you take a spiritual approach to this, then one could argue that God and Satan are fighting for control of your wife, and at different times, she’s either letting one or the other win. 

If you take a psychological approach to it, one might say she either has an internal conflict where she’s not quite sure what she wants, and so her brain keeps switching back and forth.  It might be she feels it’s wrong, but doesn’t want to disappoint you, her husband.  Or she feels it’s wrong, but enjoys how it turns her on.  Alternatively, she could be experiencing cognitive dissonance – that is, she’s trying to hold on to two opposing thoughts at one time.  Part of her believing that it’s not a problem because it’s fantasy, but another part of her believing that it is sinful.  People with cognitive dissonance often act seemingly erratically, because their brain doesn’t know how to behave given the two conflict paradigms. 

Or, you could take a physiological approach, which might suggest that her unaroused brain knows it’s wrong and harmful, but when it gets aroused, the part of the brain that evaluates risk/wrong/disgust is muted due to lower blood flow, so, while aroused, she defaults back to what feels good rather than what she has decided is wrong while “sober” from arousal.  Of course, this also happens when you have something you’re not morally opposed to, just a bit grossed out by or uncomfortable with, and then when you’re turned on, you find it really arousing. (See Your definition of gross changes when you’re aroused).  So, just because you have conflicting views, doesn’t necessarily mean the one you experience while sober is the correct one.

Whatever the reason – I think the simplest explanation is that there’s conflict, and that’s what’s causing conflicting responses at different times.

Why are sinful thoughts problematic?

Are sexual fantasies okay for Christians? Does it matter what the fantasy is? If it's only in your mind, does that make it okay?

To sum up, I think sexual fantasies of immoral acts are dangerous.  For one, even if you don’t follow through, it shows something in your character that needs to be worked on, not embraced.  Also, what we rationalize, we tend to normalize, and what we normalize often becomes our behaviours.

I have gotten so many emails from husbands and wives saying “I never thought I’d do this, but I had a threesome and it destroyed my marriage.”  Generally, it’s the same sort of progression – at first, it was just “harmless” sexy talk and sexual fantasies, sometimes it leads to porn of the same genre. Then one night they’re out having a really good time with another couple, or maybe a single person.  Or, a friend of theirs goes through a messy divorce, or their spouse dies and they figure they can help comfort them.  There are a few different paths it takes, but generally, the groundwork was being laid for some time prior to the event.

So, then when the opportunity comes, rather than being repulsed and offended, they’re curious and unsurprisingly really aroused – because they’ve been training their brains to react to situations like this for some time.  And once they’re aroused, suddenly their risk assessment ability takes a nosedive.  Some wake up the next morning realizing what they’ve done.  Some have affairs with the other person for a while before they wake up, or get caught.  Most of the time, it ends the marriage one way or another.

Don’t take it lightly when I say you are playing with fire.  This will harm you. 

And yes, it’s going to be difficult to stop, because old habits die hard, and sex might not feel as arousing as it once did for a while.  Sexual arousal is a potent drug – this is why we confine it to marriage, like keeping the fire in the fireplace.  But what you’re doing isn’t keeping it confined anymore, and it’s going to burn you a bit to try and put it back in.  I wish I could protect you from that, but I can’t.

But, you will get over it.  It will get better. 

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One thought on “SWM 071 – Is it okay for Christians to have sexual fantasies?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is no different to watching pornography, I have struggled in the past. I find Reddit to be a big source of temptation so I don’t use it often. Yesterday the fleeting thought of “why don’t we look at…” came, I shut the internet down and did something else because the more distance I put between the thought and the sin the less likely it is to tempt me. In my situation I am basically starved of sex, my spouse is just unrelenting in this area and makes absolutely no effort whatsoever but even though it’s upsetting I have realised I cannot use “I am not getting my needs met in my marriage” as a reason to sin, Jesus does not accept that. I know it’s wrong so must take responsibility for this. I struggled with same-sex pornography, partly as it didn’t feel like I was being unfaithful but of course it never stayed just there you eventually want more and that’s possibly why there’s same-sex fantasies going on there. When we get caught up with these things we have to retrain our brains and find new paths to intimacy and arousal, it takes time but it’s much nicer than the sinful way of doing things.

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