Who's Been Sleeping in Your Head: The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies - Brett Kahr I've marked this as containing "spoilers" largely because this is an "open" site and the subject matter may offend some.

Who's Been Sleeping in Your Head is a bit of a departure for me. Most of my nonfiction reading tends toward the historical or the "hard" sciences (astronomy, evolutionary biology, etc.) but one of my GoodReads friends marked this as a "to-read," I read the publisher's blurb and a few of the reviews, and it looked intriguing. Fortunately, one of my libraries possessed a copy and the inevitable ensued: I obtained and read it.

Brett Kahr is a Freudian psychoanalyst who's realized that there is a dearth of studies of what constitutes sexual fantasies - what's "normal" (if that can be measured) and what's "perverse" (also a slippery concept) - and how those fantasies might affect people in their lives.

Being a Freudian, Kahr believes that most, if not all, of our fantasies arise from childhood traumas. "Trauma" here does not necessarily mean something horrible like being raped by your father when you're 10 years old or having a group of boys sodomize you in the public restroom when you're 13. It can mean relatively unfortunate events or circumstances in an otherwise good childhood. Circumstances like an emotionally distant father or an overbearing mother or (as in the case of one woman) the loss of an older brother in a car accident. Kahr argues that "trauma functions as a key ingredient in the genesis of adult sexual fantasies" (p. 393) and that these fantasies help master "trauma through eroticization, rendering the terrifying and unprocessable into something sexy and manageable." (p. 383)

A "perverse" fantasy is one that eroticizes hatred (p. 418) and that "requires sustained perpetration of sadism toward oneself or one's 'love object'" and "becomes so all engrossing it prevents one from forging intimate relationships." (p. 420)

There are a number of conclusions he arrives at (if some are only tentative):

1. What is a sexual fantasy? An image, thought, drama, usually thought about during sex (coital or masturbatory) and that results in orgasm. (This makes it a different phenomenon than the sexual dream.)

2. What is a "normal" fantasy? There is no normative fantasy. People who appear quite "normal" might have some of the most sadistic, misogynistic, bestial fantasies but as long as they avoid the two criteria for "perversion" I mention above, they're no more abnormal than fantasizing about making love to one's partner that never departs from the missionary position.

3. Why fantasize? Kahr doesn't really know. From an evolutionary point of view it may help arousal and, hence, propagation. In terms of human psychology, it eroticizes and makes harmless traumas in our lives.

4. Does everyone have fantasies? Despite some negative responses in Kahr's survey, he feels that everyone has a fantasy of some sort even if they don't recognize it as such.

5. Should we share fantasies/act them out with our partners? Maybe. He recounts cases where exposing and/or acting out a fantasy did wonders for a relationship; alas, sometimes they torpedoed a relationship.

6. Are fantasies dangerous? Sometimes. See above about what a "perverse" fantasy is. Actually, in relation to this subject, Kahr gets into some potentially scary "Big Brother" stuff where he envisions mental-health experts "tagging" potential rapists, pedophiles, etc. based on their sexual fantasies - sort of a "Minority Report" world without the ESP.

7. If we don't fantasize about our partner is that a "bad sign"? Maybe; maybe not. Since a fantasy is a defense mechanism from past trauma, the absence of one's current partner is not unusual.

8. If we fantasize about something illegal (i.e., rape, pedophilia, incest, murder, etc.) will we eventually act it out? Probably not. Most - the overwhelming majority - even if their fantasies involve raping the cheerleading squad or murdering their partner don't go through with it. As Kahr wants to emphasize, even the most vile fantasy is a defense mechanism against some childhood trauma. Now, fantasizing about gang rapes or murder probably indicates a fairly serious trauma and the person should seek some form of therapy and it may make a person's intimate relationships ultimately unsatisfying but it doesn't mean we have a future "Ted Bundy" on our hands.

9. Can we control our fantasies? Always a good Freudian, Kahr doesn't believe so. At least not to any great extent.

One of the best aspects of this work is that Kahr doesn't try to create an all-encompassing theory of sexual fantasy. He tries to identify some broad generalizations but doesn't apply them to explain fantasy.

Though I don't have the background to assess just how valid psychoanalysis is or what competing theories may be out there, I found this book fascinating and interesting.