Male Sexual Fantasies and Masturbation

What do males fantasize about while masturbating?

Posted Jan 01, 2014

When asked to name the most common sexual activity in which humans engage, people typically respond with the answer of “masturbation.” However, this isn’t true. 

We will engage in more sexual fantasizing during our lifetimes than partnered sex and masturbation combined (and then exponentially multiplied). Sexual fantasy is the most common human sexual experience, and fantasy plays no small part in masturbation. If we are to understand the male experience of masturbation, we cannot elide sexual fantasy.

Like masturbation, sexual fantasy was, until the recent past, considered an unhealthy activity. Early theorists believed sexual fantasy was a means of acting out repressed anger at early caregivers, and Freud himself concluded that only sexually dissatisfied people fantasize. 

Also similar to masturbation, the clinical perspective on sexual fantasizing has evolved during the last several decades; it is now considered a component of a healthy sex life. 

In regards to research, a 1995 review concluded fantasies “may be more revealing than actual behavior of gender differences in sexuality. In fantasy, one can imagine anything one likes, however unrealistic, without experiencing embarrassment or rejection or societal and legal restrictions.

Sexual fantasies, therefore, may provide a unique insight into the different scripts that may underlie sexual behavior in men and women.”[i] The same article set out to explore the numerous research possibilities of the topic: [ii]

  • What are the most common kinds of sexual fantasies?
  • Are there gender differences in the incidence, frequency, or content of sexual fantasy?
  • Are there differences regarding the sexual fantasies of heterosexuals in comparison to sexual minorities?
  • When do people first begin to have sexual fantasies, and does frequency or content change with age and experience?
  • Are there cross-cultural similarities or differences in sexual fantasies?

All research on sexual fantasy require self-reporting, usually by asking participants to describe their favorite or recurring fantasies or by presenting them with a checklist of fantasies on which they indicate those that most apply to them.  For example, the “Sexual Fantasy Questionnaire” asks one to indicate on a scale ranging from 0 (never) to 5 (regularly) how often one fantasizes about activities such as:[iii]

  1. Making love out of doors in a romantic setting (e.g., field of flowers, beach at night)
  2. Intercourse with an anonymous stranger
  3. Watching others have sex
  4. Hurting a partner

The overwhelming majority of males engage in fantasizing while masturbating, and few share these fantasies with romantic partners. What then are the most common sexual fantasies in which men engage?  

Generally, fantasies fall into one of two categories.  First, memories of past arousing sexual experiences. Second, an imagining of arousing sexual events that haven’t happened (and may never happen). 

Factor analysis further reveals that, in comparison to females, males engage in fantasies which are sexually graphic (particularly including images of genitals), focus more on a partner’s body and on what a male wants to do to it, involve a variety of partners (including group sex), are impersonal, and demonstrate dominance.[iv]

Of course, there are women who engage in these very same fantasies just as there as men who engage in the fantasies research ascribes to females (i.e., more passive, more focus on men’s interest in their bodies, more romantic, and more emotional).  Still, this does not negate the notable gender differences discerned in research.

In summary, men fantasize while masturbating, and there are common themes in their fantasies.  Masturbatory fantasies are an indication of sexual health and satisfaction, however, this does not mean they cannot lead to problems.  

For some, it can lead to extreme guilt. For others, sexual fantasizing and masturbation are the sole sexual outlets in a troubled romantic relationship. Finally, a topic that will be discussed in a later posting, the combination of masturbation and fantasy is such a potent reinforcer that it can lead to the development of paraphilias and plays a role in the progression to sexual offending.


[i] Harold Leitenberg & Kris Henning, “Sexual Fantasy,” Psychological Bulletin 117, no. 3 (1995): 469.

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Glenn Wilson, “Measurement of Sex Fantasy,” Sexual and Relationship Therapy 25, no.1 (2010).

[iv] Bruce Ellis & Donald Symons, “Sex Differences in Sexual Fantasy: An Evolutionary Psychological Approach,” Journal of Sex Research, 27, no. 4 (1990)