Failing at Feminism?


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Dear Elizabeth,

I’m struggling with understanding some of my fantasies. I’m a cis woman in my early forties in a long-term relationship that is healthy and fulfilling. In my day job, I’m a successful attorney that mentors young women looking to get into the legal profession. I’m a lifelong feminist and believe very strongly in women taking back their power and challenging the patriarchy. But that’s part of my problem. When I masturbate, my sexual fantasies are nearly always about being penetrated by numerous men at once. In my real life, I’ve never experienced anything like this, and I don’t know that I would dare. How do I justify having these fantasies? I don’t think I can even tell my girlfriend. Oh yeah, that’s the other catch. I’m a lesbian. Hope you can help,

Failing at Feminism

Dear FaF,

You’re not failing at anything, least of all feminism. Humans are complex primates, and we do conflicting things. On the one hand, we had millions of years to evolve highly functional sexual urges that aid in procreation. On the other hand, we most definitely did not spend millions of years worrying about whether the weird jobs we have in modern capitalism fully mesh with our political ideologies. Why? Because we still have primate brains. Yet we wake up every day and do our jobs without over analyzing. I’m sure there are things involved in the legal system that work with your politics, and things that don’t. Fantasies are the same way sometimes. Some will turn us on in completely understandable and functional ways, and others are so far out there that we really worry if something strange was in the tap water when we were kids. The bottom line: if it gets your metaphorical, non-literal, anti-patriarchal dick hard, enjoy it.

According to Scientific American, 1% of the population has a condition called aphantasia, meaning they are unable to visualize things in their minds. For the rest of us, making mental images is something we do constantly. We visualize where we parked our cars (hopefully), we visualize what we want to eat for lunch, we visualize what our high school crush looked like, we visualize what happened the last time we had sex, and sometimes we visualize what it might look like if we have sex with someone that isn’t our partner. That visual can include several someones, and it doesn’t make you wrong or greedy. Fantasies don’t cost any money, so you’re welcome to use as many of them as you’d like. Group sex is a very normal thing to fantasize about. According to researchers at the University of Montreal, in a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, 28% of women fantasized about having sex with more than one man simultaneously.

One important thing to remember about fantasies is that they don’t have to be fulfilled. They are generally harmless, unless they are impacting your personal life, which your letter doesn’t indicate is happening. Can you share them with your partner? Sure, though I often ask coaching clients to do a very important check-in before sharing fantasies. I ask them to give serious thought to what they want to accomplish by sharing. Is the fantasy realistic? Is it something they legitimately wish to enact with a partner? Do they think their partner will also find it hot and a possible topic for dirty talk, even if it never happens? If so, this is an excellent way to process and share fantasies that aren’t super realistic (or safe) but still fun for both parties.

On the other hand, is my client hoping to share fantasies with their partner primarily as a means of clearing their conscience? Do they feel guilty? Do they simply want to barf something up onto their unsuspecting partner without any prior framing or discussion, just to get it out of their minds? This is a much less excellent way to process, and is likely going to lead to some ruffled feathers or a huge argument. I’ve seen divorces happen because someone couldn’t filter themselves properly and overshared things that really should have been kept as private thoughts. Your instincts about your partner’s reactions are probably accurate.

I want to touch on one other thing because you mention it at the end of your letter. You describe yourself as a lesbian, but you are having sexual fantasies about men. I want to reassure you of a few things. First, orientations aren’t set in stone like a holy text. You’re allowed to experiment and explore, and I promise the lesbian police won’t send Ellen Degeneres to your house to take away your toaster (five extra gay points if you remember that reference). Second, actions aren’t identities. If I eat chocolate on a Tuesday night, that doesn’t make me a chocolatier. It means I splurged and enjoyed chocolate, and the world didn’t end. As adults we are free to engage in actions that aren’t in lockstep with who we are, such as voting for a candidate off our usual party, or wearing heels one night if you’re normally a comfy footwear kind of person. It’s okay. Third, our sexual orientation and our romantic orientation aren’t necessarily identical. Plenty of people are bisexual or pansexual, meaning they enjoy sexual intimacy with more than one gender, but simultaneously identify as homoromantic, meaning their emotional attachments are to the same sex. You can absolutely fantasize about getting railed by a group of men, but still want your cuddling time and sensual touches to come from women.


Elizabeth R. Busbee earned a doctorate at Yale and specializes in issues of gender, sexuality, and communication. She has been helping people explore and enjoy intimacy for over 20 years. Her private relationship and intimacy coaching practice can be reached at

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