Our sexual fantasies appear to reflect, at least in part, our personality traits and characteristics. In studying the sex fantasies of more than 4,000 Americans for my new book Tell Me What You Want, I found that the Big Five personality factors of openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and neuroticism were all linked to the types of fantasies people reported having.
Below, I briefly describe each of these traits and how they are related to the types of things you’re more (or less) likely to fantasize about:
Your personality traits predict which fantasies are likely to turn you on–and off.
Source: 123RF/Katarzyna Białasiewicz
1. Openness to experience. This trait involves having a high degree of intellectual curiosity and an active imagination. People high in openness tend to be willing to try new things in general. Perhaps not surprisingly, I found that people who are high in openness have the most variability in their fantasy content—they fantasize more about almost everything, from the conventional to the unconventional.
2. Conscientiousness. This trait involves being very detail-oriented and organized. Conscientious individuals also tend to be conformists—they hold more conventional beliefs and attitudes in many ways. I found that conscientious persons tended to have more detailed sexual fantasies. In particular, they focused more on the settings in which sex took place. They also had fewer BDSM and taboo fantasies, perhaps due to their tendency to conform to norms both sexually and otherwise.
3. Extraversion. This trait is exactly what it sounds like—it involves being outgoing and wanting to interact with others. It turned out that people who are extraverted in real life tended to be extraverted in their fantasies, too. Specifically, they have more fantasies about both group sex and non-monogamy (e.g., being polyamorous or having some type of sexually open relationship). They also fantasize more about simply trying new things, but less about taboo activities. Introverts had more taboo fantasies, perhaps because social interaction difficulties lead people to gravitate toward unusual forms of sexual expression when they can’t establish the types of intimate relationships they want.
4. Agreeableness. This trait is characterized by caring about others. Agreeable folks are kind and considerate and want to make other people happy. People high in agreeableness tend to have prosocial sex fantasies, meaning their fantasies are unlikely to include elements in which mutual consent, safety, and/or pleasure is unclear. To that end, I observed that agreeable people were less likely to fantasize about infidelity and taboo acts (especially those that are nonconsensual, such as pedophilia). Agreeable persons were also less likely to fantasize about emotionless sex and BDSM—acts where it might not be as easy to determine whether their partner is enjoying the activity.
5. Neuroticism. This trait involves having a high degree of emotional instability and a difficult time handling stress. I found that neurotic folks had fewer fantasies about group sex, novelty, and non-monogamy. They seemed less interested in general in trying new things and findings new partners, perhaps because there’s some element of uncertainty there, which can be stressful. Neurotic individuals reported more fantasies about passion and romance, however, which may be a way that they seek to relax or feel reassured.
It’s important to keep in mind that different people have different combinations of personality traits, so to get a better idea of which fantasies a given person is more or less likely to have, it would be important to know their standing on all five of these traits, as opposed to looking at single traits in isolation. When multiple traits point in the same direction, you’re likely to make a stronger fantasy prediction. For example, high agreeableness and conscientiousness paired with low openness to experience would all point toward a lower propensity for BDSM fantasies.
With all of that said, the take-home message from this is that your sexual fantasies just might reveal something unique about you.
To learn more about how our fantasies are related to our personality traits (as well as how they’re related to our sexual histories and demographic backgrounds), check out Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.