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By Sex therapist and relationship counselor
TODAY contributor
updated 3/22/2008 2:33:10 PM ET 2008-03-22T18:33:10

Sigmund Freud gave fantasy a bad name back in 1908 when he said, “A happy person never fantasizes, only a dissatisfied one.” Granted, this is also the guy who said clitoral orgasms were immature, and fortunately we’ve had a century of research (and impassioned women) to prove Freud wrong.

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The truth is, a healthy fantasy life is one key to a great sex life — and your partner might not always play the leading role. Fantasy isn’t the sad daydreaming of the lonely, forlorn or frustrated in love. Research shows that people with active fantasy lives are more sexually satisfied, more sexually responsive and more adventurous about sex in general. Not bad.

While a lot of fantasy takes place while awake, whether during a particularly boring meeting at work or compliments of the Internet, our deepest sexual longings also find their way into our dreams. Sleep puts the brain on autopilot and allows the deeper desires inside of us to come out and play. As neuroscientist Mark Solms, a leading expert in the field of sleep research, explains: “Dreaming does for the brain what Saturday-morning cartoons do for the kids: It keeps them sufficiently entertained so that the serious players in the household can get needed recovery time. Without such diversion, the brain would be urging us up and out into the world to keep it fully engaged.”

What are the majority of us dreaming about? A recent study by researchers David B. King and Teresa DeCicco at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, found that intercourse is the most common sexual behavior in dreams. A healthy 37 percent of participants reported having a sexual dream once a week, while a staggering 19 percent reported sex dreams up to five times per week!

Interestingly, those who reported higher sexual satisfaction in their relationships tended to dream more often about their partner. Seventy-two percent of participants believed their sex dreams had meaning and 49 percent gained further insight into their waking relationships, past, present or potential.

So what does this tell us? Sexual fantasies are completely normal and also provide insight into what’s going on in our waking lives. Too many of us feel guilty about our fantasy life, whether because we dream about someone other than our current partner or because our imagination runs wild with behavior we would never condone in real life.

Dreams free the brain to explore secret, extraordinary realms without the obligations of everyday life. Practicality, morality and logic don’t apply. Flooded by a barrage of images, memories and thoughts, you can basically kick back and enjoy the show.

So whatever dreams may come, enjoy them, try to learn from them and don’t worry if they take you to bizarre or unfamiliar places. Our dreams help bridge the gap between our hidden urges and social norms and responsibilities.

Kaye Wellings, a respected British biologist, puts it best in her book “First Love, First Sex”: “Fantasies perform a valuable function. Most of us, most of the time, behave conservatively, sexually and otherwise. Our erotic experiences represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of possibilities. Many possibilities only see the light of day through fantasies or dreams, seldom as reality.”

Ian Kerner is a sex therapist, relationship counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books, including the recently published “Sex Detox: A Program to Detoxify and Rejuvenate Your Love Life.” He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives with his wife, two young sons and plump Jack Russell terrier.

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