Bona-fide science: Which forms of unusual sex are mainstream?

Spoiler - Golden Showers just aren't

Our shock image of the Tenerife sex dangle

Opinion It's not often, here on the Register sexy psychology desk, that we are genuinely bowled over by a press release. But we are today.

The press release in question is this one from Montreal uni. It begins:

Hoping for sex with two women is common but fantasizing about golden showers is not. That's just one of the findings from a research project that scientifically defines sexual deviation for the first time ever.

Some might say that's two findings - or potentially, maybe three if you consider golden showers and two women - but hey, let's not quibble. This is plainly very serious stuff. Essentially, it seems that what the researchers chose to do was find out what, in terms of sexual fantasies, is genuinely unusual and what is rather humdrum.

"What exactly are abnormal or atypical fantasies? To find out, we asked people in the general population, as simple as that," says Christian Joyal, lead author on the study. "Our main objective was to specify norms in sexual fantasies, an essential step in defining pathologies. And as we suspected, there are a lot more common fantasies than atypical fantasies. So there is a certain amount of value judgment ..."

This isn't one of those suspicious surveys conducted entirely among university students, no sir. This survey is much more representative of the world population in general, as it was conducted among French Canadians. We are told:

This study required finding a sample of adults willing to describe their sexual fantasies. As a result, 1,517 Quebec adults (799 men and 718 women; mean age 30 years) responded to a questionnaire describing their sexual fantasies, as well as describing their favourite fantasy in detail ... The results are more than interesting ...

Some snippets:

The study confirms that men have more fantasies and describe them more vividly than women ...

a significant proportion of women (30% to 60%) evoke themes associated with submission (e.g., being tied up, spanked, forced to have sex) ...

Unlike men, women in general clearly distinguish between fantasy and desire. Thus, many women who express more extreme fantasies of submission (e.g. domination by a stranger) specify that they never want these fantasies to come true. The majority of men, however, would love their fantasies to come true (e.g. threesomes) ...

The presence of one's significant other is considerably stronger in female fantasies than in male fantasies. In general, men in couples fantasize much more about extramarital relationships compared to women ...

The researchers establish three classes of fantasy: "Typical" (eg, "sex in a romantic location (female), receiving oral sex, sex with two women (male)"; "Unusual" (eg "'golden showers,' cross-dressing, sex with a prostitute, abusing an intoxicated person"); and "Rare", eg ("sex with an animal").

It's pretty plain that if you regard the function of scientific research as pushing back the frontiers of human knowledge, this could all be regarded as rather a depressing waste of money: but if instead you view the psychology departments of the world primarily as a source of entertainment, they are in fact excellent value.

The full paper is published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. ®

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