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Americans Crave Group Sex

And other findings from the largest domestic study of sexual desire ever conducted

Most Americans don’t experiment with what we truly desire when it comes to sex. While close to 100 percent of us have regular sexual fantasies, and most of us report that we want to try out these fantasies, less than one in three of us actually does. (The definition of a sexual fantasy is “any mental picture that comes to mind while you’re awake that ultimately turns you on.”)

So what’s the deal?

Justin Lehmiller, a social psychologist and human sexuality expert, emphasizes this gap in his new book, Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. It’s based on a study he conducted that spanned more than 4,000 participants, ages 18 to 87, including all sexual and gender identities and representing all 50 states. (The foundation of the study was a 350-word questionnaire about each participant’s “biggest sexual fantasy of all time.”) By painting a comprehensive picture of the multitude of things Americans think about when getting off, Lehmiller allows us to see that everything we’ve understood as sexually “normal” basically comes down to penis-in-vagina sex within the context of marriage. But since there’s a robust market for BDSM home-sharing, cake-sitting and pedal pushing, this means that a lot of behaviors often referred to as “abnormal” are actually facets of fantasies that millions of us share.

The book then undoes a lot of the cultural shame and stigma we have about the specificities of our sexual desire by both illustrating their ubiquity and using social psychology to explain the prevalence of certain proclivities. That last bit is particularly useful because so much of modern psychology has alienated many normal sexual fantasies — including things as innocuous as dirty talk — by designating them unusual “paraphilias.” Some of the book’s other salient points…

Ignoring your fantasies often leads to dysfunction.

“The more shame, embarrassment and anxiety people feel about their sexual desires, the more likely they are to avoid talking about sex at all and to experience sexual performance difficulties, finding it challenging to become (or stay) aroused or to reach orgasm,” Lehmiller writes. “Poor communication coupled with sexual performance issues can, in turn, snowball into major relationship problems and, in severe cases, even precipitate a breakup or divorce.”

We want to fuck as a team.

“Sex with multiple partners is a staple of Americans’ fantasies,” Lehmiller argues. “When asked to describe their favorite sexual fantasy of all time, group sex was by far the most common theme to emerge. In addition, when asked whether they had ever fantasized about different forms of group sex, 89 percent reported fantasizing about threesomes, 74 percent about orgies and 61 percent about gangbangs. Although men were more likely to have all of these multipartner fantasies than women, it will surprise many to learn that the majority of women reported having each of these sex fantasies as well.

“The results of my investigation reveal that the single most popular sexual fantasy among Americans today is — drum roll, please — group sex. More than one-third of my participants described it as their favorite fantasy of all time, and when asked if they had ever fantasized about multipartner sex before — not just whether it was their favorite fantasy — the vast majority of both men and women agreed. In fact, it was rare for people to say they’ve never had such a fantasy — we’re talking just 5 percent of men and 13 percent of women. In other words, group sex is perhaps the most normal thing there is to fantasize about because almost everyone has been turned on by the thought of it at one time or another.”

Celebrities don’t usually star in our favorite fantasies.

“Hollywood might give you the impression that Americans are fantasizing about celebrities more than anyone else, but that could not be further from the truth,” Lehmiller explains. “Just 7 percent of participants said that they fantasize about celebrities often, whereas 51 percent said that they fantasize about their current partner often. That’s right — we fantasize about real-life, everyday people far more frequently than we fantasize about the Zac Efrons and Scarlett Johanssons of the world. This suggests that our fantasies may be more grounded in reality than you think, at least with respect to whom we want to be with.”

That said, superheroes turn people on.

“It’s also worth mentioning that the people who appear in our fantasies aren’t always real — sometimes, they’re fictional characters,” Lehmiller writes. “For example, many of my participants reported fantasizing about superheroes and comic-book characters. Among straight women, Batman was — by far — the most fantasized-about hero. By contrast, Batman held little appeal for gay men, who instead favored Superman and Captain America.

“I suspect this discrepancy is partially explained by the fact that Batman is portrayed in the comics and movies as more of a womanizer than your typical hero (rumors of a gay relationship with Robin notwithstanding). However, it’s probably also due to the fact that he’s confident and sexy both in and out of costume, whereas Superman is not. Superman leads more of a double life — he’s a completely different person when his alter ego, Clark Kent, emerges. Perhaps that dual identity is something gay men have an easier time relating to, given that many sexual minorities aren’t out about their sexuality to everyone in their lives.

“This reasoning might also explain why gay men were the most likely to fantasize about superheroes in general, given the sheer number of superheroes who have dual identities. As for both straight men and lesbian women, their most fantasized-about heroes were identical: Wonder Woman, Catwoman and Black Widow.”

Republicans have more taboo fantasies than Democrats.

“Specifically, Republicans were more likely to fantasize about both non-monogamous sex — in particular, orgies, infidelity, swinging and cuckolding — as well as taboo activities like exhibitionism, voyeurism and fetishism,” Lehmiller writers. “Like religion, politics seems to be another case where there’s a bit of reactance taking place: We come to want what the political authorities tell us we can’t have.”

Speaking of orgies and cuckolding, watching multiple men have sex with the same woman strengthens sperm.

“Consider this: In a study in which researchers collected straight men’s ejaculate after they masturbated to one of two different pornos, they found that guys who viewed a gangbang scenario in which multiple men were having sex with the same woman released more active sperm than guys who watched a video of lesbian group sex. In other words, it seems that men are unknowingly increasing the sperm level in their ejaculate in response to the specter of competition.”

And finally, our problems with sex have little to do with porn and everything to do with shitty sex ed in schools.

“Pornography is an easy target to blame for almost every sexual problem, but it’s not the right one,” Lehmiller argues. “Don’t waste your time and energy fighting the porn industry — fight against poor sex education instead. As the old saying goes, knowledge is power, and sexual knowledge is no exception. You can never know too much when it comes to sex, and the more you know, the better prepared you’ll be to lead a healthy and satisfying sex life.

“Increasing Americans’ sexual knowledge begins with our taking interest in what our kids are learning (or not learning) about sex in school. At the very least, attending to what schools are teaching on this subject will ensure that parents are prepared to fill in the gaps and answer their kids’ questions; however, this also provides a valuable opportunity to correct deficiencies in these programs. If you identify problems, you can take those issues to your local school board, which has the power to take corrective action.”