We have always been taught it is a bad thing to fantasize about sex, to have bad thoughts. That might be true, but it is virtually impossible, and perhaps unhealthy, not to think about sex. We are so incurably sexual. The word sex is derived from the Latin word secare, a verb that means to cut or divide. The word is appropriate. We experience ourselves precisely as sexed, divided from, cut off from, separated, unwhole, lonely pieces of something greater. So we ache for wholeness and, as we ache, we fantasize about that union which can end our aloneness. Our very condition spawns perpetual sexual temptations. That comes from God and is good. Sex is a powerful, huge thing. Like breathing, it is part and parcel of being alive and like breathing it is necessary for life. It is not one isolated part of ourselves. Sex is co-extensive with our personalities in that it is a dimension of our self-awareness.
It is the way we seek contact, community and unity beyond ourselves and our separate egos. It is an energy, a power for loving, a merciless tension which pushes us outward. As such it affects our whole being. All of our relationships and actions are sexually colored, tainted if you will, in some way. We do little, perhaps nothing, which is not affected, however inchoately, by the fact that we are cut off, divided, sexed. But to say that sexuality seeps through into nearly all we think and do need not be a shameful confession, it can be a statement of health. Hence, sexual fantasizing can also be an indication of health rather than automatically a sign of selfishness and perversion. But this needs considerable nuance: Our sexuality is developmental and so too should be its attendant fantasies. What follows is an outline of certain discernible phases of sexual maturation and their consequences for sexual fantasizing. This schema is developed for the male sexual cycle but, with certain variations, is equally true for women. The adolescent phase of sexuality begins with puberty and can last into the late 20s. At this stage, sexuality is dominantly genitally focused.
It can be quite indiscriminate in that its temptations and at times its actions can be frighteningly unmonogamous and it tends to be centered very much on pleasure, physical and emotional. One’s fantasy life generally follows suit. Bad thoughts during this time are generally pretty bad, namely, thoughts which are precisely genitally focused, thoughts which dwell on the bodily pleasures of sex. But this phase normally gives way, during the mid to late 20s, or in some cases earlier, to a sexuality which yearns much more for intimacy than for sheer sexual pleasure or indiscriminate sexual union. In the second stage, sexuality becomes less raw, more discriminate, more romantic. The fantasy of intimacy, of embrace, replaces cruder versions. At this stage sexual feelings widen to take in more aspects of the person. At this stage too it begins to become more difficult to consider sexual fantasies simply as bad thoughts. Somehow the fantasy of embrace suggests more goodness and wholeness than it suggests dirtiness and evil, unless of course it does not respect other persons’ privacy, chastity, marriages and commitments. But sexuality has yet a further phase. By one’s mid to late 30s the issues of procreation, children and wider community begin to take centre stage. Sexuality, at every level, body, mind, emotions, psyche, spirit, begins to demand that we give birth to something or, like Jephthah’s daughter, it begins to mourn and bewail its virginity. Sexual union, even intimacy with some loved one, however deep and true, is no longer enough. Our sexuality now has hungers beyond that. Our sexual energies, our erotic tensions, must now be poured out for a wider community. At this point in life, all sexual pleasure and sexual intimacy becomes unhealthily narcissistic if it does not accept this.
And this is also true for our life of fantasy. As our sexuality widens and begins to be focused more on giving birth and on community, so too must our concomitant fantasies. At this stage of our lives, I dare submit, we must cultivate sexual thoughts, but they must be fantasies of how we can pour our sexuality, the tension and energy inside of us that is felt in our sense of being cut off and divided, into nurturing life, into new ways of producing life, into new ways of impregnating and being impregnated so as to help bring about new birth and new community. We will always fantasize and we will always fantasize sexually. To be human is to have a fertile mind and imagination. To be sensitive is to have fertile feelings and fertile fantasies. For better and for worse we are stuck with our “bad thoughts.” When are they a share in God’s hunger for a kingdom, something to be fostered, and when are they bad thoughts, something to be confessed? When are they healthy and when are they unhealthy? Perhaps there are no clear answers to those questions. However, even in a world in which the huge issues of social morality such as starvation, social injustice, abortion and the threat of nuclear war tend to make speculation on issues of private morality seem petty, these are worthwhile and ultimately important questions.