I Can't Have Sex With My Boyfriend Without Fantasizing About Other People — WTF Should I Do?

Hello, world. My name’s Stephen LaConte, and this is Hey Stephen — a cozy little corner of the internet where BuzzFeed readers like you can DM me for advice.

Today, we’ve got this woman, who can’t have sex with her boyfriend unless she’s fantasizing about other people — most notably, her coworker. She’s worried about what this means for her relationship, especially given her past history of cheating. Here’s what she wrote to me, via Instagram:

My reply…

Occasionally fantasizing about other people when you’re in a relationship — even a strictly monogamous relationship — is hardly worth worrying about. But needing to fantasize about other people every time you have sex with your partner, or you won’t be able to climax? That’s a little more worrisome. There’s also the fact that these fantasies have pivoted away from celebrities and onto someone you know in real life. It’s not clear from your DM whether you have genuine feelings for this coworker or just think they happen to be hotter than, say, Ryan Gosling or Idris Elba. Without more context, it’s hard to know just how much these fantasies violate your relationship, but I think you’re right to be questioning them.

So, let’s start here: I don’t think the fantasies mean you’re about to start cheating again. Or, at least, they certainly don’t have to mean that. Cheating is 100% within your control. You are not a victim of these fantasies, you are the maker of them, which means you can also set firm boundaries around how far they do and don’t go. One such boundary should be keeping your coworker at a healthy distance, both emotionally and physically, whenever you see them at work. Why worry about whether or not you’re going to cheat, when you can decide for yourself right now not to do it?

But while I don’t think these fantasies need to be a warning sign of impending infidelity, I do think they’re a sign that you’re unfulfilled in your relationship in some way — and that’s worthy of your attention and concern, too. So, here are five possible ways you might try to get to the root of this issue.

#1. To put it bluntly, does your boyfriend actually know how to make you orgasm? This knowledge may include, but is certainly not limited to: where to touch you, how to touch you, what words to say, what positions work best, what toys (if any) to use, what sort of environment to create in the bedroom, how to tell when you’re enjoying what’s happening, and how to tell when you’re not. This is all information you should be communicating to your boyfriend, and he should be putting that information to work. You might discover that your fantasies have actually just been compensating for bad, ineffective, unfulfilling sex. And if the sex can improve, perhaps you’ll want to be more mentally and emotionally present for it.

#2. Let’s say your boyfriend is already perfectly competent at sex. Then the question is, do you need more variety in your sex life together? In long-term relationships like yours, sex can eventually become a routine, and that routine can eventually become a rut. What can you do to shake things up? Are there any fantasies you’re having that you actually could bring to life with your boyfriend? Sure, inviting Chris Hemsworth or your coworker into the bedroom might not be in the cards here, but are there any kinks you’d like to explore or new activities you’d like to try? It’s possible that your fantasies are less about having feelings for any one particular person, and more about changing up the sexual experience. How can you change things up with your partner?

#3. This is not going to be the right solution for everybody, but I’ll mention it since it’s an obvious one: Have you ever considered opening up the relationship? You frequently find yourself fantasizing about having sex with other people, so maybe there’s a way for you to actually have sex with other people — ethically, honestly, and without cheating. You would, of course, need to have extensive conversations with your boyfriend about this before doing anything, and you would need to take great care to ensure that he was really, truly okay with it. But if both members of a couple can enthusiastically consent to opening things up, and if they can agree to a set of rules and boundaries that leave both parties feeling safe, respected, and protected, then it’s a valid option to consider.

#4. In your DM, you mentioned the possibility of seeing a therapist on your own to discuss this. I agree that this could be productive, especially if you feel like these fantasies are part of a larger pattern in your life, like running away from people who love you, always wanting what you can’t have, or, as you yourself mentioned, having a history of cheating. A therapist might be able to offer some new perspectives on why these fantasies are so necessary for you to have sex, and help you navigate them in healthier ways moving forward. Eventually, it might also be worth doing some therapy with your boyfriend — whether it’s standard couples counseling or sex therapy — but I agree that one-on-one sessions are the best place to start. There might be more you need to understand about these fantasies yourself, before trying to explain them to your partner.

And last, but certainly not least…

#5. It’s very possible that these fantasies are a sign that it’s time to walk away from your relationship. You write that your boyfriend “can be considered a perfect guy,” but absent from that description were any of the ways that he is perfect for you. Is he? Objectively, this guy may have all the “right” boyfriend qualities — he could be kind, loving, loyal, honest, handsome, smart, funny, whatever — but if you’re not attracted to him, then that is as good a reason as any to leave him. You don’t need “perfect” in your partner. You need someone with whom you share a true and deep connection, even through their inevitable, human flaws. If you’re only staying with this man because he’s good on paper, it might be time to put that piece of paper away, and focus on what’s in your heart.

So, there you have it: Five possible ways to address these fantasies, and not one of them involves cheating on your boyfriend. Try one, try a few — the choice is yours to make. Good luck. I’m rooting for you.

That’s all the advice I’ve got for today’s DM’er, folks. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter @stephenlc. And if you happened to miss last week’s column, read on!

Last week, we heard from this DM’er, whose friend recently got cheated on by her boyfriend. The friend is now talking about sleeping with someone else to get back at him, and our letter writer wants to know: Should they stop her? Here’s what they wrote to me, via Instagram:

Screen shot of Instagram message

Well, I know exactly what I’d say if your friend was the one writing into this column: Don’t do it! At the risk of sounding like a kindergarten classroom poster, two wrongs don’t make a right. If your friend is genuinely trying to work through this betrayal with her boyfriend, adding more betrayal to the mix is certainly not going to help. What it will do is create a lot more pain and heartbreak — for the boyfriend, sure, but more importantly for her. This boyfriend has to live with the fact that he cheated on someone he loves, with all the rightful guilt, shame, and regret that should bring into his life. Does your friend want those things in her life, too? Personally, I wouldn’t.

If the only way a person can fix their relationship is by cheating, then the relationship is simply not worth fixing. I genuinely believe that a couple can move past infidelity, especially if it’s a one-time thing that the offender can thoroughly own up to, apologize for, and use as an opportunity to make themselves a better person and partner. But the only path forward involves a whole lot of honesty, humility, communication, and self-reflection — from both parties. You can’t go tit-for-tat with this stuff. One partner has to accept that they’ve done wrong, and find healthy ways to atone for it; the other has to accept that they’ve been wronged, and find healthy ways to heal from it. If your friend doesn’t want to make this relationship work, fair enough. She certainly doesn’t have to, and breaking up with him is an option she should consider. No one can deny that he’d deserve it.

A woman turned away from her significant other

But your friend didn’t write to me, you did, and the path forward for you is not so clear! On the one hand, you want to stop your friend from doing something bad, something that would likely blow up in her face and cause her further harm down the road. On the other hand, you want to be a safe space for your friend to share her honest, unfiltered thoughts after such a significant heartbreak, without feeling like she’s being judged, or lectured, or being read the kindergarten classroom rules. I think there’s a solid argument for either path here, depending on how serious she actually is about going forward with her plan. Let’s break this down.

First, in defense of stopping her: Your friend is in a dark, vulnerable place right now, and possibly not thinking clearly. It makes sense to try to prevent her from doing something she might regret — especially when that thing is as serious and impactful as cheating on her partner, and not like, getting bangs. If you feel like she’s actually close to pulling the trigger on this (if she’s downloading dating apps, making plans to meet up with an old flame, etc.), then yes, I think it’s worth at least attempting a conversation before she does anything. Needless to say, you can’t control who she chooses to sleep with, and this cheating decision is hers and hers alone to make. But you can at least check in with her, make sure she really wants to do this, and understands what the consequences are likely to be.

An upset woman

If you do attempt that conversation, I would keep the focus on her wants and needs, not her boyfriend’s. Emphasize that you’re not looking to protect the cheating boyfriend from pain here — he deserves plenty of it. You’re looking to protect her. Tell her you want to make sure that, if she’s actually invested in repairing her relationship, she gives it an honest and real effort. And if she’s not invested in the relationship anymore, why waste valuable time and energy staying in it, only to cheat? Encourage her to dump him so she can go have sex with as many people as she wants, guilt-free.

On the flip side, here’s a defense of not intervening: I think there’s a decent possibility your friend is just blowing off steam right now, with no actual intention to cheat. If that’s the case, I think you should let her vent, without pushing back too hard or getting into a whole debate about the actual ethics of revenge-cheating. Let’s be honest: Your friend’s reaction right now is an understandable, if imperfect, one. She’s experiencing this horrible, gut-wrenching, world-bending pain, and it makes sense that she might fantasize about inflicting that pain back onto her boyfriend so he can know just how bad it feels. It might not be the most ideal way to process hurt, but it sure is human.

An upset woman

So, let’s say your friend is speaking about this in purely hypothetical terms right now, talking about how she should be allowed to have sex with someone else, imagining what her boyfriend’s reaction might be if she did, but not actually taking any concrete steps to make it happen. Does that warrant an intervention on your part? I would say no. Let your friend have messy, problematic feelings in response to a messy, problematic situation. Be a trusted, safe confidante for the thoughts that she might not feel comfortable sharing with anyone else. Hear them with an open mind, and yes, a grain of salt.

Your friend is going through a lot right now. She’s lucky to have someone like you by her side — it’s clear you have her best interests at heart. If she’s really on the verge of cheating, by all means, try to talk her down. Barring that, I think you should just let her feel her feelings, free from judgment. You can support the fantasy without supporting its actual, real-world manifestation. Maybe the fantasy is all she’ll need, anyway. Good luck.

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PS: If you’ve got any advice for today’s DM’er, sound off in the comments! I’ll be reading…

So, there you have it: Five things you can do instead of cheating on your boyfriend. Pick one, pick a few, the choice is yours — just like cheating would be. Good luck. I’m rooting for you.

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