Black couple on bed hot and heavy

Brief fantasies hours before lovemaking can help ignite later sexual heat. Even among lovers with major libidos, arousal can be a challenge. Many people want hot sex, but have trouble heating up. Fortunately, sex therapists have developed a simple, practical way to kindle sexual arousal—“simmering.”

Arousal: Often Problematic  

Both men and women may experience arousal issues. Many women of all ages begin sexual interludes feeling affectionate warmth but no erotic heat. Then, if they enjoy the lovemaking, they eventually become aroused.

Few young men experience arousal difficulties, but as men age—typically beyond 40 or so—many are astonished to discover that they’ve lost the once-automatic connection between wanting sex (desire) and feeling actually ready to get it on (arousal). That’s why many middle-aged and older men watch porn—to convince themselves they can still get aroused.

How To

Suppose you have a sex date or believe you’re going to make love within the next dozen hours or so. Starting that morning and periodically during the day, take a momentary break and daydream something erotic—anything that makes you tingle with anticipation. Simmering kindles arousal so that by the time you and your lover undress, you feel ready to twist the sheets.

Simmering need not take long. Use it to fill dead moments during the day: when you’re climbing stairs, riding elevators, or waiting in lines or at traffic lights. Simmering doesn’t require elaborate fantasies of lovemaking from start to finish, but rather little tickles that anticipate future pleasures.

Simmering need not be explicitly sexual, i.e. genital. Play with imagining things like kissing, neck-nuzzling, undressing each other, running your fingers through your honey’s hair, or simply staring into each other’s eyes. PG-rated fantasies can ignite X-rated fun.

If your simmering is explicitly sexual, it need not involve porn. Most porn focuses on little more than fellatio and intercourse. Over time, that can get boring. Your own imagination can probably arouse you more. For simmering, exercise it.

What Do Daydreams Mean?

We all have daydreams. They cover a lot of possible experiences: winning the Lotto, a fairy tale wedding, exotic travel, or smacking a home run in the bottom of the ninth Do daydreams mean you hate your life?

Possibly, but rarely. The vast majority of daydreams don’t mean anything. They simply exercise our imaginations. We may love our work, family, and friends, but sometimes it’s fun to imagine something different.

Daydreams don’t necessarily mean that you want them to come true. Plenty of men fantasize being the hero, rescuing the damsel in distress—without the slightest wish to be caught in a fire on the twenty-ninth floor.

Few people dissect their daydreams looking for pathology. Assuming sanity, our musings rarely prompt hand-wringing about our motives or mental health.

But inject S-E-X into daydreaming, and in a culture as sexually nervous as ours, many people assume the worst. If they fantasize other lovers, they may feel guilt and shame, question their relationships, or berate themselves for being “mentally unfaithful.” If they visualize risky sex—for example, in public—they may wonder if they’re perverted. And if they picture anything kinky—anal play, BDSM, threesomes, swinging, or group sex—they may wonder about their mental health. Relax. The vast majority of sexual fantasies don’t mean anything more than other daydreams.

Wildly Sexy Daydreams? No Reflection on Mental Health

Starting in 1973, journalist Nancy Friday (1933-2017) published several collections of women’s—and later men’s—erotic fantasies. Her first book, My Secret Garden: Women’s Sexual Fantasies, caused a sensation. Friday documented the then-shocking notion that women not only have erotic fantasies, but that many successful, happily married, mentally healthy women admitted fantasies of rape, incest, and many other sexually fringe activities. The book crystalized two key truths: Fantasies are no reflection on those who have them. And in fantasy, everything is permitted and nothing is wrong.

Decades later in 2009, London, UK, psychotherapist Brett Kahr interviewed 3,000 people who shared 23,000 sexual fantasies for his book, Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head? The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies. He found no relationship between even the wildest, most bizarre or abusive reveries and fantasizers’ mental health.

Your sexual fantasies are no reflection on you, your relationship, or your rationality. Accept your fantasies. And if you have difficulty with arousal, try using them to simmer arousal prior to lovemaking.

Simmering Need Not Involve Your Partner

If simmering involves your lover, great, enjoy fantasizing about your main squeeze. But there’s no need to restrict simmering to your partner.

Unfortunately, many people believe that fantasies of other lovers are the moral equivalent of cheating. A New York Times survey asked: “As long as you’re faithful to your spouse, do you think it’s okay to imagine sex with someone else?”

  • Yes, fantasies of others are fine—46 percent of respondents.
  • No, they’re wrong—48 percent.
  • No reply—6 percent.

By gender, 52 percent of men said it was okay to fantasize about someone else, but only 40 percent of women agreed.

Meanwhile, the research shows that the fantasies of other partners are very common and totally normal:

  • University of Vermont researchers surveyed 349 coupled university students and staff. Over two months, 87 percent reported fantasies of other lovers (98 percent of the men, 80 percent of the women). Their reveries were independent of their demographics, the duration of their relationships, their number of previous lovers, and their number of extra-relationship affairs if any.
  • For his book on sexual fantasies (above), Brett Kahr asked his more than 1,000 coupled participants about fantasies of other lovers. Virtually everyone admitted having them.

The late comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, told a story about making love with his girlfriend. They try to get excited but neither can work up much arousal. Finally, Dangerfield asks: “What’s the matter? Can’t you think of anyone either?”

The Simmering Solution

Simmering works best when lovers do something else sex therapist recommed—schedule sex in advance. That way you know when to simmer. For more on the wisdom of scheduling sex, see my previous post.

Great sex is a combination of friction and fantasy. Sex therapists recommend using fantasies to simmer arousal for the friction. Simmering is as an appetizer before the feast. If you have issues with arousal, try simmering. It usually helps.

You may also be interested in reading Fantasies During Sex: Welcome Them.


Basson, R. “A Model of Women’s Sexual Arousal,” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (2002) 28:1

Friday, N. My Secret Garden: Women’s Sexual Fantasies. Simon & Schuster, NY, 1973.

Graham, C.A. et al. “Turning On and Turning Off: A Focus Group Study of the Factors That Affect Women’s Sexual Arousal,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2004) 33:527.

Hicks, T.V. and H. Leitenberg. “Sexual Fantasies About One’s Partner Versus Someone Else: Gender Differences and Incidence in Frequency,” Journal of Sex Research (2001) 38:43.

Kahr, B. Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head? The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies. Basic Books, NY, 2008.

New York Times Magazine, May 7, 2000, p. 76.


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