Who's Been Sleeping in Your Head

The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies


By Brett Kahr

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In the largest study ever undertaken on sexual fantasy, world-renowned psychotherapist and researcher Brett Kahr reveals the astonishing truths behind secrecy, shame, and taboo in this groundbreaking book based on surveys of 23,000 men and women from eighteen to ninety years of age. The definitive account of what our fantasies tell us about ourselves, Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head? overturns conventional wisdom about sexuality today.


Also by Brett Kahr
D. W. Winnicott: A Biographical Portrait (1996)
Forensic Psychotherapy and Psychopathology: Winnicottian Perspectives (2001)
Exhibitionism (2001)
The Legacy of Winnicott: Essays on Infant and Child Mental Health (2002)

Dedicated to Kim

“Half a prayer, half a song”
nulli secundus.

What a man’s mind is, that is what he is.
I guess we all like to know other people’s secrets so that
we can live with our own.

A Note on Caution and Confidentiality
He that cannot bear with
other people’s passions,
Cannot govern his own.
—BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Poor Richard’s Almanack
This book contains a great deal of extremely sexually explicit material—literally hundreds and hundreds of sexual fantasies. Some of the intimate fantasies reproduced in these pages may shock you; some may disgust you; some may leave you cold and anesthetized; some may invoke a feeling of pity, contempt, or superiority; but some, if not many, of the fantasies may produce titillation or arousal.
These fantasies derive from the inner recesses of the minds of normal, ordinary British and American adults—men and women, aged eighteen to ninety-plus years old, randomly selected from every British county and every American state, from every social group, from every religious background, and from virtually every profession imaginable, ranging from doctors to dairymen, from bankers to businesswomen, from clerks to clerics, from the overworked to the unemployed. Although a very small proportion of the anonymous respondents in this study will have sought the services of mental health professionals in an outpatient setting from time to time, none suffers from an incapacitating psychotic illness; therefore, these fantasies cannot be readily dismissed as the rantings of the emotionally unwell. Every single one of the men and women whose fantasies appear in this book leads a reasonably healthy life. None of the participants resides in either a prison or a psychiatric institution. All of the authors of these fantasies live, at liberty, in the community.
None of these fantasies has ever appeared before in print. These original creations of the British and American mind have remained safely confined inside the heads of the participants in my large-scale research study up until now. In fact, hitherto, approximately 95 percent of the subjects had never revealed their sexual fantasies to another living soul, even to their long-term partners—marital or otherwise—or to their closest friends.
Some of the participants in this research project submitted their fantasies in writing, while others spoke their fantasies into a mini-disc recording machine; these different methods of data collection account, in large measure, for the wide range of stylistic differences in the fantasies themselves. All of the fantasies appear in their original form; although, in the case of those women and men who submitted their fantasies in writing, I have corrected some spelling errors that might have detracted from the experience of reading; and likewise, I have from time to time inserted some judiciously placed commas and semi-colons, merely to facilitate the flow of the sentences. Otherwise, I have endeavored to preserve precisely the language used by the authors themselves.
One notable change has been made to all the texts: I have altered the names and geographical locations of the contributors in the interests of confidentiality. The extremely frank and forthright sexual fantasies in this book appear with the express written permission of the British and American men and women who generated them. Each of the thousands and thousands of research participants signed an agreement, prepared by one or more specialist lawyers, which would allow me to publish their fantasies, providing that I did not reveal any biographical information that could readily or reasonably identify them. For instance, I would not be permitted to write: “This fantasy appears courtesy of Mrs. Jane Doe, a fifty-one-year-old accountant and mother of two who lives at 850 Broadway, Topeka, Kansas.” In a great many cases, I never knew the real names of the authors in the first place, particularly of those women and men who responded to a detailed, computer-administered questionnaire that guaranteed anonymity. As for those adults whom I interviewed face-to-face, many of these research participants may well have told me their real names when we first met, and in these instances, I have certainly altered their identities. I remain honor-bound to preserve the confidentiality of those who shared their most intimate thoughts as part of a psychological research project, not only for reasons of clinical confidentiality, but also because at this time, we still treat sexual fantasies—especially private masturbatory fantasies—as a relatively taboo subject in our cultural discourse. Some of the participants in my interview study may have elected to introduce themselves pseudonymously, giving a false name.
As a Registered Psychotherapist practicing in Great Britain, I have spent many years in full-time clinical practice, and during this time, I have worked with a large number of individuals who have entrusted their most private stories to me. Patients or clients undergoing psychotherapy both demand and deserve complete confidentiality when they seek therapeutic assistance so that they can reveal the full extent of their often troubling histories without fear of reprisal or public exposure. There may be occasions when confidentiality must be breached in order to protect all parties concerned. For instance, if a patient informed me of a well-developed plot to kill the British Sovereign, then my professional Code of Ethics would require me to report this matter to the appropriate authorities. Fortunately, in more than two decades of clinical work, I have not had to do this.
In the spirit of recognizing the importance of privacy, particularly in this era of CCTV footage and Googling, I have refrained from using any detailed sexual fantasies of patients and clients with whom I work or have worked in a formal psychotherapeutic capacity. The consulting room has, of course, served as the indispensable laboratory in which I have learned about the manner and the mechanisms of sexual fantasy. Owing to the strictures of clinical confidentiality, however—the very bedrock that allows for secret revelations to emerge in psychoanalytical sessions—the sexual fantasies of my patients must remain a private matter. Thus, apart from brief, unidentifiable vignettes, all of the stories which follow derive not from my clinical work, but from my research work with individuals who offered their informed consent, and who allowed me to conduct intensive psychodiagnostic research consultations with a view to publishing their fantasies, with the understandable proviso that I would refrain from releasing either their names or their addresses.

Introduction: On the Couch at 7:00 A.M.
Careless lust stirs up a desperate courage,
Planting oblivion, beating reason back.
For more than twenty years, I have worked as a psychotherapist. In other words, I am one of the tens of thousands of mental health professionals in Great Britain who devotes his or her daytime life to the treatment of people who struggle with, or suffer from, a wide range of psychological problems. I completed a lengthy training and apprenticeship that included both university-based study in clinical theory and research methods and supervised therapeutic work with patients in psychiatric hospitals and community mental-health settings. As part of that training, I also underwent intensive psychoanalysis myself. All of this helped to prepare me for my profession. Though I have studied and worked predominantly in Great Britain, I also undertook a training fellowship in the United States, and I have worked with a large number of American émigrés in London; I therefore have experience treating the mental health issues of both Britons and Americans.
I have a small, discreet office in London—a consulting room—hidden away in a tiny mews courtyard, complete with a couch and several comfy chairs. I arrive at my office quite early, at 6:45 A.M., in time to open the windows for a blast of fresh air and to plump up the cushions; and then, throughout the day, starting at 7:00 A.M., women and men of all ages, shapes, and complexions come to see me for private appointments to discuss their most intimate psychological concerns. Often, people burst into tears in my room as they reveal their most shame-laden secrets and confront their most heart-wrenching decisions. Some suffer from extreme mental illness, while others function quite well in their public lives, maintaining families and jobs, but might, in private, be addicted to cocaine, or use prostitutes. Some of these brave individuals harbor aching secrets, kept well hidden from their husbands, wives, or partners. Some have secrets that they keep even from themselves.
Inevitably, the presenting problems involve sexuality in some way. At 7:00 A.M. on one day of the week, I might meet with “Mrs. Smith,” who admits that she and her husband have not had sexual contact with one another for the last thirty years. This may seem shocking, but in my line of work I hear stories of sexual anesthesia in long-term marriages and partnerships quite often. All of Mrs. Smith’s female friends believe that she and “Mr. Smith” have the perfect marriage, but, in fact, she hates him for his many infidelities; and now that the children have finally left home, she wants a divorce. Mrs. Smith wakes up every night in torment because she married Mr. Smith while still a teenager, straight from her parents’ house, and so has never lived alone in her entire life. The thought of divorcing her philandering husband fills her not with relief or anticipation, but rather with dread. Clutching clumps of tissues from a box on the bottom shelf of my bookcase, positioned just a few inches away from the patient’s chair, Mrs. Smith pleads with me to tell her what she should do. My heart breaks knowing that I cannot offer such direct advice to Mrs. Smith. Nor would I. We both know that we will have to explore her dilemma over a period of time in order to find the right solution, because although she hates her husband and wants to run away, she also still has a deep-seated attachment to him and feels as though she cannot function without him.
Mrs. Smith leaves at 7:50 A.M. In fact, I see all of my individual patients or clients for exactly fifty minutes, following a practice developed by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, in Vienna in the 1920s. He decided to reduce the length of session times from sixty minutes to fifty in order to accommodate an American psychiatric trainee who had come to Austria specifically to learn his new method for alleviating psychological distress. This practice of the “fifty-minute hour” has sustained itself worldwide since then, and I must confess that fifty minutes seems just about right. This period of time readily allows the patient and psychotherapist to explore and examine important aspects of the patient’s story in detail without becoming either overly burdened or exhausted. (In America, many of my colleagues have adopted a forty-five-minute hour, but in Great Britain the fifty-minute hour has remained sacrosanct.)
Between 7:50 A.M. and 7:59 A.M., I have a brief nine-minute break before my next client arrives. At this time I collect my thoughts, check my telephone messages, and perhaps have a sip of water or a piece of an apple. Owing to the early start, I rarely have time for a proper breakfast, but somehow, after many years of this routine, my body seems to have adjusted to this physiological arrangement; in fact, although I always enjoy my food, the thought of a full English breakfast before work leaves me rather queasy. Psychotherapists begin working with patients very early in the morning so that people can come for appointments before the commencement of their own workday. Surprisingly, 7:00 A.M. and 8:00 A.M. prove to be extremely popular times, and although some might balk, I find it completely natural to be seated in my office chair at 6:45 A.M., in preparation for the bell, having already reviewed my notes and turned on the central heating—or, on rare hot British summer days, the electric fan.
At 8:00 A.M. sharp, the buzzer sounds again, and this time the soft-spoken and socially maladroit “Mr. Jones” comes into my consulting room. Unlike Mrs. Smith, who sits across from me in a leather chair, Mr. Jones, who attends several times a week, chooses to lie down on the couch, just as Freud’s patients would have done a hundred years ago. He finds that he can talk to me more frankly and with greater concentration if he reclines, facing away from me. I sit behind the couch in a red-leather tub chair, listening. Unlike Mrs. Smith, who has just celebrated her thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, Mr. Jones has never married; in fact, he has never even had a girlfriend, nor, for that matter, a boyfriend. Mr. Jones calls himself “the only fifty-year-old virgin in London”—he has never had sex, not even a kiss or a fumble. Mr. Jones’s erotic life revolves exclusively around his daily masturbation. He has often explained to me that he prefers masturbation to sex with a partner, but sometimes, when he feels more vulnerable, he adds, “But of course, as a virgin, I wouldn’t really know, would I?” When he masturbates, he will invariably fantasize at the same time, but in spite of gentle attempts on my part to elicit the content of his masturbatory fantasies, Mr. Jones will not tell me anything. I have often wondered whether he has fantasies that, if put into practice, would land him in prison. Instead, Mr. Jones lives in a different sort of prison—a mental prison—tormented, lonely, and full of shame. His difficulties relating to me in an open, relaxed, and engaging manner may well be indicative of his wider interpersonal struggles, as all his office colleagues shun him, and he never receives even a single invitation to any lunches, parties, pub crawls, or other communal gatherings.
Although I have changed the names of “Mrs. Smith” and “Mr. Jones,” I have not manufactured their stories; in fact, Mrs. Smith and Mr. Jones would be surprised to realize that I have met many other patients over the years who present with exactly the same sorts of struggles regarding intimacy and sexuality. People often joke that “shrinks” have an obsession with sex—this may be true, perhaps; but if it does prove to be the case that we talk about sex and think about sex more than dental hygienists or traffic wardens do, you cannot blame us, because we hear about sex, especially sex gone wrong, in our private offices and clinics on a daily basis.
I try not to listen in an ordinary fashion but rather with my “third ear”—a term introduced by one of Sigmund Freud’s most creative disciples, the Viennese psychoanalyst Dr. Theodor Reik, who reasoned that anyone can listen with two ears, but the psychotherapist must listen with three, concentrating not only on what the patient says, but also on what the patient does not say. The psychotherapist must attempt at all times to decipher the secret meanings of the patient’s dilemmas, meanings which remain obscure even to the patient.
For instance, let us consider the case of “Mr. Fitch,” who invariably spends the first fifteen minutes of his weekly psychotherapy sessions ranting about “that bastard Gunderson,” a very successful colleague who has just received a hefty pay raise, a whopping Christmas bonus, and a pat on the back from Mr. Fitch’s boss, the redoubtable head of finance. Fitch becomes so embroiled in a repetitive, compulsive rampage against the bastard Gunderson that he cannot recognize his own envy, his own feelings of inadequacy, and his own experience of failure, which, in truth, have little or nothing to do with Gunderson. Poor Mr. Gunderson becomes merely the vehicle through which Mr. Fitch discharges his own undiluted rage. But by spending all his time attacking Gunderson, Mr. Fitch protects both his conscious sense of self-esteem and the fragile parts of his own mind from having to face the painful reality that, for various reasons, he has not achieved what he wishes; nor has he received the adulation that he craves. By listening with the “third ear,” I endeavor to help Mr. Fitch hear himself. He spends so much time fuming in an unthoughtful manner that he cannot actually listen to himself at all; and so I become, in part, a mirror to his soul, and together, through gentle, sustained conversation, we try to understand more and more about the way in which the unsuspecting Gunderson becomes a reincarnation of Fitch’s older brother, “Howard,” another “bastard,” who obtained better grades at school, nabbed the pretty girl who lived next door, and now works as a glamorous television director. Eventually, as our weeks and months of psychotherapeutic work unfold, Mr. Fitch discovers that, actually, Gunderson might be “all right—a decent bloke, in fact”—and that through identification with Gunderson’s creative capacities, Fitch might learn to internalize some of his archrival’s talents instead of experiencing him as Lucifer incarnate. To our mutual joy, Mr. Fitch has gradually begun to demonstrate fledgling creativity; eventually, he too at last received a pat on the back at bonus time for his clever new work initiative.
For most of my career, I have worked principally with individuals, people like Mrs. Smith, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Fitch, on a one-to-one basis, but some time ago I decided to undertake five further years of specialist postgraduate training in “marital psychotherapy.” This development grew out of my work with young adult men and women who had suffered brain damage and who needed an enormous amount of care from their aging parents. From time to time, I would meet with the elderly parents, more than 80 percent of whom had extremely strained marriages. The burden of caring for a child with a handicap often takes a toll, and I felt extremely unskilled in knowing how best to support these parents in their marital distress while also helping them with their caretaking capacities. It had become increasingly clear to me how many of my patients without overt handicaps suffered with difficult marriages as well, and I wanted to improve my ability to help.
Although fully employed as a psychotherapist at the time, working exclusively with individuals, I managed to juggle the extensive postgraduate training requirements, and I eventually qualified in marital psychotherapy—a highly specialized branch of mental health work. I thus joined the tiny band of only thirty or so other colleagues in Great Britain who have completed this exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) training. Although I received my professional registration as a diplomate in “Marital Psychotherapy,” any new student graduating in the field will receive licensure in “Couple Psychotherapy.” Because we now work with an increasing number of people who cohabit without ever having exchanged wedding rings, my colleagues and I decided that the concept of “Marital Psychotherapy” seemed somewhat outdated. The term “Couple Psychotherapy” better reflected the reality. We also find ourselves working with more gay and lesbian couples—and though many do regard themselves as married, many others prefer to describe themselves as living in a committed couple partnership. So, although I hold official registration as a “Couple Psychotherapist,” I often slip and refer to myself by the more antique term of “Marital Psychotherapist,” as I have treated most of my couples under this arguably outdated rubric.
Working with couples has made me become even more concerned with sexual matters than before. An individual patient might spend a whole fifty-minute session telling me how much she hates her evil, persecutory boss; or she might launch into a monologue about the horrors of her teenage children. But with couples, one cannot avoid the question of sexuality. I have now seen dozens and dozens of couples in consultation, and I would be hard pressed to recall any couple who presented for marital psychotherapy with a healthy sex life. As we may not fully appreciate, sex might be the most sensitive barometer of the solidity of the relationship between husband and wife or between two lovers; and when the gremlins of infidelity or inattentiveness or other forms of cruelty enter the relationship, then the sexual life will suffer as a consequence. Many partners turn in desperation to skimpy lingerie, scented candles, imported bath oils, and other such paraphernalia in a hopeful effort to reignite passion in the bedchamber, but as any couple psychotherapist will realize, true sexual excitement returns only when both spouses have had an opportunity to talk through the multiple grievances that have accumulated over the months and years. Often, this healing process occurs only with the guidance of a mental health professional. As one of my marital patients exclaimed years ago, “It takes two to break a marriage, and three to mend it.”
I have now reached a point in my career where almost nothing that a couple tells me will either surprise or shock me, because I have found that when marriages or relationships do begin to collapse, they tend to do so in quite predictable ways. Consider the following real-life couples, characteristic of the casebook of the workaday couple psychotherapist. In the interests of confidentiality, I have, of course, altered the surnames of the couples.
• “Mr. and Mrs. Aronson” stopped having sex after the birth of their first child. Mrs. Aronson spends so much time breastfeeding little “Alison” that she cannot bear the thought of her husband touching her increasingly sore nipples. Mr. Aronson has reported that he feels jealous of his own daughter, even though he knows that he has had much more intimate, adult access to his wife’s body. The closeness that has emerged between Mrs. Aronson and her daughter has served as an unconscious reminder of Mr. Aronson’s own feelings of boyhood exclusion following the birth of his baby sister.
• “Mr. and Mrs. Bentley” have stopped having sex because Mr. Bentley has started having an affair with his wife’s sister “Berenice.” The secret has finally emerged, and Mrs. Bentley has now threatened divorce. During psychotherapy, it became increasingly evident that Mr. Bentley bedded his sister-in-law not because of a primary sexual attraction to Berenice, but, in large measure, as a calculated means of exacting revenge upon his wife. He had come to regard her, in fact, as an increasingly narcissistically preoccupied and castrating woman who no longer lavished love and affection on him as she had done so readily during their courtship.
• “Mr. and Mrs. Cameron” no longer enjoy sexual relations because Mrs. Cameron has recently begun to be haunted by memories of early child sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Now, as a grown woman, she cannot bear the sight of Mr. Cameron’s naked body, especially his penis, as she believes that both Mr. Cameron and her father have identical-looking genitalia.
• “Mr. Dean” and “Mr. Drummond,” a homosexual couple, have ceased having sex because Mr. Drummond has become obsessed with the films of a certain gay pornography “superstar” and spends all of his free time masturbating to gay videos, so much so that he can no longer bear being touched by Mr. Dean. Mr. Drummond enjoys highly sadomasochistic homosexual pornography, and he fears that his partner would be horrified if he knew the truth. Mr. Dean recently discovered Mr. Drummond’s stash of pornography, and this precipitated both a huge marital row and a referral for couple psychotherapy.
These four vignettes represent only a tiny handful of the many ways in which sexual relationships may be attacked by changes and transitions, sometimes by traumas, and sometimes by fantasies, that exert a deleterious impact on the marital or couple situation.
When we complain about our lives to our friends and families, we often find ourselves moaning about our credit card bills, or about our incompetent office colleagues, or about the Republican Party; but when we visit the psychotherapist, the agonies become infinitely more intimate. I spend my working days listening to grown men and women, and also to postpubescent teenagers, who struggle with problems they find so embarrassing that they can barely articulate them. Clients might come to talk about their inability to achieve an erection, or their disgust about fellatio, or their desperate need to have sex at least five times a day to the exclusion of all else, or their fear of vaginal penetration, or their hatred of the hair on their bodies, or what have you—sexual concerns and anxieties that turn their otherwise healthy minds into dungeons of despair.
Not only do my psychotherapy patients talk about their difficulties negotiating the anatomical practicalities of sex (e.g., “I rubbed her clitoris all night, and still she couldn’t come,” or “He ejaculated all over my face, and I couldn’t wait to wash it off”), but some of the more bold patients in my practice will also talk to me about their most private sexual fears and their most hidden sexual fantasies, those scenarios that flash through their heads in an often unbidden and unexpected fashion.


On Sale
Jul 31, 2008
Page Count
512 pages
Basic Books

Brett Kahr

About the Author

Brett Kahr is Senior Clinical Research Fellow in Psychotherapy and Mental Health at the Centre for Child Mental Health in London and is a Visiting Clinician and Lecturer at the famed Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology. He is Chair of the Society of Couple Psychoanalytic Psychotherapists. He lives in London.


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