Where do our fantasies and erotic images come from and what do they tell us about the deeper nature of who we are?

We have been led to believe that our sexual fantasies are random imaginings, but nothing could be further from the truth. At their base lies fragments of our history, conflict, and strife that reach far back into the forgotten past.

Childhood conflicts produce strong emotions that never completely disappear. Their impact echoes long into adulthood, and even though we may deny or bury them, we continue to succumb to their demands. We act helpless, detached, controlling, or lost. We interpret new situations based on these feelings, unconsciously re-enacting old dramas in our everyday interactions with lovers and friends. We lose perspective, blurring the past and the present. We act inappropriately, or over-react; we feel constantly angry with our spouses, hurt by our friends, or abused or victimized by our bosses, sometimes even incorporating these emotions as aspects of our personality. Who hasn’t had the experience of knowing someone who is always controlling and angry, or acts like a doormat, or expresses frustration with everything he does?

By the time we reach young adulthood, we have already woven these emotions into our sexuality, encoding them in the erotic images and narratives of our fantasies in an unconscious attempt to gain mastery over them. Yet few of us are aware of the importance of these emotions in defining the direction of our sexuality, and we are even less conscious of the conflicts and that originally gave rise to them.

To appreciate the meaning of the images and narratives of our sexual fantasies, we need to review the past to understand the family dynamics of our families that have shaped them. The emotions that we eroticize have archetypal roots in family experiences that share similar realities. This step of Intelligent Lust, described in my book, YOUR BRAIN ON SEX: HOW SMART SEX CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE, helps us untangle these emotions and their ties to childhood conflicts. We learn about the source of our wounding and its consequences—feelings of shame, guilt, loss, or fear—for which our fantasies serve as antidotes.