Taboo Fantasies; Real Harm Reduction

An action shot of a woman flipping her hair back while sitting on a bed. All around her, books are flying through the air, seemingly under their own power.

Something seen within nearly every human culture across human history is the expression of our taboo sexual fantasies through fiction, art and music. And often, too. It seems only natural to use the arts as an outlet for sexual fantasies or feelings of attraction that would be potentially dangerous, impossible, or immoral to seek out in reality. It’s so common I’d wager that even you reading this article have had taboo fantasies of your own!

So why then do we find ourselves time and time again being asked: Are taboo sexual fantasies potentially dangerous? Are they a reflection of one’s moral character? Are they enabling harmful behaviours or mocking victims of abuse?

Not only is fantasy a safe, healthy outlet for those of us with risky or potentially immoral desires, it’s well-documented how survivors of sexual trauma frequently find fantasy an invaluable therapeutic tool. Regardless of if our taboo fantasies and paraphilic interests are endogenic or traumagenic in origin we are still thinking, feeling individuals. No less capable of thinking about the feelings of others than anyone else. No attraction is determined based upon a capacity for empathy, or lack thereof. If anything, people who have paraphilia that could be potentially harmful if fulfilled in reality demonstrate a healthy and well-developed sense of empathy by seeking harm-free outlets preferentially.

Instructor of psychology and sociology Casey Lytle had this to say regarding taboo sexual fantasies on their TikTok:

What can I say about you personally or your actual sexual behavior by the sexual fantasies you have? Absolutely nothing. Why? Because sexual fantasy is a completely controlled environment in which you control who’s there, what they’re doing, how they feel about it, how you’re responding to it, you can stop having the fantasy at any moment, and there’s no lingering effects in the real world or consequences in the real world.

In a follow-up video, Casey Lytle addresses the following comment he received: “this is not true. what about fantasies of rping kids? harming people? they have literally been correlated w sex acts T.T”

Casey Lytle had this to say in reply:

Well I’m glad you brought that up, because the directionality of that correlation can be problematic. Because it’s the same problem we have with criminal profiling in that that data comes from people who’re known to have engaged in the behavior and been caught. Not from everyone who has the fantasy. Violent, anti-social, and general taboo fantasies are extremely common. In fact, they’re thought to be a normal way for the brain to process emotion and vent in a safe scenario without engaging in the behavior.

In a fictional space we are free to explore and express even our most stigmatized feelings of attraction, romance, and arousal. All without the anxiety that we might be putting ourselves or anyone else in harm’s way. Like a rollercoaster, it provides all the thrill associated with danger, knowing all the while there’s no real risk.

For survivors of trauma, fantasy provides an array of therapeutic benefits. As a coping mechanism it offers us an opportunity to regain a feeling of agency and control over the pain and anxiety entangled with our traumatic memories and experiences. We can “rewrite” our traumatic moments such that we have full control over the story to change, add or omit whichever details we wish. We can use fictional characters as surrogates through which we can explore, examine and engage with our trauma from a safe distance.

This “fictionalization” of our own painful memories is not an attempt to alter them or gaslight ourselves into believing our fictionalizations over our real pain. Far from it. By deconstructing our trauma and recontextualizing it within a controlled, simulated environment like fantasy we can more easily compartmentalize the feelings associated with those painful experiences. The fictionalization of our trauma and the compartmentalization of the associated pain disconnects the pain from the experience just enough to make unpacking our trauma more palatable. When we’ve rewritten our painful memories to suit our needs and project that onto fictional characters, we can explore that trauma not as the victims of it OR as merely a passive audience to it, but as the director with full authority over the story, how it’s told, and how it ends. Then once we’re satisfied with our work, we can close the book and put our fantasies back on the shelf until we want or need them again.

Fantasy has been widely acknowledged for its therapeutic benefits by mental health professionals for some time now. Naturally, it can initially be very painful to revisit these traumatic memories through fantasy. The long-term effects of recontextualizing our trauma through fiction and art however are intriguing. Participants of research into the therapeutic benefits of fantasy found their academic and work performance had improved, they suffered less symptoms of chronic depression, and that these improvements to their quality of life lasted months or years after the study, as described by Jamie Pennebaker’s 1997 paper in Psychological Science.

Okay, so it’s well established that fantasy can be both an effective therapeutic tool, but what about as a harmless outlet for highly stigmatized attractions?

There are several ways!

When people are left without healthy means of expressing these powerful, recurring feelings or shamed into repressing them, a kind of psychological cage is built. Always on alert to police our thoughts and fantasies of anything that could be potentially impure. In this mental prison we become both the jailed and the jailer; trapped in a stalemate between constant vigilance and avoidance. Feeling trapped and unable to trust our own thoughts or feelings leads to emotional and mental exhaustion, or burnout. Resulting in harm to both mental and physical health. We become foggy minded, anxious and begin to isolate both physically and psychologically. People put to their emotional limits may become impulsive, irrational and self-destructive.

An example of the relationship between stigma, shame and low levels of psychological well-being is detailed within one 2020 study, “The Internalization of Social Stigma Among Minor-Attracted Persons: Implications for Treatment” by R. Lievesley, C.A. Harper, and H. Elliot. One particularly noteworthy finding was that high levels of shame and hopelessness predicted a lower likelihood of seeking help, while also indicating a greater desire for a support network. While this may seem contradictory at first glance, consider being put in the position of wanting help for something, yet the mere act of opening up about it could easily lead to ostracization should word get out. The study further noted that research participants who exhibited these high levels of internalized stigmatization were more likely to actively avoid children. But I further suggest the possibility that participants exhibiting higher levels of internalized shame and guilt would be more likely to be avoidant of all social contact as a symptom of the detrimental effect stigma has on overall psychological well-being.

But as in all things, there is hope. Dr. Lindsey Doe host of YouTube channel Sexplanations had this to say in an episode about

I’ve been looking for this very resource because people who feel ashamed or afraid to talk about their sexualities tend to hurt themselves or others in order to cope.

And this is true for all taboo sexualities and fantasies, not just MAPs. It’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with our own sexualities, if we’re too ashamed or afraid to talk about or express it. Having a means to express our fantasies through fiction regardless of how taboo or stigmatized provides us with a feeling of relief. The mere knowing that fantasizing about our most taboo desires is a safe, free outlet when needed, and not a step towards becoming a monster gives us hope.

People who consume or create taboo fictional erotica are all too familiar with hearing critics parrot the phrase “Fiction affects reality”. Puritans make the dubious supposition that individuals with highly stigmatized sexualities like MAPs utilizing fantasy and fictional erotica as sexual outlets will incite or encourage them to engage in risky, harmful or abusive behavior. Often likening highly stigmatized sexualities to a drug addiction, as though anyone could just suddenly become hooked on finding children attractive.

However, a study in 2019 titled “The use of pornography and the relationship between pornography exposure and sexual offending in males: A systematic review” by E. Mellor and S. Duff states quite clearly that there was no conclusive evidence to suggest a relationship between pornography and sexual offending. Furthermore, their study found that offenders reported having had less exposure to pornography than non offenders.

No one claims fiction doesn’t affect reality. Being skeptical of claims that taboo fiction causes real harm is not a denial that fiction affects reality any more than being skeptical of someone claiming sugar is poison is not a denial that food affects our bodies. The truth is that fiction does affect reality. And for many of us whether it’s used as a therapeutic tool or as an outlet for our sexualities, the effect taboo fiction has is an overwhelmingly positive one.

So whether you enjoy fantasy to help in overcoming trauma or as an outlet for your sexuality, do so with the peace of mind knowing what you’re enjoying is a harmless human instinct. And you aren’t alone. You follow in the footsteps of people who’ve come before, all throughout history. People from all cultures and backgrounds working through their trauma and expressing their sexualities through their art, writing and music, no matter how taboo or forbidden.

If you struggle with distress over taboo fantasies or attractions, you can find support here.

Notable Replies

  1. I have few relationships with people beyond my family, mainly because of my “taboo” attractions. People think it’s because I’m shy, and while that might be true, I’m afraid that I’ll get ostracized if I open myself up. I want to be with other people, but I don’t have the confidence in doing so.

    What’s the point of building a relationship with someone if you’re afraid that you’ll get ostracized if you open yourself up to that person? It wouldn’t feel genuine.

    Maybe this is the sort of thing that can lead to abuse. Feelings of abandonment, anxiety, despair, guilt, hopelessness, self-hatred…

    But, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost though, right? It’s nice to spend time with people that make you feel good. There are fictional outlets that exist. Maybe there is someone out there that won’t judge you for your “taboo” attractions. Maybe you will one day feel better about yourself.

    That’s what keeps me going.

  2. A-fuckin’-men, 100%. Pardon my French, but antis need to get this through their ears: Stigma. Does. NOT. FUCKING. HELP! I literally had a conversation about this earlier today (good timing, this article has)! A person deep in despair from harassment and self-loathing doesn’t see the point in getting help (so if you’re an anti, keep comments like “get help” to yourself, you counterintuitive bastard). And a person who suffers from ostracism and self-hate who is unable or unwilling to seek help is more likely to become a danger to themselves or others than somebody who has support from their community, ready access to therapy, and is allowed to cope using fiction. What’s so hard to understand about this?

  3. Avatar for elliot elliot says:

    It’s even worse than that. Stigma directly harms abuse survivors, making it harder for them to come forward about what they experienced and discouraging them from spreading accurate information about how to protect others from what happened to them

  4. Avatar for Chie Chie says:

    Something I will admit that is peculiar about pornography consumption is how powerful the idea of a sexual outlet may be for those with certain paraphilias or interests.
    How it affects those with paraphilic disorders, though, is of interest right now. The scientific community has already determined confidently that such materials do not promote or increase risk of contact abuse in those not predisposed, but those who are is an open question for some, with not enough evidence being offered up to really support it, but it hasn’t stopped some from hypothesizing things. I have a feeling that, the more these minor associations are examined, we will see the same result - that it does not increase risk of abuse. Scientists and clinicians have already seen this occur in many who are high-risk, but I’m hoping enough researchers are able to control their own biases so this journey to empirical truth does not become long and protracted.

    The real costs of censorship and repression may also be increased victims

  5. I got into an argument over on ATF with somebody who claimed that AI-generated art encouraged IRL bad behavior:

    Hexenite said:

    And there it is. I knew it was just a matter of time before someone started trying to charge people to see this stuff lol. It’s free literally everywhere bro. Stop trying to charge people for fucking porn. Even worse, censored porn. Despicable. To the mods: Go ahead and delete this comment, we all know no one is allowed to have opinions here unless it’s boot licking. Seriously, the amount of deleted comments on this site is actually incredible.


    lol i dont care if you voice your opinion on paid art. i feel the same way. i wouldnt pay for ai generated art. thats just stupid. the deleted comments are mostly ch!ld p0rn links that we have been trying to keep under control. there’s been a surge of them the past few weeks. unfortunately we cant stop them as those sodding twats get around our bans. ive been trying to get the owner to disable account sign ups to stop them for that hasn’t been successful

    the only reason i would remove your comment is CP links (you would also get banned and reported) or comments sounding way to realistic.

    Hexenite said:

    Yeah? Because my comment here was deleted after this, and it basically said the same stuff, except I was actually defending the damn post from a flag. It ain’t the first time either. I can’t even remember what I said, but it wasn’t any links or anything stupid like that. This is legit bs. Yall do you though. But the mods are a little gung-ho with this bs lately.

    StarFromAbove said:

    i reported you, fucking smartass, stop being so high and mighty, you’re not, you’re just leading yourself to offending much easily, the more you say “ooh theres no such thing as being too realistic” the more you encourage bad behavior, fiction may not lead to action, but this is skirting the line of reality, so be a good little twat, sit yourself down and educate yourself before you get your ass in trouble and the only thing you’ll be feeling is the widening of your asshole,

    fucks sake, to think actual adults are on this site and should be intelligent enough to view porn

    My reply:

    And here we are, the reason why I requested to be unbanned. To the mods, I promise not to go on downvoting sprees. To YOU [StarFromAbove], I got a bone to pick with what you say here. You say that realistic AI art will make people more likely to actually offend? What!? That’s not how it works! Studies have scientifically proven that porn REDUCES the desire to commit a sex crime! This is true across the board. Regular porn keeps women safe, simulated child porn keeps children safe, etc. Tell me, do you think realistic child sex dolls encourage child molestation? Because science is not on your side.

    Child porn is illegal for a damn good reason, but scientific study has proven that those who consume it are less likely actually molest a child themselves. Several countries have seriously considered creating programs where sex criminals can have limited access to child porn to keep themselves satiated. The fact that government officials have seriously considered this proves how completely backwards what you believe and what you’re saying is. Realistic AI porn does NOT encourage IRL sex crimes. You might as well be saying loli encourages crime. Doesn’t matter how “realistic” it is: as long as it’s fictional, no real child is being hurt.

    I’m not against banning realistic art from this site, however, so long as the reasoning is so we don’t get taken down by moral guardians. That’s a pragmatic, practical reason. But there’s no moral reason whatsoever to take down realistic child art unless it’s directly based on a real, identifiable child.

    Also, real classy, that “widening of your asshole” quip. Cuz yeah, that’ll show people how against rape you are, by making a prison rape joke! Prison rape doesn’t normalize bad behavior in the slightest, unlike realistic AI generation…

    I fully concede that banning realistic AI art from the site is probably for the best, not only so ATF doesn’t get shut down, but also due to the possibility that some of this “AI” art might be photographs made to look like AI. Regardless, my point still stands: it doesn’t matter how real something looks or feels: if it’s not real, then it’s not real.

    I’d like to point out that this comment actually has several downvotes over on ATF. Why? Is it because I brought up the CSAM program? That wasn’t me giving my opinion one way or the other, I was just pointing out that CSAM consumers are less likely to molest a child themselves. That’s not me condoning CSAM, that’s just me stating a fact. I literally say before that “child porn is illegal for a damn good reason”. Yet this comment has several downvotes, go figure. Maybe it’s the “but” people have a problem with, idk. At least the admins/mods backed me up on my claims:

    DontTouchMyCogs said:

    the banning of realistic ai and 3d art is to play it safe. i personally dont think anything will happen if we did host it but i dont make the rules and tbh its for the best. and yes you are right well atleast from a loli and shota stand point. a user told me he had a adiction with real CP so his theropist recomended lolicon as a alternative. hes been clean of cp for years. wile the idea behind having cp content legal to satisfy and discouraged futher abuse is an interesting study. i would never accept it. because the kids in the pictures still had to be abused to get the picture or video.

    My reply:

    I like how we said basically the same thing, yet I got downvoted. My comment that literally says “child porn is illegal for a damn good reason” has multiple downvotes. Go figure… Regardless, thanks for backing me up. I just can’t stand people spreading this stupid idea that art, even realistic art, would inspire crime. I just had to say something. It’s the exact same logic as saying comic books, slasher movies, or video games inspire IRL violence; science just straight-up doesn’t support this claim.

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