Sexual fantasies and gender/sex: a multimethod approach with quantitative content analysis and hormonal responses

J Sex Res. 2014;51(8):917-31. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2013.798611. Epub 2013 Sep 2.


Research links explicit sexuality (e.g., physical attraction and pleasure) to high testosterone (T) and nurturance (loving contact) to low T. Engaging in sexual fantasy, which can include explicit sexual and nurturant elements, increases T in women but not in men. We examined whether individual differences in the explicit sexual and nurturant content of fantasy were linked with T or with estradiol (E2). In addition, we explored whether fantasy content differed or overlapped by gender/sex. Participants (26 women, 23 men) provided saliva samples for hormones before and after imagining a self-defined positive sexual encounter and responding to open-ended questions about the situation they imagined. We systematically content-coded responses for explicit sexual and nurturant content. In men, lower inclusion of nurturant content predicted larger T responses to fantasy. Fantasy content was not linked with T in women or with E2 in women or men. Women and men did not differ significantly in explicit sexual and nurturant content. Our findings suggest that individual experiences of fantasy as more or less nurturant affect T in men, provide support for the Steroid/Peptide Theory of Social Bonds, and highlight the value of integrating hormones and content analysis to investigate research questions relevant to sexuality and gender/sex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Estradiol / metabolism*
  • Fantasy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*
  • Sexuality / physiology*
  • Testosterone / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Testosterone
  • Estradiol