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Unbound Love: Sex, Fantasy, and Desire

Redefining what it means to have an open approach to relationships
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Sex. We all want it and fantasize about it, but how do we go about making our desires a reality?

It turns out many Americans don’t know how to. Ashley Madison, the world's leading married dating site1 partnered with Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, a renowned sex researcher and professor at New York University, to uncover what Americans are thinking (fantasizing) about when it comes to sex and show how to act on those thoughts – the results are detailed in a new report titled Unbound Love: Sex, Fantasy, and Desire.

By surveying Ashley Madison members and comparing their results with partnered Americans through YouGov, this report comes at an important time as sexual interests and mores are changing, despite revealing almost half of coupled-up Americans don’t know how, or are maybe too hesitant, to express their sexual fantasies and desires with their partner – a subject that can be difficult to discuss with your partner, until now.

A couple in bed

Bedroom confessions

One in two partnered Americans confess to fantasizing about other people during sex with their partner

Most partnered Americans surveyed (88% – 93% of men and 83% of women) reported experiencing at least one of the tested sexual fantasies to some degree. While the most common fantasy was intimacy, passion, and romance (with 86% of partnered Americans fantasizing about this to some degree), more than three-quarters of partnered Americans (85% of men and 68% of women) reported having fantasized about something a bit naughtier such as novelty, BDSM, non-monogamy, and multi-partner sex.

Roughly a quarter (26%) of respondents (30% partnered men vs 22% partnered women) confessed to ever fantasizing about homoerotic or genderbending acts.

Apart from BDSM fantasies, (which were equally common in both genders), partnered men reported virtually all fantasies more often than partnered women (with a gender difference between 10-30% points). However, all sexual fantasies were common among both genders, suggesting that many sexual interests previously considered “controversial” or “uncommon” are in fact quite typical.

Unfortunately, despite the high prevalence of many sexual fantasies, almost half of all respondents (47% of men and 40% of women) didn’t feel like they could easily share their sexual fantasies with their partner.

More than two-thirds of Ashley Madison members confess to fantasizing about others when having sex with their partner

Ashley Madison* members reported experiencing a range of sexual fantasies including the most common fantasies: intimacy, passion and romance (94%), and sexual novelty (94%). Many Ashley Madison members (82%) reported fantasies involving other people, while taboo fantasies were slightly more common among women (69%) than men (65%).

Can’t get no satisfaction

Lack of sexual satisfaction is an epidemic looming over nearly half of the partnered population

Nearly half of partnered Americans (45%) compared with 53% of Ashley Madison members do not feel comfortable sharing their sexual fantasies with their primary partner despite the high prevalence of sexual fantasies.

It’s clear that many people are not expressing their sexual needs and desires in their relationship. Why not? The answer may be simple:

"It is sad yet not surprising that many people cannot express their sexual fantasies openly. Even as we slowly open up, our culture continues to stigmatize many sexual desires and fantasies, especially those that don't fit within a narrow societal box of acceptable behavior and continues to censor information and conversations about sexuality more broadly. Ultimately, this robs people of language and confidence to speak about their sexual fantasies with their partners and makes them feel shame, guilt, and fear."
Headshot of Dr. Zhana Vrangalova
Dr. Zhana Vrangalova
Sex Researcher and Professor at NYU
Taking off a bra

Spice up your sex life

Two-thirds of partnered Americans fantasize about non-monogamy

Indeed, fewer and fewer are choosing monogamy as their ideal with 61% of partnered Americans fantasizing about non-monogamy while a third say their ideal relationship type is some sort of openness if they could be assured this wouldn't harm their relationship.

While sex, fantasy, and desire can be an essential part of a happy long-term relationship, it also helps to know that not all fantasies or desires are intended to become a reality. Many people view fantasy as an opportunity to explore what they didn't think they could or wanted to do in real life. It's normal for everyone to have different things they want, so be honest with yourself and your partner about what you are willing to explore together.

Generational divide

As the stigma around sex continues to dissipate, generational culture is shifting too

With the advent of technology and easier access to information, younger generations are learning more about their sexuality. Why does it matter? As we witness a generational shift in our view of sex, it’s important to recognize that this also impacts our sexual desires. In particular, it means being able to share who we want and how many people we want without judgment.


Ahead of the curve

Sexual exclusivity creates emotional and physical limitations for some

Compared to partnered Americans as a whole, Ashley Madison* members have higher rates of all types of sexual fantasies (60-90+% vs 42-80+% to some degree among partnered Americans), with the exception of homoeroticism where the numbers were similar. Yet Ashley Madison members were far less likely (30%) to feel they can share with their primary partners than the average partnered American (54%). Anecdotally, some Ashley Madison members say that having a secondary partner allows them to explore their sexual desires and that otherwise go unfulfilled in their primary relationship.

They are also more than twice as likely to be in relationships where they no longer have sex with their primary partners (15%) compared to the partnered general population (6%). More than three-quarters (77%) of members also report being not very satisfied with the sexual aspects of their primary relationship – nearly twice as many as the partnered general population (42%).

Being able to express sexual desires within a relationship can be life-changing.  It improves the quality of our sex lives, helping us feel happier, healthier, and more connected with our partners. That’s why Ashley Madison members use their extramarital connections as a means to not only preserve their primary relationships, but to fulfill all of their needs, including sexual, emotional, and intellectual intimacy.

So, what if loving more than one person at once or having more than one sexual partner – rather than being a betrayal of others – could be an expression of love? With nearly 400,000 new monthly signups on Ashley Madison, it’s clear that non-monogamy is here to stay.

A couple gazing at each other
Download the full data results


Ashley Madison

Ashley Madison is the global leader for married dating with more than 75 million members worldwide since 2002. Available in 52 countries and 15 languages, the company’s mission to offer adults a platform to discreetly connect has made it the premier destination for affairs.
Dr. Zhana Vrangalova

Dr. Zhana Vrangalova is a relationship scientist, consultant and NYU adjunct professor of human sexuality. She’s a world-renowned expert in non-monogamy and the creator of Open Smarter™, an online course that guides couples and individuals to identify and navigate the relationship type best suited for their unique personality and circumstances.

She holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University, and her scholarly work on nontraditional relationship styles has been published in several peer-reviewed journals.


1Based on the number of signups to Ashley Madison since 2002

*Survey of 1,942 Ashley Madison members from September 20, 2022 to September 27, 2022

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 802 adults in romantic relationships. Fieldwork was undertaken between 20th and 21st September 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).
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