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Dear Drs. Lewis and Gail Wyatt:     

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I have to think about other women to have an orgasm with my wife. It feels like I’m cheating on her.  Should I tell her? Is this normal? —Scott C.

This is a really good question because thinking about other women (or men) in order to feel the heat and have an orgasm during sex is a very common practice. Like you, many people feel that this is a fantasy that you should feel bad about. Some people believe that you are not supposed to be thinking about anyone other than the person you are having sex with. You certainly should not call out the name of another person, which can give you away!

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Actually, the question is not who you are thinking about but for what reason. If you are using fantasy to heighten your sexual arousal and ability to experience an orgasm with your partner, that is not cheating. There is no question that fantasizing can make sex more pleasurable if your partner receives the benefits (more pleasure and perhaps an orgasm).

There are other reasons that you may be using a fantasy to really get excited about sex with your partner. Many people fantasize about someone else because they are having “recipe sex” with their partner. They are bored because they are having sex in the same place, the same way, with no attempt to spice it up. It is also possible that your interest may have started to lessen when weight gain, health, financial problems or other worries begin to creep into the relationship and affect your attraction to your partner.

Some excitement and exploration may be needed! It is time for you and your partner to talk about what you can do to make sex more exciting for both of you. It is just as much your responsibility as it is your partner’s to find out what sex is like for the other person.

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Use a scale of 1 (“I am not really excited or interested at all”) to 10 (“I am hot for you!”) to see how excited you are about having sex, and ask your partner to give you her rating as well. If one of you is at a 5 or lower, you two need to agree on what you are willing to do to make some changes.

But do not tell your partner that you are thinking about other people when you two are having sex! Remember, fantasizing about other people is not a problem unless you make it one or think that it is. If you ask your partner who she is thinking about, you may get your feelings hurt, when you are actually enjoying sex.

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Now, when is it really cheating? When you are thinking about another person because you are actually having sex with him or her or planning to. In other words, you are not just fantasizing—you are remembering actual sex that you had or want to have with someone else. This is not fantasy for stimulation or excitement to benefit your partner; this is fantasy that may indicate that you would really prefer to be with someone else. This is when you might call out the name of someone else—you are so into your fantasy sex that you get confused about who you are actually with.

If this is happening to you, this may mean that you and your partner are disconnected or that your sex life is too crowded. This is called replacement sex. You really want to replace the person you are having sex with with someone else. That is cheating.

You and your partner need to talk about what is happening to your relationship and the bond that may be eroding between the two of you, if there ever was one. If you continue fantasizing about sex with someone else, you are using your partner and not being honest.

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Your thoughts are your own; your heart belongs to the person you give it to. Be clear about your commitment and desire to please yourself and your partner. 

For answers to your questions about sexual health, write to us at justsex@theroot.com. Be sure to include your age, gender, any medications you’re taking and the nature of your sexual problem.

Gail Wyatt, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also a professor at UCLA and director of the university’s Sexual Health Program. Lewis Wyatt Jr., M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. He specializes in sexual health and bioidentical hormone treatment.