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The Fantasy Fallacy

Shannon Ethridge the author of 19 books, including the million-copy bestselling series, Every Woman's Battle. Shannon is also a speaker, lay counselor, and advocate for healthy sexuality with a master’s degree in counseling/human relations from Liberty University. Since 1989 she has spoken on the topics of sexuality and Christian spirituality.

Her passions include: Challenging adults and teens to embrace a life of sexual integrity, encouraging married couples in their pursuit of sexual and emotional fulfillment, counseling women who have looked for love in all the wrong places and equipping parents to instill sexual values in children at an early age.

Her newest book is The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual Thoughts (Thomas Nelson)Shannon had contemplated writing this book for three years, but the current Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon drove her to tackle the topic now.

Shannon answered Five Questions for ConversantLife on this controversial and timely topic.

Why did you decide to write a book on the topic of sexual fantasy?

After writing the Every Woman’s Battle series, I often heard from readers who were bewildered by their sexual thoughts and terrified they’d act out on them someday. They wanted to find the “off switch,” but of course there’s not one! 

I’ve wondered, How can we be made in the image of God and yet have so many ungodly images running through our minds? These thoughts are nothing new. Satan distorted sexuality 7 different ways in the book of Genesis alone with things such as pre-marital sex, adultery, polygamy, homosexuality, rape, prostitution, seduction, incest – all scandals that still plague our society today because Satan doesn’t know any new tricks, and because we don’t understand the power we possess to control our own fantasies.

I looked for Christian books about where sexual fantasies actually come from, and found nothing. Then I heard a mentor say that “Sexual fantasies are really just the brain’s way of trying to heal itself.” That one sentence led me on a quest to look beyond the fruit of our fantasies to discover the root, which is usually unresolved trauma or pain from our childhood.  Because our brains can’t process overwhelming pain and pleasure simultaneously, God gave us the ability to compartmentalize pain long enough to enjoy the euphoric pleasure He designed us to experience. Yeah, God!

How did the cultural phenomenon of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy hasten your writing of The Fantasy Fallacy?

This book had been simmering in me for about three years, and when the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon took our culture by storm this year, I knew I had to buckle down and write the book immediately!  As I was developing the manuscript, the Fifty Shades trilogy kept climbing in sales by the millions, as did sales of whips, chains, and other BDSM paraphernalia.  And when a European hotel replaced their Gideon’s Bibles with Fifty Shades of Grey, I knew the time for The Fantasy Fallacy wasn’t someday, but NOW!

What is the difference, if any, between sexual fantasy and sexual thoughts?  And is all fantasy bad – or can it serve a useful purpose?

There’s not a lot of difference, as fantasies are defined as “imaginative thoughts that fulfill some sort of psychological need.”  Instead of sweeping thoughts and fantasies under the rug where we’ll trip over them, I urge people to look beyond the fantasy and recognize that deeper psychological need so we can control those unhealthy thoughts before they control us!  We can’t truly take a thought captive until we understand why that thought comes into our minds in the first place. Interestingly, behind every sexual longing is an even deeper spiritual longing.  Therefore, we don’t spell fulfillment S-E-X, but rather G-O-D.

But I don’t believe all fantasy is bad.  God gave us vivid sexual imaginations for a reason, and they can serve healthy purposes.  For example, the man who imagines creative ways to pleasure his marriage partner, or the military wife who keeps the home fires burning by fantasizing about her deployed husband’s homecoming – these are the very thoughts that keep marriages (and families) strong.

Have you had any opposition to the book’s ideas from other Christians or counselors?

Although I fully expected it, there’s been no opposition so far! We asked several pastors, professional counselors, and adult men & women, both married and single, to review the book and the most common response we received is, “Why has no one ever told me this before? Why has no Christian book ever addressed this?”  So we’re delighted at how it’s ministering to people on some very deep levels – even the pastors and counselors themselves!

It seems that otherwise respectable Christian leaders often fall ingloriously from grace in the sexual areas of their lives.  Why does this happen? Are other Christians at risk as well?

Christians usually know what kind of sexual thoughts turn them on, but so few of us understand why – thoughts such as being with someone else’s spouse, a same-sex partner, much younger or much older partners, having multiple partners simultaneously, being tied up and spanked, etc.  Christian’s fantasies are really no different than anyone else’s, and we’re often absolutely bewildered as to why we would fantasize about something we would never want to act out!

These are the very questions we explore in The Fantasy Fallacy, helping readers expose the deeper meaning behind such thoughts.  In the words of my mentor, “We must learn to face our fantasies, or else they’ll bite us as we’re trying to run away from them!”  One person recently asked, “How do I face my fantasies without acting out on them?”  This just goes to show how little we know about the roles and rules of sexual fantasies.  We think we either have to repress or express them, and either extreme is very dangerous. 

It’s like a beach ball in a swimming pool. If you force it down to the bottom, it’s in danger of rocketing -- not just to the surface where it belongs, but into territory where it doesn’t belong. This is common in sex scandals and affairs, when good people try desperately (but often in vain) to repress their sexuality, then wind up expressing it ways they never expected. We have to let the beach ball rest calmly on the surface rather than forcing it down. We must learn to live in the tension of being both sexual and spiritual beings.  Only then can we live free from anxiety, guilt, fear, or condemnation about the sexual thoughts that flow naturally through our human brains.

My prayer is that The Fantasy Fallacy will equip believers to become the safest people
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