Why We’re Sometimes Turned On By People We Hate
When you fantasize about sex, who do you usually think about? When I survey people about this, more often than not, they mention current partners, exes, and close friends. It’s not uncommon for the occasional celebrity crush to be mentioned, too.
So, by and large, when specific people appear in our fantasies, we usually imagine others we like or feel positively about. But what about people we dislike, even hate? How often do they become the object of desire in our fantasies?
In the survey of 4,175 American adults I conducted for my book Tell Me What You Want, I inquired about this, and here’s what I found.
How Many People Fantasize About Hated Individuals?
Overall, 31% of adults said they’d had a sexual fantasy before about someone they hate, with 3% saying this is something they fantasize about often. So it’s not uncommon for people to have ever had this fantasy, but it appears to be relatively rare for a hated individual to be a recurring character in one’s sexual fantasies.
Whether people had fantasized about a hated person depended on both their gender and sexuality to some degree:
- 18% of heterosexual women had fantasized about this before, with 1% fantasizing about it often.
- 31% of heterosexual men had fantasized about this before, with 4% fantasizing about it often.
- 35% of lesbian and bisexual women had fantasized about this before, with 4% fantasizing about it often.
- 35% of gay and bisexual men had fantasized about this before, with 3% fantasizing about it often.
- 31% of trans and non-binary people had fantasized about this before, with 4% fantasizing about it often.
As you can see, fantasizing about someone you hate is more common among men and gender-diverse people than it is among women, and it’s also more common among non-heterosexual compared to heterosexual people.
Why We Fantasize About People We Hate
So why do people sometimes fantasize about someone they hate? Who’s most likely to do this? I looked to see how these fantasies are connected to other types of fantasies people might have as well as their personality traits, and here’s what I discovered.
These fantasies were linked to having more BDSM fantasies in general, but particularly fantasies about dominance and sadism. Thus, some people may find the idea of a hated fantasy partner arousing because, in that scenario, they have some degree of power or control over the hated individual or can inflict pain on them. At the same time, however, these fantasies were also linked to more masochism fantasies, suggesting that sex with a hated person may sometimes be a way that some people inflict pain on themselves.
Related to what I said about masochism, these fantasies were also linked to having lower self-esteem. Again, this suggests that for some folks, fantasizing about a hated partner may be a form of self-punishment. Some may feel as though they don’t deserve a partner who loves or respects them.
The Role of Personality and Attachment Style
These fantasies were linked to being lower on the personality trait of agreeableness, which refers to having less care and concern for the well-being of others. By contrast, those who are highly agreeable had more fantasies about current partners and people they like. This finding may partly explain the gender difference between heterosexual men and women: Several studies have found that women tend to be higher on agreeableness than men.
People higher in attachment avoidance (meaning those who are less comfortable with emotional intimacy) had more fantasies about people they hate. These folks had less emotional content in their fantasies in general, which may open the door to fantasizing about a wider range of partners, including disliked persons or individuals they don’t personally feel close to. Related to this, those with an unrestricted sociosexual orientation (that is, those who see sex and love as separable) fantasied more about people they hate. These folks may find it easier to check their emotions at the door.
Persons with more sensation-seeking tendencies had more fantasies about people they hate. For these individuals, fantasizing about a hated person might add a certain thrill because it’s something they’re not “supposed” to do. Sex with a despised individual is one way to flirt with sexual taboos, and we know that doing something taboo or forbidden is a popular theme in our fantasies in general.
Those with overactive imaginations also had more fantasies about people they hate. This makes sense because these individuals fantasized more about almost everyone and everything.
What all of this tells us is that, while we’re far more likely to fantasize about partners we love or like than those we hate, it’s not uncommon for someone disliked or even despised to appear in a sexual fantasy.
However, different people seem to have these kinds of fantasies for very different reasons. As with pretty much every other type of sexual fantasy, diverse psychological roots exist. It may sometimes reveal something about how someone feels about themselves—but it can also be about a desire to mix pleasure and pain, to add an element of thrill, or simply because you don’t see love and sex as necessarily going together. Yet other times, these fantasies can just be the product of a wandering mind.
One other potential possibility is that strong feelings of anger or dislike for someone else can potentially amplify sexual attraction. Social psychologists have long known that strong emotions can be mistaken for sexual arousal.
So if you’ve ever fantasized about someone you hate, you’re definitely not alone—and there are any number of possible reasons the thought might have crossed your mind, so avoid the temptation to overinterpret it.