Book Review: Tell Me What You Want

Image description: the book rests on a black and white patchwork quilt. The cover features intertwining arms of a variety of skin tones with the title Tell Me What You Want interspersed.

I am fascinated by sexual fantasies. Sexual fantasies are individual, intimate, and powerful. Sexual fantasies can be an immensely important part of our entire lives, yet we can rarely talk about them with others. Still we find so many different ways to explore them: lacing them through our popular media consumption, sprinkling them into our art, fashions, and expressions, holding them close in the dark in good times and bad times.


Though there are some books out there about sexual fantasies (I even mused enough to write a personal-essay style one titled “Thinking Myself Off”) the topic is certainly frontier territory in many aspects—in scientific study and in everyday life. Much work still needs to be done to posit sexual fantasy as a normal part of sexual experience, as a real and fulfilling sexual outlet, and as a part of our sexual relationships.


Which was why I participated in a questionnaire study regarding sexual fantasies from Dr. Justin Lehmiller, author of the website Sex and Psychology. And when the research from that study became the foundation for the book “Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How it Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life,” I put it on pre-order as soon as was humanly possible.


I was eager to see the results of the study. The survey was taken by over 4,000 Americans who answered 369 questions about sexual fantasies, life, and personal history. I remember answering the questions and I definitely thought this was one of the most in-depth self-reporting online sexuality surveys I’ve ever taken.


When I got the book, I thought the author might reveal anonymous fantasies rapid fire, giving detailed account of different fantasies in a similar style to Nancy Friday’s “My Secret Garden.” But not so. On occasion the author provides specific details of individual fantasies, but overall the content focuses on themes and aggregate traits in how we experience and relate to sexual fantasies.


The book begins by nesting sexual fantasy in the context of how we as a society relate to sexuality in general. The author then explains the survey and his experience conducting the research. The chapters that follow include:

  • the seven most common sexual fantasies in America (as determined by the study)
  • a conversation about men and women’s sexual fantasies
  • aspects of people’s lives and how that can interplay with sexual fantasies (things like political affiliation, age, past sexual experiences, and religion, to name just a few)
  • who we are fantasizing about
  • how we see ourselves in our fantasies and what that might mean
  • the benefits of getting in touch with your sexual desires
  • a discussion on bringing certain fantasies into your sexual realities


The book ends with a chapter exploring how to break down barriers that prevent us from communicating about our desires.


If that seems like a lot, don’t worry—I never found the tone or text to be tedious, overly academic, or boring. The conversational style throughout the book makes this an accessible and engaging read.


A big point of this book is showing us that we are normal. Many of us never talk about our sexual fantasies with anyone, not even (or perhaps, especially not with) our sexual partners. We keep the secrets and wonder just how weird we are, with nowhere to look for comparison, exploration, or debate. (Insert some joke about masturbate rhymes with debate here.)


But. I’ll be honest. Even though I can definitely see many of the most popular themes explored in the book manifesting in my own sexual fantasies… I still feel kind of like a weird person in the department of sexual fantasies. And I’m fine with that.


Perhaps it is simply because I’m a romance and erotica writer and the raw material I use to build my work is sexual fantasy. I spend a lot of time thinking about sexual fantasies and exploring sexual fantasies to depths that would seem impossible (or at least impractical) to others. But I thought, at times, the exploration of some ideas in this book seemed to float on the surface.


Of course, that is not to discredit the book in any way. You can’t fit an ocean into 250-ish pages. The conversation has to begin, and this book provides an excellent and solid foundation.


Going forward, I would personally be interested in the vastness that could be explored in the areas of how we bring our sexualities into our lives, or, as I say often, how we sew reality and fantasy together. In things like erotica, pornography, romance novels, erotic or romance-based fan fiction, art, mainstream media and other expressions. How we build ourselves into these personal, intimate universes and how much the pleasures, comforts, escapes, and experience in our bodies really do help our lives.


With such break through books like “Tell Me What You Want” in the world, we will get there, I’m certain. But I’m glad I picked up this book along the journey. I hope you too might give it a try.

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