Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Shannon Ethridge's new book, The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Being Sexual Thoughts (Thomas Nelson, 2012).

The sexual fantasies that pop into your mind can trouble you, but you can’t avoid having those fantasies. Sexual fantasies are natural for everyone, since God has created all humans as sexual beings. What you can do is deal wisely with the fantasies you experience, learning from them so you can heal from the emotional pain they reveal and enjoy healthy expressions of your God-given sexuality. Here’s how:

Ask God to give you His perspective on your sexuality. Since God is the one who created you to be a sexual being, trust God to show you what your sexual fantasies mean and how you can use that information to use your sexuality in healthy ways that will bless you rather than harm you.

Recognize that sexual fantasies are normal and not always wrong. Sexual fantasies are a normal part of life, and they’re not necessarily bad. Fantasies are simply windows into your psyche, giving you valuable psychological information and about your thoughts and feelings. You can use your sexual fantasies for either bad or good purposes; sometimes they lead to sin and destruction, but if you use them to create sexual energy in your marriage, they can lead to a stronger marriage. So pray for the wisdom to know when you should guard your mind against unhealthy fantasies and when you should open your mind to fantasies that can enrich your marriage.

Understand the three different types of sexual fantasies. Autoerotic fantasies are random sexual thoughts that occur naturally without external stimulation. You shouldn’t feel guilty about them, and you can easily manage them. Erotic fantasies those that arouse you and your spouse within your marriage. As long as you both approve of them, there’s no need to feel guilty about them. Illicit fantasies are those that God or your spouse would not approve of because of the context of the relationships reflected within those fantasies. The illicit fantasies are signals meant to draw your attention to emotional wounds you’ve suffered, so you should pay attention to what they can teach you about yourself and pursue healing for the wounds they reveal to you.

Examine what your fantasies may mean. Reflect on the sexual fantasies that pass through your mind and ask yourself key questions about them, such as: “Who are the faces in our fantasies?”, “What roles do they play?”, “What role do I play?”, “What primary emotions do these fantasies elicit and why?”, What event in my history created the need to experience such an emotion?”, “How does this fantasy medicate emotional pain from my past or present?”, “Could there be an even deeper spiritual longing beneath my sexual longings?”, “What can I learn from my fantasies?”, “What driving forces are operating within me that often lead me to toward destructive relational patterns?”, and “How can I heal the pain that is causing me to fantasize destructive directions?”.

Know that your illicit fantasies never stand in the way of God’s love for you. Don’t worry that your struggle with unhealthy sexual fantasies will ever cause God to love you any less. God loves you deeply and unconditionally. Because of God’s love for you, you can count on the grace you need from Him to empower you to heal from the wounds that your illicit fantasies reveal.

Break free of pornography. Realize that pornography is always unhealthy for you to use, because your fellow human beings are abused in order to produce porn, and because porn damages your ability to experience genuine sexual intimacy within marriage. If you use porn to fuel your fantasies, ask yourself what types of images you’re more attracted to, and what underlying emotions you’re trying to quell, amplify, or balance with fantasies about those images. Then consider what messages those emotions are trying to send you, and ask God to show you how you can best pursue the emotional healing you need.

Look to God (instead of other people) to meet your needs. God is the only one who can ultimately fulfill all of your needs, such as those that you may fantasize about another person meeting (satisfaction, provision, and comfort). So don’t barter with your body to try to get other people to meet your needs (such as by fantasizing about people as mother figures, father figures, or spiritual idols, or keys to unlocking the fountain of youth for you). Recognize that what you may have been desperately searching for in others, you already possess in God, through your relationship with Him – and all you need to do is turn to God to claim what you’ve been searching for. Once you’ve learned how to trust God to meet your deepest emotional needs, you can learn how to express affection toward other people in healthy and holy ways.

If you’re married, invest your best efforts into your marriage. God has designed marriage to be the only context in which sexual energies can be expressed in healthy ways, and when you focus your sexual energies on your spouse, your marriage can grow stronger. So if you’re married, do your best to develop healthy intimacy with your spouse. God can show you how to use your fantasies to energize your marital sex life, drawing you and your spouse closer to Him and each other.

If you’re single, direct your sexual energies toward other pursuits. If you’re single, there’s no healthy way for you to express your sexual energies through sex until you get married. So while you’re single, direct those energies into healthy pursuits, such as exercise and creative work.

Expose the roots of fantasies about taboos. If you fantasize about gay or lesbian sex, rape, incest, recognize that such things go against the natural order of how God has made creation and will harm you and others if acted out. If you fantasize about bondage, sadism, or masochism, understand that it’s never God’s plan for sexual pleasure to involve anything that causes others pain. 

Put fantasy in its place. Defuse the unhealthy power that fantasies have over you by: focusing on other things you’re passionate about, trusting your God-given instincts more than you do other people, refusing to rationalize stupidity, trusting in God’s grace to avoid sin, strengthening your marriage so you won’t be as tempted to have an affair, and trusting God to lead you and your spouse into deeper levels of sexual and spiritual connection.

Adapted from The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual Thoughts, copyright 2012 by Shannon Ethridge. Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.

Shannon Ethridge is an international speaker and certified life coach. She has a master’s degree in counseling/human relations from Liberty University and is author of the million-copy, best-selling Every Woman’s Battle series. Learn more at www.ShannonEthridge.com

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles. Contact Whitney at: angels@aboutguide.com to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer

Publication date: December 28, 2012