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Cognition and Sexual Fantasising: An Updated Approach to Understanding Sexual Fantasies

Ross M. Bartels 


Sexual fantasies are a key factor for understanding and managing people who have and are at risk of sexually offending. However, the theoretical literature on sexual fantasy has been close to absent until the last few years. This workshop will involve a critical examination of the concept ‘sexual fantasy’ as a cognitive construct and as a cognitive processes (i.e., the act of fantasizing). A case will be made for why we should focus on the latter more often. To facilitate this discussion, a recent theoretical model will be outlined that helps delineate and explain the processes underlying sexual thoughts and fantasizing (Bartels & Beech, 2016). Following this, the workshop will examine the interrelation between sexual fantasizing and social cognition (e.g., attitudes, beliefs), as well as other cognitive phenomena (e.g., episodic memory, appraisal). Through interactive discussion and activities, attendees will consider the importance of these interrelations, particularly in relation to: (1) understanding the role that sexual fantasies play in sexual offending, and (2) informing prevention, assessment, and treatment. 


Dr Ross Bartels is a Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology and lead of ‘Forensic and Clinical Psychology Research Group’ at the University of Lincoln (UK). Drawing upon paradigms and methods used in socio-cognitive psychology, Ross’ research primarily focuses on understanding sexual fantasies, sexual interests, and cognitions related to sexual offending behaviour. He has also contributed to theoretical literature on sexual fantasies and offence-related cognitions. Ross is also interested in the public's perception of people who have offended, as well as those with atypical sexual interests. He has published numerous papers in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters, and has co-edited books in the area of sexual deviance.