Depending on the decade, some sexual fantasies have been considered unusual by psychiatrists. Among those listed in the fifth edition of “The Diagnostic and Statisical Manual of Mental Disorders:” masochism, exhibitionism, transvestism and pedophilia.

But how rare are fantasies considered unusual — or otherwise stigmatized? A team from the department of psychology at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières decided to find out.

“Although several theories and treatment plans use unusual sexual fantasies (SF) as a way to identify deviancy, they seldom describe how the fantasies referred to were determined to be usual,” a team led by Christian C. Joyal wrote in “What Exactly is an Unusual Sexual Fantasy?,” forthcoming in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. “The main goal of this study was to determine which SF are rare, unusual, common, or typical from a statistical point of view.”

To achieve this goal, the team asked more than 1,500 college students to rank 55 sexual fantasies and describe their own favorite. Example: The top-ranked fantasy was “I like to feel romantic emotions during a sexual relationship.” Among women surveyed, 92.2 percent shared this fantasy; among men, 88.3 percent. On the low end of the spectrum, fewer than 1 percent of women had fantasized about having sex with a child under 12 years old; among men, 1.8 percent had.

In between these two extremes were some interesting findings. Among those printable in a family newspaper:

  • 61.2 percent of men had fantasized about interracial sex; just 27.5 percent of women had
  • 57.0 percent of men had fantasized about having sex with someone much younger; just 18.1 percent of women had
  • 56.5 of women surveyed had fantasized about having sex with more than three people, both men and women; just 15.8 percent of men had
  • 64.6 percent of women had fantasized about “being dominated sexually”; 53.3 percent of men had

The authors of the study seemed particularly interested in findings that supported the popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

“Among women, it was found that SF of being dominated, being spanked or whipped, being tied up, and being forced to have sex were reported by 30%-60%,” according to the study. ” … The fantasy of being dominated was significantly greater for women than for men, on average, whereas the fantasy of dominating was statistically stronger for men than for women, on average.”

One caveat: This was a survey of Canadians 18 to 65. Presumably surveys of residents of a retirement community or a devout churchgoers would produce different responses. Another: Those who volunteer to participate in sex studies tend to be more sexually experienced. Or, as the authors put it: “This sample was not representative of the general population.”

Also, there is a difference between fantasy and reality.

“The majority of our female participants with masochistic fantasies specified they would NOT want to live it,” lead author Christian Joyal wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post.

Still, researchers suggested many sexual fantasies are common, and that even those considered strange should not be singled out unless they have negative effects.

“Clinicians and researchers should not rely solely on the theme of a sexual fantasy to determine if it is either pathological or unusual,” according to the study. ” … Care should be taken before labeling an SF as unusual, let alone deviant.”

The researchers said consent was vital to differentiating between deviant behaviors and merely unusual ones.

“Although a pathological sex fantasy is easy to diagnose (e.g. involving non consenting persons, inducing psychological suffering to the person),” Joyal wrote, “we think there is no need to chose specific themes, no need to stigmatize interests toward consenting adults, and an important need to base diagnosis on evidence-based data.”