The Truth Behind Sex Dreams
Dreams, like real life, can trigger a wide variety of emotions. They make us laugh, cry and, occasionally, feel helplessly terrified. Sometimes they force us to grapple with feelings from our subconscious, and other times they help illuminate our deepest desires.
Sex dreams, in particular, can offer a window into objects that we desire—at least in the bedroom—if we let them. Listening to our intuition can help us determine whether an erotic dream is trying to tell us something about our wants and desires, according to Sarrah Rose, a tantric sex coach in Austin, Texas.
"Dreams are a way for the subconscious mind to process what has happened during the day," Rose said. "If you are feeling extra turned on, wanting sex, thinking about someone you're attracted to or watching a sexy show, your subconscious can process that in your sleep."
A window into desire
Emma (a pseudonym), a 24-year-old from Montreal, said she had a particularly impactful sex dream roughly six years ago—one that ultimately altered her entire identity.
"Quite a few years back, I had a sex dream about a girl in my creative writing class who was openly bi—she would talk about dates she'd go on with girls or guys in her poetry, which we had to workshop as a class—and I, at the time, considered myself 100 percent straight," she said.
In the dream, the two women danced closely in a dimly lit nightclub before stumbling into the bathroom, locking eyes and making out.
"I remember feeling like this sexual experience was especially passionate, like I just wanted to be as close as possible to her," she said.
The scene only escalated from there, with the dreamer eventually going down on the other young woman—something she had never actually done to a woman in real life. She believes her brain borrowed from porn she'd seen to simulate this experience, making it feel convincingly real.
"After that, I looked at that girl differently and realized I was definitely attracted to her, which was a big realization at the time since I really never thought I'd be into girls to that extent," she said. "That one dream I had at, like, 18 years old definitely began to shape the way I even feel about my sexuality today."
Rose said sex dreams do have the power to remind us or even inform us of what it is we want, and anyone hoping to gain insight from their erotic dreams should try writing down the details to see if a pattern emerges.
If it does, Rose recommended taking it seriously.
"Suppose a sex dream reflects ways to spice up your sex life; take note of that," she said. "Maybe things have gotten somewhat dull and it's time to make a change. Your sex life is essential—it's healthy to have what you want."
When trauma rears its head
While sex dreams can certainly help us identify what we want and encourage us to go after it, they can also bring up past trauma and highlight issues we may be repressing, according to sex therapist Kate Balestrieri, who has offices in Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and Chicago and is the in-house expert for House of Wise.
"They can invoke feelings of shame or bring back unpleasant memories from past trauma," she said. "If you are having a recurring dream that makes you uncomfortable, it could be a sign to seek out therapy with a therapist that specializes in dream interpretation to provide deeper understanding around your subconscious thoughts, or to process the meaning, feelings or fears you have about them."
Don't worry too much if you dream about sleeping with someone who isn't your current partner.
According to Balestrieri, our sex dreams don't always align at all with what we want for ourselves in real life, which is alright, too. She said dreams, in general, are actually not considered prescriptive or deterministic, so they don't have to indicate anything about who we are if we don't want to give them meaning. Sometimes, a dream is just a dream, meant to be enjoyed and then forgotten, she said.
Just as dreams can alert us to what we want, Balestrieri said they can bring to mind what is unattainable or undesirable in our conscious lives. Don't worry too much if you dream about sleeping with someone who isn't your current partner.
"Dreams do not imply that you have done anything wrong, or that you have a conscious or unconscious desire to be unfaithful or act sexually in a way that differs from your real-life desires," she said.
Whatever you want them to be
At the end of the day, sex dreams can be insightful, eye-opening, pleasurable or even utterly meaningless—it all depends on what you want to get out of them and what you feel they're trying to tell you.
If any part of you is intrigued by something you experienced in an erotic dream, Balestrieri said you should embrace it without shame.
"What can be exhilarating about sex dreams is they can turn you on to new ideas about sex that you hadn't thought of before," she said. "If something in your sex dream does seem interesting and aligns with your sexual values, it can be a welcome opportunity to introduce a new layer of erotica into your solo or partnered sex life, whether in fantasy or reality."