Sex dreams happen to all of us (some of us even have sleep orgasms), whether we’re single or in a monogamous/open relationship. Most of us have woken up with a start, completely baffled or bemused by the bizarre person we’ve just boned in our dream, right? And since the pandemic, it turns out more and more of us are having vidid dreams – and especially more vivid sex dreams. So what is it about a global health crisis that makes us have sex dreams? And does dreaming about sleeping with someone actually mean you secretly want to bang them? If not, what do sex dreams mean?
Why do we have sex dreams?
“The majority of dreaming (90%) takes place when we’re in a REM state of sleep, the fifth of the sleep stages that takes its name from the Rapid Eye Movement it produces. When we’re in this state, our brain is just as active as when we’re awake during the day, though scientists attribute the strangeness of your dreams to the fact that, chemically, our brain is completely rewired when we sleep,” explains Zoé Williams, a relationship therapist at GearHungry.
“The areas of the brain that are most active during REM are the ones that control our emotions, specifically the limbic system, which is responsible for creating and controlling both good and bad emotions. Compare this to the parts of brain that are least active – the frontal lobes, which are responsible for higher functioning activities and thought, and you now understand why our dreams can sometimes be erratic at best.
“Chemically speaking, oxytocin (the love hormone) takes centre stage when experiencing dreams of affection or sexual attraction. Hypothalamus, the nuclei that oversee the distribution of oxytocin is located close to the regions of the brain that monitors arousal, and more importantly, the sleep and awake states of the body. This is theorized as one of the main reason’s oxytocin is so active during sleep.”
Why are we having more sex dreams lately?
A study by From Mars of people’s recent sex dreams found 46% of women have had a dream that their partner cheated, more men (44%) than women (38%) have dreamt about their sex, and 44% of women have dream cheated with a celebrity.
Dr. Meg Arroll, Chartered Psychologist for Healthspan explains: “During the first lockdown there were many reports of particularly emotion-charged and vivid dream recollection. Working from home, only being able to go outside for a set period of the day, and lack of the usual daily social interactions were all significant changes to our everyday lives. As sleep is very much a reflection of our daytime life, it’s perhaps not at all surprising that we noticed a difference in our dreams.
“Simply changing our sleep patterns can have an effect on our dream recall (we all dream every night, it’s the recollection that alters in most cases) so not having to get up for that morning commute will also affect our sleep and in turn dream function. We know that in times of crisis, particularly where there is a sense of fear for survival, libido can increase as our evolutionary drive to pass on our genes is heightened. However, there may be an even simpler answer – with curtailed options for entertainment many of us have turned to boxsets, some of which are quite racy! I suspect there might be a high correlation between those of us glued to series like Bridgerton and subsequent sex dreams as our brains process input from the day.”
Dr. Becky Spelman, a psychologist at Private Therapy Clinic, adds, “With lockdown comes restrictions, particularly for people who are single and who don’t have access to sex as usual, and for people in relationships who are living apart from their partner. When people can’t have something, they want it even more. This means people end up dreaming about sex more because sex is on their subconscious.”
What do sex dreams mean?
Psychotherapist, couples counsellor and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook, Hilda Burke, says sex dreams might not actually be about sex at all and instead could be a way of figuring out other emotions. “If you look at dream symbolism, this is a way of showing a connection and can be a coming together (no pun intended) in a way.”
As Zoé explains, all dreams are “complex, maddening, blurring and sometimes just plain illogical”. She adds, “traversing the valuable from the pointless is, sometimes, an arduous task that can result in very little info for the amount or research you put in. Dreaming about a sexual encounter doesn’t always mean you pine for the person, but it can be as simple as you find them attractive subconsciously. Where things get a bit more interesting is what type of sex dream you have with someone.”
She says that a dream involving an authority figure (like a teacher or a boss) can indicate a desire for more control in your life – “control that you don’t think you’re capable of giving yourself, or it could stem from a craving of attention that you don’t feel you’re currently getting”. A sex dream where you have a different and/or more adventurous or experimental type of sex that you would usually “can indicate a person wanting to let go, and get out of their comfort zone, subconsciously desiring a life free from self-judgements.”
Sex dreams meaning
Hilda explains what the most common sex dreams are, and what they really mean.
Sex with your boss
If you have a sex dream about your boss for example (which FYI is a common topic for erotic dreaming), Hilda says this is likely to be saying much more about your career than how much you subconsciously want to bang your boss. “Maybe in real life you’re thinking about taking a step up at work, and this dream could be a connection with a part of you that’s willing to climb the ladder. Your boss can symbolize that you’re ready for something new.”
While of course the dream could mean that you fancy your boss, if you feel in waking life that you definitely don’t, you should look at what your boss symbolizes to you. “Are they at the top of their career? Maybe there’s a part of you that wants to have that (non-sexual) connection or link to that quality. You might want to push yourself further on, and see your boss as a symbol of that.”
Sex with someone from school/your past
“If you’ve been working hard, your dream can just be a compilation of your day,” Hilda explains. “It’s almost like your mind isn’t turned off and is just continuing whatever you were doing that day. But other dreams – like having sex with someone from school who you haven’t seen for years – can be more symbolic. If you’d never want to imagine sleeping with this person IRL, it can have a much deeper meaning.
“Think, ‘What does that person represent? What were they like at school? Were they really popular or the geeky one? How do you feel about that?'” Hilda suggests. “Maybe there’s a part of you that feels really geeky, and this person could symbolize a part of you.”
Sex with a celebrity
Hilda says these are the most symbolic of sex dreams. “Because we don’t know them, what we think of them is very much what their symbolic value is. We project certain qualities onto celebrities,” she says. “They’re either nice, or not nice, or cold, or ambitious. Most of us have an instinctive feel about celebrities – true or false – and we imagine them to be a certain way.”
If your dream is literally just about a celebrity you fancy in real life, then fine. But if not, you should again think about how they come across as a person and what about them you might like to “get a bit of”.
Sex with someone other than your partner
Dream cheating doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unhappy and want to have sex with people other than your partner. “It’s important to note who you’re cheating with in the dream,” Hilda says. “Is it a someone you fancy at the gym? If it is someone you desire in waking life then it could be something that you don’t need to look at – as it’s pure wish fulfilment. But, if you’re imagining having sex with a random person who you’d never thought of in a sexual way, then you need think about what that person represents.”
She says to ask yourself what exactly you associate with that person. Figuring that out will help you understand why you’re dreaming about sleeping with them.
Sex with someone of a gender you’re not usually attracted to
If you identify as straight, but have a dream where someone of a different gender is turning you on, Hilda says you should again look at that person and what they might symbolize to you. “If it is someone of the same sex, for example your female boss, ask yourself if you’re slightly attracted to her. If not, it might be a part of that you sees she’s really independent, successful that’s the attraction – it’s like you want something she has. These dreams usually mean they hold something that you want to connect with, within yourself.”
As Hilda explains, we’re often drawn and attracted to people and sexual partners when we want a bit of what they have.
Sex with a purely platonic friend
“We know instinctively if were attracted to someone,” she says. “But with a platonic friend it’s like, ‘Oh god no, I wouldn’t ever [have sex with them]. So what is the message of a sex dream about a friend?”
She suggests asking yourself: Who are they? What qualities do they have? What have they achieved that I might secretly want?
“Sometimes with these kind of dreams you might think you don’t want to think about any further, but it can be interesting to look under the surface at what it represents, especially if you wouldn’t ever fantasize about them in real life.”
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