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Sex dreams: what are they, and can you learn to control them?

By Maya Khamala

Dreams can be restful, comforting, confusing, terrifying, sexually arousing—or all of the above, am I right? Most dreams occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, but really they can happen anytime we catch a few Zs. Whether we remember them or not, we spend an average of two hours every night dreaming.

Still, it’s worth noting that not everyone has sex dreams. Are you one of the fortunate ones? Or do you wish your mind wouldn’t go there?

What are sex dreams and why do we have them?

While having a sex dream, increased blood flow to your pelvic region is normal, and you might experience physical arousal while remaining asleep. In other cases, the arousal can wake you right up. Either way, having sex dreams has its benefits—you know, like getting some without putting your back into it, helping you relax, and reducing stress. And hell, I mean, some women even have orgasms while they sleep (I specify gender here because ‘wet dreams’ are far more common among the penis-enabled). According to sexologist Dr Jess O’Reilly, sex dreams can also help give you greater insight into your desires and help inspire scenarios to act out with your partner in waking life.

There are many theories about what purpose dreams serve. Some theorists believe that dreams give us a forum in which to act out certain scenarios or help our brain map out and store memories. Other findings suggest that dreams can be our brain’s way of coping with trauma or stress. Over 70% of people report having had a sex dream at least once in their life. 

Dream meanings are challenging to pin down because dreams are inherently subjective to the person having them, plus they’re not always easy to remember. Nonetheless, there are a few key themes that show up pretty consistently in sex dreams, and a few basic theories as to what they might mean.

Sex with an ex: if you’re in a relationship and you’ve had a sex dream (or two) about your ex (while not still pining over them), know that this is very common. Dreaming about a past partner can be part of processing a new relationship and/or mourning a former one. Interestingly, single people looking for a partner are less likely to dream about their exes.

Cheating sex: while dreams about cheating on your partner might not be a direct indication of how you feel in your relationship, they can be connected to feelings of jealousy or a lack of intimacy. If this is the case, open and honest communication is the only way.

Sex with an authority figure: whether it’s a dream about getting taken advantage of by your professor, making sweet love to your boss, or getting unnecessarily, uh, detained by a cop, sex dreams about authority figures might be showing that you want to win the approval of someone in power or in charge.

Sex with a stranger: if you or your partner dream about sexy or sensual times with a stranger, this could simply mean you have a healthy sex drive and a strong relationship to your arousal—it does not (necessarily) mean the dreamer wants to get with someone else!

Can you will sex dreams to happen?

If you have sex dreams and would like to have them more often, or you never have but would like to, you may have wondered if you can will one to happen. While it’s not always possible to bring on a sexual dream when you’re in the mood, the following tips may help induce them more often, or at least increase their likelihood.

Visualize. Chances are you have a fairly good idea what kind of sex dreams you’d like to be having. So think about it and picture it playing out. Think about a person who turns you on, whether it’s someone you’re with or not, and imagine what you’d like to experience with them. Before going to bed, take a moment to imagine it again. This might include simple flirting, kissing, a massage, or sex. If you’re having trouble coming up with sexual scenarios, read some erotica.

Set the stage. If you wanna have sex dreams, setting the mood can help. You might wear lingerie to bed, or sleep naked—whatever makes you feel sexier. Or, you might place some fresh, soft sheets on your bed. It never hurts to play soft, seductive music, or light some incense. Rouse your senses; seduce yourself; fall asleep that way.

Have a bedtime orgasm. What better way to keep sex on the brain than by having an orgasm right before you pass out? So—masturbate, or have sex with your partner! You might even try orgasmic meditation--which involves your partner stroking your clit for 15 minutes without the goal of orgasm—in order to enhance your arousal before sleeping. This can prime you for a highly charged erotic dream (or lead to great sex—or both!).

Keep an erotic journal. Keeping a journal focused on your sexual fantasies, dreams, and experiences can do wonders for your sex life, and your sexual psyche. Writing stuff down not only helps you recall your dreams more easily, but it can also help you become more aware of your desires and more in touch with your sexuality and what turns you on. You might use your journal to help induce sex dreams, or you might use it to improve your sex life—be it partnered or solo. Or both.

Can you exert control over your sex dreams?

If you’ve had sex dreams, you may have wondered if it’s possible to exert more influence or control over what happens, or how. Some people are capable of having lucid erotic dreams. To put it simply, lucid dreaming is when you’re aware you’re dreaming. Explorers of lucid dreaming talk about how you can learn to consciously manipulate your dreams. In some lucid dreams, you can control the people, the environment, what you do or say and/or what happens to you. Some people who have lucid sex dreams say they can feel just as arousing as waking sex. Of course, it’s also possible to enjoy certain things while dreaming that you wouldn’t want to try while awake (let your imagination run wild here for just a second).

According to Robert Waggoner, author and president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, if you’ve never experimented with lucid dreaming, it’s best to begin with your hands. Before falling asleep, look at your hands and tell yourself, “When I’m asleep, I’ll see my hands and realize I’m dreaming.” Repeat this as many times as you can before you nod off. Once you get the hang of that, you might explore more advanced dream manipulation techniques.

Bottom line: for the most part, sex dreams are totally normal and healthy and no cause for concern. At best, they can help you become more aware of your innermost feelings. At worst, if the dreams are disturbing to you, you may want to see a therapist to help you unravel what’s happening. Finally, if you’re here because you want to will yourself into sexy dreams or lucid sexy dreams, know this: it’s unlikely that you’re going to have the sex dream of your dreams the first time you try (though, if you do, you’re my new hero). Instead, you’ll want to keep at it patiently every night. Eventually your brain will get the memo and give you what you most crave. <3

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