What Do Sexual Dreams Mean?

How can I interpret the symbolism of sexual dreams?
on January 12, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Kaytee Gillis

Welcome to the fascinating and sometimes blush-worthy universe of sex dreams! 

These are the dreams where our subconscious turns into a master storyteller of desires and fantasies, often leaving us with a mix of awe, confusion, and a bit of a red face in the morning.

So, as fun as dreaming about having sex may seem, what do sexual dreams mean? 

While we all conduct our analyses in the mornings (maybe Harry Styles’ cameo means that you’re destined to be together?!), we decided to bring in the experts to see what lies behind these sexy scenarios — and if we should start paying attention to what our subconscious is trying to tell us! 

Key Takeaways
  • Having sexual dreams is very common, and these dreams are a normal part of the human experience! Usually occurring during REM sleep, like other dreams they are not something that we can control, nor should they be a source of shame.
  • Contrary to Freud's theory of dreams being wish fulfillments, modern interpretations suggest that sex dreams have broader meanings and are not always about latent desires. They may represent qualities we admire in others or aspects of ourselves we wish to develop.
  • Common sexual dreams include dreams about co-workers, celebrities, people we dislike, ex-partners, friends, and even scenarios that don’t align with our waking sexual orientation.
  • So, what do inappropriate dreams mean? While interesting to analyze, sex dreams do not necessarily have direct implications for our waking life or real-life desires. They are often symbolic and may not reflect actual sexual desires.
  • For those distressed by their sex dreams, recommendations include talking to a doctor, exploring the underlying meanings of the dreams, or physical release (like masturbation) before bed to possibly reduce the occurrence of these dreams.

What are sex dreams? 

Sex dreams are dreams that are about sexual contact, or sexual experiences. These vivid dreams can be very intense, but even though they are often surrounded by shame — they are very normal!

“So many people are embarrassed to talk about their sex dreams because we grow up thinking that it’s shameful and bad,” says Kaytee Gillis, psychotherapist and author. 

“I have worked with some clients before whose partners get upset at them for having a sex dream with another person — but this is not something we can control, and getting upset may make your partner less likely to be forthcoming about their dreams due to not wanting to upset you.” 

Dreams are outside of our control, and we don’t get to choose our dream content! While we may not always remember our dreams, they are a key part of our REM sleep, which is crucial for our overall health and well-being

“Even if you do not remember it, you likely dream most nights,” says Gillis. 

“Dreaming, and the deep sleep it takes place in is essential for body reparation and brain development.” 

Erotic dreams usually occur during this period of REM sleep, as your body is most active with an array of sexual hormones — such as prolactin, oxytocin, and testosterone. These hormones contribute to the content of your subconscious mind, often resulting in sexual dreams. 

small study revealed that more than 80% of male participants had dreamed about having vaginal intercourse with a woman. Dreaming of sexual interactions other than vaginal intercourse—such as oral sex—was also common. 

Another study focused on women, revealed that 56% of participants admitted to having experienced a sex dream. In fact, research shows that approximately eight percent of everyday dream reports from both genders contain some form of sexual-related activity.

What is the psychological significance of sexual dreams?

While Sigmund Freud put forth the theory that all dreams are simply ‘wish fulfillments’. Therefore, he theorized that all dreams are a representation of your desires and sexual fantasies that you would never admit to in your waking life. 

Modern dream interpretation goes against these theories, with research on what dreams mean going for much wider conceptualizations — rather than all dreams secretly being about sex. 

However, even though dream experts frequently weigh in on the psychology behind what sex dreams mean, it’s not an exact science as all dreams are subject to interpretation. In some cases, people dream about sexual intercourse with a famous person, or an ex-partner, but it might not reflect a hidden desire. 

Instead, they could have been talking about this person in their waking life, and they later popped up in their subconscious that night!

Why am I having sex dreams? 

Since sex dreams are subject to interpretation, it’s often the case that they’re not about sex at all, but something deeper in the subconscious mind. While it may manifest as a sexual desire, perhaps you’re actually after a certain personality trait or attribute of someone you love or admire.  

“Dreaming of having sex with someone is often less about sexual intimacy, and more about wanting to embody some of the qualities of that person,” says Gillis. 

“For example, if you have a dream where you are having sex with a coworker who is calm and stoic, it might represent the qualities you wish you had more of. Furthermore, sex with someone who is strong-minded could mean you wish to take on more of the qualities of courage and strength.”

Therefore, while these thoughts are manifesting in a sexual nature, what they mean is not so straightforward. Even though you come to a dream analyst with a sex dream, it could actually be about something completely different!

Why do I keep having sex dreams about the same person? 

“If you find you keep having a sex dream about a certain person, it is worth looking into the qualities of that individual — is there anything about them you admire? Do you have a desire to get closer to them?”, says Gillis. 

“Of course, sometimes a spade is just a spade — if you keep having sex dreams about an ex or someone you have a crush on, it could just be that you are (or were) sexually attracted to them. This is all okay — sexuality is normal and nothing to be guilty or shameful about.” 

Types of sex dreams 

Sex dreams manifest in many different ways, as everyone’s subconscious comes up with an array of sexy scenarios. Dreams are notorious for throwing in details that throw us off guard and sex dreams are no exception!

Amid your dream, you might take note of your weird surroundings, or be surprised by who you’re having sexual contact with! 

“Although there are so many different scenarios, some of the most common sex dreams are sex with a random person, sex with a friend, colleague, or classmate (or even your boss or teacher!), and sex with an ex,” says Gillis. 

“Not only is it common to have sex dreams with random people, but often the location is equally random — or even awkward.” 

The most common types of sex dreams 

  • Sex with your co-worker or boss

  • Sex with a famous person or celebrity 

  • Sex with someone you hate

  • Sex with an ex

  • Sex with your best friend, or even a platonic friend 

  • Sex dreams that don’t reflect your sexual orientation 

  • Sex dreams about your significant other 

  • The infamous wet dream (orgasmic sex dream)

Do sexual dreams reflect your real-life desires?

When analyzing your sexual dreams, it becomes clear that they’re not always what they seem! While sex dreams can reflect your real-life desires, it’s not as straightforward as you simply want to sleep with that person, or as reflecting a hidden desire. 

“Dreaming about sex is so common!”, says Gillis. 

“But so many people do not talk about it due to feelings of shame and embarrassment. Some people feel guilty or uncomfortable waking up from a sex dream where they were engaging in sexual intimacy with someone other than their current partner — or even with someone with whom they would never have any sexual interest in real life. This is normal because sex dreams are rarely about sex itself, and often represent other things.”

There is usually a lot of guilt around having a sex dream about someone outside of your current relationship, as you might worry about any unconscious desires you might have. These dreams can feel like cheating, but they don’t need to trigger worries about your sex life in reality. 

While it can be interesting to analyze your dreams, they don’t always have to add up to realizations about your waking life. Sex dreams aren’t even specific to your sexual orientation, as many people experience scenarios with different genders. 

“These dreams can happen to any gender, and they can be about any gender,” says Gillis. 

“Even if you are straight, it is normal to have a dream where you are having sex with the same gender. Likewise, if you’re gay — it’s normal to have a dream where you are having sex with a different gender. All of this is so normal, but often not talked about due to the shame we place on sexual intimacy, especially sex with anyone other than a partner.” 

How to stop having sex dreams 

While some sex dreams can be quite enjoyable, especially if you’re living out any of your sexual fantasies, others can be distressing. For example, you might be having dreams about cheating, or your dreams include sexual scenarios that make you feel uncomfortable. 

“Some may ask if there is a way to stop having sex dreams,” says Gillis. 

“My first question to them would be to explore what it is about them that wants to stop these dreams: are they uncomfortable or shameful? Do you feel guilty? Are you trying to abstain from sexual activity and orgasm?” 

“Often the reason behind wanting to stop can shine a light on underlying issues that may be unresolved.” 

The vividness of these dreams can trigger an array of emotions and worries, as when you first wake up, it can all feel very real. If it was a satisfying and spicy dream, this isn’t a bad thing, but if it involves something that makes you uncomfortable — dreams can quickly start to feel like nightmares. 

If you want to stop, or these dreams are becoming too stressful or too intense, Gillis gives us a couple of tips:

Talk to your doctor. Some medications can decrease sex drive and could decrease sex dreams. This is usually recommended in a licensed mental health clinician's care to see the underlying concern behind the dreams.
Take a look at the meaning. If you keep having sex with someone in a dream, take a deeper look into their qualities. Is there something about them that makes you want to be more like them? Do you want to be closer to them? Allow yourself to explore.
Have an orgasm before bed. Sometimes sex dreams are your body’s way of telling you you’re horny — and this is okay! Engage in some masturbation (or sex) before you go to sleep to ward off any sexy dreams from entering your thoughts.
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