Here's What That Sex Dream Really Means
Did you wake up all hot and bothered... emphasis on the bothered? Did a sexy dream costar your (completely random) coworker? Or your ex? Or someone of a new gender?
Don't freak out — your brain is just working through some stuff. But there's a lot of nuance to this X-rated dream psychology. Here, details on the real meaning of that sex dream.
The Basics of Dream Meaning
If you just had a sex dream, how much of it might be from the raunchy Netflix show you watched before bed, how much of it is because you're just horny (quarantine!), and how much of it might be your subconscious working through something bigger? Relationship, sex, and mental health therapist Rachel Wright, M.A., L.M.F.T. says it's a combination of all of that can factor into a sex dream's meaning.
"The content of dreams is strongly influenced by the topics you occupy yourself with in waking life; this line of thinking is verbalized in the continuity hypothesis," she says. It's a psychological concept named by Sigmund Freud (an infamous neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis), that says dreams are linked to significant experiences, events, and feelings from waking life. In other words, dreams are basically simulations of stuff your brain is trying to work through. (Related: Why You're Having Crazy Dreams During Quarantine)
Since it's common to have erotic thoughts and sexual experiences IRL, it's, of course, plausible that erotic themes and sexual motifs appear in many dreams, says Wright. And since sex is such a potent thing — all tied up in emotional and physiological responses — it makes sense that those thoughts and feelings may carry over into dreamland more than, say, the turkey sandwich you had for lunch.
"Dreams can always be affected by what is on your mind by day and before sleep," agrees Alex Dimitriu, M.D., double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine. "Without a doubt, having sexual feelings or thoughts about someone, or some fantasy can certainly come up in your dreams. The mind does work through feelings and rehearses for future events and encounters when you sleep — especially during REM (dream) sleep."
This can play out in zillions of scenarios. Think: sex with a crush or celebrity, sex with a current (or past partner), sex with someone who is not your partner, sex with someone completely random, or sex with someone outside your preferred sexuality (i.e., heterosexual sex if you're gay, or vice versa).
How to Figure Out What Your Sex Dream Means
It makes sense that things can trickle from your waking life to your dream state — but what does your brain's choice in sex dreams mean, exactly?! After all, it has plenty of material from life to work with...why that person in that position and why now, etc.?
Well, it depends. Most of the time there is some sort of meaning associated with your sex dream; "some dreams can be meaningful and suggest subconscious urges," says Dr. Dimitriu. But a lot of a sex dream's meaning largely depends on the context and your own personal experience and psychology. For instance, "sexual dreams about someone outside of your current relationship may be associated with strong feelings towards that person, or subconscious thoughts and feelings — and possibly desire," he says. But it's almost always circumstantial — and that's why you're likely the best person to interpret your own dreams.
One major clue into a sex dream's meaning is how you feel when you wake up. "The feeling you get from any dream is the most important part," says Dr. Dimitriu. "Once you're aware of the feeling, you can better understand how the dream content made you feel a certain way." In other words, if you wake up from a sex dream involving your ex and you feel horrible, it's a completely different sex dream meaning than waking up and feeling like it was fun — even if the dream had the exact same content in both scenarios.
Of course, when it comes to sex dreams, you could just be horny or coping with a bit of a sex drought (lack of physical touch, anyone?) — that's likely the case if the dream is of masturbation or perhaps with someone you don't know or recognize. "Rarely, dreams can be random (as in the case of sex with random people)," he says. "The more important factor here may be the desire, rather than a specific person."
In that case, your brain simply may be playing a fun little game of dream-porn roulette, and the cause or meaning of this sex dream is just a general desire for sex, says Wright. (Which is super duper normal and natural, FYI!)
"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a sex dream is just the result of being in a more aroused state," agrees Dr. Dimitriu. So you could just leave it at that. That said, "when feelings, good or bad, become attached, it is worth looking deeper into the content or subject of the sex dream," he says.
Here's Dr. Dimitriu's suggestion for analyzing the meaning of a sex dream: Try keeping a dream journal (and, honestly, maybe a sex journal, too). When you wake up, "spend some time thinking or writing about dream activity before you pick up the smartphone and run off to start the day," he says. Process it! "Many people benefit from allowing a few quiet minutes in the morning to try to recall dream content." (See: How to Recall Your Dreams — and Why You Might Want to)
Remember to focus on the feeling more than what happened in the dream itself, says Wright. "Think about how you feel when you wake up and why you feel the way you do; that's where the juicy stuff is."
"In general, I think sex dreams can often represent intense feelings towards people, and these may be positive or negative," says Dr. Dimitriu. If you're hung up on the *who* in your dream (whether it's because of your relationship with that person, or the fact that they're outside your known sexual orientation), this is where journaling and reflecting comes in as well. "Again, it's all about processing things," says Wright. "You can then also ask yourself if you have any sexual or romantic feelings towards that person."
If it's a particularly wild dream, perhaps in a taboo relationship situation or an off-limits location, this could be your subconscious exploring the idea of breaking rules, too. "Your dreams are really exploring your mind and imagination," says Wright. "You can use it as a way to ask yourself if what you dreamed about is something you'd want to try IRL or something you'd like to keep in dreamland."
Above all, repeat after us: This. Is. NORMAL. You should not feel ashamed or embarrassed... even if you feel a little weird around that coworker the next day. It's just part of the human experience. (And, hey, you might get an orgasm out of it, too!)
"It's healthy and normal for the mind to explore different scenarios in your sleep," says Dr. Dimitriu. This includes sex, in all of its forms. "Some of these [dreams] may be truly random, and others may be unusual. Ultimately, it helps to think, journal, and try to make sense of the dream on your own — you just have to allow space and time to let that happen."