Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

What Your Sexual Dreams Can Tell You

Expert insight into who and what we dream about — and why.

Key points

  • Sexual dreams, such as about strangers or new experiences, can sometimes reveal one's hidden needs.
  • Dreams about old partners could be part of the grief process or simply be out of habit.
  • Taking action after gaining insight from a dream can help bring closure to unexpressed emotions.
Spectral-Design/Shutterstock
Source: Spectral-Design/Shutterstock

Sexual dreams are obviously a good gauge of your overall libido level, and while Freud said sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, he also obsessed in his semi-repressive Victorian times that sex dreams were always about something more.

If you think he's right (minus the mother/father Oedipal whatever), here's a quick guide to some possible ways to decode aspects of your sexual dreams:

Sex with strangers

You have a sexual dream about this guy you saw in Rite-Aid and then the next night it's about the professor in your statistics class. Such dreams about strangers or acquaintances (and men are more apt to dream about strangers than women do) are usually a good indicator of the state of your libido: Your brain is trying to let you know that those physical needs are not getting met. Find a good and safe way to help your brain out.

Different sexual experiences

How is your sexual experience in your dream different from the usual experience with your partner? Is it something a bit out of the norm, or some new approach that kicks off a new level of excitement? If it's still intriguing in the light of day, maybe it's time to speak up and ask about what that dream may be guiding you toward.

Fuller relationships

You have a sexual dream, but what sticks with you most when you wake up is not the sex itself but the before and after—the romantic dinner, on-the-couch foreplay, post-coital cuddling, or open conversation and intimacy. These can be clues to how you may want to be treated—perhaps with more kindness and consideration, or more clarity and honesty—or how you need to be, maybe more assertive or more adventurous. Think about it in the context of your current relationship, and if need be, speak up about it.

Old partners

You're three months into a new and serious relationship with a wonderful person, but the only one you find yourself dreaming about is your ex. There's a closeness in the dream that has long since faded, but in your waking hours, you're wondering why this dream keeps circling back to the old instead of celebrating the new. The problem is that your brain just hasn’t switched gears. Sex with the new person may be triggering old neurological patterns bringing you back to the past. Over time, as you create new experiences and memories, your brain should create new circuits—and your dreams will readjust.

A former partner that won't go away

What happens if every time you have a sexual dream, it involves your ex, and there's always some larger backdrop—like a playing out of an old argument, one of you trying to get back with the other, or finding yourself involved with both the old and new relationship at the same time? This dream is less about sex and more about grief and loss, the letting go of the old relationship, and it can take years to unravel and heal. Over time, as you process your grief, such recurring dreams should fade, though you may find that it doesn't make much to get them stirring again—maybe when you hear that your ex's mother has died, or other tangential connections.

If you want to help move the healing process along, or if you particularly notice that your dreams keep circling around certain themes—guilt or regret, for example—you may want to look for other ways of getting closure. Try writing a letter or email to your ex—one that you may not actually send, but that helps you get out of your head all the stuff you never really got to say. Or, if you are really brave and think it is appropriate, go ahead and set up a phone conversation or face-to-face meeting. The aim is not to dig up dirt or reopen old wounds, but simply to say whatever it is that you never got a chance to express.

So there you have it: As you look back over your sexual dream life, you may find other clues that your dreams are giving you about what you need, what you may need to resolve, or what you'll want to pay more attention to. Don't over-analyze or obsess, but do be curious, trust your intuition, and if you can, take action. You'll always have tomorrow night's dreams to tell how well you're doing.

advertisement