Dreaming About Sex
How to bring mindfulness to erotic dreams.
Posted Apr 24, 2018
We are all sexually aroused when we dream. Most dreams happen in rapid eye movement sleep (REM), a highly active stage of sleep in which our brain temperature rises, our heart rate speeds up, our body becomes paralysed, and we experience autonomic nervous system “storms” and irregular breathing patterns. As if all of that weren’t enough, our penis or clitoris also becomes aroused.
But does this genital arousal mean we are always dreaming about sex? Not necessarily. One 2011 study entitled “Sex Dreams, Wet Dreams, and Nocturnal Emissions,” by Calvin Kai-Ching Yu and Wai Fu, suggests that erotic dreams are relatively rare. Yet, as with many aspects of human behaviour, there is a huge range of experiences. Clinical psychologist Patricia Garfield has written an entire book, Pathway to Ecstasy, about her own prolific sexual dreams. Others find that sexual dreams pursue them even if they are unwanted: in Mindful Dreaming, I explored the case of a young woman who became scared to have lucid dreams because whenever she realised that she was dreaming, she would experience overpowering sexual energy that seemed beyond her control. The frequency and nature of erotic dreams seem highly individual.
Dream sex is highly realistic
Dream sex can result in actual physical orgasms in both men and women. Research conducted by psychophysiologists Stephen LaBerge and Walter Greenleaf in 1983 recorded the first lucid dream orgasm. Having found a lover in her lucid dream, the subject, Beverly D’Urso, used specific, pre-agreed eye movements to signal the onset of orgasm. Simultaneously, her vaginal blood flow, vaginal muscle activity, and respiration rate all reached their highest levels of that night.
Bringing mindfulness to erotic dreams
We can learn more about our sexual energy, our current relationship, and our overall attitude to sex by paying attention to our erotic dreams. Not all erotic dreams are pleasurable, and some may be downright uncomfortable, invoking feelings of shame or disgust. We can bring mindfulness into any aspect of dreaming by recalling our dreams, writing them down, and working with them artistically or therapeutically for deeper insight. We can also cultivate dream lucidity, this is when we “wake up” inside a dream and recognise when we are dreaming.
Becoming lucid in sexual dreams is a way of becoming super mindful of our unconscious erotic imagery and sexual symbolism. In Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Lucid Dreaming, I noted that “lucidity gives us the option to do dreamwork while in the dream, so that if, for example, we become aware that we’re dreaming while involved in an incestuous sexual act, we can ask the dream what this symbolises or if there is some psychological message for us… Instead of feeling ashamed or horrified, we have a golden opportunity to engage directly with our unconscious content.”
In an erotic lucid dream, we can interact with dream imagery and dream figures to change unhelpful relationship patterns, heal past trauma, and guide the dream into the erotic experience we would most like to have.
Sexual dreams are not always about sex
Dreams speak in a metaphor-rich language so that sexual dreams often act as metaphors for situations or emotions in our lives. Decoding sexual dreams can illuminate how we really feel about something or someone, or reveal hang-ups and obstacles that we need to overcome. For example, sexual dreams in which we do not manage to complete the sexual act may not be referring to our actual performance in bed, but to a project we feel unable to complete.
Dreaming about sex with someone who is not our spouse doesn’t necessarily mean we are keen to cheat on our spouse. It could reflect an emergent desire for something new in our life, whether this is changing jobs or having another baby. Sexual dreams in which we feel violated may point to actual past experiences of a violation, or they may be metaphors for the way we feel violated by our boss’s demands or the maltreatment we are receiving at the hands of someone else in our life.
Engaging mindfully with sexual dreams can help us to tune in to our creative passion in life. In Mindful Dreaming, one woman shared with me her lucid dream of examining a mummified body and seeing fluid gushing out of the mummy’s vagina. She realised that this unusual dream imagery symbolised the release of years of unresolved trauma related to her mother’s death, and was the harbinger of a new creative world for her. Soon after that dream, her creative life took off and she discovered her passion for art therapy.
The pros and cons of sexual dreams
There are both pros and cons to dream sex; because the vivid dreams we experience in REM sleep are by their very nature inclined to bizarreness, this can result in weird erotic landscapes or sexual partners who may well morph from gorgeous people into uninspiring globs of plastic (perhaps some dream figures literally melt with desire?).
A 2012 research study led by Calvin Kai-Ching Yu reported that the kind of pornography people use influences their dream stories in precise ways. Creating our own sexual fantasy in our mind’s eye before we sleep could also be effective in triggering the kind of erotic dreams we would prefer to experience. Once we become lucid in a dream, we can create our ideal erotic scenario on the spot, and anything seems possible.
Sexual dreams can be emotionally and physically satisfying, and they are the safest sex imaginable. When we engage mindfully with our erotic dreams, we may also have the added benefit of experiencing psychological insights and opening up our creative horizons.
Garfield, Patricia. Pathway to Ecstasy: The Way of the Dream Mandala. 1979; reprint, New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1989.
Johnson, Clare R. Mindful Dreaming: Harness the Power of Lucid Dreaming for Happiness, Health, and Positive Change. San Francisco, CA: Conari Press, 2018.
Johnson, Clare R. Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Lucid Dreaming: A Comprehensive Guide to Promote Creativity, Overcome Sleep Disturbances & Enhance Health and Wellness. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2017.
Calvin Kai-Ching Yu and Wai Fu. “Sex Dreams, Wet Dreams, and Nocturnal Emissions” Dreaming 21, no. 3 (2011): 197-212.
LaBerge, S., W. Greenleaf, and B. Kedzierski. “Physiological Responses to Dreamed Sexual Activity during Lucid REM Sleep.” Psychophysiology 20 (1983): 454–455.
Johnson, Clare, Dream Therapy: Dream your way to health and happiness. London: Orion, 2017
Johnson, Clare R. “Decode your sexual dreams to improve your relationship.” Blog post: http://deepluciddreaming.com/2018/04/decode-your-sexual-dreams-to-improve-your-relationship/
Yu, Calvin Kai-Ching. “Pornography Consumption and Sexual Behaviors as Correlates of Erotic Dreams and Nocturnal Emissions.” Dreaming 22, no. 4 (December 2012): 230–239.
Johnson, Clare R. “Lucid dream sex: pros and cons.” Blog post: http://deepluciddreaming.com/2015/05/lucid-dream-sex-pros-and-cons