Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Wet Dreams: Bemused and Bewildered

Although many boys have wet dreams, they're unprepared and tell no one.

By Glogger (Own work) GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Source: By Glogger (Own work) GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Definition

Among boys, a wet dream is a spontaneous, uncontrolled orgasm with ejaculate (semen) emitting from the penis during sleep—hence the technical term “nocturnal emission.” Wet dreams are made possible by the hormonal changes of puberty, especially the large increase in testosterone and the subsequent buildup of semen that creates a pool of ejaculate released during sleep. What elicits a wet dream can be physical, such as humping a pillow, or mental, such as an erotic fantasy of a classmate. Not all preteen or teenage boys have nocturnal emissions or have them at the same age. When recalling the physical pleasure, a boy might desire more, but that’s tough to arrange. Once a boy masturbates as a regular feature of life, wet dreams become history or so infrequent that they are a surprise when they do occur.

Wet dreams can be a one-time, occasional, or frequent feature of adolescence, especially during early adolescence, after which the frequency wanes because of alternative methods of semen release (masturbation, partnered sex) reduces the frequency, intensity, and volume of wet dreams. Neither is it likely that a boy can stage, choreograph, or direct the dreams, including who is in them, what takes place, or the color, sound, location, or dialogue.

Meaning

A boy might be pleased (“I’m a man!”), confused (“What’s this mess all about?”), or disturbed (“It was a goat in my dream!”) by the fantasies or wonder if they mean something. It’s far more likely, however, that a boy won’t remember the images— he’ll just go back to sleep or get ready for school.

Information about wet dreams is difficult to come by largely because, no surprise here, boys are seldom asked the pertinent questions. Several medical websites provide information about wet dreams and encourage questions. They’re reasonably consistent in their advice.

1. Foremost, wet dreams are normal, common, and don’t mean one is a sexual deviant.

2. Masturbation slows down or stops wet dreams. If one wants a wet dream, stop masturbating.

3. Just because one dreams about having sex with a baby cousin, sister, pet dog, male race car driver, female cheerleader, or exposing oneself on the gridiron doesn’t necessarily mean one is into pedophilia, incest, bestiality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, or exhibitionism.

4. There’s no need to feel guilty, embarrassed, or sinful because of a wet dream. Most boys have them.

5. Enjoy them while one can because they taper off with maturity and sexual activity.

Bewildered and Bemused

Among the young men I’ve interviewed (Savin-Williams, 2016, 2017), about 60 percent recalled a wet dream, although many could not actually remember the essential details. They were not sure how old they were when they had the dreams or what the dreams were about. Of those who remembered, the first occurred between ages 10 and 22, usually before entering high school. The go-to period tended to be ages 11 to 13.

Almost no one told his friends, parents, or anyone because, “In my house, not a thing to talk about.” Most common, the young men could only guess at their ages or their dreams’ images. Their reactions to the dreams, though, were vivid—perhaps puzzlement or immediate recognition. One boy’s dream wasn’t “intense but thought my wetness was sweat but then lifted my boxers. Pretty cool, but damn messy.”

A 14-year-old’s experience was mildly embarrassing because he thought he had wet himself. “The first few times it was mildly embarrassing, then I realized, Oh, this is what’s happening.” Fortunately, his mother had taught him how to do laundry. But did he tell his mother why he was doing the laundry? No. Another boy who had his first wet dream in sixth grade, assessed the situation and didn’t feel the need to tell anyone: “Obviously, it’s natural. You can’t help it. But at the same time, it’s not dinner table conversation.”

Several young men couldn’t recall ever having a wet dream but wanted one. One tried to bring one on by abstaining from masturbation for six weeks, “but it never happened. I have had strange sex dreams though.”

Although about half of boys have had wet dreams, few said they were prepared for their first wet dream or described it as a memorable event. The exception were some gay youths who recalled their dream’s male imagery and were thus alarmed about what it might mean for their future self. Nearly all received inadequate information from school-based sex education programs or their parents and thus had to rely on the Internet for sex knowledge during their developing years. It doesn’t have to be this way.

References

Savin-Williams, R. C. (2016). Becoming who I am: Young men on being gay. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Savin-Williams, R. C. (2017). Mostly straight: Sexual fluidity among men. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

advertisement