Why do we have sex dreams and what do they mean?

Sex dreams happen, and when they do, they’re often quite strange.

Why am I dreaming about that person I have no romantic interest in?

Why do I keep having slumber visions of myself having sex in public, when that seems terrifying in waking life?

What does it all mean?

Most of the time, sex dreams are really nothing to ponder too deeply – they don’t necessarily reveal some bigger hidden truth about your sexuality, and you shouldn’t panic if your dream self has dream sex with someone you IRL hate.

Think of dreams as a space for your mind to go a bit wild and play around, working out whatever it fancies in ways that might not make sense to your awake self.

But to answer some of the questions about sex dreams that so often come up, we chatted with relationship therapist Zoé Williams at GearHungry for her expertise.

Why do we have sex dreams?

There’s a wealth of scientific exploration into why we dream at all, but the answer to why our dreams are so often sexual in nature is pretty simple – it’s all down to the layout of our brains and how we produce hormones.

Oxytocin – also known as the love hormone – is bouncing around our mind when we’re sexually aroused or feeling romantic.

And the part of our brain that handles oxytocin is right by the areas of the brain that manage whether we’re asleep or awake.

‘Hypothalamus, the nuclei that oversee the distribution of oxytocin is located close to the regions of the brain that monitors arousal, and more importantly, the sleep and awake states of the body,’ explains Zoé. ‘This is theorised as one of the main reason’s oxytocin is so active during sleep.’

Why are our sex dreams so weird?

When our brains are in our dream state, our rational skills aren’t firing on all cylindars.

‘The majority of dreaming (90%) takes place when we’re in a REM state of sleep, the fifth of the sleep stages that takes its name from the Rapid Eye Movement it produces,’ says Zoé.

‘When we’re in this state, our brain is just as active as when we’re awake during the day, though scientists attribute the strangeness of your dreams to the fact that, chemically, our brain is completely rewired when we sleep.

‘The areas of the brain that are most active during REM are the ones that control our emotions, specifically the limbic system, which is responsible for creating and controlling both good and bad emotions.

‘Compare this to the parts of brain that are least active – the frontal lobes, which are responsible for higher functioning activities and thought, and you now understand why our dreams can sometimes be erratic at best.’

What are the most common sex dreams?

According to a survey from 2020, these are the most common sex dreams for men and women…

Women’s top 10 most common sex dreams:

Men’s top 10 most common sex dreams:

What do sex dreams mean?

It’s entirely up to you how much you far you want to explore the real-life meaning of your dreams. Sometimes it really is more worthwhile to just chalk it up to ‘well, that was weird’.

Zoé says: ‘All dreams are complex, maddening, blurring and sometimes just plain illogical. Traversing the valuable from the pointless is, sometimes, an arduous task that can result in very little info for the amount or research you put in.

‘If you were to ignore your sex dreams and get on with your everyday life, you would be no worse off than you were before.’

There are some hidden meanings you can draw out from patterns that keep coming up in your dreams, however – if you’re keen.

‘Dreaming about a sexual encounter doesn’t always mean you pine for the person, but it can be as simple as you find them attractive subconsciously,’ Zoé notes.

‘Where things get a bit more interesting is what type of sex dream you have with someone.

‘A dream involving an authority figure (teacher, boss) can indicate a desire for more control in your life – control that you don’t think you’re capable of giving yourself, or it could stem from a craving of attention that you don’t feel you’re currently getting.

‘Or a sex dream involving a more adventurous type of sex that you would normally never imagine can indicate a person wanting to let go, and get out of their comfort zone, subconsciously desiring a life free from self-judgements.’

How can you start analysing your sex dreams?

If you have sex dreams with recurring themes, or just want to find out what your snoozing mind has to say, the first step is to actually keep track.

Crack out a pen and paper, keep it by your bed, and write down whatever bits of your dream you remember the moment you wake up.

‘As with all dreams, the benefits of keeping a journal and writing all the details down are extremely helpful to understanding a connection,’ says Zoé. ‘Every week, read through your entries and see if there’s a connection, a sign that your subconscious is trying to tell you something, over time you may even start to notice over patterns, like particular dreams occurring at certain times, or even recurring characters.’

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