The Psychology of Sex Dreams: What Does It All Mean?

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You bolt awake, your heart racing, palms sweaty, and nothing but sexual bliss on your mind. You were just having the best sex dream. Maybe you slide up close to your partner and wake them up for a little morning delight - or maybe you lie there pondering the origins of your dream. 

Whether it’s sex with an ex, living out your celebrity hall pass fantasy, or visualizing the best sex of your life with your current romantic partner - we’ve all had sex dreams...but have you ever really wondered what your sex dreams mean? 

Where do sex dreams come from? 

Do they mean anything? 

Sweet Dreams Are Made of These: What Happens When We Dream?

“Dreams happen during the REM stage of sleep,” psychotherapist Melanie John offers in a Sofia Gray exclusive interview, “this is when we are in the deepest part of our sleep cycle.” 

According to Melanie, REM sleep happens in intervals and can last for as long as 30 minutes. During a sexual dream, your heart rate and body temperature rise as we experience autonomic nervous system “jolts” that can result in changes in our breathing patterns. 

No wonder we can feel aroused with all this stimulation going on. 

Did you know dreams tend to last for only a few minutes at a time? Melanie explains that even though some dreams can feel as though they last all night or take place over multiple hours or days in the dream, really, the longest a dream can last is the 30-minute cycles that we go through during REM sleep. 

Not only that, but you’re far more likely to remember a dream if you wake up during the same REM cycle of sleep that you had the dream in. If you switch over to the next cycle without waking, these are the dreams we often have difficulty remembering. 

I keep having a reoccurring sex dream...what does that mean? 
Sex dreams can be meaningful in a variety of different ways, and a reoccurring sex dream may represent conscious thoughts and feelings we’re having in real life. Interestingly enough, not every sex dream has a sexual meaning. 

Dreams are a part of a whole psychological picture that happens while we sleep - rather than each dream having a specific meaning, the nature of the dreams are what we should pay attention to. 

Is it bad to be dreaming about really great sex with someone other than my partner?
According to Melanie, our brains project memories throughout our sleep cycles and these memories tend to make their way into our dreams. 

“If you’re dreaming about an ex (or someone who isn’t your partner) - -we have all been there! It is also normal to wake up feeling a bit guilty about having dream sex with someone other than the person asleep next to you! But it’s not something to worry about - I would say the things to be aware of within our relationships is how you feel while you’re awake,” Melanie explains. 

If you’re struggling with anxiety and are having crazy dreams because of that, the anxiety source being traced back to your partner could explain why your dreams are sexual in nature. 

Dreams are deeply personal (and so are their meanings). 
Clinical psychologist and dream analysis group leader Dr. Nancy Irwin also shared some of her insights with Sofia Gray...

“There are no standard interpretations of dreams because we are all individuals with our own histories, associations, beliefs, fears, cultural norms, experiences, etc. Do not consult "Dr. Google" or a Big Book of Dream Symbols. Go within where the answers are for you and soon you will learn to ask yourself the right questions.” 

Much of the time, Dr. Irwin suggests, sex dreams aren’t about sex per se, they are more about connections and intimacy. Many times they are mirroring something to us that we need to pay attention to in our waking lives. This could be highlighting good or bad things about our relationships (intimate and platonic) or it can be about overcoming a challenge or celebrating a victory. 

“Dreams and nightmares can be the psyche’s attempt to resolve, release, heal and inform,” explains Dr. Irwin. 

6 Common Types of Sex Dreams and Their “Typical” Meanings

While the exact meaning of dreams (like most things this personal in nature) is truly up to you to decide, here is some insight into what these more “common” sex dreams usually tend to mean. 

Sex dreams about your boss or a coworker. 
Sex dreams that revolve around work (including people you work with) can oftentimes mean that there is something about your job that’s lingering on your mind. They can also represent a desire for organization or power somewhere in your life, especially if you’re dreaming about your boss or someone who is “in charge.” 

Maybe you’re stressed about a presentation coming up, maybe you’ve asked for a raise and you’re waiting to hear back from your boss...adding onto that any person in your workspace who is mildly attractive and that’s a recipe for some hardcore sex dreaming. 

On the other hand, according to this Cosmo article, if you’re dreaming about someone at work who keeps things orderly (like your assistant or editor, for example), this may indicate a desire for more organization and structure in your life right now. 

Sex dreams about someone you don’t like. 
Having a sex dream about someone you don’t like can be alarming - you bolt awake thinking: that would never happen! 

No worries, you’re not secretly harboring feelings of lust (instead of deep annoyance) for that suck-up on your group-project at work - your mind is likely just mixing all kinds of different emotions together and forming a dream that takes on a sexual nature because of your hormones or libido. 

Sex dreams about your ex. 
The important thing to focus on with dreams about an ex (or anyone else who you may have a complicated history with), is to focus on how you feel when you wake up. How you feel about the dream says far more than the dream itself. 

After all, if you’re dreaming about sex with an ex, that’s totally plausible considering you may have actually done the things with them in real life that you’re dreaming about while you’re asleep. 

However, if you wake up feeling like you miss them, feeling excited and happy with the thought of sleeping with them again - you may have some unresolved feelings. 

Sex dreams about a celebrity. 
Celebrity sex dreams are super common. It could be as simple as that celebrity being on your mind (and you being horny) as you’re falling asleep...maybe it’s the nude scene you watched before bed with your favorite Hemsworth brother or maybe it’s the accent of your favorite new British actor that plays in your head as you’re falling asleep. 

This article suggests that sex dreams about celebrities can be equated to things you admire or desire about the star such as talent, fame, wealth, or happiness. We typically find all of these things to be attractive, so dreaming about them really isn’t that far fetched! 

Sex dreams about a platonic friend or a stranger. 
Don’t worry, you’re not in love (or lust) with these random people in your dreams. These types of sex dreams can usually be chalked up to an active libido.

Maybe you’re experiencing a period in your cycle where you’re super horny and you’ve got sex on your mind a lot lately. When this happens, your mind melds those hormones and urges with memories from your life and voila: you’ve got a dream where you’re fucking the barista at your local coffee shop in the back of your high school parking lot. 

No matter the dream - if you find yourself constantly thinking about the dream throughout your waking hours (either disgusted, excited, guilty, etc) - the dream may have awoken a feeling inside you that you need to take some time to sort out. 

Act-specific sex dreams. 
Sometimes it’s less about the people who are in the dream and more about what we’re doing (or what’s being done to us). If you’re having dreams where you’re constantly having oral sex or engaging in BDSM play - that can mean something for your own sex life. 

Exactly what it means is up to you to explore, but here’s an example...dreams about dirty talk could potentially represent your desire to feel sexual freedom around kinks and fetishes you’ve maybe been too nervous to share with your partner or really experience/explore on your own. 

Non-Sexual Dreams That May Have Intimate Meanings

Not all dreams you have are going to be sexual in nature, but they may still be trying to tell you something about your sexual or intimate life. There are a few common dream interpretations that can include things that don’t seem sexual at the time of the dream but may really relate to problems you’re having in your romantic life. 

Dreams about falling can represent being afraid of commitment. 
Russell Grant, the author of “The Illustrated Dream Dictionary” explains in this article: “Dreaming of falling is very common. It’s [most likely] a symbol of fear in real life - perhaps of failing at work or in your love life.” 

Dreams about being naked can represent insecurity in your love life. 
We’ve all had that dream where we’re somewhere important (at school taking a test, at work doing a presentation) and then all of a sudden we’re naked - there’s laughing, we feel embarrassed and we rush out of the room. 

This dream could represent a fear or insecurity and sometimes that translates to our romantic lives. Maybe we are afraid of being vulnerable and intimate with a new fling or maybe we’re nervous about sharing a part of our sexuality with someone new. 

Dreams about being chased (especially by someone of the opposite sex) can represent a past hurt or trauma. 
If you find yourself being chased down a narrow hallway that never seems to end by a man in a mask - this could be your mind’s way of telling you that you have unresolved issues with your ex-boyfriend. This could also mean you have experienced a trauma around sex or intimacy that is preventing you from experiencing love and intimacy now in a healthy way. 

Dreams about disfigurement (losing teeth, etc) can be about self-confidence. 
Dreaming about being disfigured in some way can be a reflection on how you feel about your confidence levels and your appearance or attractiveness. Losing your teeth in a dream, in particular, can also resemble an inability to share important intimate details of yourself with a new partner. 

Sex Dream Analysis From Neuroscience: Snippets of Your Life Etched Into Fabricated Dreams 

Another way to look at it is from a scientific point of view, which is exactly what this 2007 study did

Working with anesthetized mice, German researchers on this project helped confirm the following theory: during sleep, our neocortex fires, signaling various regions on the hippocampus to “upload” whatever information it’s been holding in our short-term memory. 

The hippocampus is “cleared” as we sleep, sending the information along to our long-term memory. As the data moves from one place to another, some of it gets randomly etched into our dreams. 

The idea here is that information that is being processed by our brain while we’re asleep sometimes ends up in our dreams, and really, has no attached meaning to it. 

Another view of nightmare-like dreams comes from Antti Revonsuo, a Finnish cognitive neuroscientist, who argues that our sleeping brain will often run “fire drills” while we sleep to keep us sharp and that the dreams we have that seem to keep us on edge (including dreams about intimacy, connection, sex, fear, and death) are the brain’s way of keeping our response system on high-alert to potential threats. 

Sex Dream Analysis From Freud: Maybe It’s Simply Desire

I couldn’t talk dream-analysis without mentioning Freud, right? After all, he is often referred to as the father of psychoanalysis. 

A really common misconception about Freud was that he thought all dreams were sexual in nature - this isn’t the case. Freud discussed hundreds of different dreams in “The Interpretation of Dreams”, but not all of them had sexual meanings behind them. 

But, we do need to focus on the sexual meaning Freud did attach to some dreams (for the purpose of this article), let’s dive in!

Freudian theory of sex dreams is pretty simple: we want something, we dream about it. 

According to Freud, the purpose of dreams that are sexual in nature is to allow us to fulfill a disguised or repressed wish. Based on this logic, dreams are a means in which our unconscious mind can explore where it wants without repercussions and because of this, dreams oftentimes represent the fulfillment of our deepest desires. 

Where this gets a bit tricky is when our dreams meld with our emotions or passing thoughts. For example, maybe you really enjoyed your morning coffee and thought the barista was cute. 

This positive experience with this specific person can leave an imprint on your brain that is later, in your dreams, reimagined into a dreamy desire to sit on his face and experience the most incredible oral sex ever. 

I mean, good coffee has to equal great oral sex skills, right? But does this mean you want to leave your fiancee and run off with the barista from Starbucks? Likely not. 

Sex Dream Analysis: It’s Up To You

While both the neuroscientific and Freudian theories fit dream analysis well, I think the key is to meld them together. 

My idea is that maybe it’s very likely part neuroscience, part Freudian, and entirely personal. 

Let me explain this, first from the neuroscience point of view.

Sticking with our cute-barista like coffee. You also like cute baristas who give you coffee. Because those are two things you experience in a positive way (meaning your thoughts and emotions are positive as well as their being positive interactions going on in your brain), they may meld together to create a desire you can’t explain. 

Let’s say you were experiencing a hormonal surge that heightened your libido (which could be caused by a variety of different neurological intricacies) the moment you took the coffee from his hands this morning. 

Then, later that evening, you fall asleep on the couch and awake with the distinct image of the cute barista’s head between your legs. It’s not a far stretch to see how this happened, right? 

Then, we switch to the Freudian point of view. 

Oral sex is great. I mean, who doesn’t want a cute barista giving them fantastic oral sex? And once he’s all finished, he can make you a venti caramel cappuccino, just the way you like it. 

Again, it’s not a far stretch to see how someone who is mildly attractive and gives you something you like (your large dose of caramel-infused caffeine in the morning), can become something of a sexual desire. 

Really - it’s up to you to decide what your dreams mean and if they require any additional thought. 

In the end, dream analysis of any kind can only give you the information or generic interpretation of what dreams mean - it’s ultimately up to you to take that and apply it to your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. A general rule of thumb is that if your dream sticks with you for a few hours after you wake up, there may be a deeper meaning to the dream that you need to explore. 

If you’re able to shrug off the dream as “strange, but not noteworthy”, then chances are it was just a meaningless concoction of information projected into your REM sleep cycle. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading to Starbucks.