The hot girl from your history class is naked, and she totally wants you. You reach for her, pull her into bed with you, and then — you wake up. Damn it.
If you’re one of the six people at Northwestern lucky enough to still be averaging a normal amount of sleep (or any at all), chances are you’ve had some kind of sex dream lately. You wake up, breathless, hoping you didn’t make any weird noises and wake up your roommate or neighbors. Before you fall back asleep, you wonder: How the hell am I going to look that girl in the face in class on Monday?
While it’s always a weird feeling to see someone who your subconscious has imagined naked, sex dreams are nothing to be ashamed of. According to a University of Montreal study conducted last year, sex dreams make up about 8 percent of all dreams for both men and women. The most common kind of sex dream involve good old-fashioned intercourse, followed by propositions or flirting, kissing and fantasies. The results of the study, which was the first exploration into the subject in nearly 40 years, run counter to much of that past (and outdated) research, as well as the long-standing assumption that men think about sex far more than women, both consciously and subconsciously. This change doesn’t mean that modern women have spontaneously started dreaming about sex a lot more — it’s just that women these days are much more comfortable discussing their sexuality and fantasies.
However, though they experience them with essentially the same frequency, men and women’s sex dreams aren’t exactly the same. According to a press release from Dr. Antonio Zadra, Ph.D., the study’s leader, “Men’s sexual dreams were more likely to take place in public or unknown settings, to have the dreamer initiate sexual contact, and to involve unknown characters or multiple partners.” In fact, men’s dreams were twice as likely to involve multiple partners. Both men and women had an orgasm in about 4 percent of their dreams, but women also reported that orgasms were experienced by a partner in about 4 percent of sex dreams. In contrast, men didn’t report that other people had an orgasm in their dreams. I guess if there’s a time and a place to be focused only on your own pleasure, it might as well be when you’re alone and unconscious.
“Observed gender differences may be indicative of different waking needs, experiences, desires and attitudes with respect to sexuality,” said Zadra. “This is consistent with the continuity hypothesis of dreaming, which postulates that the content of everyday dreams reflects the dreamer’s waking states and concerns.”
Still, the men weren’t getting all the perks: women’s sex dreams were twice as likely to feature public figures (9 percent to 4 percent). On the other hand, 20 percent of women’s dreams featured current or past partners, compared to only 14 percent of men’s. Unfortunately, this means that when your boyfriend wakes up all hot and bothered, chances are he wasn’t thinking about you — no matter how emphatically he insists otherwise.
But sex dreams aren’t all fun and games, either. Just like real life, it’s very easy for something to go wrong. According to Dr. Gillian Holloway, a psychologist specializing in dream interpretation, there are two primary kinds of sex dreams. One is the idealized encounter, where everything is perfect. “For men, it’s often that they encounter a partner who looks at them like they’re James Bond” and simply offers him or herself to the dreamer, said Holloway. For women, the idealized dream often features an uncanny or very deep connectedness with a partner. However, the other, more common, type of sex dream is the one where something goes terribly, terribly wrong. Unfortunately, since reality is suspended, and pretty much anything is fair subject matter in the dreamworld, this can result in a huge range of potential problems, particularly for women, who are slightly more prone to experiencing frustrating sex dreams. “In general, men’s tend to be a lot of fun, whereas women’s tend to be more about relationships or things inhibiting passion,” noted Holloway.
But what does it all mean?
Sure, nobody likes the idea that their significant other is getting busy with someone else, even if it is subconscious and basically impossible to control. But does it even matter? Should you actually be worried that your girlfriend’s recurring sex dream is going to make her leave you for Justin Long, or does it mean something totally different (like maybe she just really wants a new iBook for her birthday)? Most dream experts agree that your dreams, sexual or otherwise, should not be taken exactly at face value. “Dreams are exaggerations,” said Holloway. “They make everything more dramatic. So if you have a little problem, that’s going to be a big problem in your dreams.”
Often there’s a far different message buried in your dream than what the content might imply. According to Holloway, dreams can act as a subconscious sorting tool, allowing you to go through “more material than you would be able to sort logically.” They can be a means of exposing latent concerns, a way to compensate for things lacking in real life, or a neutral space in which you can experience something that you might be afraid to try in waking life. Sex dreams are totally natural, though, and they don’t mean that there’s anything at all wrong with you or your life (romantic, sexual or otherwise). To calm any remaining fears, here are a few of the most common sex dreams and what they really mean.
Okay, so maybe this is just your brain needing a break from studying for all those midterms and indulging in the most harmless (but satisfying) way it can. But, it could also mean that you’re looking for a little something more from your life right now. Maybe it’s a reminder to your deprived single psyche that there are awesome people out there, beyond the confines of Sheridan Road. It could also mean that you desire some quality of that person, either for yourself or in your partner. “If you’re having a dream, especially a recurring dream, about someone who wouldn’t be your top erotic star, then it’s likely that they’re representing some quality that you desire or that you’ve had a recent experience with,” said Holloway. So you want to be a rock star? It’s no surprise, then, that you find your dream self locking lips (and other bits) with Caleb Followill. Just stay away from the tour bus in real life — you don’t want to end up as an actual diseased rock star. Gross.
Interruption/nowhere to go
You’re getting it on, everything’s going great when — suddenly your mom or your best friend walks in. Granted, this is a legitimate fear (and a horribly embarrassing experience) in real life, but it’s also pretty common in dreams. This doesn’t mean, though, that you need to start padlocking all of your doors. Instead, it’s likely that some quality or opinion of this person has affected your attitudes toward sex or relationships. Maybe your mom told you that sex would make you sprout hair out of your knees, or your best friend always makes comments about how you spend more time with your partner than you do with him/her. If you’re having dreams about interrupted sex, don’t worry about who’s getting interrupted, but take a good look at who’s doing the interrupting. After you cover yourself up, of course.
Another side of this is the classic conundrum that afflicts many a college student: the inability to find a place to have sex. In real life, this just leaves you pissed off, frustrated and, occasionally, really amused, but in a dream it probably means that you feel like the relationship is lacking some intimacy or strong connection. This is a particularly common dream to have after a break-up or even during a separation period.
It’s like the nightmare where you suddenly find yourself naked on stage in front of hundreds of people — except this time it’s worse, because there’s someone else involved, and chances are you aren’t just standing there. Again, this dream doesn’t mean you secretly want to go out and see how hard you have to try to get arrested for indecent exposure. Rather, it reflects how you feel about other people viewing your relationship. There is somewhat of a gender discrepancy in reactions to this kind of a dream; men often find it more fun and exciting, while for women, “it halts the action,” says Holloway. Regardless of your gender, if having all those people watching terrifies you, then you’re probably worrying about how your friends, family, TMZ or the world in general feels about this relationship. According to Holloway, a dream featuring coitus interruptus is often a result of “some element of exposure or vulnerability intruding on [the participant's] pleasure.” On the other hand, Kinky McExhibitionist, if you find the giant crowd exciting then it’s likely that you just have an awesome sex life and kind of want to brag about it to everyone. Yes, you win; we’re all jealous. Congratulations. Just watch where you’re getting it on in real life. Some of us would prefer to go to Modern Cosmology without worrying about what else has been happening on that stage, thanks.
These are often both the most exciting and the most upsetting dreams. But this does not under any circumstances mean that you should go dashing back into the arms of your awful ex, no matter how good the dream sex was. Exes in dreams often serve as “emotional snapshots” — basically, they act as a stand-in for feelings you might have about sex, love or relationships. Especially if they’re your most recent ex, they’re probably showing up in your dreams now because you’re thinking so much about sex or relationships and, by extension, about your most recent experiences with them. Don’t dwell on the fact that you dreamed about them. However, if this ex is a particularly unpleasant character, you might want to take a second to reflect on why you’re dreaming about them now. “If you’re starting a new relationship and you have flashback dreams about being back with a bad ex, it could be because you’re subconsciously picking up on some qualities you don’t like in the new person,” said Holloway. This doesn’t mean you should dump them immediately and run screaming to get a restraining order, but it’s worth asking yourself if there’s anything you’ve been noticing lately that might be reminding you of this ex.
So you’re having a steamy sex dream when suddenly you realize that something is very wrong. Somewhere within that dream, you switched genders — and you kind of liked it. Maybe you didn’t even notice until you woke up. First off, don’t panic. You did not just suddenly become transgender. You can leave your Facebook profile just the way it is. Your naughty bits are still all in the correct order, I promise. This kind of dream isn’t so much about getting inside the body of the opposite gender as it is about their mind. Usually, a dream where you are the wrong gender is pushing you toward some kind of realization or understanding about the psychology of that gender. Maybe you’ve been having trouble communicating with your partner lately, or they haven’t understood you. Rather than telling you to go out and spend thousands of dollars on fancy operations, this dream is really about seeing things from a different emotional or psychological perspective that you probably hadn’t thought about before.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that it’s just to teach you what oral is like for the other half. Either way, you’re learning something valuable, so pay attention.
And hey, maybe you’re like me and remember your dreams about once a month or so, if you’re lucky (and they are never about sex. Often they do involve scary politicans. But scary clothed politicians). If that’s the case, don’t worry, either. If you haven’t had your wisdom teeth out yet, you’ve still got anesthesia-induced sex dreams to look forward to. Apparently even unconscious sex is better on drugs.