Sure, the myth that "men think about sex every seven seconds" has long been debunked, and we've abandoned the notion that women latch on hard after one night of passion. But rest assured: We’re all sexual beings whose minds wander into carnal territory, a lot. And our dreams, moored so tightly to our waking thoughts, follow suit.
In fact, according to Dr. Debby Herbenick, researcher at The Kinsey Institute and author of Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction, both men and women experience sexual arousal roughly once every 60-90 minutes during sleep.
Though deeply personal to the dreamer, PG-rated REM narratives follow similar scenarios and scripts that touch on shared deeper anxieties, fears, needs and desires. The same is true for the NC-17 stories that bubble up in our brains. Some involve body-contorting positions that dreamers would never imagine doing in real life. Others involve infidelities or sexual experiences with someone of the same gender. They can be pleasurable, surprising, fun and frightening in equal measure.
So, do we all want to bang our best friends and bosses, or does nocturnal naughtiness hold deeper, less obvious meaning? We spoke to some leading dream experts to learn about the hidden meanings behind common sex dreams.
1. An ex-lover
Many people report fiery dreams featuring old flames. Does that mean you’re subconsciously pining for a previous partner? Not necessarily, says Dr. Gillian Holloway, renowned dream expert and author of The Complete Dream Book of Love and Relationships.
Former lovers often appear in erotic dreams as a type of subconscious emotional snapshot, “especially when those feelings are mixed-up, such as happiness and pain,” she says.
A new relationship can evoke emotional flashbacks to a previous connection, resulting in subconscious dreams of love or lust. “This is like a love memory that is ignited as we begin to care and get close again,” she says. “If the memory is a bad one, consider if there are similar patterns afoot. If the memory is a good one, take heart, and let things unfold.”
2. Sex with someone of the same gender
This dream can elicit thoughts of sexual confusion in some, but per Herbenick, it doesn’t mean you secretly want to have sex with someone of the same gender. Rather, it suggests you could be trying to understand an alternative perspective or psyche in your waking life.
3. A celebrity tryst
Whether you’re in bed with Brad or Beyoncé, you dreamed of a famous person who is probably powerful and synonymous with a certain profession. This may mean you’re developing or “have a special ability or unique interest that you feel passion for,” which the celebrity in question embodies, says Holloway. Awesome.
Tamara Trusseau, international dream interpreter and author of The Key to Your Dreams, says stripping, or some other means of intentionally removing clothing in dreams, does not reflect an urge to change your name to Cinnamon and gyrate to some Def Leopard on the main stage. Rather, it reflects an urge to “liberate from restraints and inhibitions” with a partner.
5. A vanishing partner
Like a Snapchat message or Blockbuster video store, a dream in which your lover slowly disappears. No matter what you do, they keep evaporating. This is a more common erotic dream than you think, says Holloway, who believes this could be linked to frustrations or anxieties with a partner in real life — maybe they're not fulfilling your needs or “feelings of connection and arousal once intimacy begins.” It might be time to have a talk.
6. Unfaithfulness or cheating
Did you dream of a bed session with someone other than your significant other? You’re not alone. Per dream researcher Dr. Kelly Bulkeley, a visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, this is common territory for anyone in a relationship. Dreams that include sexual threats imply a lack of self-confidence and projection rather than action. "Your dreaming mind might imagine the worst-case scenario — cheating — to prepare yourself for it if it happened,” he says, which aligns well with nightmare theory.
7. A best friend or co-worker
Whether it’s your annoying boss or your BFF since birth, you dreamt about someone you know well or see often. Holloway says this is more “about working together or enjoying the chemistry of doing something well together” rather than pure carnal drive. Well, that or you may just want to get down and dirty with your cubicle mate. Dreams do sometimes mine reality.