Dreaming of Sex?

Dreaming of Sex?

Not in a daydream type way as you’re stuck in a traffic jam, but an actual dream that happens while we sleep. It’s a funny thing, the brain. How many of us have woken up believing that what we dreamed of are actual facts? Probably most people. Dreams are stories and images that our brain comes up with while we sleep. They can be funny, romantic, frightening and downright bizarre (though they feel perfectly reasonable to you at the time).

And dreams can vary hugely; for instance, dreaming that no one turns up to a party you’re hosting, or that someone you hate has moved in next door to you. And then you have the more complex dreams, where you might dream that you’re reading a book and be annoyed when you wake up that you didn’t get to finish it, or that you haven’t prepared for an important meeting and you’re rushing to finish your presentation. There are more distressing dreams as well, like dreaming that someone you’re close to has died, or that you’re involved in a plane crash. These are often categorised as ‘nightmares’, but whatever they are, they’re deeply unpleasant to live through. Dreams often reflect worries, so if you’re panicking that the condoms you bought haven’t arrived on time, you might find yourself dreaming about a disastrous sexual encounter. Just one example!

Dream facts:

  • Most people dream 3-6 times per night.
  • Dreams typically last 5-20 minutes.
  • 92% of dreams are forgotten when the dreamer gets out of bed.
  • They actually help with forming long-term memories.

They are fascinating things, even in our scientifically and medically advanced age we still don’t actually know what causes them and why they happen. In fact, it’s the only cognitive state that has been studied so extensively and yet remains so elusive. If pushed for a definition, then it would probably be along the lines of a state of consciousness which is characterised by emotional and cognitive awareness while we sleep.

Sex Dreams.

So now we come to the bit you’ve all been waiting for - sex dreams. Heard of sleep-walking? Of course you have. Well, sex dreams (or sexsomnia as it is otherwise known) is its close cousin. It’s the in-between phase of sleep where you might find that you’re behaving as though you are awake when you’re actually not. Virtually every person on the planet will have experienced a dream featuring some sort of sex, if they’re honest. It might be a scenario you’re replaying in your mind, it might be a fantasy about someone you’ve met, or it might just be a steamy session with your partner. We know as little about sex dreams as we do about dreams in general, but these are perfectly normal and often the result of your brain processing the last few hours/days.

If you’ve ever been in the position where your partner has clearly said someone else’s name in bed, then don’t change the locks just yet. This is a phase of sleep where the person is NOT conscious, this isn’t a deliberate thought, it’s just their brain playing out some sort of drama within itself. The brain has no problem going back years for its dream fodder, so sex dreams about a specific someone could easily be something that happened years ago and before you even met. It’s basically sleep-related sexual behaviour.

Sex-themed dreams are more common among teenagers and young adults when hormones are running rife through their bodies, but everyone can have them, there’s no time limit. Unsurprisingly, they happen more often when the person is sexually frustrated.


It’s difficult to pin down the exact cause of sex dreams, much as it is for any other type of dream, but there are some factors that we do know play a part:

  • Sleep deprivation. Makes sense, right? Your brain is pinging off in all different directions because it isn’t quite its normal self and the result of this can be vivid dreams.
  • Stress. Sexsomnia is your brain trying to find something to quiet itself down and forget the stressful feelings.
  • Fatigue. Again, sex is a pleasant avenue for your brain here.
  • Irregular sleep patterns. Why? Not sure.
  • Drinking alcohol before bed. This will keep your mind more alert than usual which translates into busy dreams – quite possibly those featuring sexual intercourse.

OK, so we know a little bit about why dreams occur and what causes them – but what specifically happens when you dream about sex? It has a certain set of criteria that characterise these, most of which mimic sexual intercourse. Pelvic thrusting for example, that well known aspect of penetrative sex, so no surprise there. Masturbation, which is obeying your body’s physical demands, seeking sexual interaction with whoever is sleeping next to you and basically indulging in all sorts of sex-related behaviours. It’s worth pointing out that as normal as sex dreams are, they can sometimes cause problems for the person, so luckily there is treatment out there for anyone feeling overwhelmed by these dreams. It’s estimated that far more people have them than statistics show, simply because sufferers are embarrassed to go to their doctor and seek help. If this is you, bear in mind that there’s nothing doctors haven’t seen before in sexsomnia behaviour.

But if you’re happy and enjoying your sexual dreams – long may they continue!

Stuart Brown
Doctor of Sexual Health at the NHS Royal London Hospital & Relationship Expert. Columnist at An advocate of safe sex. Avid Arsenal fan.

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