Sex dreams are very common. Researchers do not know for sure why they happen, but they may help people work through unrealistic fantasies or emotional trauma. They seem unlikely to predict or mean anything specific.

Researchers have studied dreams for decades. In the early days of psychoanalysis, psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung assigned specific meanings to specific types of dreams. Jung, for example, thought that dreams were often symbolic, offering insight into the collective unconscious.

Researchers have continued to develop theories about the meaning of dreams ever since. But there is no single, proven theory as to why people dream or why certain people dream of certain things. Sex dreams, therefore, do not reliably predict or mean any one specific thing.

A person who wants to understand their dreams should consider the context in which they happen, how they felt during the dream, and what the content of the dream means to them.

Keep reading to learn more about sex dreams, including what the research says, who is more likely to have them, and examples of common sex dreams.

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Sex dreams are very common. A 2020 study suggests that more than 70% of people have at least one such dream.

Dreams remain a mystery to scientists, and no one fully understands why people dream or what purpose they serve. This includes sex dreams.

Dreaming may play an important role in mental and physical health and even support the process of recovering from illness and repairing injuries. Dreams occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep usually starts about 90 minutes after someone falls asleep, but this varies. People with narcolepsy may enter REM sleep immediately.

The amygdala, a part of the brain that helps process emotions, is very active during REM sleep. This suggests that brains may have high emotional significance or play a role in processing emotions.

Learn more about why people dream here.

Anecdotal evidence from dream dictionaries and online dream interpretation forums points to many different, often contradictory, explanations for why people dream of sex.

While hundreds of books purport to address the meaning of dreams and thousands of websites provide guidance, most rely on spiritual notions, personal opinion, outdated ideas from psychoanalysis, and anecdotes repeated from person to person instead of science.

Some potential anecdote-based interpretations of sex dreams include:

  • They are fantasies: This means creating unrealistic or improbable scenarios.
  • They are a random collection of memories and thoughts from the day: For example, someone might think of having sex with a particular person during the day, then dream of having sex with them.
  • They are a way of working through emotional tension or trauma: For instance, a dream of sex with an ex-partner could indicate a desire to have sex with that person. It could also be a way for the brain to work through unresolved conflict.
  • They are symbolic or reveal information about a person’s relationship: Dreams of sexual rejection might indicate a person feels rejected in another way.
  • They provide a way for a person to work through ideas: This could also include fantasies they could not act on in real life.

A person’s feelings about their sex dreams may provide important information. People who view these dreams as immoral or sinful may feel differently about their dreams and have them for different reasons than those who actively try to have sex dreams.

While sex dreams are not a medical concern, some people have sex nightmares or distressing habits related to their dreams. A medical professional can help with understanding and managing these symptoms.

Anyone can have sex dreams, and most people have at least one sex dream. There is no data suggesting that sex dreams happen only or primarily to one group.

A 2017 study of 211 married women found that 51.3% of participants had dreams about sex, with 25.6% experiencing such dreams monthly. The study found that the following factors correlated with having sex dreams:

  • being younger, aged 20–29 years
  • having a college degree
  • not working outside of the home
  • having more frequent sex
  • having more frequent orgasms

A 2019 study that surveyed 482 participants did not find gender differences in sex dream frequency. People with more sexual thoughts and a more sexual disposition were more likely to report sex dreams and have frequent sex dreams.

There is no consistent research suggesting that dreams involving certain individuals reliably mean specific things about those individuals or relationships.

While many dream dictionaries and online dream interpretation forums offer insight into specific individuals’ dreams, these interpretations contradict one another.

Researchers still have a poor understanding of why people dream, which makes it even more difficult to assess the meaning or content of specific types of dreams. Research increasingly suggests that sleep generally and dreams specifically may play a role in learning. However, it is unclear whether sex dreams are part of this phenomenon.

The following are some strategies for interpreting dreams about people:

  • Consider what happens in the dream: A negative experience with a person might indicate fears about the relationship in real life or negative views about the person. It could also be symbolic of something else.
  • Consider how a person felt in the dream: Whether the dream was pleasurable or upsetting might offer insight into how a person feels about the characters in their dreams, especially how they feel about sex with those characters.
  • Weigh the possibility that a dream is random: Some dreams are just random collections of images throughout the day. A person who dreams of someone they just saw after having sex with someone else might simply be reliving the day’s memories out of sequence.
  • Assess the symbolic content of the dream: For instance, if a person associates a specific symbol with a specific individual, seeing that symbol might indicate the dream is about the person the object symbolizes.
  • Consider external circumstances: Thinking about what is going on in a person’s life may help understand a dream. For example, a person who longs for more sex or connection may have sex dreams as a way to escape the pressures and stresses of daily life.

Sex dreams are as varied and unique as the people who have them. Anecdotal evidence suggests some common themes include:

  • Familiar sex: An individual may dream of sex or sexual contact with their usual partner in a familiar location. In the 2017 study of married women, sex with a husband was the most common sex dream focus.
  • Fantasies: A person may dream of having sex with someone out of reach or of enacting a fantasy they have never fulfilled in real life.
  • Dreams of the past: Someone may dream of having sex with a prior partner.
  • Taboo sex: An individual might dream of having sex with a family member, authority figure, or someone else. This does not necessarily mean they want to have sex with that person. Instead, it may reveal something else about the relationship or be a random occurrence as the brain cobbles together thoughts and memories from the day.

Some people can have lucid dreams. This means they are aware they are dreaming. In some cases, a person even controls the content of the dream. Lucid dreamers might choose to dream of specific sexual scenarios.

Some factors that might increase the likelihood of having sex dreams include having:

Sex dreams happen to most people at some time in their life. They are common and do not mean anything is wrong. There is no evidence that they mean any specific thing at all.

Researchers continue to debate why people dream and the potential reasons for specific dreams, including dreams about sex. Sex dreams may not always be about sex or only about sex, and it may not always be possible to learn what they mean. It is just as likely that there is no meaning at all.

Sex dreams are not a medical issue. However, a medical professional can help people who have sex nightmares or distressing habits related to their dreams.