Dream Question: are dreams about sex what they appear to be?

Trigger warning: this article briefly discusses rape.

How common are sex dreams?

Men and women can dream about sex, and they can have a number of different themes. In those studied who remembered their dreams, around eight percent of dreams reported were about sex.

Interpretations may depend on how you define sex, for example including kissing and masturbation.  The thoughts I’ve offered below focus on sexual intercourse.

Most research agrees men are more likely to have sex dreams than women, although some might suggest the ratio is about the same. One article quotes a study that young women aged between 16 and 30 are having more sex dreams than they used to, but as many women are feeling more liberated to talk freely about their rights and preferences, that data may not reflect that. Women may always have had erotic dreams, it’s just that now we are more comfortable talking about it.

In any event, the content will vary. 

About four percent of people report having orgasms in their dreams even if they don’t remember why. One report suggested women may dream of giving someone else an orgasm, whereas men generally dream about their own.

What are the most common sex dreams?

Types of sex dreams vary. For example, a woman might dream she’s having sex with her boss, whereas a man might dream about having sex with multiple partners in one dream. (The report mentioned above backs this up).

A common dream a lot of people have is that they’re cheating on their partner, or that their partner has cheated on them. On analysis, and hopefully reassuringly, this often seems to be a fear this will happen (perhaps based on previous relationships), rather than a prediction.

Other types of sex dream can be more disturbing, where someone may dream they’re being forced to have sex.

People process trauma in different ways but dreams and particularly nightmares can be a sign that trauma may have occurred.

With these types of dream, they may be an echo of an actual event that happened, where the details appear in the dream as they were in real life, or are being relayed slightly differently in the dream. Where this is the case, and particularly if these dreams may be a sign of trauma, it’s always important to speak to a professional so they can offer help as soon as possible. Where the dreams are based on actual events, there are specialist centres as well as organisations like Rape Crisis who can offer confidential support.  A link to sexual assault referral centres in your area in the U.K. is also here

Where you are dreaming of sex that’s not based on actual events, or where you’re dreaming you or someone else is instigating sex with someone you don’t like or desire, this may be a dream about control or connection. (See below)

Are dreams of sex actually about sex?

Although sometimes dreams can be about a sexual fantasy or desire – or an acknowledgment if you haven’t had any for a while – sex in dreams can be about control or connection, and not necessarily in a sexual way. This is why in your dreams you might have sex with someone you never would in real life.

For example, where a woman dreams she’s having sex with her female boss (and where this doesn’t reflect a sexual fantasy or desire), it may well be there is a power struggle at work that the dreamer is finding uncomfortable.

This is why it’s so important to think about how you feel during the dream, not just afterwards. If you were enjoying sex with your boss in a dream, but never would in real life, then it might be you’re happy your boss is in charge and taking the lead right now.

Dreams are unique to everyone though, so the interpretation will depend on the content and the context, including current events at the time you have it.  


What should I do if I have a sex dream?

Dreams are like secret messages that only you can decode, which is why keeping a dream diary is so important to help you understand them.

You might find you have a sex dream about your boss every time your regular 1-1 comes round. People who menstruate may think more about sex around days 7-14+ of their cycle, and that might be another reason why sex dreams appear. Often once people recognise why they have the dreams they do, the dreams take a different form or become less disturbing.

If you’re worrying that your partner is or may be cheating, then it’s always best to talk to them or reach out to organisations like Relate to help. If the dreams are violent, keeping you awake at night, are memories of a traumatic event or you are worrying about their content in any way, it’s always best to reach out to someone you trust for help. Speak to your doctor first, and see what help they can offer.

Note to the reader: For the purposes of this article I’ve referred to ‘men’ and ‘women’, and research which has explored heterosexual relationships. This is only because at the time of writing I’m not aware of any research yet that covers the types of sex dreams people of different sexualities may have or who for example identify as non-binary or trans. I think it would be important research to add into this discussion. If I become aware of any, I will update this article.

Links in this article are not an endorsement. This article was requested for an online magazine and published here July 2019 – Intellectual ©️ copyright Delphi Ellis 2019