What do sex dreams mean? Expert analyses what's really going on in your head
Interpreting what sex dreams mean isn't exactly straightforward.
From dreaming that your partner has cheated on you to strange sexual encounters with someone you can't stand — these kinds of dreams aren't always exactly pleasurable... unlike the actual act.
In order to better understand what sex dreams mean, and ourselves in the process, here, Four Nine speaks to couples psychotherapist and dream analyst, John O'Reilly, about 19 of the most common sex dreams.
1. What does it mean if you're having sex in a dream?
"Dreams are highly contextual, and they're very specific to the dreamer," explains O'Reilly. "This may include your personal history, and what's going on in your life right now. So it doesn't necessarily have a universal meaning.
"But generally speaking, having sex in a dream doesn't necessarily have to relate to your sexuality or your sexual behaviour. It can be highly symbolic of some kind of potential union — in that the other person represents something that is dormant in you, or they possess some quality you admire or envy. You may need to own this quality yourself."
2. Does dreaming about sex mean that you're unsatisfied?
O'Reilly points out that research shows that you're more likely to dream about sex, or even have an orgasm as a result, if you're not sexually active, or there's a low level of sex in your life at the moment.
3. What does it mean when you're initiating sex in your dream?
This, again, O'Reilly says, is highly contextual.
"If this is completely counter to what would happen in your waking life — either sexually or generally speaking — this may mean that you need to be more assertive in one area of your life," he explains. "It could be sexually, but it could equally be that you need to assert yourself more with the person you're dreaming about, or that you need to embody those qualities you saw within yourself in your day-to-day."
4. What if you're cheating on your partner in your dream?
"Cheating on your partner is a very common dream, and it does disturb people," the psychotherapist comments.
"It may be about your current relationship. In that, you might not be fully aware of what's going on in your relationship, or that there is something about your partner that you're not happy with.
"But equally, it doesn't have to mean anything about your personal relationship. If someone is happy in their relationship, it's more likely that the dream is not about their relationship. Rather, it's asking them to pay attention to the energy that is created between the couple in the dream.
"Normally when people dream about cheating, they're dreaming about someone they know. That person represents something to them, and they usually have some quality that that person would like to bring into their own life or relationship."
5. How about if your partner is cheating on you?
"This can frighten clients, because they can start to think that something is going on," O'Reilly continues. "There's a possibility that there might actually be something going on, but it's unlikely.
"It's probably symbolic of the energy in the relationship. Have a look at what the couple in the dream are doing, and what's going on between them. Can you integrate that into yourself or your relationship?
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6. What does it mean when you dream of an ex?
The psychotherapist explains that this could mean that you have unresolved feelings, especially if the relationship ended badly.
"We don't really deal with the ending of a relationship very well. Sometimes we hold onto a relationship longer than we should, and sometimes we jettison them out of our lives prematurely. No matter how it ended, your ex will still represent something to you. Everyone has redeeming qualities, so it might be something good in them that you may need to develop in yourself, or bring to your current relationship, which is lacking.
"You're normally never dreaming explicitly about the other person, it always boils down to you," he adds.
7. Or having sex with a platonic friend?
"There's always the possibility that you have an attraction the friend, but it's more likely, yet again, to be about what they represent — so, a quality, an attitude or a behaviour," says O'Reilly.
"Our psyche does really try to bring our conscious mind to focus on issues that we need to focus on, or integrate within ourselves."
8. Or your boss?
"If you dream you're having sex with your boss, it doesn't mean that you necessarily desire your boss", the psychotherapist explains.
"You may not even like them. But it might be that your boss represents something that's latent and dormant in you — you may admire that quality in them, or envy them for it."
9. How about a student?
Here, a power dynamic could be at play, the psychotherapist explains.
"It could tell you about a boundary that you really need to consider in your life, but it could also be about a quality that student has. The unconscious mind won't be telling you to go out and break an ethical boundary by having sex with your student, but it would use the student to symbolise something."
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10. Or a teacher?
"If you're dreaming about a teacher, I would say that it's really possible that it could be about some form of guidance, which is needed in your waking life," O'Reilly says.
"It could also be about what that teacher possesses, in terms of their higher qualities — especially if you respect that teacher, and you get on with them in real life."
11. What does it mean if you dream about having sex with a celebrity?
Barring any power dynamic, or whether the celebrity in question has been on your mind of late, O'Reilly stresses that the same rule applies when it comes to interpreting what do sex dreams mean.
"You really need to look at what's happening between the couple in the dream," he explains.
"It's not just about the sexual act, it's also about how you feel in the dream, and what's happening between you and the other person. The sexual act isn't necessarily relevant, it's usually about bringing together one psyche and the qualities of another."
12. How about someone you really dislike?
"No one is all bad, and you wouldn't be dreaming about them if they didn't have anything to offer you in terms of your own development," he continues.
"If, say, the sex is really awful or comfortable or disturbing, it can tell you something about the nature of your relationship with that person, and that you may want to keep more of a distance from them."
13. What if the sex between you and your partner is awkward?
"If it's your partner, it could be an indication of something that you need to think about in your relationship," adds O'Reilly. "So, if it feels awkward and uncomfortable, you should think about what's awkward and uncomfortable in your relationship.
"Quite often people will turn a blind eye to things that they're not comfortable with in a relationship. But your dream is telling you to please pay attention. "
14. And how about if it's absolutely terrible?
"If it's not a pleasant experience, or loving and caring, it could also be telling you about someone's negative qualities — and whether you possess that yourself," O'Reilly comments.
"Quite often, the people we don't like reflect something that we don't like about ourselves."
15. Or you're interrupted during sex?
"Look at what in the relationship is interrupting the flow," O'Reilly explains.
"It's probably not literally about another person, but you will have to think about what is stopping your relationship from progressing or feeling completely comfortable."
16. What if you have a sex dream including BDSM?
"Here, what is the energy telling you?" O'Reilly asks. "If you're really enjoying it in the dream, maybe you could talk to your partner, and see whether you want to explore kink.
"But if the sexual relationship has gotten a bit routine and mundane, maybe you need to think about upgrading your behaviour with one another. But it doesn't necessarily mean you need to buy a whole new bag of sex toys."
17. What does it mean if you're having sex in a horrible place?
If you're dreaming about having sex with your partner in a really dingy, horrible space, then it's telling you something.
O'Reilly explains: "I wouldn't say you have problems, but there are opportunities to develop your relationship."
18. Or on holiday?
"If you're dreaming of having sex on a beach, or a beautiful sunny island, then that's also telling you something about the energy between you — maybe that there's something really lovely going on," explains O'Reilly.
"Or it could be telling you to make it a bit more lovely, and put a bit more sunshine into your relationship."
19. How about if you're having sex with a gender you're not attracted to?
"This really does happen quite frequently, and it freaks people right out," O'Reilly comments. "As we've seen, it depends on the context, and what's happening between the pair. But it's probably asking you to think about what is it about their feminine or masculine persona that's attractive — depending on your sexual orientation.
"This will inform you what you need to develop within yourself around the feminine or masculine. It's not literal, it's symbolic."
As a general opening to interpreting what do sex dreams mean, O'Reilly concludes by explaining that when we wake up from a sleep, we often interpret what our dreams from an ego-based perspective, which doesn't understand the symbolism and metaphors within.
"It possibly frightens us because it's choosing a symbolic language that we don't yet understand, he says. "Dreams are rarely, rarely, rarely literal."
Has this guide helped you to figure out what sex dreams mean? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.