Is this a safe space?
Whatever, I’m doing it. Here’s a confession: I have only had one sex dream in my life. (Caveat — that I can remember, which I’m notorious for not doing). I was… enough years old, and for some reason that evening, when I lay my weary head upon my pillow, I drifted into slumber at the mercy of some X-rated thoughts about… Robbie Williams.
Yes, the bawdy, slick-haired, ‘00s British crooner — “I’m loving angels instead” and all that — was the subject of my first and only sex dream. I don’t even like Robbie Williams that much. He’s not, like, my guy. I don’t know what strange, topsy-turvy annals of my mind called forth his face and also, um, his body into my dreams that evening, as if summoned by the horn of Gondor itself. But come he did and, to borrow the phrasing of Vulture’s Hunter Harris, I dreamt all night long about Robbie’s [redacted] and how we [redacted] and [redacted] before I [redacted] repeatedly.
According to a study by the University of Montreal, about 8% of an adults’ dreams will be sexual in nature. Common sex dreams include sex with your boss, your friend, someone you despise in real life, or, as I know all too well, celebrities.
But what does it all mean? That my type isn’t artsy baristas who live in their parents’ basement but is, in fact, tattooed rock stars known for telling inappropriate anecdotes on chat shows and fathering a royal bridesmaid at Princess Eugenie’s wedding? If you dream about having sex with your boss, does it mean that you are secretly attracted to them? If you dream about cheating on your partner, should you doubt your commitment to them? Can we learn anything from our sex dreams or are they a whole lot of nonsense?
“Sex dreams are a healthy part of sexuality,” Dr. Shannon Chavez tells me. Dr. Chavez, as well as two other sex therapists I roped in to help me analyze the most common sex dreams, believes that although our dreaming landscape is unique and out of our control, and therefore can be interpreted in myriad ways, we should nonetheless be paying attention to what kind of sexual activity we’re getting up to in our sleep.
“The common misconception about sex dreams is that they should be taken literally,” she adds. “Most dreams are more symbolic and evoke emotions that should be interpreted as communications from your unconscious mind. Dreams can help you recognize areas of your sex life that may need attention.”
1. Sex with celebrities
Sex dreams about celebrities are fairly common and maybe the most vanilla of all possible sex dreams. Dr. Chavez says the reason we dream about sex with famous people is because they are part of the fabric of popular culture and, thus, our lifestyle. She notes that, sometimes, a celebrity might represent “something attractive or appealing… that you are looking to find in a partner.” But, more often than not, their appearance is related to something you watched, listened to or read about them earlier that day before falling asleep. It’s as simple as that. Sorry, Robbie.
2. Sex with your boss
About a third of our lives are spent at work, so it makes sense that our colleagues and even our bosses might make appearances in our dreams too. Dr. Kate Moyle, a psychosexual therapist, says that when those dreams start to become raunchy, it’s important to recognize the power dynamics at play.
“Sex dreams are not always about sex,” she says. “As with the sex we are having when we are awake, there is more than just the physical act of sex occurring. There is power exchange, vulnerability, intimacy, excitement, curiosity and a whole range of emotions.”
Dr. Moyle stresses that “sexual interest in our sleep does not necessarily translate to sexual interest in our day-to-day lives,” so don’t worry, you’re probably not attracted to your nightmare boss or that guy from accounts who always stamps your expense forms with a smile. (This is not a euphemism!) Sex dreams about colleagues are often about familiarity and routine or even, on occasion, about taking charge in an office context.
3. Sex with someone of the same gender, particularly if you don’t identify as same-sex attracted
Cyndi Darnell, a sex therapist based in New York, wants to make one thing very clear: “There’s no scientific data about how we interpret dreams. It’s all made up. So everything you read is opinion, not fact.”
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Darnell says that sex dreams — like our sexual fantasies — “are portals into aspects of ourselves that we have yet to make peace with.” Take, for example, the common occurrence of heterosexual women having sex dreams about their female friends or other women, even though they don’t identify as same-sex attracted.
“When we encounter other people in our dreams, they are not necessarily representing the people that we think they are,” Darnell explains. Though it’s possible that you do want to have sex with that person and your subconscious could be hinting that you might be same-sex curious, it’s far more likely that this person’s presence in your dream speaks to something else, such as “wanting to make peace with some aspect of the past, find a resolution in the present, open channels of communication” with them, Darnell says.
4. Sex with a stranger
“A sex dream with a stranger can mean that you are looking for more mystery and desire in your sex life,” Dr. Chavez explains. “It can also symbolize not having to please others and be on your best behavior. You can be free to engage how you want and not have to consider intimacy or the needs of a partner… This dream can be a sign that you need to focus on bringing more novelty into your sex life.”
5. Sex with someone you hate in real life
Exes, annoying peers, your friend’s odious partner, that patronizing colleague who belittled your work last week… It’s not uncommon for people we despite to turn up in sexual scenarios in our dreams.
“Hate is an arousal state,” Dr. Chavez explains. “To dream about sex with someone you hate may be a sign to address these feelings with the person in mind,” she adds. It could be a sign that you need to communicate with this person or deal with whatever it is that is causing these powerful reactions within you. Or it could just be your subconscious mind reacting to the triggers of dealing with their shit that day. One or the other.
6. Cheating on your partner
“One of the big things that we need to get through our consciousness,” Darnell says, “is that what we fantasize or dream about is not necessarily representative of what we want to do. Sometimes, it is. But a lot of the time it’s not.”
Which means that if you dream of cheating on your partner but are otherwise fulfilled, it probably has little to do with the state of your real-life relationship. “We can’t control what we dream,” Darnell explains, which is what makes sex dreams different from sex fantasies, for example, where we allow our minds to wander into the realms that turn us on the most. Sex dreams are often nonsensical, if erotic.
Darnell’s advice is to simply relax: “It’s all good,” she says. “Don’t panic, don’t worry… Don’t feel guilty about what you think about sexually… Just enjoy it.”
Collage by Emily Zirimis.