There's a simple trick to understanding your most confusing dreams.
I don't care who you are or how morally upright you may be — sex dreams happen. And more often than not, they're really f*cking (ha, literally) weird.
We've all had that feeling of waking up from dreams about sex and thinking, “Where did that come from?!”
One of my more memorable sex dreams occurred last year when I dreamed about this random kid from my high school. And when I say random, I mean random. We were, at best, friendly acquaintances. He wasn't even in my grade! But there I was, four years after high school ended, getting frisky with this major rando in my subconscious. I woke up in shock, wondering if I’d secretly harbored feelings for him this whole time, and desperately seeking answers about my sex dream’s meaning.
So I went where any dream-curious folk should go: to famed dream expert Lauri Loewenberg, who knows just how to decode those seemingly odd but oh-so-steamy dreams, and what they say about our subconscious minds. (Content warning: This story contains references to abuse, incest, and rape.)
With the help of Loewenberg’s expertise, I was able to see that my sex dream about this ghost from high school’s past may have been about something else entirely.
“Sex in a dream is rarely about sex at all — sorry to take the fun out of it!” says Loewenberg. “In most cases, sex in a dream is not about a physical union you want, but rather a psychological union you need or want. It's all about having or needing a psychological connection with the person in your dream or merging a particular quality that person has into your own personality.”
Additionally, many factors can shape a person’s experience with sexual dreams. A study published to the U.S. National Library of Medicine in 2020 shows that early abuse from family members may have a lifelong impact on sexual dreams. It was also found that in study participants who were considered “frequent sexual dreamers,” there were “pronounced associations between sexual dreams and family relationships.” This study also cites another study from 2003, which claims “sexual experience was the second most-frequent theme in dreams, after the one of being chased or pursued.” So those dreams you’ve been having about kissing your mom? Yeah, you’re definitely not alone.
In our discussion, Loewenberg shared with me the “magic rule” that she recommends for understanding a sex dream’s meaning. “Pick three words that first come to mind when thinking of that person,” she says. “Of those three qualifiers, is there one that would benefit you right now if you were to incorporate it into your own personality? Voilà! That's what that person represents and that's why you're having sex in the dream.”
With this handy tip in mind, I began to relax. Maybe I didn’t actually want to get freaky with that old high school acquaintance after all. And maybe those sex dreams about boning your best friend, your boss, or your brother actually point to a larger psychological union that would serve you right now, instead of any real, burning sexual desire.
Either way, our dreams have plenty of juicy stuff to teach us. In the list below, I’ve compiled Loewenberg’s expert interpretations about the 22 most common sex dream scenarios, so you can find the answers you’ve been craving about your wildest sex dreams, their possible meanings, and what they say about you and your hidden needs — sexual or otherwise.
Sex With A Co-Worker
This one is super common and can make it difficult to face your co-worker the next day. If you already have the hots for this particular co-worker, well ... you’re safely exploring the possibilities. But if this is someone you wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, fear not. Your naughty dream is either because you recently connected with that co-worker on some level or there is something about the co-worker you need to incorporate into yourself. Do they stay calm, cool, and collected under pressure? Does the boss really like them? Do they really know how to close a deal? Your subconscious may feel there is some quality they possess that would be beneficial to you if you were to take it on as your own.
Gay Sex (When You’re Straight)
These dreams can certainly cause us to question our sexuality. But if, other than the dream, you are certain you are straight, sex dreams may not be an actual indication of your desire. Most often, girl-on-girl or guy-on-guy dreams are really about the qualities you seek in a partner. Typically, dreams about a female partner indicate you’re looking for more warmth, sensitivity, or creativity. It's actually very common to have a girl-on-girl dream during pregnancy because, for some, there is nothing more feminine than carrying and giving life. Dreams about a male partner — for a guy — are often all about being assertive and manly. These sort of dreams can happen when you’re bulking up, when you land a hot date, or get a promotion ... something that has caused you to really appreciate being a guy. But if the partner in your dream is someone you may actually know, then you should first ask yourself if the two of you connected on some level recently, had a deep conversation, or just came to a certain understanding. The dreaming mind is very sexually fluid.
Straight Sex (When You’re Gay)
Sometimes these dreams can be caused by societal pressure to be what is considered “normal” or “acceptable,” especially if you haven't come out yet. But if you're out and proud, then these dreams are, again, likely about the typical qualities of the gender or about the particular qualities of your dream partner.
Sex With A Close Friend
If this is someone with whom you would like to be "more than friends," then... duh! If not, then this dream happened because you probably connected in a newer or deeper way recently. But again, back to the golden rule: What three qualities stand out about this person? Are you currently trying to incorporate any of those qualities into your own self?
If you are actually considering a threesome in real life, this dream is allowing you to safely experience it so that you can better gauge whether it is for you or not. Our dreams often provide us with a "dress rehearsal" for a real-life situation to help us make better decisions. If you're not consciously considering a threesome, and the dream is with your current partner and an additional person, then there is likely some new element you are bringing into your relationship — for example, working out together — that should be enjoyable and beneficial to you equally. So pay attention to whether there is equally distributed attention and enjoyment in the dream as it will reflect how you anticipate things will go in real life.
Watching Two Other People Have Sex Together
This dream is a good indication that you are being passive in your life at the moment, or are on the sidelines in some waking life situation. Ask yourself in what area of your life you are feeling left out. Are you worried your friends are growing closer to each other, leaving you out? Do you feel like you’re behind when it comes to finding your passion or making money?
Sex With An Animal
Don’t jump to conclusions that you’re into bestiality. Remember, there really aren't moral lines in dreaming, because it is a symbolic language rather than a literal one. Sex dreams are rarely about a physical union you want but rather a psychological union you need. The animal in your dream will represent a quality you need to or are currently incorporating into your own personality. Apply the golden rule here: What are the first three things that come to mind when thinking about the nature of the animal in your dream? For example, a dog is loyal, obedient, and friendly. Are you working on becoming a better friend? I once had a client who dreamed of having sex with a dinosaur! To her, the nature of dinosaurs was that they are extinct, no longer around. I asked her what in her life or what part of herself is no longer around that she wants to bring back. Well, she had her tubes tied 10 years earlier and was getting them "un-tied" so she could try to have a baby with her new husband. She had thought her ability to become a mother was extinct.
Sex With A Random Person From High School
Many elements in our dreams seem random. But let me assure you: Nothing is ever random in a dream. The wise dreaming mind carefully picks and chooses what it wants to use in the storyline of the dream in order to get a message across to you. The way to figure it out is to again apply that golden rule: What three things do you remember most about that person from high school? Of those three qualities you chose, which one would be useful to you right now? That is what that person represents. Was this person on the football team? Then maybe there is something you need to tackle head on right now. Was this person really shy? Are you being shy right now?
Sex With An Ex
This one is so common! Were they your first love? Strangely enough, we continue to dream about our first loves, even if we've moved on. Don't worry — it's not that you want them back; it's that you want what they represent: excitement, bubbles, passion! You are likely to get these dreams when your relationship gets a little too routine and humdrum, as they all do from time to time. Your dream is using your ex to remind you of the passion that is still alive inside of you! These dreams are actually good for you and are alerting you to the fact that the passion department doesn't want to become a thing of the past. Maybe this is a good opportunity to treat yourself to something red and lacy, soft and stretchy, or whatever makes you feel sexiest. The exes we tend to dream about the most are our first loves, exes we still see regularly, or the ex that most recently broke our hearts or treated us badly. Dreaming of an ex who hurt you can be a sign that you are stuck emotionally. These dreams are a clear indication that you have not healed, in which case the dreams will continue until you let go and leave the past in the past. It is impossible to move forward while you are still holding on to what is behind you.
Sex With An Old Crush
Similarly to sex dreams about exes, this can also mean there is something new and exciting in your life, like a new idea or project that brings about the same feelings of your first crush.
Sex With Your Boss
You likely need to embrace your own power, authority, decision-making, and management skills. Are you facing a tough decision at work or otherwise? Do you need to fire or get rid of a certain element, person, or behavior in your life? It’s time to take charge!
In real life, rape isn't about sex but more about power and control. The same is true in dreams. To be raped in a dream suggests that you may be feeling taken advantage of in real life. Ask yourself if someone is trying to manipulate you or using you for their own gain. However, if you’re a survivor of sexual assault, dreams about rape may be a sign that you’re still healing from this trauma.
These dreams can be particularly unsettling, but remember, everything and everyone in your dream is usually symbolic of some part of you, so it depends on which relative is your partner in the dream. Your father will most likely symbolize your ability to bring home the bacon and manage said bacon (as that is the traditional role of the father in our dreams). Do you need to improve your financial skills? If it's a sibling, then what quality stands out the most about that sibling?
Sex With A Stranger
I call this the "mystery lover dream," and it is the most common of all sex dreams. Many of us wonder if this dream is actually a glimpse of our soulmate who might be out there somewhere waiting for us. Alas, it is not so. But what is so is that the unknown, faceless person who often appears in our dreams does indeed hold significance. Our dreams have a cool way of showing us the different parts of our personality in the form of a person so we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and what makes us tick. A mystery person may represent the traits we wish we had.
Sex With Someone You Just Started Seeing
Remember how I mentioned that dreams can serve the purpose of dress rehearsal? Well, while the dream can't really provide you with what kind of lover this person actually is, it can certainly provide you with the insight you need to know as far as how sexually attracted you are to the person. If the dream got you seriously hot and bothered, you can know for sure that there is chemistry there. But if the dream wasn’t appealing to you, then maybe keep looking.
Sex With Someone You Are Dating
You might just be particularly turned on or in love. But it could also reflect that you two have recently connected on a deeper level.
Sex With Someone You're Dating, But It Doesn’t Look Like Them
This is a good indication that they have shown you a new side of themselves and you really dig it! That is, unless the dream left you feeling unsettled. In that case, ask yourself if they have shown you a new side that you aren't comfortable with, or that makes you feel you may be in too deep.
Sex With Your Platonic Friend Who Is Taken
Ask yourself first if there was an emotional or psychological connection recently between the two of you. That would be the most common reason. If not, then apply the magic rule: What three qualities stand out about that person? Do you want to apply, or are you actively applying, one of those qualities to yourself right now?
Sex With Your Friend’s Significant Other
Are you attracted sexually to this person? If so, you may choose to address this with your friend or to keep it in your head. If not, have you recently connected on some level over a shared interest or in a meaningful conversation? If not, refer to the magic rule.
Your Partner Having Sex With Someone Else
Unless you’re non-monogamous, these dreams can be upsetting. The good news is that they rarely indicate that your mate is getting pleasure elsewhere. They do suggest, however, that something (rather than someone) is taking the time and attention from your mate that you feel you deserve. Something is beginning to make you feel like a third-wheel in the relationship. Once you can pinpoint what it is your mate is “cheating on you” with, it's time to compromise. Offer to give up or cut back on something your mate isn't a big fan of — as long as they promise to cut back on the activity that is causing you to feel left out. If you both stick to the compromise, you'll find that the dreams will stop. The message of the cheating dream: It’s time to make more time for each other in your schedules, no matter how busy you may be.
Sex With Someone Who Is Not Your Partner
If you're the one cheating in the dream, you're the one guilty of giving too much focus and time to something outside of the relationship. Are you spending too much time at work or with friends or some other project that does not involve your significant other?
Sex With Someone You Hate
This one is a real head-scratcher, but the meaning is powerful. Be a lover, not a fighter. In other words, your wise, dreaming mind knows that hate is wasted energy. The dream is urging you to come to some sort of understanding with that person. Either try to connect with them over some shared interest to get rid of the hate, or — if that is beyond the realm of possibility — take it as a lesson, and incorporate that lesson into your mindset.
So now you know: Whether you’re fantasizing about an old love or your childhood cat, sex dreams are almost always more than what they appear to be at first blush—and when your subconsicous is trying to tell you something, experts like Loewenburg are here to help you listen. Sweet dreams, lovers!
Shao, X., Wang, C., Jia, Y., & Wang, W. (2020). Sexual dream and family relationships in frequent sexual dreamers and healthy volunteers. Medicine, 99(36), e21981. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000021981
Nielsen, T.A., Zadra, A.L., Simard, V. et al. (2003). The Typical Dreams of Canadian University Students. Dreaming 13, 211–235. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:DREM.0000003144.40929.0b
Lauri Loewenberg, Dream Expert, https://www.lauriloewenberg.com/
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.
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