A lot of this memory processing happens during the rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage of the sleep cycle. REM sleep is also when the most vivid dreams occur. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy mimics REM sleep with conscious patients. This allows patients to reprocess traumatic memories in a safe, controlled setting.
Individual dreams only last between 5 and 20 minutes, but that time adds up! Scientists estimate that over a lifetime the average person will spend 6 solid years dreaming. The amount of time spent in sexual dreams is highly subjective, but a 2014 study estimates erotic content makes up 8% of adult dreams.
Thinking Yourself Off
The scientific study of dreaming is called oneirology. Brain scans show that one of the most active regions of the brain during dreams is the amygdala. Known as the "lizard brain" the amygdala drives your instinctual fight, flight, freeze, or fuck stress responses. Both fear and attraction result from the autonomic nervous system’s arousal response. This explains why dreams can range from vivid erotic fantasy to equally realistic nightmares.
When dreaming, your body experiences higher temperatures, rapid breathing, and increased blood flow to the genitals. This is true even when the dream isn’t a sexual one, but can amplify the body’s experience of sexual dreams when they do occur. The rustle of sheets against a lady-boner is enough to trigger erotic imagery; so is the pressure of sleeping on your stomach.
Orgasms are such a strong physical experience, it can be easy to forget they are a process of brain chemistry. There are rare cases where women report conscious control of their orgasms and can even climax from thought alone. Dream orgasms are much more common and reported by all genders.
Dreams offer a judgment-free environment for facilitating orgasms. This is significant for folks who have psychological barriers to climaxing in their waking life. Anxiety, dysphoria, and many other mental blocks can make orgasms feel far away, if not impossible, to achieve.
Sex Dreams vs Fantasies
Dreams are how the body processes daily experiences, and sex (or at least sexual desire) is a part of daily life for most people. Literally anything in daily life from a career transition to a lack of real-world sex can trigger an erotic dream.
Fantasies are conscious thought patterns or mental imagery that create or enhance sexual arousal. Can sex dreams be fantasies? Absolutely! If your sex dreams play out your fantasies, consider yourself blessed and enjoy that ride as long as you can. But if your sex dreams diverge from your fantasies it doesn't mean you've got a repressed crush or kink.
Oscar Wilde said “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” Through dreams, your subconscious processes power dynamics, cultural taboos, and relationship dynamics. Evidence suggests that the significance of a dream relates to your emotions rather than the activities that took place. If you dream about sleeping with your boss, it could be your mind’s way of processing your desire for power, rather than an attraction to your supervisor. It’s unclear if the human brain can “invent” new faces. It's possible every character in your dreams is a recycled face, either of someone you know in real life, passed on the street, or watched on TV.
So what does it all mean? Everyone from dream interpreters to modern psychoanalysts have offered more questions than answers. There are countless dream symbol dictionaries that can be utilized, but ultimately the best interpreter of your dreams is you. Almost 90% of dreams are forgotten within ten minutes upon waking, which makes interpretation challenging. However, researchers have found that people who dream journal when they wake up have significantly improved dream recall.
A more direct approach would be to process and interpret dreams as they happen. Lucid dreaming is when people become aware of their dream state while inside the dream. In this state, the dreamer can enact control over the dream and uncover personal meaning. Lucid dreaming about sex is the ultimate virtual reality in which to explore your fantasies. Learning to have lucid erotic dreams is like writing, directing, and starring in your favorite porn.
Exploring your erotic dreams is a journey of inner knowledge and awareness, but one that is well worth the patience and effort. Here’s to making this the summer of sexy dreams!