To Sleep, Perchance to Sex Dream

Bad Habits | Dhali Wama | February 29, 2016

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Between virgins and sex addicts alike, the cognitive product of dirty dreams shows no discrimination. Ah, yes. A beautiful biological function that helps us get laid even when the pickings are slim and let’s be honest, you haven’t shaved your legs in eleven days.

Whether you’ve woken up from such a dream stricken by shame, lust, guilt, fear, or with a newfound crush on your local IHOP server, these dreams have a tendency to make us take a hard look at our morning reflections and ask, what the f*ck…? 

When do we have sex dreams?

During a kind of sleep we experience each night known as REM aka “rapid eye moment” sleep. REM sleep accounts for about 20-25% of total sleep time and tends to occur most in the hours right before waking.

Thanks to super scientific brain imaging technology, scientists have discovered that it’s during this sleep that the waves in the visual region of the brain spikes, leading to extremely vivid and lucid dreams.

Another common byproduct of REM is—that’s right, you guessed it—morning wood! Although, no one quite knows why morning erections occur, we know that they can often happen, even if you weren’t just engaging in a steamy dream. So don’t worry if you’re waking up hard and without any memories…unless you went to the Grove the night before…and you have no idea who that girl is next to you. Then start to worry. 

What happens to your brain during a sex dream?

Fear not, I’m going to break it down in terms we can all understand:

Limbic system = your drunk emotional friend

Dorsal Lateral prefrontal cortex = your sober rational friend

When you dream, the limbic region of your brain becomes highly activated while your prefrontal cortex lowers significantly in its activity, causing your brain to function in a way it wouldn’t normally during the day.

In other words, it’s like a night out with friends who, when sober, function as a complete unit. However, when you all go out together, your drunk emotional friend makes you take that extra shot even though you really shouldn’t, while your sober rational friend goes home early and leaves you to run wild.

You wake up the next morning remembering some of your night, but not all of it. The things that you do remember seemed illogical and bizarre in nature but you were drunk, so you did them.

Not unlike waking up from a batsh*t crazy sex dream.

What does this dream mean?

***The following names have been changed for confidentiality purposes.


“I once so randomly had a dream I was hooking up with this kid I knew from elementary school (who I haven’t seen or thought about in probably 10 years now) and it was so real and so intimate and I woke up kinda creeped out and confused but also thinking I should probably slide into his DM’s…” -Stella

Oneiric Darwinism Theory: Developed by Dr. Mark Blechner, this theory suggests that some dreams can be used to form new ideas in your actual life. These subconscious images might be thought mutations that can either be developed if useful, or thrown into your mental trashcan if not, much like the physiological adaptations recognized by Darwin.

Stella, this might be your mind’s way of telling you to “slide into those DM’s” as you so eloquently put it, or maybe just text him like a normal person the next time you’re home on break. If he’s not up to par with the expectations your dream set up, drag him into that mental trashcan.


“I have sex dreams with Justin Bieber probably every other night but my most recent one was that we had sex, but before I said I couldn’t because I had a boyfriend and then I found out it was just a test and my boyfriend had just sent Justin Bieber to see if I would cheat on him.” -Erica

Archetypal Dream Theory: Developed by famous 19th psychologist Carl Yung, this theory suggests certain dreams become memorable to us through their emotional intensity or the inclusion of powerful journeys. Yung believed that dreams offered advice to their owners in the conscious world.

Erica, while Yung theorized many different archetypes, the one that comes to mind for your dream is “The Trickster”. This wise-fool figure in dreams is symbolic of breaking rules and often serves as a catalyst for transformation. You didn’t fall for the trap of your trickster (aka sneaky dream boyfriend) meaning that you probably feel secure in your relationship and would likely deny the chance to cheat on your boyf, despite his trickery. Kudos, my moral compass would probably go South in that dream.


“I’ve had a few dreams where I’m banging someone and then realize I’m in public and I freak out but I can’t do anything to stop the situation.”-Cara

Threat Simulation Theory: Developed by Dr. Antti Revonsuo, this theory is pretty much exactly how it sounds. Revonsuo’s model suggests that some dreams may be cognitive mechanisms to prepare you for a potential threat that you’ve yet to experience in real life. The idea is that these dreams—often terrifying—are an adaptive measure to prepare you for the worst. Um…thank you brain…?

Cara, while you may have never had the experience of sexin’ it up in an all-too-crowded place, your mind might think it’s a possibility worth practicing for. University of Miami Psychology Professor Hurtado did some research on those who suffer from upsetting or sexually-self-conscious dreams and came across the advice, “When you have that sex dream just kind of go with it, maybe almost even enjoy it to some extent. Just let it happen. It’s not real. It’s just a story that you told yourself from your unconscious mind.” So next time this hot but hellish dream comes about, try your best to embrace your public debut and banish the naked humiliation.


“I had a dream that I was in my childhood bathroom literally pressed up on the counter where I used to brush my teeth with princess toothpaste getting boned by my big gay best friend from high school, Darnell.” – Marie

Activation-Synthesis Theory: Developed by Harvard University psychiatrists John Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley, this theory offers the idea that dreams are simply the brain’s way of trying to make sense of the random electrical activity stirred up while we sleep. In short, the dreams that result from these spontaneous bursts have no greater interpretive meaning. I think Freud just rolled over in his grave.

Marie, in keeping with activation-synthesis, worry not! While returning to your childhood bathroom may be mildly traumatic, this dream is probably meaningless. Your mind was merely trying to make sense of all the erratic neural activity sparked during your REM cycle and POOF! DARNELL! He’s still just your big gay best friend. Don’t read into it.

What are you really getting at here?

I’m sure right now you’re thinking, “Wow, isn’t she smart. Now I feel smart. Can’t wait for my next nocturnal emission!” But the truth is, we really don’t know anything about dreams. As Professor Hurtado points out, “We don’t have the technology at this time to study dreams properly.”

The only person that might be able to truly decode your dreams is you, so stop paying that shrink $300 an hour. They’re just Googling your dreams on a website and taking your money.

Professor Hurtado suggests keeping a pen and paper by your bedside, “You remember your dreams the best right after you wake up. The more you write it down, the more you remember your dreams because you can actually train yourself to remember your dreams better.” If you’re reaching for your phone every morning anyway, try the Dreamboard app; it allows you to diary the colors, feelings, people, places, and plot of each of your dreams.

My totally unprofessional and invalid opinion is to take a little bit from each of our theorists’ lessons and look at the scope of what is happening in your real life against the 50 shades of your sex dreams. Try not to read too much into every little thing, but take the time to stop and appreciate what your brain can produce.

Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy the sex.