One minute, you’re drifting off into slumber. The next, you’re confused AF after dreaming about getting it on with someone completely nonsensical, like Shrek.
So what do sex dreams mean, especially if they’re, uh, like that?
Before you go thinking you subconsciously have the hots for Shrek — know that a good portion of sex dreams actually don’t have much to do with the act itself. *Sigh of relief*
Although dreams of intimacy often appear “normal” when centered around a current or ex-lover, they can also be seemingly illogical.
Getting it on while you get your Zzz’s? It’s more common than you might think, and it isn’t necessarily tied to a raging libido. Turns out: They’re fairly common.
In fact, sex dreams made up about 8 percent of all reported dreams — over 3,500 — in a study by Antonio Zadra, PhD, of the University of Montreal.
You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary, fluctuating between the use of “male” and “female” or “men” and “women.”
Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.
Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.
As reported by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), intercourse was the most frequent type of sexual dream content among men and women.
Runners up were listed as:
Things worth fixing your sleep schedule for, eh?
And the grand finale: Both men and women reported experiencing orgasms in about 4 percent of their sex dreams.
Undulating waves of pleasure or not, ask a pro, and they’ll tell you the meaning behind these steamy mid-sleep scenarios often isn’t even about sex. Hence, we shouldn’t take them so literally.
While you can dig into the dirty details of each type of sex dream, there are some overarching themes to keep in mind when evaluating any of these sensual specifics.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever slept with your ex in your dreams. (Many people have at some point — no shame here.) Sometimes, it’s a delicious fantasy, other times you wake up like, “Oh hell no. C’mon subconscious, why’d you do that?”
Either way, sex with your ex is one of the more common ones.
According to expert dream analyst Layne Dalfen, sex dreams about ex-lovers may reveal quite a bit about what’s going on in your present day life.
“Every partner you’ve ever had, they’re in the same [mental] file as other important relationships in your life,” Dalfen explains.
For example, she continues, “If something happens between my husband and I, and I walk away feeling rejected, the mental filing cabinet opens up that night in my dreams, and I might choose a boyfriend I had when I was 18 years old. This is because that boyfriend made me feel exactly the same way my husband made me feel earlier.”
In other words, both the past and present lover are essentially interchangeable in dreamland.
Interestingly, the aforementioned study found that 20 percent of women — compared with 14 percent of men — reported having current or past partners in their sex dreams.
If you’re sleeping with an ex in your dreams, ask yourself: “What are the first few things that come to mind when I think of that person?”
Whether it’s fond nostalgia or heart-sinking rejection, there’s likely an existing tie to your present day reality.
It turns out that your Shrek sex dream might not be so nonsensical after all. If you’re getting it on with random folks in your dreams, look a little closer at the characteristics they possess.
“If you’re at a point in life when you really need to say or do something, but you’re afraid — you might just end up sleeping with your boss in your dreams, because they likely have that powerful, assertive quality that you need yourself,” Dalfen says.
In this scenario, it’s about something you’re currently missing in your life, and you want it.
“If you’re already in bed with that characteristic in your dreams, so to speak, then you’re probably closer to achieving the characteristic in real life,” she adds.
For non-single folks, this can manifest in dreams about cheating — there’s something about that person you’re sleeping with in your slumbers. You’re likely cozying up to another part of yourself through someone else, perhaps a part that isn’t getting expressed in your present relationship.
That said, dreams about cheating can be interpreted literally as well. If you’re feeling unfulfilled, don’t be surprised if your mind wanders in dreamland or a fantasy of freedom, Dalfen notes.
Some people have sex dreams about those they’d never actually want to sleep with IRL — but, somehow, it’s pleasurable in their dream, leading them to wake up supremely confused.
When asked for an example, Dalfen dove into an anecdote about a client who had sex dreams involving someone she never wanted to sleep with “in a million years,” as they put it.
“I asked her, ‘What do you think you did recently, something you thought you’d never do in a million years, but you loved every minute of it?’” she says.
Low and behold, the client was able to connect a recent real-life experience to the abstract scenario within her dream. It was her subconscious expression of trying something completely new, mirroring the real world, as strange of a metaphor as it may seem.
Simply put, a large portion of sex dreams are rehearsals that remind you what it’s like to feel good.
If you have a hot dream, maybe you’ve forgotten what it feels like to be turned on. Think of it as your subconscious helping you out.
“We’ll call this ‘Take That Feeling and Run With It,’” says Dalfen. Who could argue with that, right?
She goes on to explain that the orgasms we have in our dreams are indeed the real deal, a plea from the dream asking you to “take care of business,” as she puts it.
So, if you wake up a little woozy from a deliciously drowsy orgasm in your sleep, take that as a suggestion to get the sensual show on during waking hours.
Like relationships themselves, dream interpretation isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing.
“The situations that trigger any dream are very specific to the dreamer’s waking situation, as told by the metaphors they dream of,” Dalfen says. “Dream images take their meaning from the dreamer’s personal history and associations.”
And sexual experiences are no exception.
So… are your sex dreams trying to tell you something? Beyond potentially want more sex when you’re awake, there’s plenty of room for analysis and discovery through sex dreams if you’re willing to put the puzzle together.
Sarah Lempa is a writer and entrepreneur as the founder of Dang Fine Creative, a digital content agency. In her writing, she covers travel, mental health, business, sex and relationships, along with whatever else is currently inspiring. Her words have appeared in Business Insider, VICE, HuffPost, Lonely Planet, and more. While originally from the Chicago area, she’s called multiple countries home and has ventured across six continents along the way. When she’s not chipping away at a piece, you’ll find her jamming out to groovy beats or riding a motorcycle. Keep up with Sarah on Instagram.