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If you’ve ever woken up confused — and maybe even slightly aroused — about why your dreams were full of steamy sex scenes with you as the main character, you’re not alone.

Sex dreams are a normal part of life. In fact, it’s relatively safe to say that we all have them at some point — some more than others. Dreaming about sexual activity with someone other than your partner is also normal.

We all want to know the meaning of our dreams, especially when they leave us perplexed and wondering why a particular theme played out while we slept.

Dream content often relates back to what’s happening in your waking life. So when your days are filled with stress and anxiety, you may end up having some unpleasant dreams. But if things are going well and you feel satisfied, your dreams may take on a different twist.

Dr. Janet Brito, a licensed psychologist and AASECT certified sex therapist, explains that dreams are a way to reveal what is invisible to you. They serve as an inner guidance system, give you commentary about how you’re living your life, and reveal symbolic images for you to explore with curiosity.

The symbols and images in your dreams connect you to your feelings, your wishes, or something that you’re trying to resolve, says Brito.

Decoding the meaning behind sex dreams is not a one-size-fits-all process. While you may have the urge to interpret your sex dream literally, Brito says to capture the essence of a dream, it’s best to focus on the symbolic representation.

“When sex shows up in your dreams, break it down into a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and focus on experiencing the feelings in your dream and being curious about where the energy of the dream leads you, specifically of how the dream ends,” explains Brito. “This will reveal to you the emotional need that your sex dream is trying to have you fulfill in waking life,” she adds.

That’s why it’s OK to not read too much into last night’s dream that featured you doing things you never thought you would do with your boss. Even sex dreams that might be considered “taboo” are nothing to worry about. You just have to dig a little deeper to see what your subconscious is saying about your waking life.

Again, it’s important to point out that decoding the meaning behind sex dreams is not a one-size-fits-all process. We all attach a different meaning to each scenario. However, there are some common themes that appear in sex dreams.

What it may suggest:

It may just be that your libido is high and you’re not getting your needs met.

What to do about it:

Don’t look too much into this dream. It may just be about your active (or overactive) libido. If that’s the case, open communication with your partner is a good place to start. Let them know how you’re feeling and what you want more of, but be sensitive to the fact that they may not feel the same way.

What it may suggest:

Depending on how often you’re having these dreams and how long you’ve been split from your ex, they could mean anything from getting used to a new partner to unresolved grief about an ex.

What to do about it:

If you’re fresh off of a breakup, allow yourself time to adjust to having sex with a new partner. However, if it’s been several months or even years since your breakup and you still have recurring sex dreams with the same ex, it might be time to work with a professional through some grief issues around this relationship, or feeling unfulfilled in your current relationship.

What it may suggest:

BDSM stands for bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism. “This dream may mean that you had an overbearing mother or father, and you are familiarly tantalized by the idea of being tied up and overcome by a love object (person),” explains Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist. Other possible interpretations include a desire to control or wishing others would take initiative.

What to do about it:

“There is nothing perverted, wrong, or unnatural with this — our sexual experiences are personal and private,” explains Walfish.

When one partner wants to try BDSM or toys, but the other partner isn’t interested, she says to gently tell your partner exactly what you’d like to try. Be clear that you’re completely satisfied with them as your partner, and offer to exchange the favor by trying something your partner would enjoy.

What it may suggest:

This dream could mean that you were raised with direct or covert messages that oral sex is disgusting and unwanted, but secretly, you desire it.

What to do about it:

“Many people are averse to giving oral sex, although some of these folks love receiving it,” says Walfish. That’s why it is best to encourage an open discussion between you and your partner to explore what causes the aversion and if there’s anything that can be done to make it more comfortable.

What it may suggest:

This dream may be an indicator of a person who, for instance, had a charming, narcissistic father who deprived them of sustained attention. They fantasize about the all-encompassing feeling of being fully loved by an authority figure.

What to do about it:

If you’re having this dream because you crave the attention of an authority figure, Walfish says to take some time to figure out who it really is that you want to be loved by.

“Depending on the relationship with this person, and whether or not you still have conflict over it, you may be able just to write it off, or you may decide to talk to a professional about working through your feelings,” she adds.

What it may suggest:

It’s not uncommon for people to become aroused and sexually turned on by the visual stimulation of viewing an inanimate object.

For example, Walfish points out that the shape of a bathtub spout may resemble the male penis, or the sculpture of a nude body can be a huge turn-on. “Many people hold the visual image at the front of their minds and later masturbate to a creative imaginary vignette of sex with the inanimate object,” she explains.

What to do about it:

There is nothing perverted, wrong, or unnatural with this. As long as it doesn’t hurt you or another person in the process, Walfish says to just go with it.

What it may suggest:

This dream, says Walfish, could mean a proper, buttoned-up person wants to let go and feel more comfortable in their own skin. They may subconsciously wish to be free of their own self-judgments and preoccupation with how others view them.

What to do about it:

“You can either let go of this dream and write it off as nothing or use it as a way to explore dirty talk with your partner,” says Walfish. However, she does caution that dirty talk is potentially risky if your partner finds it distasteful or has a negative stigma attached to it.

That’s why communication, as always, is key to learning more about the likes and dislikes of your partner.

Your sex dreams don’t need to be rooted in deep emotions or past traumas for them to be a tool to help you get more in touch with your desires and emotions. Even if your dreams are on the lighter side, consider tapping into their meaning to help you become more aware of your feelings and inner desires.

Start a journal

To get a better idea of any patterns or recurring sex dreams, keep a journal by your bed, and write down the details from your dream. After three to five entries, review the dreams and see what they have in common. If they point to a need for more intimacy, you may want to talk with your partner about your feelings.

Brito reminds us that dreams are just one way to get in touch with our feelings. “Other ways to get in touch with your feelings are to spend some time with yourself, to unplug from your digital devices, and to focus on paying attention to your body,” says Brito.

Do a body scan

Brito also recommends setting time aside to journal about your day. “Give yourself permission to schedule a ‘soul appointment’ whereby you create the space to connect with your heart essence,” she explains.

To start, she suggests blocking 20 to 60 minutes in your calendar, turning off your phone and your computer, making some tea, and taking five deep breaths before you do a body scan.

“A body scan encourages you to notice what is physically happening in your body, identify where your feelings reside in your body, and then to learn to name your emotions,” says Brito. “Let your body reveal what emotions are residing in your body, like if your body could speak, what would it say to you,” she adds.

Sex dreams are a normal part of life. Generally, these dreams are your subconscious working through the last few days.

If the dreams are disturbing to you, and they seem to be happening often, you may want to see a mental health professional to help you unpack what’s going on.

Otherwise, take a deep breath and consider embracing your sex dreams and using them to learn more about yourself.