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Trigger warning: This piece mentions sexual assault and PTSD.
Sex dreams can be incredibly hot — or leave you waking up in a panic, depending on the context. Some nights, you may wake up confused and scared if your dream was about cheating, an ex, or past trauma. On a better night, you may wake up on top of the world after a sex dream about Rihanna. But according to clinical psychologist and sleep expert Michael Breus, sex dreams of all kinds are perfectly normal and even healthy. "Sexual dreams appear to start when a child is going through puberty," Breus tells Allure. While Breus says most people have fewer sexual dreams after puberty, they don't end there altogether. In fact, sex therapist Holly Richmond says that about 80 percent of her clients talk to her about their erotic dreams.
You may be one of those people who doesn't dream much; on the other hand, you may be lucky enough to experience lucid dreaming. For many of us, the pandemic has even affected our dreams. But if you're worried about the erotic content of your slumber, the experts say common sex dream scenarios include exes, celebrities, cheating, and can even be accompanied by orgasms. There are also nightmares that can be sexual in nature but disturbing, especially if you are a rape survivor and experience PTSD. Or, you may simply unearth some new fantasies during your slumber and feel unsure how to navigate the experience. To better understand why we have sex dreams, the different types, and what they mean, Allure spoke with several experts to break it down. Spoiler alert: The brain loves to dream about the forbidden.
Sex Dreams About Your Boss
Often we have sex dreams about those who are off-limits, such as our boss or a coworker. These dreams are prevalent, says Richmond, but rather than indicating that you're actually lusting after your boss, the dream is likely about office power dynamics. "There's a relationship dynamic in which you need to control more, and it's getting played out sexually. There's so rarely a real sexual component to this. If you feel yucky when you wake up, trust that. You don't want to have sex with this person, and there's some other dynamic," Richmond says.
So don't be embarrassed — office-related sex dreams are pretty common.
Sex Dreams About Someone You Hate
Why would our mind waste our precious sleep by having sex with someone we don't even like? Well, let's think about actual "hate fucking." What comes to mind? You probably think of hot sex with someone you don't like or are mad at, and during sex, you get to expend that energy sexually. Richmond says that, like with our bosses, when we have sex dreams about someone we dislike, it's likely much more about power dynamics than actual sex. "Dreams can communicate a lot — it's just not always a direct connection," Richmond says.
Sex Dreams About a Celebrity
Sex dreams about celebrities are widespread, according to experts. So what do they mean? Well, the answer here is pretty simple: They likely mean that we are attracted to that celebrity. "These can range from crushes to sexual prowess and agency and feeling like we can get someone who is out of reach. Those are really common, too, and they're usually an ego boost," Richmond says. So what should we do about them? Have fun with them; it's unlikely you'll ever bang this celebrity in real life (sorry). And no, having sex with a celeb in your dreams does not count as cheating.
Sex Dreams About an Ex
Sex dreams that involve exes are one of the most complicated to wake up from. Unlike celebrity sex dreams, exes are people we usually have a very complex history with, and having them can result in complicated feelings. Ex-sex dreams don't directly translate to wanting to have sex with our former partner, but we usually dream about an ex with whom we have unresolved emotions. "There is some relational dynamic that needs to be worked out. What were you trying to communicate through sex? Do you want a new understanding? Did you want to take your power back? There's usually unfinished business, and it's not sexual," Richmond says.
Sex Dreams About a Platonic Friend
Sex dreams run on the forbidden. Michael Friedman, a sleep specialist and otolaryngologist says this is why we are more likely to have sex dreams about exes, bosses, celebrities, and even platonic friends than the person we share a bed with. You may be attracted to this friend, or perhaps the sex dream is simply happening because this is someone you can't have sex with. Either way, don't worry about being a perv or about cheating if you're in a committed relationship. "It's very normal, and it's just human nature. It doesn't imply anything wrong or a conscious desire to be unfaithful; it's just part of being human," Friedman says.
Embarrassing Sex Dreams
Other times, we have dreams that feel like a sexual version of being back at school, except instead of forgetting your homework, you are naked, and everyone is laughing at you. Richmond says examples include people waking up from a dream that they engaged in sexual activities that they may never have thought of doing in real life, such as a gang bang or bukkake.