Why We Dream About Sex
by Layne Dalfen, dream analyst
You have sex with your best friend. Or sex with a hot stranger, perhaps while lying in bed right next to your partner! How does this dream make you feel when you wake up? Aroused? Uncomfortable? Guilty? All of the above?
It's not surprising that of all the dream topics I analyze with clients, sex dreams top the titillation--and confusion--charts. The way we dream about sex can uncover our deepest secrets about ourselves helping us problem-solve and offering critical guidance on important life issues. You just need to know how to deconstruct them. Discovering why you had a particular dream is an investigation. You’ll want to ask yourself questions to solve the puzzle. Remember that in our dreams we are decision-making, testing out different solutions to our problems. We are practicing different behaviors. And all of the possible ways of behaving in every situation we face are there for us in our dreams. Why feel stuck with the same reactions to situations over and over again when our dreams offer us the potential to change our behavior and our lives?
Sexual dreams can indicate that our body needs sexual release. But they can mean so much more. They can give us a chance to understand conflicts or opportunities in our sexual lives. They can wake in us our need for love or nurturing in our relationship. Even more importantly, they can serve as metaphors for nonsexual issues and situations in our personal and professional lives. Sexual dreams can reveal a union between different aspects of our own selves.
The dream reflects a current need or situation
Before I look for other possible meanings in a dream, I always like to look at first things first. The first level of your dream always reflects a very specific current issue in your life that you are attempting to problem-solve. We are adept at hiding our feelings from ourselves and we do so easily keeping busy daily. We may not always be in touch with our needs. Well, your subconscious never lies to you. Dreaming is a form of thinking without the filter.
To attach your sexual dream to the need or situation it is reflecting, the first thing you’ll want to ask yourself is if you need some release. Sometimes a sexual dream is there to inspire you to ask your partner for some loving. Maybe your dream is just there to make you feel good!
Dreams offer a safe place to practice.
Sarah, who was brought up in an extremely conservative home, had the idea it was a woman’s place to always lie under the man when having sexual inter-course. Recently she had recurring sexual dreams in which she was always on top. Sometimes it wasn’t her husband either! After eighteen years of marriage she was bored with their routine sexual life. Sarah had to admit that her dreams were exciting. At forty-five years old, her dreams provided Sarah with a safe place to let go of her teenage conditioning and practice how it feels being in the top position. When she felt comfortable enough Sarah took her new idea out into her waking life and surprised her husband!
Metaphors for nonsexual situations
Sexual dreams are often directly related to problem-solving situations in our personal or professional lives. So when literal explanations for your dream don’t seem to ring true search out a metaphoric meaning. I use the term “metaphoric meaning” because we often use sexual situations in dreams simply as a way of saying something to ourselves. Maybe it is to get a feeling across. Allan, a client of mine kept dreaming that his wife was cheating on him. When looking first for a literal explanation, I asked him, “Is it true? Do you really think she is cheating on you?” His answer was no. So we began to investigate other possibilities as to the dream’s meaning. The act of doing this is exactly like trying to solve a puzzle. You try one piece, and if that doesn't fit, you try another. I like to call these puzzle pieces different points of entry into the dream.
In Allan’s case I tried a “feelings” point of entry by asking, “How do the dreams make you feel?” His response was immediate. “Betrayed. Surprised. Saddened. Angry.” I asked, “What situation do you think went on in your life this week that has made you feel the same emotions?” It was in answering that question that Allan clicked on the dream’s meaning.
A client who he had been doing business with for so many years who Allan really felt close to and whom he thought he could depend, (much like his wife), took some of their business to a competitor. Allan was not expressing outwardly the tremendous feeling of sadness and betrayal he was experiencing. His subconscious using a picture of his wife cheating on him, accomplished its task. Alfred Adler would have said the dream gives rise to an emotion that helps you move closer towards the goal. In this case the goal or lesson of the dream, was to get the dreamer in touch with the sadness he was experiencing and to express it. In many situations it is most beneficial if we can express our feelings directly to the person it concerns. But even when that is not possible, the simple act of expressing out instead of holding in can be a great release. You let some air out of the balloon. The dream has served its purpose. Happily it was Allan’s wife who was there to lean on.
Once you have correctly decoded a dream’s meaning (and by that I mean that you have succeeded in discovering what specific problem the dream is addressing), you will be astounded by how precisely it mirrors that situation!
Lisa dreamed she had a piglet stuck to her breast. Yes. You read this correctly. A piglet stuck to her breast! My first question was totally “feeling” related. “You must have been running around frightened trying to get the piglet off you!” “No”, she admitted, “Actually, I was just standing there looking down at the piglet!” When you’ve tried the “feelings” as a puzzle piece and they don’t fit, try the symbols. You might catch the meaning that way. Before I sought to investigate the symbols, I wanted first to have a sense of what happened the day before the dream. You will want to try that too since we know that the dream is always about something that you thought about, or something that happened to you yesterday. I asked Lisa, “What did you do yesterday? Who did you see?” In the course of the conversation Lisa mentioned that she had run into her ex-boyfriend. He wanted her to help him put together a party he wanted to throw for himself. She didn’t even want to go, let alone help. Symbols in a dream can be people, places and things. And since we each have our very own unique set of definitions and associations to symbols, the only way to uncover their meanings is to ask the dreamer. I inquired, “What are the first two or three things that come to your mind when you think of him?” Now be aware your answer can be a memory you might have, an association or a personality trait of theirs. She responded, “He is a dependent little pig! He’s someone who just ‘feeds’ off women!” she said. Well. I guess we had found our piglet! And very often the way you speak will come in the form of a picture. That is why it’s a great idea to say your dream out loud. When you do, you hear yourself say puns and play on words, and it can help you catch your dream’s meaning, just like Lisa did.
Lisa just standing there rather than running around freaking in her dream mirrored her lack of reaction to her ex-boyfriend’s request, and more importantly pointed he attention to what action was needed in waking life. I guess she needed to get something off her chest. Once she understood the message of her dream Lisa telephoned he ex to let him know she would not be helping him with his party. Isn’t it amazing how by using her breast Lisa’s subconscious captured the essence of her being asked to prepare the food for the party? A nursing piglet captures her ex’s dependent personality too. And what about Lisa needing to express herself? Get it? Expressing milk is the term used for breast-feeding!
Recapturing your disowned character traits
Dreams can reveal qualities of our own personality we didn't know we had. Dr. Frederick Perls, the Gestalt master, called these "unpracticed" characteristics disowned. I like to call them under-invested. Here’s why. We are born whole. What I mean to say is that we come into this world with all potential behaviors. We can be assertive, shy, selfish, giving, heroic, frightened, and so on. And because the people who bring us up send us a message that it is more appropriate to be one way than another, we become over-invested in some aspects of our personality and under-invested in others. An example is how if you grew up in a home with siblings, hearing sentences like, “Don’t be selfish. You should share your toys”, may have given you the idea that behaving selfishly is not a good thing. Similarly, if you grew up as an only child, you may have gotten the idea that behaving selfishly is fine! Of course both are correct, but it would depend on the situation at hand, right? The point is we become more exercised or over-invested in adopting the character traits that were considered acceptable back then. When a life situation occurs in which you may need one of your under-invested character traits, it finds a means of expression in our dreams.
You can learn about using under-invested personality traits to respond to situations in new ways. Soon you become more comfortable with adopting different reactions and approaches to different situations. Now you are no longer stuck in your patterns, which while they may be appropriate in certain situations, are working against you in others. You will find yourself exercising much more of your potential. Accepting all the different parts of yourself is what Carl Jung called individuation; Perls, maturation; and Edgar Cayce called it "the best self," or the soul."
I have found most often in my practice that the solution to the current issue the dreamer is facing can be found in what I call the second layer of meaning in the dream. Allow me to further explain. All the parts of the dream represent different parts of you. You are the producer, the director, and all the players in your dream. You are the wall, the water, the road, and even the snake. In a movie one person can’t play all the parts! Likewise, in our dreams, we cannot play all the parts. In life I am Layne the wife, the mother, the daughter, the aunt, the friend, the writer, the radio personality, and the dream analyst. I can be giving, selfish, sad, happy, weak, strong, assertive, shy, angry and frustrated, or optimistic and energetic.
In dreams we usually take the role we most easily connect to in our waking lives, and give out the other parts to people, animals, or objects. We use them as metaphors and symbols to say something to ourselves that only we can understand. So our dreams show us different characteristics we need to be fully ourselves, in every situation and give us the opportunity to reunite these “divorced” aspects of our own character, so that we can move forward through life with a deeper, truer self. When a character trait is “missing” and needed in a particular situation, that trait will very likely present itself in the person’s dreams.
Here’s what under-invested character traits look like when they appear in a dream and how to de-code their meaning. Rhona grew up in a home with parents who had strict rules about children expressing their feelings. Speaking up was considered disrespectful. Rhona had become under-invested in speaking up, and over-invested in holding back her feelings. She is a very soft-spoken and timid person. Rhona works as a designer in a belt company. Her boss is abusive. For months Rhona has been struggling with the idea of leaving her job, not to mention wishing she could at least express herself to her boss when he is rude to her. One night, she had a dream in which her aunt who had been dead for twelve years appeared. Rhona called me wondering if her aunt’s appearance in her dream was some message of foreboding.
I asked her, “How did you feel in the dream?” She said, “Frightened. I inquired, “What do you think happened to you yesterday that made you feel afraid?” Rhona linked the dream to how she froze up when her boss spoke rudely again to her. I continued, “Why don’t you tell me what comes to mind about your aunt.” She answered, “My aunt had the biggest mouth! That’s what everyone always said about her! You never had to wonder what she was thinking about. She’d always let you know.”
Rhona’s aunt is the solution to her problem. Her subconscious brought her late aunt into her dream in order to prod her into adopting some of those characteristics in responding to her boss. Rhona did. Once she understood the dream’s meaning, she actually walked into her boss’s office a week later, right after he had called her an incompetent. She said she was no longer prepared to accept such treatment and quit her job! She had exercised her under-invested side.
Two days later, I received another worried call from Rhona. This time she dreamed she was making love to her girlfriend Cheryl! This was shocking to her since she is happily married and has no fantasies about sleeping with her friend. Sexual dreams with unexpected partners are very common.
I asked what associations Rhona has with her friend. Smiling, Rhona realized she was about to give me the same description of her friend as she had about her aunt! She added, “I really admire those qualities about her.”
Rhona’s dream was an indication that her true self was seeking union with aspects of Cheryl's character. And the dream simultaneously reflected how good she felt doing something she would never normally think of doing!
We all have freedom of choice as to how we want to behave and who we want to be. Having the ability to understand our dreams gives us the opportunity to be completely in touch with our whole selves when making decisions.
Steps to take and Questions to ask yourself to decode your sexual dreams:
1. Look for a literal meaning. Is the story of the dream something that really happened? Is it something you really do want to do?
2. Write down how you felt in the dream. Is there a correlation between how you felt in the dream and something that is going on in your life?
3. Isolate the symbols. (People, places and things) What comes to your mind when you think about the symbol? Is anyone in your life behaving like that recently? Is it that you might need to adopt that characteristic in your current situation?
4. Say the dream out loud. Maybe you’ll discover a word play or pun! For example, a woman who dreamed there were snakes on the floor and said, "I couldn't put my foot down" was subconsciously referring to an inability to "put her foot down" in a situation with her husband.
Once you find the mirror, look for the solution
1. Is the solution in the action or lack of it? Is the action appropriate to the situation?
An example is the piglet dream.
2. What behavior or personality type can I take from the dream and use in my current situation?
3. What strength about my character do I need to tap into right now in my life?
An example is a woman who dreams that she falls to her death, gets up and walks away. The dream makes a comment to illustrate how when she hits rock bottom, she knows how to pick herself up and carry on.