In Dreams You're Mine
First of all, yes, I am aware of recent reports of doctors treating pregnant women with dexamethasone prenatally to treat external (but not medically dangerous) effects of congenital adrenal hyperplasia, but I'm not going to write about it. I recommend this post if you're interested in more information. I don't really have anything to add beyond what's covered in that summary and frankly, I'd prefer to focus on the positive in this column as much as possible. Which isn't to say that I won't write about depressing or frustrating sex news, but I'd rather keep those posts infrequent.
Instead, this week I'd like to talk about an aspect of sexuality I've always found interesting: dreams. The subconscious mind is fascinating to study because it offers a window into things about ourselves that we may not acknowledge consciously. It's also often just weird and entertaining. I don't believe in standardized dream interpretations that insist that dreams about tooth loss, for example, indicate a fear of failure or whatever other weird explanations people have. Sure, some things are universal -- we've all probably dreamed about having to take a test we aren't prepared for during times of stress, even years out of school, for example, but for the most part I think the interpretation of dreams is dependent on the individual. This is as true of dreams about sex as any other kind. They may often reflect fantasies or personal hang-ups, although they may also occasionally just be a dumping ground for loose thoughts, mixing and matching things you've experienced, read, or seen randomly into a strange mix that has nothing to do with actual desires. In dreams I've had sex with people who I'd never touch in real life, done things I have no interest in, and once even grown a penis (I'm sure they're fun, but personally I wouldn't trade my innie for an outie even if I could). But I've also had some pretty hot dreams that inspired me to explore things that I hadn't thought of before. (I remember dreaming once that a lover gave me a riding crop as a present and I woke up thinking, "Huh, I would kinda like one of those.")
My most memorable dreams about sex, however, have mostly focused on not getting it. Once, in the middle of a dry spell, my subconscious basically invented a horror movie to express my sexual frustration. I was part of a group of survivors traveling through a post-apocalyptic America. I don't know what event caused the end of civilization, but I know that members of our group kept dying in weird, Final Destination-style ways. Faced with the possible end of the human race, I ran around frantically trying to get laid as soon as possible. I swear I went after every semi-attractive male in our group, and every time I got close to scoring, either we'd be interrupted or the guy would die suddenly, strangled by a random wire or brained but a falling rock out of nowhere. I woke up more than a little frustrated. More recently, I dreamed about the aftermath of a zombie invasion. After kicking some zombie ass, I ended up in a hotel that had been converted into a makeshift hospital. Realizing I had some breathing room, I immediately began checking out the staff and plotting how best to seduce one of the hot doctors. (I also checked my purse to find it stuffed to the point of overflowing with birth control pills - yes I was carrying a purse around in a zombie-infested wasteland. I had to have something to store my bc in, obviously.) That my brain has made a connection between the end of the world and sex surely says something about me. For one thing, if I do survive any apocalyptic events, I'm pretty sure I know what I'll be spending my time doing. For another, it would seem my biggest concern when it comes to sex is being sure I have access to it. That rings pretty true to me -- after suffering through one relationship with an unsatisfying rate of sexual frequency, knowing that I can get it when I want it is pretty important to me. My brain just happened to combine that worry with my love of horror films into a package that makes for a pretty good party story.
I may have weirder-than-average sex dreams, but I'm certainly not alone in my nocturnal preoccupation with sex. In surveys on dream content in general, about 80 percent of respondents admit to having dreams about sex. Most reports that focus on sexual dreams are several decades old and reflect differences in the sexual content of dreams between men and women which may not hold true in today's more sexually open society, but even in more repressed times a significant portion of both men and women admitted to dreaming about sex. More recent studies are sadly hard to come by. The most comprehensive study I was able to find was presented at the 2007 Annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies by Antonio Zadra of the Universite de Montreal (unfortunately, this research does not seem to have been published in any journals, so I'm forced to rely on news reports of the study). The study used a survey of 3,500 dreams of 109 women and 64 men to look at the frequency and types of sexual dreams. The number of participants in this study isn't great, statistically speaking, but it's on par with other studies of this type, and the number of dreams included in the survey is impressive. In this study, women reported having sexual dreams at approximately the same rate as men. Sexual intercourse was the most common activity dreamed about, but dreams about sexual propositions, kissing, and masturbation were also common. Both men and women reported experiencing orgasms during about four percent of these dreams. Women were slightly more likely to dream about current or past sexual partners (20 percent of the time, versus 14 percent for men), and men were more likely to dream about multiple partners. The content of the dreams often reflected common waking fantasies -- women frequently reported dreaming about celebrities, while men reported that women made the first move in about 90 percent of their erotic dreams. Negative dreams about sex were also reflective of common experiences -- in women's dreams the most common negative aspect was events occurring that turned them off or unhappiness with the pace of events, while for men it was the refusal of dream partners to engage in sexual acts with them.
Basically, the research reveals what most people would have assumed based on common sense -- dreams about sex, both good and bad, are extremely common, and what you dream about may reflect your waking fantasies and difficulties. Personally, I'm less interested in the generalities than in the individual quirks, but there aren't any studies that detail those. I hope y'all will satisfy my curiosity in the comments.
Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she's had a little whiskey.