In certain areas of analysis, it has long been thought that dreams are a window into our unconscious desires. Which is troubling if you have just had a saucy dream about someone you really shouldn’t have. And a new study has suggested that women are having more erotic dreams than ever before (although still less than men). In a paper published in the Psychology & Sexuality journal, Michael Schredl, a sleep researcher at the University of Freiburg, Germany, found that the average frequency of erotic dreams for the 2,907 participants was about 18%.
Younger people had more erotic dreams than older people. The researchers raised reasons for all of this – that feminism had made women less likely to be reticent in reporting erotic dreams, and that sex was not as big a part of waking life for older people as it was for younger ones.
Mark Blagrove, a professor of psychology at Swansea University, says we should be cautious of retrospective studies – where people report remembered dreams, rather than keep a diary. In a 2007 study of more than 3,500 dream reports by Antonio Zadra, a researcher at the University of Montreal, the frequency of erotic dreams was 8% for both men and women. Women were more likely to have erotic dreams about current or previous partners; men were more likely to dream about multiple sex partners.
Blagrove says he would have expected the figure to be higher than 8%, from work he has done on dreams. “You tend to dream of what’s more emotional to you. For that reason, you might expect there to be more erotic content than there actually is.”
Tension or problems in waking life may also be more likely to make it into your dreams. So an averagely happy sex life may not lead to X-rated dreams “because there’s nothing there that’s any concern or cause of tension”. Blagrove says it’s only about 15% of a dream “that you can actually relate to recent waking life concerns and events”.
A 2014 study by Dylan Selterman at the University of Maryland looked at how dreams – particularly those about infidelity – affected participants’ behaviour with their partners the next day. What Blagrove found interesting was when they looked at participants’ previous day activities. “They couldn’t find anything that predicted erotic content. This means that erotic content does not have a simple one-to-one relationship with events or concerns of the previous day.”
Does this mean there is no significance to erotic dreams? “From [this] study, I would say there is no simple relationship.” Dreaming of erotic content “may be almost by chance, or as a depiction of an important waking life concern or event.” Although he adds: “It may well mean something to the individual.”
Enjoy, and be thankful that it could be worse – Schredl found 4% of his participants’ dreams were about politics.