13 most common sex dreams and what they say about your subconscious

Sex dreams can be both pleasure-inducing and alarming, but they also offer a valuable insight into your inner pysche

Woman lying in bed smiling with arms above head, on top of white sheets and purple blankets day dreaming after having sex dreams
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Sex dreams are a perfectly normal part of our sleeping subconscious but it's not surprising that many of us wake up feeling out of sorts after one - especially if it involved someone that wasn't our partner, or an unusual situation. 

Experts agree on the importance of sleep for our mental and physical health, but research on why we dream - and have sex dreams particularly - is limited. The consensus is that they're our mind's way of dealing with thoughts and desires we experience throughout the day. 

So, it's also entirely normal to want to know the meaning of dreams - sexual or not - if they're signs of what we want, miss, or need in our lives when we're awake. Here, with the help of sex and relationship experts, sexologists and psychologists, we examine the meanings of the most common sex dreams.

The meaning of sex dreams

1. Sex with friend

Mates by day, dates by night; even the most platonic friendship has the power to turn into something steamy when you’re deep in the world of sleep. Even if you never thought you were interested in a certain friend, they can often pop up in your dreams as a romantic companion. That can be confusing to say the least and turn your friendship a little awkward - especially if it's a lucid dream.

The meaning behind the dream

“Having a sex dream about a close friend can leave you freaked out, but it’s actually nothing to worry about,” says sex and relationship expert Ruby Payne, from sex toy retailer UberKinky. “Dreaming about having sex with someone you know is usually saying that you admire a particular trait or quality of theirs. Or it’s a reflection of how close you feel to that person. So definitely don’t sweat it if you get down and dirty with a friend in your dreams.”

If you're in a relationship though, it could mean that you're after something a little deeper with your actual romantic partner. "Ask yourself if you find the friend attractive or interesting," suggests psychotherapist Neil Wilkie, author of The Relationship Paradigm books series. 

"And assess whether your current lovemaking is good or whether you could learn how to have better sex. If your sexual needs are not being met by your partner, then create the time and space where you can both express your needs and desires. Your sex dream could lead to the most important conversation you will have in your relationship," he says, adding that if you struggle to open up, chatting with a sex therapist could help.  

Two work colleagues in a meeting room working on a project, one of the most common sex dreams

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2. Sex with a work colleague

Casual chats about ink cartridges while standing next to the photocopier can be awkward at the best of times, but if you’ve had an intense dream orgasm with the same co-worker the night before, then it can be almost impossible. But does it mean you secretly lust after Sam in Accounts? Or is your subconscious just playing tricks on you? 

The meaning behind the dream

“Don’t worry, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have sex with your co-worker,” says Payne. “Or you might want to, who knows. More often than not the dream is about your desire to make a connection between two parts of yourself. You are you, obviously, and your colleague represents a separate part of you. This is usually your work life. The sex is a way of these two parts of your life joining together.” 

If there’s someone at work you feel attracted to in real life though, be cautious. “An office is a place where people share a lot and are working towards a common purpose,” says Wilkie. “Intimacy with a work colleague that you feel in tune with can be compelling and exciting but set your boundaries."

3. Sex with a stranger

In the world of movies, unexpectedly hitting it off with a stranger can be the start of a timeless romantic comedy. So it’s no wonder that in dream land, sex with a stranger can be one of the ultimate sexual fantasies. From meeting in a bar, kissing in a club, or even a fling at a festival, dreaming about sex with a stranger can be a steamy, hot experience.

These types of dreams are relatively rare though, especially if that stranger really is unknown to you. According to research by Harvard Medical School, it's more typical for us to dream about those we know or at least recognize, with only 16% of those in the study able to dream about a random individual. 

The meaning behind the dream

"You're craving attention and sex essentially," says clinical sexologist and relationship advisor Katie Lasson. But it doesn’t mean you should start swiping through endless sex apps to try and find someone to help you act out the fantasy. 

“Remember that almost everything in your dreams is symbolic,” says Payne. “Depending on whether the person you’re sleeping with is male or female, the most likely explanation is that you desire the qualities traditionally associated with that gender. It's very stereotypical, but an unknown male partner may mean you desire assertiveness and to stand up for yourself. While an unknown woman could represent a need for creativity, compassion, or sensitivity." 

If you're dreaming of sex with a stranger and you have a partner, it could be a sign that something's missing in your relationship. "What starts as apparently innocent fantasies can quickly become a desire reality, something that will cause a disconnection both physically and emotionally with your partner," says Wilkie. 

He suggests, "Focus on what's missing in your current relationship and what needs to change. Talk to your partner about this and get their thoughts on it, then agree on what you will both do to improve your relationship. It might be really helpful to inject more fun and variety."

Male and female couple standing in the kitchen hugging

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4. Sex with my current partner

Been with your partner for years and things turned a bit stale? You’re not alone. But in steamy dreams, sex with your current partner may involve mixing it up in a way you haven't been, like trying sex in the shower or experimenting with the best sex positions. Rather than being something to worry about, it can help boost your sex drive as you see your partner in a whole new light. 

The meaning behind the dream

“If you enjoyed your dream or it was a positive experience for you, then congrats,” says Payne. “The intimacy between you two is healthy and you enjoy things as they are."

However, the dream won't be positive in all cases. "If the dream was negative or left your feeling sad or like something was missing, then there may be an emotional or sexual issue you need to work out together," she adds. 

Dealing with it in real life could be as simple as talking through things, especially if you're not having much sex in real life. Communication is the route out of a sexless marriage or relationship after all. "Speak to your partner about your dreams and help them to express theirs," says Wilkie. "Then agree what you're both going to do to test out those different ways."

5. My partner cheats on me

Waking up angry or upset is never ideal, but then neither is dreaming about your partner cheating with someone else. It's actually one of the most common nightmares, according to research by FromMars, who found that 46% of women have had a negative dream where their partner had been unfaithful. 

The meaning behind the dream

“Cheating dreams, however they present themselves, are actually the most common type of sex dream,” says Payne. “Take solace in their normality, even if it doesn’t ease the unique ache they bring in the morning.” 

There are two ways to interpret your cheating dreams, depending on whether or not there is infidelity in your past. 

“If your partner has cheated on you before, then your dreams are shining a light on distrust that still lingers there,” she says. “Your mind is telling you to work on things rather than let them slide. If there’s no infidelity in your past, there could be something in your relationship making you feel like a third wheel. Is anything taking up too much of your partner’s time? Something that’s taking them away from you? Time for some soul searching.”

Two pairs of unrecognisable hands in bed together representing sex with an ex, one of the most common sex dreams

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6. Sex with the ex

However messy the split, there’s something very sexy about the thought of having sex with an ex again - even if it’s all in your mind. In fact, it’s almost like the ultimate makeup sex - except they don’t know about it. 

The meaning behind the dream

“This is an incredibly common sex dream, so don’t worry,” says Payne. “Chances are this is the ex you will never forget. Maybe you took a huge step with them or they had a big impact on your life.” 

But that doesn't mean that getting back with an ex is a good idea, or even that you miss them. "They’re an ex for a reason,” says Payne. “What you could be missing is the excitement or connection that you shared, even if it was only in the beginning.”

Is dreaming of sex with an ex at night affecting your real life, and present relationship? “Discuss lovemaking with your current partner and talk through what they have enjoyed and what could be even better,” says Wilkie. “Express your feelings too so you can make love with your partner in different and more mutually fulfilling ways.”

7. Sex with a celebrity

Hands up - who hasn't dreamt about having sex with a star? For women, it's one of the most common dreams according to the FromMars research, with more than one in four women admitting to a raunchy dream about someone famous. Sometimes it's an obvious choice, other times it could be someone you've never even look twice at in real life.

The meaning behind the dream

There are several theories about why you might dream about sex with a celebrity. The first is just down to what you have been doing recently. “It’s usually from when you see someone famous, then your memory is just throwing you flashbacks from newspapers or magazines you have read, or conversations you have had with your friends about them,” says Lasson. 

Or it could be even more simple. “You probably just fancy that celebrity,” says Payne. “But, if it’s a random celebrity or one that you don’t really have a thing for at all, then it could represent some part of yourself that you want recognition for. Ask yourself, what comes to mind when you think of that person? A TV show, a movie, or maybe a song? Once you know what’s on your mind, then you might be able to identify the source of your desire.”

The good news is that it’s very normal. “It’s quite natural to have fantasies about someone famous and wonderful,” says Wilkie. 

“Just make sure you don’t call out their name if you orgasm with your partner," he jokes. "This could be a real ‘oops’ moment. But also the chance to incorporate something new into the bedroom. If you want to spice up your love life, talk to your partner and see if they would like to play games of sexual charades.”

Woman looking at phone sitting at a desk with computer in the office, in front of wooden lockers and large windows

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8. Sex with the boss

A staple from the world of porn (and even porn for women), sex with someone in a position of power is not uncommon. But if you don’t find your boss attractive in real life, they’re married, or it’s going to mean you can’t focus on your next big presentation, then you may need to work out why.

The meaning behind the dream

“Don’t worry, you’re not necessarily falling for your superior,” says Payne. “What’s more likely is that you desire the power that they symbolize. How do you view yourself? Do you see yourself climbing the ranks in your career? Perhaps developing your professional skills and leadership? You might be getting ready to take charge and move on to that next rung of the ladder. 

The best thing to do about dreaming of sex with your boss is to completely ignore it. “Allow this dream to pass,” says Wilkie. “If it continues it may get a bit awkward, especially if your boss may pick up on the leaking desire.”

9. Group sex

Yes, group sex may be popular in movie sex scenes but, in real life, you may not have the confidence to have sex with the lights on, let alone being naked in front of a lot of horny strangers. Just making a change from your usual go-to sex position can be a big deal, but group sex in dreams is often as slick as a theatre production. Everyone is attractive, everyone turns you on, and you all orgasm at the same time.

The meaning behind the dream

“Dreaming about group sex may not be symbolic; it might be something you actually want to explore in real life, or a scenario you fantasize about at the very least,” says Payne. “It’s also possible that you simply want a little variety in your sex life, or there’s a part of your life that you don’t quite feel comfortable fully expressing.”

Just make sure to be cautious if you do want to make this sex dream a reality. “If your partner is one of the people involved, you could, gently, talk to them about this and explore it if this is something they would like,” says Wilkie. “If they're not involved and it is just strangers, then enjoy the fantasy and let it go. Then do what you can to inject more variety and challenge into your lovemaking.”

10. Sex with someone you hate

Feelings of love are strong, but feelings of hate can often seem even stronger. In a romantic comedy, a pair of rivals often end up together after just 90 minutes of screen time, but that’s not usually the case in real life. That’s why having dreams about sex with someone you hate and enjoying it, whether it's someone at work or the subject of a toxic friendship, can seem even more confusing.

The meaning behind the dream

“If you’ve experienced this, chances are you’ve woken up with a severe case of WTF,” says Payne. 

But, you’re in luck. Much like dreaming about sex with an ex, you probably don’t want to sleep with them in real life. What’s more likely is that you’re holding onto something from this person that you need to let go of, as in a grudge or emotional baggage of some kind,” she says. “Try to forgive and forget or even make amends with this person, just try to move on in some way.”

Wilkie agrees. “Let your subconscious stand proud and say, 'I am better than you, I am in control of what I am doing, I don’t care what you think, I am going to have a wonderful orgasm and you are not',” he says. “If the dream keeps repeating then try and focus on someone you love instead.”

Woman holding a broken vase in a box

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11. Sex dreams where something goes wrong

From breaking wind and doubling over with a cramp, to making noises you wish you hadn’t. There can be plenty of things that 'go wrong' when you’re having sex. In real life, the best way to deal with it is to laugh it off, but when you're sleeping, it’s not always possible to think that rationally, and you may wake up feeling embarrassed and ashamed. Both of which are emotions not usually associated with healthy sex life and good mental health.

The meaning behind the dream

“Sometimes sex dreams can be the complete opposite of a turn-on,” says Payne. “You could find yourself between the sheets with someone who embarrasses you, or maybe something terrible happens like you suddenly end up naked in front of your entire high school. If something goes wrong in your dream, chances are the sex itself isn’t the focus of the dream, but rather what happens. Do you end up naked in public? Then you might fear being exposed. Think about the surroundings of your dream, rather than your partner, to discover the root of its meaning.” 

Accept the embarrassment and try your best to not let it worry you. “We all have performance anxiety at times. When it manifests as sexual anxiety in the bedroom, it could stem from a time where something really did 'go wrong' during sex, or you're worried about something going wrong with a potentially new partner," says Wilkie. 

“Accept the act of lovemaking is imperfect. Simultaneous orgasm and a 10/10 lovemaking score are largely reserved for Hollywood. If you're with someone who you really like, embrace the mistakes, enjoy the journey and keep learning.”

12. Sex involving BDSM

If you’re starting to consider experimenting with BDSM for beginners in real life, it may easily slip over into your dream life. After all, being tied up, being a dominator, or using lots of sex toys can seem very safe when it’s just your head. 

The meaning behind the dream

“If you desire more excitement and variety, open the door,” says Wilkie. This dream could simply mean you feel ready to explore your sexuality more with bondage for beginners or similar. 

“If your dreams involve you being dominated by your partner, then you might want your real sex life to reflect this element of power play,” says Payne. “If the roles are reversed, you may want to experiment with being in charge.”

If you feel ready, take action. “Talk to your partner about this and gently explore if they have an appetite for it too,” adds Wilkie. “If so, take some safe, gentle steps into this, ensuring you both can signal and stop when you start to feel too uncomfortable.”

Woman and man walking along a path beside a lake

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13. Sex in a public place

There’s definitely something about being watched during sex which is a turn-on for a lot of people. In fact, almost half (45%) of people surveyed by FromMars had dreamt of having sex outside or in a public place. 

In reality, you risk being arrested, being uncomfortable, and possibly scaring innocent passersby. But in your dreams, you’re the leading star giving an Oscar-worthy performance, shaking off inhibitions and embracing the elements. 

What does this say about you?

The main thing about this dream is your reaction to it. “If you enjoy it, you might want to flaunt your relationship with your partner, or have people see you as attractive,” says Payne. “If you hate it or feel ashamed, then you might fear exposure of some kind. Doing something you shouldn’t, perhaps? Then your subconscious might be concerned about being discovered.”

Is this one to bring into the real world? “If you and your partner are up for it, then as long as you are discrete and safe, go for it,” says Wilkie. “A beach, in the middle of the forest, in the back seat of the car on a country lane is OK. But in a busy, public space or at the checkout of the supermarket? You might get some funny looks.”

How to stop having sex dreams

There's no certified way to prevent sex dreams but as our experts have suggested, assessing the wider meaning of your dream and focusing on improving your relationship with your partner - or yourself - is the way forward. 

Utilizing your favorite masturbation techniques, along with having more regular sex in general, could also be the way forward. "Sex dreams really can just be about you craving attention and sex," Lasson explains. "It's basically your inner mojo saying you're horny."

It's important to remember that there's nothing wrong with having sex dreams at the end of the day though, Rowett reminds us, so stopping them doesn't have to be the top chore on your to-do list unless their interfering with your life.

"Your erotic subconscious is infinite, and can often present scenarios that you'd never think about doing in real life, and that's OK," she says. "Sometimes dreams can be your subconscious mind's way of processing difficult emotions. Other times they can be a sign of something that isn't being expressed or a need that's not being met." 

Faye M Smith

Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021. Currently Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships.