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In your dreams: five things you might not know about sex and sleep

If there are two things certain to get you rushing to bed, they’re sex and sleep. But, for two activities that (traditionally) happen in the same place, we generally think of them as mutually exclusive – no one wants their lovemaking to be described as a snoozefest, after all. But one place sexuality and slumber do mix is in the sex dream. While it’s a common human experience, we still don’t know much about dreaming about sex. Here are five facts you might not know about sex and sleep.

Sex dreams can affect your relationship.

Ever dreamed about your partner cheating on you? Or dreamed that you were unfaithful yourself? Dreams of sexual infidelity – or any other romantic confrontation – can affect your relationship when you wake up from them. Researchers at the University of Maryland found that sex dreams involving cheating had run-on effects in real life, affecting the dreamer’s mood and attitude towards their partner the next day. This is an example of what scientists call ‘priming’ – where our response to something is influenced by things we’ve already seen. Something to think about the next time your partner is giving you the evil eye over breakfast.

Sex dreams don’t always mean sexual attraction.

It’s common to find yourself puckering up to an odd variety of individuals in your sex dreams. From your boss to celebrities to a stranger you saw on the bus, the people who appear in your sex dreams aren’t always the people who appear in your daydreams. While some sex dreams are indeed continuations of real-life fantasies, the same University of Maryland study contends the most common scenarios are actually narcissistic in nature. Getting it on with someone in dreamland can point towards your subconscious desire to absorb their characteristics and personality traits, rather than your desire to go to bed with them.

Women have wet dreams, too.

We all know that men can experience ‘nocturnal emissions’ – more commonly known as wet dreams. But, like many aspects of sexuality, the female counterpart gets a lot less attention. In 1953, sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that nearly 40% of over 5,600 women interviewed had experienced at least one orgasm during sleep, and often early in their life. Another study published by the Journal of Sex Research in 1986 found that 85% of women who’d had wet dreams had done so before they turned 21. Still, it’s relatively normal for women to be unsure if they’ve climaxed in their sleep or not – they’re less likely to leave behind the same evidence as their male counterparts.

Sex before bed, or after?

A quick romp before bedtime is a customary way to get you ready for – well – actual bedtime. But have you ever woken up with your partner in the middle of the night and started getting it on? You’d be following in the tradition of people in the pre-industrial West, whose night times were split into two sleep phases. This kind of segmented sleep was the way people slept before the invention of the light bulb. The interim between these two sleep phases, which the French called la dorveille, was the preferred time for reading, writing, contemplation and – you guessed it – copulation.

Your sleeping position can affect the frequency of your sex dreams.

If you’re a fan of your sex dreams but don’t feel like you have enough of them, there are a few things you can do to help dream-you get some action. One study showed that those who fantasised regularly about sex saw their fantasies replicated more often in dreamland. But, more surprisingly, researchers in Hong Kong found that those who slept on their front had more frequent sex dreams. The study’s authors theorised that the physical pressure that sleeping facedown put on the dreamer’s genitals translated into erotic dreams. So, next time you go to bed and fancy starring in your own fantasy, lie on your front, think about sex and let the magic happen.