Investigating Sexual Dream Imagery in Relation to Daytime Sexual Behaviours and Fantasies among Canadian University Students

By King, David B.; DeCicco, Teresa L. et al. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Investigating Sexual Dream Imagery in Relation to Daytime Sexual Behaviours and Fantasies among Canadian University Students


King, David B., DeCicco, Teresa L., Humphreys, Terry P., The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


Abstract: This study aimed to qualitatively assess the content of sexual dreams and determine their relationship to waking life sexual experience and fantasy. Dream reports were collected from 97 female and 33 male university students with a mean age of 20.6 years who, in addition to reporting their most recent dream with sexual content, completed the Index of Sexual Fantasy (Hurlbert & Apt, 1993), the Sexual Daydreaming Scale (Giambra, 1978), and two surveys to account for sexual and orgasmic behaviour and experience. Reports of sex dreams were dominated by references to clothing and emotion, with the most common targets of sexual relations being friends and/or acquaintances. Aggression was present in 19% of the collected dreams and 8% contained direct references to rape. Men were observed to report greater daytime sexual fantasizing with more frequent reports of multiple partners, sexual propositions, and sexual thoughts in their dreams. Findings offer partial support for the continuity hypothesis of dreaming (Hall & Nordby, 1972) in relation to human sexuality, at least within the current subsample of young men. It is suggested that many sex dreams may serve as an outlet for sexual fantasies and desires. Limitations and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Introduction

Although research supports a physiological relationship between sex and sleep (e.g., Branchey, Branchey, & Nadler, 1973; Empson & Purdie, 1999; Ho, 1972; Manber & Armitage, 1999; Shin & Shapiro, 2003), little is known of the relationship between sex and dreaming. Freud (1900/1950) argued that all dreams contain sexual content (in either latent or manifest form) and that dream images often symbolize sex organs. He also claimed that much of dream imagery represents repressed sexual instincts or desires. Subsequently, Hall (1953) suggested that dreams are filled with impulse gratification, and that this is especially true of dreams with sexual content. Since the proposal of these theories, however, literature on sexual dream content has been sparse. A PsycINFO database search revealed 38 articles containing the words sex and dream in their titles since 1953. Excluding those which referred to sex differences and gender roles, only 10 related specifically to dreams and human sexuality. Of these, only six were interested in either latent or manifest content of sexual dreams.

An early study by Husband (1936) reported that married people dreamed less of sex and that men were more likely to dream of someone other than their current partner. The Kinsey studies of the 1940s and 1950s found that two-thirds of women reported having dreams with overtly sexual content, compared to 100% of men. By 45 years of age, 37% of women reported having had a sexual dream with orgasm (Kinsey, 1953). Within the male sample, 83% reported having nocturnal emissions with or without dreams, with the highest incidence occurring in the late teens (Kinsey, 1948). A later study of male outpatients found that sex dreams declined following traumatic paraplegia (Comarr, Cressy, & Letch, 1983). LaBerge (1985) investigated sex dreams which were lucid in nature, finding that lucid dream sex is common and induces strong physical reactions similar to waking sex. Although women reported more orgasms in lucid dreams, men reported more sex dreams overall (LaBerge, 1985).

Recently, Schredl, Sahin, and Schafer (1998) confirmed earlier findings that men have more sexual content in their dreams compared to women. Stankovic, Zdravkovic, and Trajanovic (2000) investigated the sex dreams of university students in Yugoslavia, finding that men and women differed significantly in the content, frequency, and emotion of their sex dreams. Some gender differences in sex dreams were confirmed in an extensive investigation by Zadra (2007), who found that men's sex dreams were more likely to involve multiple partners and to take place outdoors. …

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