The Science of Wet Dreams.
Health

The Science of Wet Dreams.

Published
Aug 17, 2021
Author
Rebecca Decyznski

Anyone—yes, anyone—can experience them.

As much as sex education may—still—be lacking in the United States, there are probably a few topics that your school saw fit to cover: periods and wet dreams. These, after all, are some of the first experiences young people have with their reproductive system. But your understanding of the latter might not offer quite a full picture. Here’s everything you should know about wet dreams (aka, nocturnal emissions)—that you might not have already known.

They happen for a reason

While a wet dream may coincide with an especially steamy dream—that’s not a prerequisite. After all, their core function isn’t explicitly sexual. Wet dreams are the body’s way of getting rid of older semen. That does mean that people with penises that masturbate or have sex more frequently may have fewer wet dreams, according to Planned Parenthood.

They don’t just happen in puberty

Fluctuations in testosterone levels are responsible for the frequency of wet dreams during puberty; they commonly become less common in adulthood. But that’s not to say that wet dreams in your 20s, 30s, and beyond are unheard of. It can depend on the person—and there’s nothing wrong with adults who experience wet dreams. As sex researcher David Ley explained to Mel Magazine, as long as you’re virile, you will have to offload your old sperm—which means wet dreams can happen. 

People with vaginas also experience wet dreams

For people with penises, wet dreams are a way of discarding old sperm; for people with vaginas, they’re a little more mysterious and much less common, but they’re not unheard of. According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine (ISSM), nocturnal emissions for people with vaginas can involve vaginal lubrication and orgasm as a result of sexual dreams. The female orgasm is a vastly under-researched phenomenon, and so too are these kinds of wet dreams. 

And while they don’t have the same kind of utility as a penile nocturnal emission, they aren’t totally rare. In 1953, sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that 37% of women in his research sample experienced a sexual dream that had brought them to orgasm, ISSM reported. But dreams may not necessarily even be involved: “REM sleep causes an increased blood flow to the clitoral area, which leads your brain to sexual arousal, which can then result in an orgasm,” Dr. Sirin Lakhani, MD, told Vice in 2020. When it comes to nocturnal emissions, it’s not all in your head—but that’s certainly a big component of it.

The Science of Wet Dreams.

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