The deeper symbolic meaning of love & sex dreams

The deeper symbolic meaning of love & sex dreams

Thanks to Signmund Freud, modern Western society began to take dreams more seriously. But this new thinking came with the approach that most dreams were suppressed desires, very often about sex or violence. While this is no longer the dominant paradigm in Western psychology, the influence of dreams as suppressed desires lingers in popular thought, especially in relation to sex dreams.

Let us begin by revisiting the idea that dreams are more often than not symbolic. They work on multiple levels simultaneously and usually reveal more about our own inner world than about other people. Or, to put it simply, just because you dream about having sex or someone else having sex does not mean you want to have sex with the person in your dream, nor that the person in your dream wants to have sex with you, nor that the people you dream of are necessarily having sex together in waking life.

There is a huge variety of sex dreams — just as in waking life — ranging from the pleasurable to the climactic, the uncomfortable and into the disturbing. The dream may even include a range of complex emotions, including pity, guilt, shame, vulnerability, surrender, devotion, passion, love and much more. You may dream of yourself having sex or witnessing or being aware of others doing it.

Sex  dreams can often be a symbol of union. A way of embracing something that is other to you, or outside your realm of experience and knowledge, and integrating it into who you are. Sex dreams can also be symbolic of profound self-love and acceptance. In Jungian terms, this can be a union of the anima and animus, the balancing of opposite sides to your own nature. We all have both of what may be described as typically “feminine” and “masculine” qualities within us. Dreams of sexual union can be a way of showing we are not binary opposites but really a range of qualities we can unify to become an integrated, whole human being. As you grow and recognise there are many aspects to who you really are, sex and making love dreams can be a way to honour these other roles you play or values that guide you, and bring them into harmony within yourself.

Sex dreams can also be about a release of tension or fulfilment of a physical desire. You may not actually be attracted to your dream lover in waking life, or your dream experience may be with an unknown person. The sexual drive is a basic animal urge and to explore these feelings within a dream context should not be cause for guilt or alarm. You may find that sex dreams provide satisfaction at a time where you feel lonely or unappreciated in your intimate life and these primal urges express themselves through your dreams, overlaid with symbolic meaning. It may be that you dream more often of intimate encounters when your own love life is blossoming. In this instance, your subconscious is revelling in the pleasure of physical affection. Some people report that dreams of a physically intimate nature actually invigorate their waking-life relationships, injecting a new energy and spark.

One of the ways to start to unravel hidden meanings within your sex or making-love dreams is to consider who is engaged in the act. If it is yourself and someone else, try to consider the other person as a symbol rather than how you feel about them personally. One of the great misconceptions about dreams of having sex is that it means the person in your dream harbours secret desires for you. It is important to remember that dreams are about your own mind. They do not reveal the hidden desires of other people. Similarly, dreaming of being intimately involved with another real person does not usually mean you are suppressing or denying feelings for that person in waking life. Most often, the appearance of another person in your dream is to symbolically represent an idea to you. What does this person stand for to you?
Sex with a boss, for example, may be a dream about recognising your own ambition, your desire to wield the same power you feel your boss does. Perhaps it is your subconscious nudging you to step up and take the success you feel you deserve. Instead of thinking of the dream as “I had sex with my boss”, substitute the critical words “sex” and “boss” for what they may symbolise and see how that sounds different to you.

What rings true? For example, you may say, “I am passionately embracing (sex) my powerful authority (boss).” A dream about sex with the neighbour you walk past who has a wonderful garden may sound like, “I am free and wild (sex) with my nurturing natural side (gardening neighbour).”

Of course, this is relatively simple as long as the dream itself is not too complicated. Just as sex can be about union and coming together, it can also be about dominance and power. If your dream creates negative and disturbing feelings, the same symbolic exercise above can still be helpful. It can be useful to identify as clearly as possible the actual feelings you experienced in the dream. Did you feel exploited? Coerced? Forced to do something against your will? Powerless? Shamed? Gently ask yourself where in your waking life you may be having these same feelings. This may seem obvious in some situations, but really difficult in others.

Dreams such as this may relate directly to an intimate relationship you are in. They may also relate to other family relationships, friendships or work situations. If exploitation was the dominant feeling, try asking “where in my life do I feel exploited?”, rather than focusing on the sexual element. This may be a way to address feelings that you have ignored or buried because they feel too uncomfortable to address.

Rest assured, the simple act of recognising these feelings and admitting them will in itself begin to create a process that will enable healing. To admit the feelings does not mean you immediately have to spring into action and change everything. Sometimes the fear of the action that may be required prevents us from even admitting the feelings in the first place. A gentle acknowledgement that actually empowers you is simply a step in itself. You can decide if and when you want to change anything. But as long as you live in denial, you will keep having dreams that provoke you to acknowledge the deep truth that you innately know.

Dreaming of having sex with an ex-partner requires a special category of its own. Such dreams are very common and can be very confusing. You may dream about sex with a past partner long after you thought you were over them. You may have a deep sensual experience in a dream with an ex even though you are furious with them in waking life. What can such dreams mean? Reducing an ex-partner to a symbol or collection of representations can be difficult, as we have known them so intimately. But one thing that all former partners have in common is that they are part of the past. To have great sex with an ex does not necessarily mean that you want to get back together (though, of course, some people will). It can actually be a dream of deep healing. In speaking of sex dreams as integrating parts of ourselves, “ex sex” can be a dream that is symbolically revealing your internal reconciliation with the hurt and conflict of the past. If there is a lot of anger in the remnants of the relationship, this dream may be a reminder of the deep love you can find within yourself and can now show yourself, in order to move past the anger and pain. If you felt disempowered within the relationship or during the breakup, the dream can be a call to take back your power and recognise that the love you have inside you is not for anyone to take away.

One of the dreams I am most commonly asked about are cheating dreams — when you dream of seeing or knowing that your partner is having sex or being intimate with someone else. Does this mean they are cheating in waking life? The first thing I always say in these situations is that dreams reveal more about our own internal world than they do about anyone else. Cheating dreams usually function on a symbolic level, while also revealing our own inner fears. To dream of your partner cheating often reveals some insecurity or fear of the dreamer.

In the dream, this may play out as the obvious literal scenario of “is my partner cheating on me with someone else?”, but it may be about far deeper and more complex emotions. These fears and insecurities are very difficult to face in ourselves, so it is often simpler to have an external party to pin this narrative on. Only through self-reflection and brave questioning can we really come to understand what is going on in these dreams.

The fear of a partner being intimate with another can be about issues such as self-confidence and acceptance.

Some of the tough questions we need to ask ourselves before accusing another are: Do I feel worthy of this relationship? Am I sabotaging this relationship because I have a deep fear of intimacy and don’t want to be hurt? Would I rather blame someone for doing the “wrong thing” than let them close enough to me to hurt me if they left? Do I have a history of struggling to trust people because I have been let down so much in the past? Do I have a deep distrust of all men or all women because of my history or conditioning?

These are hard questions to ask, but only through admitting these deeper feelings can we move on to relationships of trust and authenticity. If you feel that such issues are not relevant in your personal situation, dreaming of a partner engaging in intimate relationships can also symbolise a need for greater intimacy and honesty in your own relationships. In waking life, you may want to feel closer to others. This may not be about a specific partner but could relate to friends and family members. The concept of someone close to you having an encounter with another can be an indication of your own desire for something that others have and you wish for yourself. This need not be a negative thing. Recognising your own emotional needs is critical to enable fulfilment and growth.

As previously explored, your partner in the dream may be symbolic on other levels, too. When we speak of our “significant other”, it can be a metaphor for all that is opposite to who we usually think of ourselves as being. In this way, to dream of our partner can be symbolic of the shadow aspect of our own selves — the yin to our yang (or vice versa). Dreaming then of a shadow self or unacknowledged other can be a profound symbol of the soul’s calling to integrate the many and varied aspects of our own nature. If you have become binary or extreme in any areas of your life, this dream may appear to call for balance. For example, if you have become so focused on work and achievement that you no longer have space in your life for play and nurturing, this dream may be your partner — the light and gentle side of you that needs to be recognised as a vital part of who you really are. If you have spent a long time focusing on spirituality, meditating, reading and mental or emotional pursuits, this dream may be calling you to get back in touch with your physical body, to move and work and get your hands dirty, become more grounded and integrate your earthy self into the spiritual aspects of who you are.

I don’t want to deny that dreams of a partner being unfaithful can at times have a more literal meaning. If you have been troubled that your partner is not being entirely honest with you, this may play out in your dreams. This may mean that your intuition is correct and your partner is hiding something from you — which may or may not be an actual relationship or affair. And even if it is an infidelity, it is highly unlikely to have played out exactly as you dreamed it. The images in your dreams arise from your subconscious and your feelings, they do not provide some magical visual evidence of that which you are worried has occurred.

If you are truly worried your partner has been unfaithful to you, you are also likely to have other disturbing dreams in which your partner does not appear at all, or that have nothing obviously related to sex or intimacy. When we feel our trust has been broken, there will be other dreams exploring these deep feelings of worry and loss. You may dream of broken things or of people or animals that are maimed or injured. You may have dreams of hospitals, things dying, rotting or decaying. If you are having many of these dreams, as well as dreams of cheating, then it is probably time to really sit down and address what is going in your life that needs to change. It may be time for a frank conversation, for counselling, or to make vital lifestyle changes. I know how hard these times are, however dreams like this are nudging you because your current state is not sustainable. Your deepest self is calling for healing and love. The first steps seem hard but they are steps towards a better life and a fuller, happier self.

Dreams of someone being unfaithful can cause you to question what in your life you are hiding that should be brought out into the open. They can prompt you to wonder if you are denying yourself the love and affection you crave, or if you are cheating yourself out of something you really deserve.

Finally, remember, before you blush at the thought of your night-time escapades, take a moment to reflect on how much of your dream was symbolic. Not only are the people within the dreams representative of more than just a single human, the very act of making love could be about your own personal integration as much as your more abstract and primal fears and desires.

Want to learn more about what your dreams mean? Visit our Dreams archive page.

Ella Palfreyman

Ella Palfreyman

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