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The Benefits of Your Sexual Imagination What Your Dreams May Reveal About You

Sexual fantasies are one of the most common sexual experiences across all cultures. It is entirely healthy to have sexual dreams and the only way we can have sex with whoever we want. As we go throughout our day, we may find our minds wandering during that boring office meeting or fantasizing about a celebrity from our favorite movie. For some, dreams of a sexual nature may be anxiety provoking and for others very arousing, but regardless, our dreams provide us with us with a wealth of information about ourselves and give us into insights into our waking relationships with others.

What do your dreams say about you?

Dr. Patrick McNamara of Boston University researches how our attachment styles can predict our dream content and dream recall. He developed the idea that REM sleep evolved to promote attachment and bonds in close relationships. REM sleep is closely tied with dreaming and is the most common phase where dreaming takes place. His work has been expanded upon by Dr. Daniel Selterman of the University of Maryland that analyzed how interpersonal styles predict dream content among romantic partners. He found that anxiously-attached and avoidant-attached individuals had dreams that had more conflict, stressful emotions, and exhibited more jealousy in their dreams.

What are the different attachment styles?

John Bowlby, an eminent psychologist, developed Attachment theory when working with emotionally disturbed children. He contended that we learn our interpersonal styles throughout childhood from our caregivers and that these interpersonal styles extend to others as we age into adulthood. There are four different types of attachment styles that develop in childhood

1. Secure Attachment: Children with secure attachment see their parents as a secure, safe base in which they can explore the world and try new experiences. Caregivers provide stable environments and emotionally supportive relationships for their children to development into secure adults. Adults with secure attachments feel confident in their identity, feel open to meeting new people, and enjoy establishing relationships.

2. Anxious-Ambivalent: This type of attachment develops from an unpredictable emotionally responsive parent.  child is usually suspicious of strangers even when the caregiver is present and may even become angry if they feel that the caregiver is present conditionally. Adults who identify with this attachment style may believe that they are unworthy of love or seek out constant validation from their partner. Adults may have learned that their caregivers were unstable and may feel cautious that their partner might leave them.

3. Dismissive-avoidant: This type of attachment is comfortable without close relationships and may be extremely independent. These individuals learned that their caregivers were dismissive or unresponsive when distressed, so their emotional coping style becomes protective by avoiding their caregiver. Individuals may have learned not to need others for emotional support as a way to protect themselves. They may have difficulty asking for help and may suppress their emotions as an emotional coping style

4. Fearful-avoidant: Many individuals with this type of interpersonal style crave and want intimate relationships, but also stay away from relationships due to a negative sense of self may have developed from experiencing a trauma such as sexual abuse from either their caregiver or first love. These individuals crave emotional intimacy but have a hard time trusting others or feeling safe around potential relationships.

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These interpersonal styles that we develop over our lifespan with our romantic partners, friends, and caregivers extend to our dream content.

Can our dreams affect our sexual or romantic relationships?

Selterman tested the idea that our dream content would predict our behavioral responses to our partners the next day. He asked students to report their attachment styles using the Close-Relationships Questionnaire and asked students to record their dreams with a daily diary. The dreams were code for content and emotion. Results showed that, in fact, our dreams did predict our behavioral responses to our partner the next day. Partners that dreamed about sex and emotional closeness predicted more satisfying, pleasant interactions the next day.

Partners that dreamt of jealousy or disagreements had more conflict the subsequent day after their dream. Deirdre Barrett, Ph.D. at Harvard Medical School, hypothesizes that the purpose of dreams is to enhance creativity, problem solve and promote emotional adaptation. It would make sense that dreams provide us with the opportunity to play out our relationships with different conflicts that may need a solution.

The perfect example of this phenomenon is perfectly illustrated in the show, Friends when Phoebe is mad at Ross for the entire episode, but she can’t remember why. Ross spends the entire episode trying to figure out what he did. Finally, in a game of word association, Phoebe reveals that she was mad at Ross for calling her boring while playing chess. As it turned out, they had never even played chess together, and it was all just a dream. Partners’ reactions to dreams that can withstand the conflict and downs without sacrificing intimacy report having the strongest relationships.

What’s in a romantic dream?

Whether you like dreaming about the sweet side of your romance or maybe something a little raunchier, there is actually research to suggest that our dreams may adhere to a particular script when dreaming about our sexual partner. Dr. Selterman asked individuals in committed relationships to keep a daily diary for two weeks to record the dreams about their partner and coded them based on their content. He discovered our dreams about your significant other adhere to this script that breaks down into the following components:

(1) partner supports the dreamers’ exploration of an environment, (2), exploration is interrupted by a distressing event (3) the dreamer asks for help (4) the partner provides aid or comes to the rescue, (5) help is accepted by the dreamer, (6) dreamer is comforted by partner, and finally (7) the dreamer returns to environment. This story is played out as a frequent theme among romantic partners, and he found that individuals differences in attachment style predicted the degree to which their dreams deviated from or adhered to this script.

Our dreams provide us with a wealth of knowledge about ourselves and the characters we develop through our relationships. So for the benefit of our relationships and to create more intimate bonds with our partners, do yourself a favor and have more sexual dreams about one another. Sweet dreams!

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Kaitlin Lehmann, M.A. Psychology
Kaitlin Lehmann, M.A. Psychology

My name is Kaitlin and I graduated from Wagner College with a BA in Psychology with minors in German and Education. I then completed my Master’s degree in Experimental Psychology at American University where I was a research assistant using eye-tracking to examine facial emotion recognition, borderline personality features, and pharmaceutical advertising. I currently live in Philadelphia working as a Clinical Trial Coordinator for patients with osteoarthritis and am interested in individual differences such as emotion dysregulation that predict physical outcomes such as a pain. In my free time, I enjoy running, stand-up comedy, and hiking with my dog, Millie.

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