Before we get into the dreams themselves, it’s worth mentioning that there’s still a lot we don’t know about dreams. In one camp, we have experts claiming that they are nothing more than images randomly spat out at you for eight hours; that REM, the stage of sleep where you’re most likely to dream, runs off the ebb and flow of neurotransmitters, and that dreams are just the brain’s way of dealing with these random firings. And in the other camp, we have folks such as the interpreter I spoke to for this piece, Hilda Burke, a therapist and life coach in the U.K., who see them as operating one level below our consciousness.
“During our waking hours, we have the 'id' which says, ‘I want’, ‘I’m hungry’, ‘I want sex’, ‘I want comfort’, ‘I want warmth’ — it’s an animal drive,” Burke explains. "Then the 'ego' is what we think of ourselves: ‘I'm funny’, ‘I have a dark sense of humor’. And our 'superego' is the part of us that says ‘I should’ — such as ‘I should work hard’ or ‘I shouldn’t have dreams about having sex with that person.’ When we are asleep, it’s just the subconscious, it’s the bit that’s under all that and the id can be there: the desires and wants. It tends to be the level below.”
Burke still believes that some dreams are meaningless images being sorted out by your brain, and that figuring out whether or not your dreams are trying to tell you something is very much dependent on context. Same with sex dreams — if you’re dreaming about sex with your ex, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to bone them in real life. But if you’re dreaming about sex with your ex and waking up with an urge to go back out with them or masturbate over them, then it’s clear what your brain is trying to tell you.
“Having sex [in a dream] can mean many things,” Burke tells me. “It can be an energy exchange whereby you want a quality that that person has. And it depends how you feel about sex; some people see it as pure pleasure, or wanting to feel desired. For others it can mean security and stability. Or it can mean love. There are so many reasons for people having sex, and it’s the same in dreams. That will all play out. The mind will throw metaphors up, and those metaphors are usually in their crudest form which, often, involves sex.”
Ahead, see Burke's take on the dreams of four R29 readers — plus one of my own.