The Top 10 Questions about Romantic and Sexual Dreams

Gillian Holloway, Ph.D., explains what those subconscious, sizzling fantasies really mean

You wake up smiling after a very romantic dream. Then, you have a sudden flash of who that charming man kissing you was. Your kooky coworker! Oh no! Never fear. According to Gillian Holloway, Ph.D., author of the The Complete Dream Book, "The dreaming mind seems to use the metaphor of sexuality and closeness to represent a number of different kinds of connection." Read this excerpt to find out what your steamy dreams really mean:

Does my dream of a sexual encounter with an acquaintance mean that he or she is really interested in me?

We cannot help but wonder about a friend, school-mate, or coworker after a remarkably convincing sexual dream about them. Some people even feel a bit awkward the next time they see the person they've dreamed about in this way. Many teenagers and young adults are especially hopeful that such dreams reveal a previously well-concealed interest on the part of the acquaintance. He or she may have been too shy to hint at the secret passion they harbor towards the dreamer. Unfortunately, this interpretation isn't always accurate. Sometimes these dreams have more to do with your own feelings than with any hidden passion coming from the other person. These dreams allow you to see what it might be like to be close to the object of your affection and the dreaming mind tends to use attractive partners to test drive relationship skills and erotic responses. It's quite normal for very young people to dream of a first kiss long before it happens. Teens tend to dream of their first sexual encounter with an idealized partner or their current crush sometime before becoming sexually active. Nature seems to provide dreams of romance to come in order to help us better handle the real thing when it arrives. But this does not mean that the lover of your dreams is necessarily meant for you. There are several telling factors that will help reveal the truth about your romantic dream life. Ask yourself these questions to decide what the odds are that your dream lover is also dreaming of you.

a. Is he or she already married or involved with someone else?

As tempting as it is to fantasize that your dream has revealed a hidden yearning to be with you, if the answer to this question is yes, then your dream probably has nothing to do with their feelings at all. Enjoy your experience for what it gave you and taught you, and focus your attention on finding someone who is available and right for you.

b. Has this person exhibited signs of interest in you in real life?

If the honest answer to this question is yes, then your dream may be trying to make subtle clues more explicit. You are safe in making a respectful overture to the person to see if they are interested. If they don't respond, don't chase them because of your dream. The very fact that you are having romantic dreams and trying out appealing partners suggests that your radar will be working very effectively in finding romance if that is what you want right now.

c. Are you involved with or married to someone else?

Strangely enough, sexual dreams about other people generally have more to do with your existing relationship than they do with fantasy encounters. If your dream highlighted experiences you'd like more of or qualities in a relationship that you value, focus on building these in the existing relationship. Don't make the mistake of thinking the grass is greener over the horizon. Dreams often try to help define what we need and want so that we can foster those qualities where they are most likely to flourish with the love we already have. Don't get too caught up in trying to psychically tune in to the person you're attracted to or in trying to reel them in. Remember, the dreaming mind is focusing on giving you enriching experiences and in teaching you about love and passion. Behave responsibly toward those you desire and don't be outraged or disappointed if they don't respond in waking life as they do in your dreams. One of the great tricks to finding love is in letting go of the potential partners who aren't quite right for whatever reason. Insisting on something that isn't working seems to block the right person from finding you. Letting go and trusting life seems to attract genuine relationships and happiness like a magnet.

Why would I dream of being intimate with someone I'm not even attracted to?

It may be a celebrity you like but don't find attractive or it may be someone at the office you don't particularly care for, but it's fairly normal to have sizzling or romantic dreams about people we would never choose for a sexual fantasy. There are four possible reasons for dreaming of a romantic tryst with someone who isn't your cup of tea.

a. The person represents a quality. The lover may symbolize a quality or characteristic that you are having encounters with in waking life. Sex and romance sometimes symbolize closeness and connection, particularly in terms of getting acquainted with some part of your own personality. A man who was studying public speaking dreamed of getting engaged to Oprah, who for him represented an excellent communicator who is never at a loss in public. A woman who was cultivating her sense of humor dreamed of having a fling with Robin Williams. A girl who decided to embark on a graduate program in psychology dreamed of running away with Frasier Crane (the television character of a radio psychiatrist). For these people, their dream lovers did not reflect their taste in sexual partners. However, each person embodied a quality which they had recently decided to connect with in themselves. If your dream partner doesn't attract you, consider whether they have a profession, talent, or trademark that is closely aligned with a quality you're exploring in yourself these days.

b. You're doing something that isn't right for you. You may be getting in bed in the metaphorical sense with something else right now that is also not in your normal style or taste. Women particularly are prone to dreams of saying yes to a partner whom they cannot respect and do not want when they have also said yes to another kind of offer in waking life. One woman was considering accepting a job that paid well and allowed her to travel, but which required her to schmooze powerful clients and dress up corporate meetings. She was tempted by the offer, but recoiled when she dreamed of getting engaged to an older man she knew whom she found particularly lecherous and distasteful. She awoke feeling soiled by the dream and realized her mind was warning her not to make a bargain she would find unpleasant to keep. If your dream partner was particularly unsavory to you, make a mental note of what specific characteristic made them so. Now consider what activity, option, or person near you has a similar quality. It may be time to reevaluate your choices and be willing to say no to something that isn't right for you.

c. There really is an unconscious attraction. There are instances when we feel a spark of attraction toward someone, but by day it is well concealed for one reason or another. We don't like to feel attracted to someone who does things of which we disapprove or who belongs to a friend. Nor do most of us want to acknowledge feelings toward a coworker with whom we will be working closely for some time. There are all kinds of scenarios in which it just doesn't work to have the tingles over someone and we can't even let ourselves think about it. But the dreaming mind has no such compunctions and will happily provide you with a sample of forbidden fruit from time to time. Generally, after such a dream, it is pretty easy to recognize that indeed there are some undercurrents towards the dream lover. When this is the source of such a dream it's particularly easy to discern. Another clue is that these types of dreams tend to be quite sensual and realistic. Sexual dreams that are hot, tactile, and realistic tend to have more to do with actual attraction than do dreams in which you remember running off with someone or having an affair but you cannot really remember any of the action. Men appear to be slightly more prone to this type of dream than women, but all of us can learn to recognize these dreams by their tangible qualities and by being honest with ourselves about those hidden feelings. Although hidden desire is the motivation most people use to explain their dreams with unexpected partners, this is not the real explanation as often as we believe. Trust your perceptions on this one. If you honestly don't find the other person attractive, then one of the other explanations probably applies to your dream.

d. You may be connecting with this person in some other important way. A woman whose male friend invited her to join his church immediately had a dream that they became sweethearts. She honestly didn't find him attractive, but appreciated his friendship. She did, however, fall in love with the church he attended and immediately joined the congregation. Another man was assigned to do a radio show with an attractive and witty female cohost. Their partnership gained popularity and resulted in an increase in ratings and an upswing in both their careers. He was embarrassed that at times he had sexual dreams about this woman when he was very happily married to a lovely wife. However, he did feel his partnership with the cohost took his career to a different level and that their banter on the air was a kind of connection that was important. They were, in fact, forging a bond professionally that changed their lives in some ways, a partnership that was as important as a romantic one. Remember that connections of all kinds tend to be depicted in dreams through the imagery of romance, sexuality, and intercourse. Don't panic or feel guilty about these dreams. Consider whether you are connecting with the dream lover in some important way which the dream is depicting in physical terms.

What does it mean if I dream I'm a member of the opposite sex?

A dream like this can be a bit of a shocker when you wake up. But remember the principle that dreams tend to take emotional and psychological elements and symbolize them in physical ways. In most cases, gender-shifting dreams deal with changes in perspective or exploring different aspects of the self, not with a change in sexual orientation. In a common variation of this dream, you may still be yourself but discover in the lavatory that you somehow have the genitalia of the opposite sex or of both genders. Be careful not to judge yourself or these dreams too harshly. Almost everyone has such dreams at times, and they appear to be markers of psychological development and maturity more often than anything else.

What does it mean if I have a dream that involves incestuous scenes?

Foremost in our minds is the worry that we are recovering a hidden memory when we have a dream of this kind. Close on the heels of that worry is concern that one interpretation of the dream is that we dream about what we wish for. Both of these interpretations are upsetting and largely unacceptable. Fortunately, most dreams of this type have nothing to do with suppressed memories or wish fulfillment. Instead, there are a number of more complex reasons why we have dreams of this kind.

a. Someone you are involved with has qualities similar to your relative. Psychologically, if you are involved with someone who has similar traits to a family member, you may expect some dreams to depict you as "involved with" that family member. This doesn't mean you chose your partner because they remind you of Dad or Mom (although it's possible). It may mean that you are responding to this person with some of the same patterns that you learned in that earlier relationship. One woman who was dating a man could not figure out the cause of their friction until she had a dream that she was romantically involved with her father. Immediately, it became clear that much of the hostility and suspicion she felt toward her partner stemmed from her earlier disappointment when her father abandoned the family. Just being more aware of this pattern enabled her to see her situation more objectively and spend less time reacting from programmed fears.

b. You may be involved in something that is unwholesome with a family member. Incest can symbolize love that is too close, too enmeshed, and confused. One woman dreamed that she was performing sexual favors for her father. In waking life, she had embarked on a serious romantic relationship but was pretending to her father that she wasn't seeing anyone at all because she sensed he would disapprove of her choice. This particular lie felt uniquely unwholesome because of the depth of feeling she had for her partner. In deciding not to acknowledge the relationship to her father, she was trying to do him a favor and not upset him. However, it was a favor that violated her personal code of emotional honor. Hence the imagery of an arrangement between them that seemed to gratify him but dishonored them both. Eventually, she chose to confide in her father and found that she had underestimated his ability to accept her choices.

c. You may be picking up that there is something tainted, unwholesome, or contaminating about a current relationship. One woman dreamed that her child was involved in an Incestuous relationship with her husband. She felt convinced that this was not literally the case, but as she looked at the dream symbolically, it was easy for her to see that her lifestyle was potentially harmful to her child. There were many things about their current situation that put the child at risk, created uncertainty, and forced her to live as though she were much older than her years. When the emotional fallout of our struggles to be happy hits children, it can be like a toxin loose in the home. This dream (as it was intended to be) proved upsetting enough to provide the catalyst for her to make changes to create firmer boundaries in the home.

d. You may have experienced a kind of emotional incest growing up, a violation of boundaries that still proves confusing. Incest is an obvious violation of trust and a confusing one. For that reason, it can be used in dreams to depict the kind of emotional confusion that overly enmeshed families sometimes create. While some dreams of incest may indeed prove to be surfacing memories of abuse, many dreams of this kind are memories of psychological boundariescrossed and violated. If you have recurring dreams of this nature that feel as if they have a basis in memory even though they do not match what you recall of early life, assume that some kind of disrespect of your boundaries has taken place. Many therapists believe that it is less important to retrieve the actual memory of what did or didn't take place than it is to seek support in cultivating healthy boundaries in your present life.

Are dreams of a partner's infidelity warning signals of real trouble?

Dreams of this type need to be considered against the background of the overall relationship. True, some people have glimpsed the awful truth in a dream which was apparently pieced together from a number of clues that were overlooked during waking hours. But for the most part, dreams of infidelity are not in themselves an indicator of actual cheating. Instead, these dreams are often metaphors for a kind of emotional abandonment or having a loved one show more attention to their job or hobby than they do to you.

Do repeated dreams of an old flame mean I have never gotten over them?

Old flames tend to be human symbols of romantic love. This means that your first significant romance tends to become imprinted, so that person will act like an emblem of love in many of your dreams. It is likely your dream is actually trying to work through your current relationship with someone entirely different. But when issues with romance are the subject of a dream, the file that comes up has your old flame's face on the cover. Don't be deceived by this, in most cases your heart and your dreams are focused on current issues.

Why would I dream of being back with my ex when I feel lucky to have left them behind?

If you've been through a tough relationship, you may tend to dream about that person more often than you'd like. This certainly doesn't mean you still want to be with them! Instead, it probably means that psychologically you are still removing shrapnel that you collected during your stint in that war zone. It takes a long time for emotional wounds to heal, and, unfortunately , even long after you've found happiness with someone new, you may still have periodic dreams of a painful ex. In some cases, these dreams can warn you not to react to your new love as if they were your ex. It's so easy to lash out or put walls as you did in an old relationship. If you have any dreams about your current love morphing into the ex, be warned that you may be going through some confusion with old issues. Sometimes, too, new partners do similar things or make similar requests of us that seem to set off a cascade of reactions that are inappropriate to our new situation. This usually doesn't mean the new person is guilty of the same crimes as the ex, but it may well mean they are triggering a preset group of responses in you. One of the best ways to counteract this cycle is to confide in your current partner about the dynamics at play. Demystifying thse monsters goes a long way toward creating lasting freedom from them. If you are not currently involved but still have dreams about a past you're glad to have left behind, it suggests that you are still recovering from that time in your life. Repeated dreams occur in part to heal trama and assimilate new experiences. They are your way off getting over it so don't feel you are failing when they crop up. Accept them and realize your deeper mind is doing important work through these dreams to move your forward into a more positive present and future.

When I'm on a break from a relationship and I dream of my sweetheart, does that mean I was wrong to break it off?

There is a theory that the course of true love is rocky, and that frequent splits and reconciliations are a sign of profound feeling. For this reason, it is easy to interpret dreams about someone you've parted from as signs that you should rush back into their arms. As with other romantic dreams, these should be evaluated along with all that you consciously know abou the relationship. The dreaming mind seems to feel that relationship is about as important as it gets, and rightly so. After any breakup, there is a need to dream abour relationships in general. Your deeper mind is delving into memories, feelings, hopes, and fears. It is creating many dreams that are all an attempt to make sense of what will work for you in a relation- ship. You are, in a sense, getting ready to love more successfully and find deeper fulfillment in the future. The dreams that are setting the stage to make this happen tend to use your most recent partner as the actor who represents the love interest. He or she will appear in your dreams and you'll have all kinds of adventures and disasters with them as your mind unravels mistakes and gains understanding about the things that make real love work. It's important to give credence to the lessons these dreams have to offer; but don't assume that the appearance of your latest ex is a sign that he or she is the one, unless that coincides with your conscious understanding of the relationship as well.

If I have a great new romance but still dream of my previous partner, does that mean I'll never really love the new person in my life?

Dream flings usually don't indicate any lack of fulfillment in your current relationship. Sometimes, these dreams are just for fun and don't appear to have profound meaning. At other times, the inner mind is busy sorting through what works and doesn't work in a relationship, and it will quickly refer back to other relationships to compare strengths and weaknesses, or to try and make sense of patterns.

If you have a perfect dream lover, is there any hope that he or she is somehow really on their way into your life?

Surprisingly enough, there is hope of just that. Many feel that we have a perfect romantic or sexual dream as a kind of relief from a romantic dry spell, like a dieter who dreams of eating chocolate. But this is not really so. It is far more typical of our dreams to mirror our current circumstances. So if you are lonely, misunderstood, starved for affec- tion, or feeling amorous, your dreams will tend to show you that, with alack of, rather than a fabulous, relationship. So when a perfect relationship shows up in dream form, pay attention. In some cases, this is the psyche's way of warming us up, reminding us we are not robots after all, and that we can still fall in love. Don't elope with the first person you see the next day, but do open yourself up to the possibility that a romance may be on the horizon.

Excerpted from The Complete Dream Book: Discover What Your Dreams Tell about You and Your Life O 2001 by Gillian Holloway, Ph.D. with permission from Sourcebooks Inc.

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