Sleeping boyfriend talks about sex with other men

Dear Alice,

My problem is that my boyfriend talks in his sleep about sex with other men. This is very disturbing to me and I wonder what it means. This occurs frequently and sometimes includes body positions and movements.

From Very Concerned

Dear Very Concerned, 

While it’s understandable that your boyfriend’s sexual sleep-talking would alarm you, you don’t have to lose sleep just yet. Dreams are a mixture of actual events, feelings, thoughts, and other unconscious experiences that rarely provide an accurate picture of people's real lives. Therefore, your boyfriend may have no memory of any sex dreams. Even if he can recall his late-night talks, his fantasies, and dreams may not be anything on which he wishes to act. If his sleep-talking continues to concern you, a conversation between the two of you about your feelings and sense of trust may be a beneficial next step. 

People of all genders can have sex dreams. In fact, one 2021 study found that up to 95 percent of people have had erotic dreams at some point in their lives. Even if a person is in a romantic relationship, they may continue to have sexual dreams. Some of these dreams may involve their real-life partner(s), but others may include acquaintances, celebrities, or strangers. 

However, don’t ring the alarm (clock) yet; while sex dreams can be a reflection of genuine sexual desire, they can also be symbolic of other thoughts, feelings, or experiences in a person’s life. For example, a person may crave feelings of safety or comfort and therefore have a sex dream where they feel secure with a partner. They could also be dreaming about a sexual fantasy they would like to explore or acts that they’ve seen in pornography. Ultimately, just because a person dreams about certain sexual behaviors doesn’t necessarily mean that they're participating or want to participate in those behaviors. When people dream, the brain takes content from a person's episodic memory to combine past experiences together and create scenarios that could possibly happen in the future. Since people have a plethora of information that their brains can use to formulate their dreams, what folks experience when they sleep is very uncertain and doesn’t usually serve as a good reflection of reality. 

It could also be that your boyfriend is dealing with an underlying condition causing these dreams. Sexsomnia disorder, for example, is a sleep disorder in which a person pursues sexual behavior while they're asleep. A person may masturbate, fondle, moan, or even have full sexual intercourse without being aware of it. Since people with sexsomnia aren't conscious of these actions, their behavior doesn’t often reflect any hidden sexual desires, dissatisfaction with their current sex lives, or interest in infidelity. Nevertheless, sexsomnia can sometimes lead to relationship problems as partners may feel hurt or rejected. Additionally, due to the stigma surrounding sexsomnia disorder, very few people and their partners seek support. That being said, if you or your boyfriend have any concerns about sexsomnia, you may consider having a conversation with a health care provider. After an open and honest dialogue, they may be able to offer their perspective on potential symptoms and provide you with options for potential treatments or refer you to a specialist. 

It should also be noted that a person’s sexual behavior isn't always consistent with their sexual orientation. While ‘sexual orientation’ refers to how a person experiences (or doesn’t experience) attraction to other people, ‘sexual behavior’ is simply what a person does sexually. As a result, a person’s sexual behavior may or may not be arousing to them personally, it may be done to benefit a partner, or it may be done to express their interests. For example, a man may sometimes have sex with other men and still identify as heterosexual. Sexual drive and sexual behavior can also change in response to cultural or situational pressures. Though these fluctuations are less common for men than for other genders, they do still happen. 

Moving forward, it may be helpful to consider how fulfilling your relationship with your boyfriend is when you’re both awake. Are you both having your social, emotional, spiritual, and sexual needs met? Do you trust each other and feel comfortable discussing difficult or uncomfortable subjects? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then it’s likely that your boyfriend’s dreams won’t be a major concern. If the answer is “no,” then you may want to discuss your concerns and the areas of your union that could use some work. This way, you won’t be faced with interpreting his dreams all by yourself. 

Wishing sweet dreams to you both, 

Last updated Aug 18, 2023
Originally published Feb 04, 2000

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