A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Do women have wet dreams?

April 3, 1981

Dear Cecil:

What is the female equivalent of a wet dream called? Why do women have them? Are they very common? What I really want to know is: is sex mental or physical? Thanks very much for your kind response. I prefer to remain . . .

Dear Anonymous:

I respectfully decline to get involved in a metaphysical debate on the nature of sex, Annie. Personally, I prefer mine warm, sticky, and covered with chocolate. However, to each his own.

If by "wet dream" you mean a nocturnal emission, there is no precise female equivalent, because women rarely ejaculate fluid at the point of orgasm (there are exceptions, but we won't get into that right now). On the other hand, women do have nocturnal orgasms, though not so frequently as men.

It's estimated that by age 45, 40 percent of all women have had a nocturnal orgasm at least once, compared to 80 percent of males. Fewer than 10 percent of women, compared to 50 percent of males, report having nocturnal orgasms more than five times a year. Men often experience their first orgasm during a wet dream, but women rarely have nocturnal orgasms until they have had orgasm by some other means first.

In both sexes, nocturnal orgasms are often accompanied by erotic dreams, but that's not invariably the case. Wet dreams usually make little impression on men, but women sometimes have quite vivid sexual dreams in connection with nocturnal orgasms, so much so that on occasion the dreamer may believe she has actually had sex. 

Medieval theologians posited the existence of "incubi," demons who had intercourse with women while they slept (the "succubus" is the equivalent for males). Witches claimed to have had intercourse with the devil in this way, and were sometimes put to death on account of it--a grim indication of the depth of male paranoia regarding female sexual response.

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