Being faithful to your wife may not keep you from cheating on her in your dreams. Research suggests that nearly a quarter of people have dreamt about sleeping with someone other than their partners (or about their partners committing infidelity). And those are just the ones who to admit it. Dreamers are left to question what it all means—and whether they should tell their partners.
“While dreams can be your subconscious mind’s way of alerting to a dormant want or need, when a dream occurs sometimes it can be just a dream,” psychotherapist Judi Cinéas (who was not involved in the study) told Business Insider. “And it’s important to realize that you can just let that go.”
The research, conducted without peer review by the mattress company Amerisleep (so take these findings with a grain of saltt), surveyed 1,000 adults to see what they dreamt about and found that both men and women dreamt about sex or intimacy between 50 and 60 percent of the time. About 21 percent of these sexy dreams involved having sex with someone else (whereas 23 percent had nightmares about their partner getting it on). These type of dreams occurred in the same ballpark as those about teeth falling out (25 percent) and losing cherished objects (20 percent).
As for what these dreams mean, 36 percent of these respondents thought sex dreams boiled down to making a difficult decision. But experts maintain that it depends on whom your subconscious is having sex with. If it’s the cute barista who makes small talk, it could simply be just that you have a healthy libido, Bob Taibbi, a clinical social worker, explained in Psychology Today.
“Your brain is trying to let you know that those physical needs are not getting met,” Taibbi writes. “Find a good and safe way to help your brain out.” In order to do this, it may be better to have a thoughtful and honest conversation with your partner about how you can improve your sexual relationship, rather than straight up talking about that REM job—which will only hurt feelings.
More specific sex dreams with someone you know like an ex-partner, could signal self-guilt or self-betrayal, several dream interpreting sites suggest. However, that guilt doesn’t necessarily have to do with your partner or infidelity. Sexual dreams about bosses or coworkers may be more aspirational and have to do with wanting to possess their qualities, like leadership skills, dream psychologist Ian Wallace told Everyday Health.
Dream interpretations are subjective and not necessarily scientific, but for people who like to take their insights with a grain of salt, it may be helpful to look at specific details of the dream beyond who it’s with. For instance, Lauri Loewenberg, self-described as the “The most trusted DREAM EXPERT on the PLANET!” points out on her blog that if breasts are central to the cheating dream, it could be about nurturing someone or something. That may be a loved one, like your kid or spouse, that could use extra support or a project at work that needs extra attention. But it’s not about dream boobs, per se. (Loewenberg also concurs that telling your partner will just make them feel bad).
Sure, in some cases infidelity dreams could be a symptom dissatisfaction in your relationship. But usually not, experts concur. Ultimately, sex dreams are only problematic when combined with real relationship problems, so discuss those instead of throwing your subconscious under the bus. If you’re confident it’s not a symptom of a larger issue (and that your partner will have a sense of humor about it), go ahead and tell them. Hell, give them a hall-pass for the next time they doze off.
Unless your teeth are falling out while you’re cheating, it’s probably not worth reading into.