by Marcy Jarvis
We all know men have wet dreams, but William Masters' textbook, Human Sexuality,
states that women can have them, too. Not that many years ago, I was studying
to become a sex therapist at City College in Harlem and when I discovered we
ladies can experience orgasm during sleep, I shouted a silent "Yes!" Unfortunately,
my colleagues merely raised their eyebrows when I tried to share my wonderful
discovery with them. Having had unconscious orgasms before, myself, I suddenly
My feelings of freakishness increased when my search for supporting literature
was forestalled with an embarrassed shuffling by the female librarian-AKA-uptight-bitch!
To further complicate the anxiety, direct questioning of my female work associates
was frustrated by their reluctance to discuss so intimate a topic. So, instead
of trying to interview, I mapped out an anonymous questionnaire form designed
to straddle trust and openness. No names, just data. Perfect!
The object was to find out who was getting off in their sleep and who wasn't. Simple, right? My sample poll included 30 women ranging in age from 22 to 38.
Indiana University published their own survey back in 1954 so I had some comparison information for the results of my questionnaires.
Ancient literature is full of women's sexual dreaming, but it was not until I read Percy Shelley that I realized someone else had been talking about nocturnal orgasms of women. Shelley actually wrote quite a bit on the topic of sex dreams of men and women. He strongly believed that nocturnal orgasmic potential equated somehow with how creative the woman was. I was so excited to find a real literary reference, that I had an orgasm! I did! Trust me.
Okay, so the ability to fantasize to orgasm without physically masturbating is pretty rare. In psychological terms, it's called psychic masturbation. Kinsey's classic studies reported it occurs in .81% of males and only 2% of females.
According to William Masters, "We have no concept of the neurological process that triggers orgasm but the psychogenic process is in all probability physiologically identical with that causing nocturnal orgasms." Masters also believed that those people capable of achieving spontaneous orgasm exhibited "an advanced degree of sensitivity to the psychosocial input."
This seemed compatible to what Shelley had said, claiming that people with "an exalted state of sensibility" could get erotic gratification without physical contact -- as in nocturnal orgasms.
Something which I can personally vouch for is that some women can orgasm from
just kissing, receiving a back rub, certain smells, and even breast feeding
babies. Kate Millet wrote in Sexual Politics, "Sexual arousal may have
its source in purely psychological excitation -- thoughts, emotions, words,
and pictures." Unfortunately, she didn't include dreaming.
As a teenager, I first experienced orgasm through dreaming, before experiencing
it in the waking realm. I figured that girls, like boys, all had wet dreams
as a result of the body's maturation, despite the fact I could find no evidence
of it in my pink covered "Now You Are a Woman" booklet, provided courtesy of
the kind folks at Kotex.
Kinsey's work seemed to deny my discovery. He stated that dreams can and do occur in inexperienced girls but are much more common in older women with a history of masturbation and sexual intercourse, the exact opposite of men's experiences. Kinsey also stated that with women, the likelihood increases with age and that upwards of 38% of the female population experience dreaming orgasm by the time they reach 55.
In my independent (and much smaller) survey, only 13 out of 30 women admitted nocturnal orgasms and the ages where they had first achieved them ranged from 16 to 27.
The dreams seemed to center on memories and projections of a sexual nature. However, some orgasms in dreaming come about as the result of images seemingly unrelated to sex. For instance, building a castle or barrel racing and lasso tricks in rodeos or even dog bites.
Sometimes these dreams begin when a woman starts to have intercourse and then
gradually disappear as sex becomes a regular part of her routine. On the other
hand, a chaste but romantic encounter can stimulate a woman enough to fantasize
subconsciously and trigger an orgasm. In such dreams, women frequently say that
it felt "so real!"
So, the conclusion is that, yes, we women can have "wet dreams", too, and that, yes, there is some mysterious interconnection between our dreams, our inner lives, our dangling conversations, our superficial sighs in the borders of our lives.