There’s no getting around the awkwardness of this topic. It’s one of those things that is much more easily joked about than discussed in any semblance of seriousness. So, like all subjects that are “too taboo” to warrant open conversations, misinformation and ignorance fog over most people’s understanding of the actual science and physiology behind nocturnal emissions. The result is that too many people, especially those most prone to experience them, feel shame or worry about something that is completely natural.
Our goal here is to push past that initial discomfort and bring to light all that we know about nocturnal emissions so you can feel confident in understanding what they are, how they work and why there should be no stigma surrounding a phenomenon that is more common than you probably know.
What exactly are nocturnal emissions?
Nocturnal emissions are more commonly referred to outside of the medical community as “wet dreams.” They are rooted in a wider phenomenon known as nocturnal orgasm; this is the act of reaching a sexual climax while asleep and is a normal experience that both men and women can have.
Nocturnal emission refers to a situation when an orgasm results in the ejaculation of semen from the penis for men or significant vaginal lubrication for women during sleep. According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, both women and men experience nocturnal orgasms and nocturnal emissions, though it is possible to have an orgasm during sleep that does not result in an emission.
It is also important to note that having either a nocturnal emission or orgasm does not require masturbation or the touching of genitals at all. Sometimes clothes or bedding material may work to stimulate the genitals, however.
What causes nocturnal emissions?
Most people who have discharges during the night will cite an accompanying dream as the cause of their experience.
A widely cited statistic stemming from a 2007 paper in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine holds that about 8% of all dreams had by sexually mature men and women involve sexual activity. The paper also claimed that half of those dreams, about 4%, resulted in orgasm. While direct sexual intercourse with another person was the most commonly reported act in these dreams, people also reported having dreams involving, “sexual propositions, kissing, fantasies and masturbation.”
In any case, it is not always certain that achieving orgasm in a dream will result in nocturnal emissions. Nor is it the case that all nocturnal emissions or nocturnal orgasms for that matter are linked to dreams that can be recalled the next day. In other words, it is possible that a person may have no recollection of a sexual dream even if they find they have experienced nocturnal emissions while they slept.
There is anecdotal evidence claiming that, among males, the frequency of wet dreams may be related to the frequency of ejaculation in waking life. One sex researcher explained in an interview with an online publication that men may experience nocturnal emissions as a way to be rid of older sperm in favor of more potent, and more “fresh” sperm.
Furthermore, sexually mature males often experience erections during rapid eye movement sleep (REM), a part of the sleep cycle in which dreaming occurs the most and at its most intense. Sexual dreams, combined with erections and possible stimulation against bedding materials, can also result in emissions as well.
Who is most likely to experience nocturnal emissions?
The most common demographic associated with nocturnal emissions is, surprise surprise, young men entering puberty. It has been reported that for many young men around the ages of 11 to 16 when puberty typically begins, nocturnal emission may be their first experience with ejaculation or sexual arousal. Generally, these episodes decrease over time for men.
But despite popular belief, any sexually mature person may experience nocturnal orgasm and emission regardless of their age or gender. The onset of puberty typically marks the opening of a window of possibility that lasts an adult’s entire life.
But there is a troubling lack of research on the topic of nocturnal orgasm and emissions. Perhaps due to the taboo associated with the subject, or to the logistical difficulties of studying such a phenomenon, not enough data exists to provide an accurate breakdown of what groups experience nocturnal emissions most frequently.
Are there any negative effects of experiencing these?
There is no scientific evidence that nocturnal emissions result in any type of negative health outcomes for either men or women at any age. Nor do these emissions seem to be a symptom of any larger health concerns.
In fact, experiencing emissions during sleep is a healthy, normal part of sexual maturation. It indicates that individuals are sexually healthy and able to achieve orgasm. For many people, the experience is overwhelmingly pleasurable, as the dreamed sexual scenarios leading to nocturnal orgasm can theoretically indulge sexual fantasies that might not be otherwise possible in waking life.
The negative outcomes of nocturnal emission are more likely to be related to the logistics of cleaning semen or excess vaginal fluid out of the bedding a person sleeps and nocturnally emits in. Sometimes this can cause sleep disturbances if a person is forced to change their bedding in the middle of the night.
There is also a significant risk of embarrassment or shame associated with the act, especially for younger people who may be less educated on sexual health. It is therefore important that parents and caregivers of children entering puberty to make information available about the normalcy of wet dreams, while still allowing them some level of privacy when it comes to their own habits. Establishing a baseline of sexual education with young adults will ensure they view this common, healthy occurrence with the objectivity necessary to prevent negative feelings should it occur.