Sexual Dreams are Not What They Seem


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So we can say if you are not connected properly with your own dream life, then you are liable to develop some kind of neurotic behavior. - Marie Louise von Franz

Here’s a fascinating paradox: Most *** dreams are not literally about sex. Instead dreams with *** images and experiences are more often exploring creative dilemmas: the process of creating new life, connecting to our passion and creative potential. For example, a good friend who had been intending to restart her art career for years, dreamt that she was trying to make love with her ex husband but could not quite do it because he couldn’t maintain an erection. Their marriage had ended long ago and they did not have any interest in getting back together. So my friend’s dream did not have any literal connection to her waking life at all except on a symbolic level. She told me that her former husband was in fact a talented artist. Her dream used sex, the act of creating new life, to show her that she was unable to get back into her creative life because she could not maintain her passion - the “erection. "

Because our dreams speak to us through images, symbols, and metaphors in contrast to our waking world’s language, we are always in danger of reducing a dream’s meaning in order to fit it into some theory or system - linguistic containers familiar to our waking experience. Hence the danger of sealing a dream figure inside any label: the child in our dream becomes an “eternal child, " another figure becomes the “wise old man, " while male and female are labeled as “anima" and “animus, " in Jungian psychology. Or we force the dream’s feet into “archetypal" or mythological shoes, saying that dream is about your Aphrodite nature.

Our dreams relentlessly identify those essential, extraordinary qualities that make us unique and authentic individuals. At the same time, dreams are ruthless and often shocking in exposing influences from others, from society, from family, from groups, from ideologies, that threaten or block our ability to live our own lives. Any technique of dream interpretation that ignores this powerful dream dynamic is like a child playing in the shallow end of the pool—safe and secure but missing something tremendous. Here’s an example:

Julie, in her early thirties, was the office manager for a law firm, a job she put up with to “pay the bills, " a job she described as “stressful, time-consuming, and anxiety-producing. " She had graduated with a degree in English literature, planning to be a writer and possibly a poet. That dream seemed long lost and forgotten. When I first met Julie as a client in my psychotherapy practice, she was discouraged and depressed; she had lost any hope of ever returning to her passion for writing. We began working with her dreams, which quickly focused on obstacles to her creative life. Here’s one example:

I’m in front of my college, the Student Union (we called it the “Hub"). It’s winter and I’m barefoot, going to a poetry reading. I had to walk through broken glass. The poet was sixty-ish with a beard. I had sex with the poet in the Hub. A woman tells me, “He’s serious!" But I dismiss it.

Julie’s dream made sense to her immediately. Her college represented the time in her life when her excitement and determination to be a writer were like a rising sun - “one of the best times in my life, " she explained. Walking through the “broken glass" to get to the poetry reading was like “going through something nasty, mean, dangerous, a barrier, " she said. “If I imagine being that broken glass, " she continued, “someone’s been careless, dropped something - my writing?"

I asked Julie who dropped it? Recalling her cavalier dismissal in her dream, she said, “The part of me that doesn’t take poetry seriously. " Julie’s dream had shown her an enormous boulder blocking her writing, an attitude about poetry that she knew came from her parents and a society that did not value poetry or poets as a serious life’s work. She realized that she had to banish those ideas and attitudes if she were to ever follow her passion and live her own life. This dream and others gave her the courage to restart her writing.

In Julie’s dream, having sex with the poet meant connecting to her own creative spirit. Her spirit is “serious, " but her dreaming ego dismisses it. An outside attitude, like a parasite, had attached itself to her psyche. Without active effort in her waking life to rid herself of this view about poets, she would never even be able to start. Starting, taking one small step, even if only a few minutes each day, moving her hand with the pen, became her first priority. Julie carved out serious space and time for her writing, establishing her own creative space in her home, and she began to write each day. Understanding her dreams and those small steps changed her life. Her first book of poetry was soon a published reality.

Dreams want the individual life to become a creative intervention in the social order; they intend to change not only the dreamer’s life, they mean to accelerate the evolution of the human spirit and change the world we live in.

John Goldhammer, Ph. D. , is a psychologist and the author of three books. “Sexual Dreams are Not What They Seem" is adapted from his most recent book: Radical Dreaming: Use Your Dreams to Change Your Life (Kensington Publishing / Citadel Press). He lives in Seattle, Washington. Website:


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