Dreaming about public indecency
April 13, 2009 7:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm constantly dreaming about masturbating in public. Is this normal? If not, how can I stop?

Background: I'm a 25 year old gay male with a pleasantly active sex life. Recently, within the past six months or so I would say, I've suddenly started to dream about masturbating in public.

I have one of these dreams usually every other night, although sometimes several nights in a row. Nothing in particular seems to trigger them and I'm not aware of anything that might have started it six months ago.

The dreams all follow a standard formula: I'm hanging out in a public venue -- sometimes a parking lot, somtimes a neighbor's front lawn -- church, work, the grocery store, the side of the freeway during rush hour, in my car during rush hour, on the set of a TV show, etc. when suddenly I dream that I have the irresistible and overpowering urge to masturbate.

I start doing the deed and usually end up getting arrested or otherwise "exposed" by family or friends (who are usually laughing at me). I'm not sure if it makes any more sense, but these dreams are usually immediately followed by dreams of catastrophic disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc.). They so often follow each other, actually, that sometimes I wonder if they are just two parts of the same dream.

Normally I'm pretty relaxed when it comes to stuff like this but the frequency and vividness of the dreams is starting to disturb me. I'm not used to having ANY vivid dreams every night or every other night, let alone weird/nightmarish sexual dreams.

So, is this normal?

If not, is there anything I can do about it?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Ive always kind of thought that sex dreams such as the one you just described aren't so much about sex, but about some stressful (good or bad) aspect of your life. So maybe there is something that you are particularly stressed out about? Work? Relationship? Family?

I think the conscious mind can find 'meaning' behind your dreams that you subconscious mind didn't really intend. So the obvious 'meanings' that some might conclude this dream may be about might be missing the point.

IANADD - (i am not a dream doctor)
posted by ian1977 at 7:35 AM on April 13, 2009

Here's my take on it, in which I will crib liberally from my therapist -

Is it normal? It's a dream (or, alternatively, a fantasy if it ever enters your mind during your waking hours). I don't know if there's any kind of "normal" for a dream or fantasy. We have dreams and fantasies for all sorts of reasons, obviously - sometimes we can easily understand where they come from, and sometimes they come out of left field and catch us completely off guard because there are all sorts of things going on in our heads that we don't understand. I think with therapy and introspection and patience we can understand some of those unconscious underpinnings, but I say some because I think even then there's "assembly code" - stuff that's raw and complex and incomprehensible - that we'll never understand.

But the great part about dreams and fantasies is that they're completely and totally safe. I don't think anyone should ever be judged by a dream or fantasy. There are no rules. And sometimes they get really weird and really disgusting and really gross and really wrong but if these thoughts and feelings didn't bubble up there, well, what other outlet is there for these things?

The real concern is action. If you take even the smallest step toward realizing a fantasy that your recognize is wrong, then that's not normal - that's a problem, and you should get help immediately.

But as long as you don't plan on taking your pants off in your car on the drive home any time soon, then I say yes, it's normal, insofar as people dream and fantasize about all sorts of insane, crazy shit they would never do in real life.
posted by kbanas at 7:44 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

You have an active sex life, but how often do you masturbate?

Try doing the deed a little more during private time to see if your psyche thanks you.
posted by DonSlice at 7:53 AM on April 13, 2009

I think any dream that is repeating so often is trending outside of the boundaries of normal (which is to say, common) though I can't see it as anything to worry about intrinsically, unless you feel like it is disrupting the quality of your sleep to the degree of screwing with your daylight life. Certainly the generic content of the dreams aren't unusual, I've had my share of inappropriate beating off dreams, not quite as much a classic as "whoops, forgot my pants on Test Day" perhaps but normal, sure. It seems like pretty much classic social anxiety, impulse control failure stuff.

It's not necessarily true that you don't usually have vivid dreams - in this case you may just be remembering more than you usually do, and the repetition may make the dream increasingly memorable. You might want to research around factors that increase the frequency or recall of dreams to see if you've missed any lifestyle changes that have come up recently.

Beyond that, though I'm dubious about the theory that your dreams have much anything to tell you about your waking life, when something is coming up in you sleeping mind so frequently it could be worthwhile to explore around what's going on in your mind about the associated topics... Whether there are areas of your sexuality that have been developing but which you're keeping particularly private, especially from friends and family... Or if you are just generally feeling social anxiety about things, what you're doing with your life, your performance in school or work or whatever. With the disaster stuff, are you quietly worried that something going on in your life could be leading up to serious consequences (i.e. you're spending beyond your means using credit or whatever)? Generally feeling fearful about your personal future? Or are you dwelling overly much on the state of the world, letting the internet pour its substantial poison dose of economic-environmental-political-etc. catastrophe hysteria into your eyes on a regular basis and so forth?

If none of that is ringing any bells leading you to substantive internal issues that you maybe need to expose to light and start dealing with, it could just be meaningless anomaly, and the best course would be to blow it off and do your best not to worry about it.
posted by nanojath at 8:43 AM on April 13, 2009

Do your family and friends know you're gay, or do you feel like society wants to tear you down because of it? (I'd be surprised if you didn't feel a bit like that, at least sometimes.) When I read the dream, I see that you're out in public trying to be normal, suddenly your sexuality gets in the way and you can't control it, it's unacceptable to everyone and they laugh at you, and it's like it's the end of the world.

My dreams are very obviously symbolic like that, though. I could be wrong, but your dream reminded me of another dream I heard of: this woman kept dreaming that her mother was drowning, and she kept trying to save her but her mother wouldn't let her. The girl having the dream freaked out and thought she was morbid and that there must be something wrong with her, because she kept dreaming about her mom dying. Someone asked her if she felt like she was constantly fighting to help her mom in real, and she realized that was all the dream was; she just worried about her mom a lot. It's the same sort of feeling, it's just a different picture that her sleeping mind put to it.

So I hope you're not worried you're some kind of pervert because you have strange dreams about masturbating in public. If you don't walk around wanting to masturbate in public, then obviously the dream means something else. To me, at least, it doesn't seem to be the "picture" in the dream that's important, but the feelings that are tied to your feeling of arousal; the inability to control it, that other people don't like it, and that it's a disaster. And no, you don't have to be a self-loathing homosexual to feel that way sometimes; nightmares tend to amplify small fears we have.
posted by Nattie at 10:03 AM on April 13, 2009

Disclaimer: not a therapist, not your therapist.

I'm not a fan of psychoanalysis. The mind can come up with very strange, awkward static "noise", and we can sometimes attribute meaning to this noise, when in fact their is no meaning.

Sometimes a random thought bothers us so much that we start to dwell on its possible meaning; we can become anxious and afraid of it. Paradoxically, the fear imparts a certain legitimacy to the thought that it shouldn't have. Once we view the thought as legitimate (meaningful), it presents itself more often. The more disturbed and attentitive you are to this thought, the more often it will show up.

Just accept that you had a weird dream, and remember that everybody has weird dreams. You've never acted on this thought before, and you obviously don't want to act on this thought. So chances are, you're not going to act on it. If it really continues to bother you, check out a therapist who practices CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
posted by HabeasCorpus at 11:05 AM on April 13, 2009

The real concern is action. If you take even the smallest step toward realizing a fantasy that you recognize is wrong, then that's not normal - that's a problem, and you should get help immediately.

Sorry to post twice, but Kbanas hit it on the head. Action is the key indicator that things are wrong. Most people act on Ego-Syntonic thoughts (thoughts that cause enjoy, are pleasurable and enjoyed). People do not typically act on Ego-Dystonic thoughts. (Thoughts that disturb, bother, and provoke anxiety). You don't sound happy or comfortable with your dream. Once again though, if it keeps bothering you, you can just check in with a professional.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 11:15 AM on April 13, 2009

Even minor changes to diet, exercise, supplement intake, and drug intake can cause people to experience unusual, vivid, or more frequent dreams. B-complex vitamins are frequently blamed for vivid or bizarre dreams. For example, check out this abstract:
Ebben, M., Lequerica, A., and Spielman, A. Effects of pyridoxine on dreaming: a preliminary study.
Perceptual and Motor Skills (February 2002): 94 (1): 135-140.

The effect of pyridoxine (Vitamin B-6) on dreaming was investigated in a placebo, double-blind study to examine various claims that Vitamin B-6 increases dream vividness or the ability to recall dreams. 12 college students participated in all three treatment conditions, each of which involved ingesting either 100 mg B-6, 250 mg B-6, or a placebo prior to bedtime for a period of five consecutive days. The treatment conditions were completely counterbalanced and a two-day wash-out period occurred between the three five-day treatment blocks. Morning self-reports indicated a significant difference in dream-salience scores (this is a composite score containing measures on vividness, bizarreness, emotionality, and color) between the 250-mg condition and placebo over the first three days of each treatment. The data for dream salience suggests that Vitamin B-6 may act by increasing cortical arousal during periods of rapid eve movement (REM) sleep. An hypothesis is presented involving the role of B-6 in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. However, this first study needs to be replicated using the same procedures and also demonstrated in a sleep laboratory before the results can be considered certain.
B-complex vitamins are not the only nutritional components or ingested chemicals that can trigger unpleasant or vivid dreams. Alcohol, tobacco, and recreational substances can obviously do it, but many medications (psychoactive or not) can also cause unusual dreams. Caffeine intake can do it. Some people say that supplements like melatonin, various amino acids, DMAE, as well as minerals like magnesium, zinc can lead to vivid dreams, especially if taken before bed. And any number of herbal supplements like kava, valerian, ginseng, ginkgo, nutmeg, St. John's wort, etc. can cause strange dreams.

Dream changes via chemical intake can change due to diet, not just supplement intake. Various foods can be very high sources of one nutritional component or another. One of my cousins swears up and down that he has strange dreams if he eats shiitake mushrooms at dinner. Maybe or maybe not, but they do happen to have relatively high levels of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). Some cheeses are apparently high in tryptophan; the evidence for diet-to-brain transfer of tryptophan varies, but that might account for old British wives' tales about how eating cheese before bed will give you nightmares. Some people can't exercise within 4 hours of bedtime because it affects their sleep, dream content and dream recall; there's some research that may back this up.

Anyway, point being that even little routine changes that you're not thinking about might be having an effect on your dreams.

The important thing for you is not whether your dreams are normal or abnormal, it's that the frequency and content of your dreams are bothering you, and that's a perfectly legitimate reaction to have.

Repeating what everyone else said, but your dreams are normal in the sense that people dream about all kinds of crazy, often highly sexual (and not infrequently sexually "deviant") stuff.

Some years back I had a close friend who was really troubled by regular, once-a-week dreams he had about performing very unusual sex acts with a parent. There wasn't any particular reason for the dreams; he had a low-stress life, was in a happy relationship, had no desire to commit incest, etc. The dreams went away within several months and he theorized that he started having fewer of the dreams once he decided not to be bothered by them because ruminating on them was exhausting him.

Your dreams are probably "abnormal" in the frequency of one particular type of dream, but that frequency in itself isn't necessarily a cause for concern unless
  1. you have reason to believe it's indicative of latent desires or may cause desires that you have a significant chance of acting on in real life;
  2. you have reason to believe it's a sublimation of some other tensions you're having in real life;
  3. you think the dreams are being caused by a specific detrimental trigger that you'd like to eliminate.
It doesn't sound like any of these are the case, but as others have said, you should consider #2 and #3 more carefully.

By the way, there's no reason to be concerned if the dreams are partly triggered by real desires, as long as you know you won't act on them in a criminal, dangerous, or unethical way. Humans have a broad and varied range of sex fantasies, and becoming aroused by the idea of acts you'd never, ever commit in real life isn't unusual at all. Our species has both the ability to fantasize and the capacity for a very active, year-round sex life; the two happen to intersect a lot. No worries.
posted by jeeves at 12:37 PM on April 13, 2009

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