Nocturnal Emission: What it Is and What Causes It

Nocturnal emission, also known as a wet dream, embarrasses some and intrigues many. In this article, we’ll tell you all about it.
Nocturnal Emission: What it Is and What Causes It
María Belén del Río

Written and verified by biologist and doctor María Belén del Río.

Last update: 04 May, 2022

You’re sleeping deeply in the middle of the night and, suddenly, you have an orgasm caused by a pleasant dream and you wet your clothes. This common scene for many people is known as nocturnal emission or a wet dream.

Nocturnal emission isn’t a problem. It’s a simple reaction to a physical need, usually caused by a mental image. Although having sleep orgasms is neither good nor bad, they do puzzle many people.

Nocturnal emission: why it occurs

A man touching himself.
Experts have associated nocturnal emission with testosterone or sexual abstinence.

Experts haven’t established a clear cause of nocturnal emission, although they associate it with high testosterone levels. One study found that men with high testosterone levels are more prone to nocturnal orgasms. However, 13% of volunteers with normal levels also experienced wet dreams.

Other studies suggest that long periods of abstinence can also cause nocturnal emission. “If you don’t have a sexual release of any kind, you’ll have more nocturnal emissions,” says psychologist and sexologist Marelize Swart.

Generally, nocturnal emission occurs during REM sleep. During that phase, the body oxygenates more and there’s more blood flow to the genitals, which produces an erection in man or arousal of the clitoris in women, which favors stimulation and orgasm.

Do women experience wet dreams?

Indeed, nocturnal emission isn’t an exclusive experience of men. In a study published in Diarios de Estudios Sexuales, 37% of women under age 21 reported having orgasms while they slept.

Much earlier, in 1953, the controversial Kinsey Reports estimated that 70% of women have had sleep orgasms at some point in their lives.

However, the nocturnal secretion of vaginal fluids isn’t necessarily accompanied by an orgasm. For men, nocturnal emission always causes ejaculation. Vaginal discharge in women means that there’s sexual arousal, but it can happen without reaching orgasm.

Does nocturnal emission occur only in adolescence?

A surprised man looking under the sheets.
While there’s sexual activity, emissions may occur.

No, wet dreams don’t have an expiration age. While there’s sexual activity, they may occur. Nocturnal emission is most common during adolescence because there are more hormonal changes during that stage. In adulthood, the hormones are more stable and wet dreams are more rare.

Do you have to have an erotic dream to have a nocturnal emission?

Usually it’s accompanied by erotic dreams, but that isn’t a condition. There may be ejaculation without an erotic dream and even without remembering any dream.

Having an orgasm while you sleep can also be caused by external stimuli such as the friction of the sheets or clothing with the genitals. A study published by the American Psychological Association suggests that sleeping on your stomach could favor nocturnal emission.

You can also have an erotic dream that ends in orgasm without it causing a nocturnal emission, even if you have an erection.

Is not having nocturnal emissions indicative of any problem?

A man sleeping peacefully.
Emissions aren’t related to any sexual or psychological disorder.

Not all people have wet dreams, and that’s as normal as having them. Having or not having wet dreams is no indication of any sexual dysfunction.

Some people have never had wet dreams and have normal sex and orgasms. There’s no direct relationship between nocturnal emissions and each person’s sex life.

Also, some people have wet dreams but can’t reach orgasm during sex. Some psychologists believe that this is because, during sleep, no psychological inhibitors that prevent orgasm when there’s a state of consciousness manifest.

Can you control nocturnal emissions?

Nocturnal orgasms are completely involuntary. Thus, there’s no way to avoid them or make them occur. Studies from McGill University in Canada consider that you can control your dreams in general, but research doesn’t show clear evidence that this is possible.

As you can see, nocturnal emission isn’t a problem. But if you have any concerns, it’s always advisable to consult a specialist to clear your doubts.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Effects of Estrogen or Testosterone on Self-Reported Sexual Responses and Behaviors in Hypogonadal Adolescents. Jordan W. Finkelstein Elizabeth J. Susman Vernon M. Chinchilli M. Rose D’Arcangelo Susan J. Kunselman Jacqueline Schwab Laurence M. Demers Lynn S. Liben Howard E. Kulin. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 83, Issue 7. (1998). Pages 2281–2285
  • Wells, B. L. (1986). Predictors of female nocturnal orgasms: A multivariate analysis. Journal of Sex Research, 22(4), 421-437.
  • Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Kinsey, A.; Pomeroy, W.; Martin, C., & Gebhard, P. Philadelphia: Saunders (1953). ISBN 978-0-253-33411-4.
  • The effect of sleep position on dream experiences.Yu, Calvin Kai-Ching. American Pscological Association(2012). Dreaming, 22(3), 212-221
  • Lucid dreaming as a treatment for recurrent nightmares. Zadra AL, Pihl RO. Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal. (1997) 66(1):50-5
  • Schmidt, M. H. (2015). Impotence and erectile problems in sleep medicine. In Sleep Medicine (pp. 457-463). Springer, New York, NY.
  • Cochran, W. G., Mosteller, F., & Tukey, J. W. (1953). Statistical problems of the Kinsey report. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 48(264), 673-716.
  • Yu, C. K. C. (2012). The effect of sleep position on dream experiences. Dreaming, 22(3), 212.
  • Lee, M. J., Yang, G. E., Chueh, H. W., Park, J. H., & Yoo, J. H. (2017). The effect of first nocturnal ejaculation timing on risk and sexual behaviors of Korean male adolescents. Annals of pediatric endocrinology & metabolism, 22(1), 43–48.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.