What Is a Wet Dream?

It's perfectly normal and can happen to both males and females

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A wet dream, also known as nocturnal emission, is a spontaneous orgasm during sleep that causes a male to ejaculate ("cum") and a female to orgasm and secrete vaginal fluids. A wet dream is a perfectly normal occurrence, especially during the teenage years or when an adult has an extended period of sexual abstinence (not having sex).

This article explains what wet dreams are and what causes them in males and females. It also describes ways to prevent wet dreams if they have become problematic for whatever reason.

What to Know About Wet Dreams

Verywell / Lara Antal

Wet Dream Symptoms

A wet dream causes a spontaneous orgasm while you are asleep. An orgasm is the climax of sexual excitement centered around the genitals of both males and females.

For males, orgasm is accompanied by the propulsive release of semen (ejaculation). With females, there may the release of a clear fluid from the urethra (the tube through which urine normally exits the body) during fluid.

Sometimes, a person may only realize that they've had a wet dream when their bed sheets or undergarments are moist with semen or vaginal wetness. At other times, an orgasm during a wet dream can be intense enough to awaken a person.

Wet dreams may occur throughout your lives after puberty. But, they are more common during the teenage years when sex hormones are surging or during periods of prolonged sexual abstinence.

Nocturnal emissions typically start at age 13 to 14 during the so-called middle adolescent years. Around 38% of teenage males experience a wet dream before learning what it even is.

Causes of Wet Dreams

During sleep, the blood flow to your sexual organs may be increased. For males, this can lead to an erection ("hard-on"). This is the common cause of "morning wood" in which you awaken with an erection, typically without ejaculation but sometimes with preseminal fluid ("pre-cum").

Nocturnal emissions differ in that orgasm occurs during a wet dream. The underlying cause is unknown but there are several theories. Among them:

  • Erotic dreams: Erotic dreams occurring during REM sleep may lead to orgasm. REM sleep is the stage where you will experience the most intense and vivid dreams.
  • Testosterone surge in teens: Wet dreams are linked to high testosterone levels. Testosterone, the primary sex hormone in males, will surge during the teen years right up until early adulthood.
  • Testosterone build-up: In adult males, a prolonged period of abstinence may cause the buildup of testosterone. Testosterone in males helps fuel libido (sex drive) which, in turn, can lead to a wet dream.
  • Stimulation of the genitals: It is possible that the rubbing of the genitals during sleep (such as with bed sheets or lying on your stomach) can cause unintended sexual stimulation. This might contribute to the likelihood of a wet dream.

The cause of nocturnal emission in females is less clear, in part because female wet dreams are harder to identify due to the lack of ejaculation. Only around 10% of females experience "female ejaculation" in which there is a spurt of clear fluid during orgasm.

Not all males have wet dreams (or, perhaps, don't recognize them if there is little ejaculate). With that said, famed sexologist Alfred Kinsey suggested that around 85% of males and females experience nocturnal emission at some point in life.

These findings are supported in part by a 2020 study from the University of Health Sciences in Istanbul, Turkey in which 83% of Muslim boys reported having wet dreams.

How to Prevent Wet Dreams

Some people believe there are a few ways to reduce how often wet dreams occur. One way is to have more sex or more frequent masturbation that ends with orgasm and ejaculation. This may relieve the need for males to ejaculate during sleep.

Reducing contact with the genitals might also be helpful. Try sleeping on your side or back instead of your stomach to see if it helps.

In the rare cases that wet dreams are troublesome, a doctor might prescribe a medication such as an antidepressant. These medicines might reduce the frequency of wet dreams, but they might also make it hard to ejaculate when you're awake.

Summary

Wet dreams are when you ejaculate while sleeping, sometimes as a response to sexual dreams. They mostly happen to teenage boys or people going through periods of abstinence.

Wet dreams can be a healthy and normal part of sleep. Aside from the need to clean up clothing or bedding, there's no particular problem.

A Word From Verywell

If you're worried about your sexual function and how it impacts sleep, talk to a board-certified sleep doctor. Depending on the issue, they might consult another specialist, like a urologist or gynecologist.

Reassurance may be all that's needed, but they may want to do more testing. This might give you peace of mind and better rest.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Finkelstein JW, Susman EJ, Chinchilli VM, et al. Effects of estrogen or testosterone on self-reported sexual responses and behaviors in hypogonadal adolescents. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998;83(7):2281-5. doi:10.1210/jcem.83.7.4961

  2. Lee MJ, Yan GE, Chueh HW, Park JH, Hoo JH. The effect of first nocturnal ejaculation timing on risk and sexual behaviors of Korean male adolescents. Ann Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2017 Mar;22(1):43–8. doi:10.6065/apem.2017.22.1.43

  3. Emmerson L. Overcoming the ignorance of basic sex education. Nurs Child Young People. 2016;28(8):13. doi:10.7748/ncyp.28.8.13.s15

  4. Planned Parenthood. Is it normal for girls to release fluid during orgasm?

  5.  Kinsey, AC. In: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. New York NY: W,B. Saunders Co.

  6. Gul A, Yuruk E, Serefoglu EC. Frequency of nocturnal emissions and masturbation habits among virgin male religious teenagers. Rev Int Androl. 2020 Jan-Mar;18(1):21-6. doi:10.1016/j.androl.2018.08.002

Additional Reading

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.