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Nocturnal Emission

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A nocturnal emission or wet dream is a type of spontaneous orgasm involving either ejaculation during sleep for a male or lubrication of the vagina for a female if she perceives that it resulted in an orgasm.[1] Nocturnal emissions are most common during adolescence and early young adult years, but they may happen any time after puberty. It is possible to wake up during a wet dream or to simply sleep through it.


Due to the difficulty in collecting ejaculate produced during nocturnal emissions, relatively few studies have examined its composition.[2][3] In the largest study, which included nocturnal emission samples from 10 men with idiopathic anejaculation, the semen concentration was equivalent to samples obtained from the same men by penile vibratory stimulation. Although the percentage of sperm which were mobile and which were of normal morphology were higher in the nocturnal emission specimens.[2]


In a detailed study men and women reported that approximately 8% of their everyday dream contain some form of sexual-related activity. Four percent of sex dreams among both men and women resulted in orgasms.[4]

By Gender

In Men

The frequency of nocturnal emissions is highly variable. Some reported that it is due to being sexually inactive, either intercourse or masturbation. Some men have experienced large numbers of nocturnal emissions as teenagers, while others have never experienced one. In the USA, 83% of men will experience nocturnal emissions at some time in their life.[5] For males who have experienced nocturnal emissions the mean frequency ranges from 0.36 times per week (about once every three weeks) for single 15-year-old males to 0.18 times per week (about once every five-and-a-half weeks) for 40-year-old single males. For married males the mean ranges from 0.23 times per week (about once per month) for 19-year-old married males to 0.15 times per week (about once every two months) for 50-year-old married males.[6] In some parts of the world nocturnal emissions are more common. For example in Indonesia surveys have shown that 97% of men experience nocturnal emissions by the age of 24.[7]

Some men have the emissions only at a certain age, while others have them throughout their lives following puberty. The frequency that one has nocturnal emissions has not been conclusively linked to frequency of masturbation. Alfred Kinsey found there may be "some correlation between the frequencies of masturbation and the frequencies of nocturnal emissions. In general the males who have the highest frequencies of nocturnal emissions may have somewhat lower rates of masturbation."

One factor that can affect the number of nocturnal emissions men have is whether they take testosterone-based drugs. In a 1998 study by Finkelstein et al, the number of boys reporting nocturnal emissions drastically increased as their testosterone doses were increased, from 17% of subjects with no treatment to 90% of subjects at a high dose.[8]

13% of males experience their first ejaculation as a result of a nocturnal emission.[9] Kinsey found that males experiencing their first ejaculation through a nocturnal emission were older than those experiencing their first ejaculation by means of masturbation. The study indicates that such a first ejaculation resulting from a nocturnal emission was delayed a year or more from what would have been developmentally possible for such males through physical stimulation.[10]

In Women

The frequency of nocturnal emissions is variable, just as with men. In 1953, sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that nearly 40% of the women he interviewed had had one or more nocturnal orgasms or wet dreams. Those who reported experiencing these said that they usually had them several times a year and that they first occurred as early as thirteen, and usually by the age of 21. Kinsey defined female nocturnal orgasm as sexual arousal during sleep that awakens one to perceive the experience of orgasm.[1] Studies have found that more boys and men have spontaneous nocturnal sexual experiences than girls and women, but female wet dreams may be more difficult to identify with certainty than male wet dreams because ejaculation is usually associated with male orgasm while vaginal lubrication may not indicate orgasm.[1][11]

By Benign Phenomena

Lucid Dreaming

Sexual activity is a rather commonly reported theme of lucid dreams (Garfield, 1979; LaBerge, 1985). LaBerge, Greenleaf, and Kedzierski (1983) undertook a pilot study to determine the extent to which subjectively experienced sexual activity during REM lucid dreaming would be reflected in physiological responses:

In 1983 we undertook a pilot study to determine the extent to which subjectively experienced sexual activity during REM lucid dreaming would be reflected in physiological responses. Since women report more orgasms in dreams than men do, we began with a female subject. We recorded many different aspects of her physiology that would normally be affected by sexual arousal, including respiration, heart rate, vaginal muscle tone, and vaginal pulse amplitude. The experiment called for her to make specific eye movement signals at the following points: when she realized she was dreaming, when she began sexual activity (in the dream), and when she experienced orgasm. She reported a lucid dream in which she carried out the experimental task exactly as agreed upon. Our analysis revealed significant correspondences between the dream activities she reported and all but one of the physiological measures. During the fifteen-second section of her physiological record which she signaled as the moment of orgasm, her vaginal muscle activity, vaginal pulse amplitude, and respiration rate reached their high-est values of the night, and they also were considerably elevated in comparison to the rest of the REM period. Contrary to expectation, heart rate increased only slightly.

—LaBerge, S., Greenleaf, W., & Kedzierski, B. (1983). Physiological responses to dreamed sexual activity during lucid REM sleep. Psychophysiology, 20, 454-455.

Cultural Views

There are numerous cultural and religious views on nocturnal emissions. Below is a limited summary of some perspectives.


In ancient Rome nocturnal emission was perceived as quite natural:

...Again, those males Into the surging channels of whose years Now first has passed the seed (engendered Within their members by the ripened days) Are in their sleep confronted from without By idol-images of some fair form— Tidings of glorious face and lovely bloom, Which stir and goad the regions turgid now With seed abundant; so that, as it were With all the matter acted duly out, They pour the billows of a potent stream And stain their garment.[12]

Patristic Christian View

Saint Augustine held that male nocturnal emissions, unlike masturbation, did not pollute the conscience of a man, because they were not voluntary carnal acts, and were therefore not to be considered a sin.[13]

Liturgy of the Hours

The second part of the prayer Te lucis ante terminum (Before the Ending of the Day) said during the late evening Compline service, part of the Liturgy of the Hours, might refer to nocturnal emissions and their supposed connection to erotic dreams:

Procul recedant somnia et noctium phantasmata hostemque nostrum comprime ne polluantur corpora

Literal translation: "Let dreams and nocturnal phantasies run far away; suppress our enemy, lest our bodies be polluted."

Jewish and Samaritan Views

Some examples of passages under the Mosaic law of the Bible teach that under the law of Moses a man who had a nocturnal emission incurred ritual defilement.

"If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water and be unclean [Hebrew tameh] until the evening. And every garment and every skin on which the semen comes shall be washed with water and be unclean until the evening."

—Leviticus 15:16–17 English Standard Version

"When you are encamped against your enemies, then you shall keep yourself from every evil thing. If any man among you becomes unclean [Hebrew lo yihyeh tahor, literally 'is not clean'] because of a nocturnal emission [literally: 'by reason of what happens to him by night'], then he shall go outside the camp. He shall not come inside the camp, but when evening comes, he shall bathe himself in water, and as the sun sets, he may come inside the camp."

—Deuteronomy 23:9–11 English Standard Version

"16. And if any man’s seed of copulation go out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the even. 17. And every garment, and every skin, whereon is the seed of copulation, shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the even."[14] (Leviticus 15:16-17, King James Version).

A third passage relates more specifically to priests, requiring "a man who has had an emission of semen," among other causes of ritual defilement, to abstain from eating holy until after a ritual immersion in a mikveh (see paragraph below) and a subsequent night-fall (Leviticus 22:4).

The regulations required the defiled person (tamei) bathe in a mikveh. A man who had normal intercourse with his wife was also considered ceremonially unclean, and he too was required to bathe in a mikveh and he became pure after the sun had set (Leviticus 15:18). Leviticus makes similar statements about menstruation (15:19–24) and childbirth (Leviticus 12).

In Judaism, the Tikkun HaKlali, also known as "The General Remedy," is a set of ten Psalms designed in 1805 by Rebbe Nachman whose recital is intended to serve as repentance for nocturnal emissions.

Most rabbis feel that nocturnal emissions are associated with daytime thoughts, and there are comments impinging the wisdom of those who suffer from immodest dreams. A midrash relates that the prophet Elisha did not have nocturnal emissions any time he was a guest in someone's home, and attributes this control as being an attribute of holiness.

Islamic View

Muslim scholars consider ejaculation something that makes one temporarily ritually impure, a condition known as Junub; meaning that a Muslim who has had an orgasm or ejaculated must have a Ghusl (this consists of ablution followed by bathing the entire body so that not a single hair remain dry on the whole body, requiring one to rub the body (Dalk in Arabic) while showering) before they can read the Qur'an or perform the formal prayer known as salat. Informal supplications and prayers known as du'a do not require a bath.

A wet dream is not a sin in Islam. Moreover, whereas a person fasting (in Ramadan or otherwise) would normally be considered to have broken his or her fast by ejaculating on purpose (during either masturbation or intercourse), nocturnal emission is not such a cause. He or she is still required to bathe prior to undergoing some rituals in the religion.

Medieval Folklore

In European folklore, nocturnal emissions were believed to be caused by a succubus copulating with the individual at night, an event associated with sleep paralysis and possibly night terrors.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Do women have wet dreams, too?". Go Ask Alice!. May 7, 1999 (Last updated/Reviewed on April 27, 2007). http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/do-women-have-wet-dreams-too. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Meng, X; Fan, L; Liu, J; Wang, T; Yang, J; Wang, J; Wang, S; Ye, Z (2013). "Fresh semen quality in ejaculates produced by nocturnal emission in men with idiopathic anejaculation". Fertility and Sterility 100 (5): 1248–52. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.07.1979.
  3. Hovav, Y; Dan-Goor, M; Yaffe, H; Almagor, M (1999). "Nocturnal sperm emission in men with psychogenic anejaculation". Fertility and sterility 72 (2): 364–5.
  4. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070614085118.htm
  5. Kinsey, Alfred C. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, p. 519
  6. Kinsey, Alfred C. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, p. 275
  7. "Knowledge about Human Reproduction and Experience of Puberty". Indonesia Young Adult Reproductive Health Survey 2002–2003. Badan Pusat Statistik (BPS-Statistics Indonesia), Jakarta, Indonesia; National Family Planning Coordinating Board, Jakarta, Indonesia; Ministry of Health, Jakarta, Indonesia, ORC Macro, Calverton, Maryland USA. p. 27. http://www.measuredhs.com/pubs/pdf/FR157/04Chapter04.pdf. Retrieved April 7, 2011. 
  8. (1998) "Effects of Estrogen or Testosterone on Self-Reported Sexual Responses and Behaviors in Hypogonadal Adolescents". The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 83 (7). The Endocrine Society.
  9. Kinsey, Alfred C. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, p. 190
  10. Kinsey, Alfred C. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, p. 299
  11. "Nocturnal Orgasm...or...Female wet dream?". Newsvine. September 2009. http://kimee.newsvine.com/_news/2009/09/27/3322558-nocturnal-orgasmorfemale-wet-dream. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  12. Titus Lucretius Carus, De Rerum Natura, Book IV, lines 1025-1036
  13. This view is confirmed by the Protestant theologian Philip Schaff. S.23
  14. Leviticus 15:16–17 KJV – And if any man's seed of copulation go – Bible Gateway


  • Kinsey, Alfred C. (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Co.

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