Many males occasionally, wake up in the middle of the night with wet sheets and underpants. When this happens, they are probably experiencing something called nocturnal emissions, or "wet dreams." A nocturnal emission is an involuntary ejaculation of semen that occurs during sleep. Studies show that approximately 83% of men experience a nocturnal emission at some point in their lives.2 There is a difference between nocturnal orgasms and nocturnal emissions, because males can have a nocturnal orgasm (a sexual climax) without ejaculating (an emission of seminal fluids). Females can also experience a nocturnal orgasm, although there won't be an emission. There is nothing wrong with a person if he or she experiences a nocturnal orgasm or nocturnal emission, as they are normal and healthy experiences. If you have (or haven't) experienced a wet dream, you should not feel ashamed. There is no way to prevent nocturnal orgasms or emissions from happening.
What Causes Nocturnal Emissions?
Between the ages of 10 and 12, males begin the process of puberty. During this process of sexual maturation, they start to produce sperm and gain the ability to ejaculate. It is at this time that most males start to experience nocturnal emissions, sometimes even before they learn about masturbation. While sleeping, the male's genitals may rub against the bed or sheets, or he may unknowingly stimulate them himself. He also might be having a sexual dream. When this happens, the male may become so sexually aroused that he has an orgasm which may or may not be accompanied by a nocturnal emission. Some males find that they are more prone to wet dreams during times of less frequent sexual activity because they are not ejaculating as frequently from masturbation or sex with a partner.1
The First Nocturnal Emissions
A male's first nocturnal emission tends to cause the most confusion and anxiety, especially if it occurs during adolescence because he may not be comfortable and familiar with his body and how it works. This is because many adolescent boys are unfamiliar with the concept of noctunal emissions. He may think something is wrong with his body, or he may fear that he has urinated in his sleep. Nocturnal orgasms and emissions are natural, and that wet spot will dry up quickly, though unfortunately it usually leaves a yellowish stain. Many adolescent males are embarrassed about the semen left on their bed sheets and may try to do laundry themselves to hide it. A potentially confusing aspect of a young male's first nocturnal orgasm is the feelings of pleasure and arousal that he feels if he is awakened by it. If he has never experienced an orgasm before (via masturbation or otherwise), these pleasurable feelings can be strange but enjoyable. Nocturnal orgasms may indeed lead a male to experiment with masturbation in order to experience those sexual feelings again.
Some males worry that a nocturnal emission means they are becoming a "sex maniac" with uncontrollable urges, when in reality wet dreams are just a sign of puberty. Other heterosexual males worry that they might be gay if they experienced a nocturnal emission and their dream had other males in it. When men who experienced wet dreams were surveyed, almost all reported their dreams as extremely vivid and hard to separate from reality. The dreams even involved family members, close friends, animal, people of the same sex, or being sexual in public.3 Some did not even remember their dreams. The dream that a male experiences when he ejaculates is not an indicator of his sexual preferences.
Nocturnal Orgasms in Males and Females
Both males and females can experience nocturnal orgasms. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, both males and females experience greater blood flow to their genitals which is typically occurs during arousal. REM sleep is associated with dreaming, so your brain is more active. An active brain requires more oxygen and as a result, blood flow all over the body increases.5 In males, this results in an erection and sometimes orgasm and ejaculation. Females experience the swelling of the clitoris and labia minora and some experience an orgasm which may or may not be accompanied by a sexual dream. Females experience less frequent nocturnal orgasms than males, and rarely do they experience emission. Women may experience vaginal lubrication which occurs when a woman is aroused. Everyone experiences REM sleep (and therefore genital arousal) on a nightly basis, but REM sleep is not always accompanied by sexual dreams or nocturnal orgasms and emissions.
A study4 published in The Journal of Sex Research reports that 37% of females from the sample had experienced a nocturnal orgasm in their lifetime. This study also found that frequency of nocturnal orgasms is not affected by engaging in sexual activity. However, the study found that sexual satisfaction was a significant predictor of ever having experienced a nocturnal orgasm meaning that women who experience satisfaction with their sex lives are more likely to report having experienced a nocturnal orgasm.
Since many parents do not teach their children about orgasms and sexual pleasure, an adolescent's friends and peers may be the only way they learn about the subject. While hearing his friends joke and tease about these things may help to alleviate some of his fears, it is likely that much of the teens’ stories and information will be false. Adolescent males going through puberty tend to act like they know everything about sex, when they in fact usually know very little at all. If a male does experience teasing or ridicule about "cumming his sheets," it is important for him to remember that his male peers are experiencing the same confusion and discomfort. It may also help to talk to a parent, doctor, or counselor for more information about the changes males experience during puberty.
Finally, it is important to remember that everyone experiences puberty at different ages. Some males experience their first wet dream at earlier ages than others, and some do not experience wet dreams at all. If you have any concerns or questions about puberty, it may be helpful to contact your doctor or an adult that you trust.
Last Updated: 01 June 2016
1. Herbenick, Debby. "Q&A: Adult Wet Dreams – When Will They Stop?"Kinsey Confidential RSS. The Kinsey Institute, 25 Dec. 2008. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.
2. "Nocturnal Emission: Normal or Not?" Real Sex Education Facts. N.p., 21 May 2007. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.
3. "Nocturnal Emissions." Boys Under Attack. BoysUnderAttack.com, 9 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 May 2016.
4. Wells, Barbara L. "Predictors of Female Nocturnal Orgasms: A Multivariate Analysis." The Journal of Sex Research 22.4 (1986): 421–437. Web. 16 May 2016.
5. Bianchi, Jane. "10 Bizarre Things Your Body Does While You Sleep." Woman's Day. Hearst Communications, 10 Mar. 2016. Web. 01 June 2016.