How Sex Rules our Dreams


Patrick McNamara in Aeon (In dreams; a beach-roamer, Germany, 1933. Photo by Herbert List/Magnum Photos):

In one dream from the archives, for instance, a male college student explains that he was in a theatre restaurant with his date when she mentioned that a man on stage had previously insulted her and severely beaten her escort. ‘I climbed up on the stage and attacked him,’ the dreamer wrote. ‘He was about 25 and very formidable-looking but catching him by surprise I succeeded in knocking him down. The audience thought it was part of the performance and applauded.’

Now look at a dream from a female college student, drawn from the same group of subjects: ‘I dreamt that a friend of mine who graduated last year came back to the dorm for Stunt Night. Another friend took care of her and gave her my bed to sleep in. Meanwhile another girl whom I’m not too friendly with was engaged to a boy whom she was not very much in love with. He was very wealthy and her ring was so beautiful that she didn’t want to wear it around school. She was always putting her arms around me … a very affectionate girl. … Later I went downstairs and my friend who took care of the visitor and I proceeded to tell her about our affairs at school and our respective boyfriends.’

While both dreams included romantic targets, the male dreamer describes aggression against potential competitors while the female dreamer subtly denigrates her competitor, the girl who received a beautiful ring. After I became a professor at Boston University in the mid-1990s, I confirmed these observations in rigorous studies: men dream more often of other men than they do of women, while women dream equally often of men and women. In addition, men more often engage in physical aggression against other men in dreams, while women more often engage in non-physical forms of aggression, for instance verbal rejections and exclusions of others.

But did these reports support Freud’s claims that dreams were essentially all about sex?

More here.