Nocturnal Orgasms Aren’t Just For Men--Women Have Them Too

"Masturbation and nocturnal sex dreams to the point of orgasm are the activities which provide the best measure of a female's intrinsic sexuality.” –Alfred Kinsey (1953)

Woman sleeping in bed

Many people only associate terms such as “nocturnal orgasm” and “wet dream” with men. There are likely several reasons for this. One is the fact that sex education courses typically only discuss male orgasm—female orgasm (nocturnal or otherwise) is usually left out of the discussion completely. In addition, the sexuality narrative in our culture tends to portray male sexuality as more “uncontrollable” than female sexuality. For men, orgasming and ejaculating are seen as occurring almost effortlessly—not only does it happen to guys in their sleep, but during sex it often occurs prematurely. In contrast, the female orgasm is described as something that requires a lot of work and, even then, it’s not guaranteed to happen. However, the notion that nocturnal orgasms are a male phenomenon is patently false. Like female ejaculation, female nocturnal orgasms are an aspect of women’s sexuality that was discovered, described, and then forgotten long ago.

The pioneering sex research team headed by Alfred Kinsey documented the existence of female nocturnal orgasms more than 60 years ago. In their sample of over 5,600 women from across the United States, they found that by the age of 45, 37% of the women surveyed reported having previously had an orgasm during their sleep [1]. Those women who reported having such orgasms reported an average of three or four each year. Of interest, older women were more likely to report nocturnal orgasms than younger women.

Subsequent research has revealed similar findings and uncovered some of the factors correlated with the experience of female nocturnal orgasm. For instance, in a 1986 study of 245 female college undergraduates, an identical 37% of participants reported having orgasms during their sleep [2]. However, it is worth noting that Kinsey’s 37% statistic was averaging across women of all ages—in his research, only 8% of 20-year-old women reported nocturnal orgasms. Thus, the more recent study suggests that the prevalence of nocturnal orgasms may be greater among younger women than previously thought.

The 1986 study also revealed that 32% of the women who had nocturnal orgasms experienced their first one at age 16 or younger, with the number climbing to 58% by age 18 and 88% by age 21. Likelihood of having a nocturnal orgasm was not associated with one’s previous sexual history. Specifically, being sexually active, having sex frequently, and having previous experience with orgasm in general were unrelated to whether women had orgasms during their sleep. Likewise, there was no relationship between frequency of sexual dreams and nocturnal orgasm. The only factors that predicted a greater likelihood of orgasming during sleep were high levels of sexual satisfaction, having more liberal attitudes toward sex, and having more positive attitudes toward nocturnal orgasm.

Altogether, these findings tell us that female nocturnal orgasms are relatively common. Also, if anything, the numbers reported in these studies may be underestimates because it is likely that some women may not realize they have sleep orgasms, perhaps because there is not always as much “evidence” that they occurred as there is for men. In addition, the fact that the only variables related to reporting nocturnal orgasms were psychological in nature suggests that there may be social and cultural factors at play in determining women’s awareness of and willingness to report having orgasms during their sleep. As a result, Kinsey’s contention that “nocturnal sex dreams to the point of orgasm are…the best measure of a female’s intrinsic sexuality” [1] may not necessarily be warranted. Nonetheless, it does appear safe to conclude that nocturnal orgasms are a common and perfectly normal occurrence for both women and men.

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[1] Kinsey, A., Pomeroy, W.B., Martin, C.E., & Gebhard, P. (1953). Sexual behavior in the human female. Philadelphia: Saunders.

[2] Wells, B. L. (1986). Predictors of female nocturnal orgasms: A multivariate analysis. Journal of Sex Research, 22, 421-437.

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