Question: "Is it a sin to have a sexual dream?"

Answer: Dreams are fascinating adventures of the mind that occur while we sleep. In the Bible, dreams had great significance and were sometimes used by God to reveal truth to people (Genesis 40:8; Daniel 7:1; Matthew 2:19). The Bible refers to dreams and visions interchangeably, and often the people themselves were not sure if they were living in reality or in a dream (see Acts 12:9). However, most dreams are not God-inspired and can even involve sin and horrors of all kinds. Is it wrong to dream about sinning? Is it sin to dream about sexual things?

Sleep experts can give us physical details about our brains when we dream, but there is no reliable consensus on why we dream the way we do or what triggers certain subjects. Dreams are the brain’s way of processing data and events, but it often does so in random and ridiculous ways. Like balls in a bingo cage, scenes, people, colors, and emotions bounce together to form detailed stories that make little sense upon awakening. Some of those stories involve sexual acts that the dreamer would never indulge in while awake. Those kinds of dreams can bring feelings of guilt and shame, even though no action was taken.

While it is true that we tend to dream more about those things that occupy our waking minds, this is not an absolute fact. Anyone who has ever dreamed of doing something they find morally repulsive understands this. Someone who dreams about watching her third-grade teacher play tennis with a raccoon does not need to be admitted to a psychiatric unit. It was just a strange dream. Likewise, a man who is striving to live purely but dreams about having sex with a string of women, none of whom are his wife, does not need to repent. Neither does a woman who has sexual dreams need to repent for the actions taken in those dreams. It was just a strange dream.

However, if those sexual dreams were products of lustful daytime thoughts, then repentance may be in order. If sexual dreams become enjoyable and sought after, then it is time to revisit Jesus’ words on lust (Matthew 5:28). Upon awakening, if we feel badly about what we were dreaming, it is always appropriate to ask God’s forgiveness and request that God would purify our thoughts. Praying Psalm 19:14 upon arising can erase feelings of guilt and also readjust our thinking so that we don’t continue to dwell on sexually sinful thoughts and images.

Dreams can also reflect unmet needs and longings, or even past experiences, so, if a pattern emerges, it can be a sign that there is an area we need to address with the Lord. If the dreams persist, it might be helpful to talk with a Christian counselor as well. We aren’t hiding anything from God; He knows about the dreams (Psalm 139:2; 1 Chronicles 29:17). So being honest about our needs and desires and asking Him to meet them in righteous ways can turn even sexual dreams into avenues of spiritual growth and surrender.