Haunted by Sexual Dreams: How to Avoid Relapse with Masturbation and Pornography

In attempting to overcome the struggle with pornography and masturbation, some men may begin having multiple sexual dreams a week, including “wet dreams.” In the case of wet dreams, those prone to having them may have also experienced them as boys, though perhaps accompanied by anxiety and shame. They may have been led to believe by certain “religious” figures that—falsely—this was shameful or even sinful.

In a similar way, when adults in recovery have sexual dreams they may see it as a type of relapse or slip. I wondered the same thing early in my recovery from the private killer of porn addiction. I would have extremely vivid sexual dreams early on. Nevertheless, the next day I would wake up and feel that my “streak” had been broken. To those who can relate to this, this next part may also resonate. Then my inner “addict” was awakened, rationalizing all the reasons why I should go ahead and watch porn and masturbate because, I told myself, “I had slipped anyway, after all, so I might as well watch porn.”

This rationalizing is wrong. It’s a lie.

I want to reassure you that sexual dreams are not relapses. Firstly, sexual dreams, specifically wet dreams, are noted by medical experts as a fairly common occurrence. Scripture even refers to these bodily phenomena as “emissions” (Leviticus 15:16-18, 32; 22:4; Deuteronomy 23:10). In the context where it’s specifically mentioned, it’s regarding cleanliness under the Mosaic Law.

Furthermore, if you experience back-to-back nights of sexual dreams during your first few weeks of recovery you might also worry that it’s a “sign” that relapse is imminent. It is not. Dreams like this are normal and do not indicate you will relapse. The concern is psychological. The physical act is normal and not sinful. 

However, there may be times when a person’s sinful thoughts or activities during their waking hours (when we can actually choose to sin) are causing these types of dreams. In this case, the emission itself would still not be sinful but there may be other actions that are. For example, an unhealthy focus on certain types of people, thoughts, or media content might be a contributor to having these dreams.

My vivid sexual dreams offered me an opportunity to examine other areas of life, such as the types of content I watched online and on television. It also spurred me to create new routines and habits to avoid certain temptations.

Similarly, you may want to ask yourself: What types of content are you watching online or on television that could be a problem? Is there a particular person you are spending too much time thinking about? Is there a certain relationship that might even need to be ended?

Again, while we cannot directly control dreams, the activities of our day can influence our minds at night. Jesus reminds us, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45; see also Matthew 12:34-35). And St. Paul encourages us to focus our thoughts on noble and honorable things: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). 

As followers of Christ, we are called to be holy as He is holy. Those who have a sexual dreams and/or wet dream have no need to repent and should absolutely not consider this a relapse or fall. Yet, it’s important to continually evaluate our hearts and thoughts to make sure we’re not giving leeway to sinful or unhealthy distractions in our waking lives. In other words, it’s important to make sure we’re not doing something that can hinder us in our recovery from masturbation and pornography.

In recovery, our battle is daily. But through prayer, daily examens, and frequent reception of the sacraments, we can see our sexual dreams as opportunities to ensure we’re maintaining healthy routines and habits during our waking hours and avoiding anything that hinders us in our recovery.

Aaron Walter is a lifelong Catholic, former porn addict whose ministry, NewMenRising is dedicated to pornography addiction recovery. He is a coach, mentor, and accountability partner. Passionate about helping husbands kick their addiction and transform their lives and relationships. Connect at aaronwaltercoaching.com.