One of the comparisons I’ve often used to describe pornography addiction is that of a wrecking ball. Our infatuation with what we see on our computer screens and smartphones many times leads to a life demolished by the unhealthy effects pornography has upon our relationships, our careers, even our very own brains. It truly is like a wrecking ball, tearing through every thing it comes in contact with.
So it begs the question, if we’re constantly exposing ourselves to sources of sexual explicit material on a daily basis, what is happening underneath the surface in our hearts and our minds? Going even further, how do we process all of this during our times of sleep?
I’ve had many conversations with men over the years who’ve been addicted to pornography and as a result also deal with pornographic dreams at night. Now, the reality is that there are probably many reasons a person experiences sexual dreams or “wet dreams” at night. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a ton of research that has been done on the subject. But I believe one of the greatest reasons we experience sexual dreams is linked to our compulsive behavior during the hours we are awake.
For me, sexual dreams occurred much more frequently in the earlier half of my recovery than they do now. I would literally spend hours, especially in the evenings, watching porn online before going to sleep. This was a pattern that continued for years. I believe this has a way of really working itself into a person’s subconscious.
And while sexual dreams aren’t something we choose, they do have the potential to bring a ton of shame and discouragement. We’re trying to become free from these unwanted sexual behaviors, not dream about them! Thankfully, today I don’t have these kind of dreams much anymore. Every so often something random will come up and I’ll wake up from one of these dreams. But I know that I have freedom from pornography, I’ve experienced much healing over the years, and porn isn’t something I desire anymore.
Even so, a major truth we need to be reminded of is that the brain also needs time to heal. And this is a process that generally takes a while.
Consider a person who experiences some kind of traumatic brain injury. Maybe from a car accident or a stroke of some kind. This is an incredible injury to one of the body’s most critical areas. Unfortunately, for some, it can take years or even a lifetime to recover. Those kinds of situations present a real physical damage to the brain. In similar ways, because we’ve viewed so many images, videos, and scenarios of hardcore pornography, our brains have been traumatized by what we’ve seen. But thankfully, the brain can recover and heal. Dr. Mark Laaser once said, that the brain is “plastic”, meaning that it while it can be shaped and influenced by negative sources, it can also heal and regenerate new neural pathways.
The point is this: There is hope. You aren’t stuck. Your heart and even your brain can be restored to health again. I believe that sexual dreams, while they are unwanted, are normal and apart of the process of healing. Just as setbacks and slips are apart of the journey, sexual dreams are too. We just have to learn how to respond when an unwanted sexual dream occurs. They can bring additional guilt and shame, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over them either.
Our time of sleep and rest should be to RESET our brains and our bodies. It should be rest-FULL, not rest-LESS. Rest is for RESTORATION.
So what can we do if we’re experiencing sexual dreams? Here are some ideas to help…
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night — C’mon, we all probably know the 8 hour rule. But how often to we get consistent, solid sleep? 8 hours of sleep is my goal, but I try not to get less than 7 hours. Anything less than that and I don’t believe the body and mind can really rest the way it was meant to. Turn Netflix off, have someone hide your phone in another room, put away the Oreos and get to bed on time!
- End your night with prayer, Scripture, & worship — The GREATEST rest that I’ve ever gotten has come when I’m in that 7-8 hour range AND I’ve spent time with the Lord before bed. You don’t have to pray for hours or read tons of chapters, but what if each night you had a meaningful connection with Jesus before closed out your day? Turn on Spotify and fall asleep to some worship music. Let God’s Word and some great lyrics get into your soul as you close your eyes. Do some deep breathing exercises to relax your body.
- Consider exercising — This might seem like a strange one right before bed, but I’ve found a quick walk or run helps to actually relax my body and prepare it for rest. And it certainly releases lots of great brain chemicals like dopamine and others. Give it a shot.
- Don’t eat junk food before bed — This is a big one for many of us. It’s so easy to sneak an Oreo or two…or ten right before bed. This really can have a negative effect on your body and not allow it to rest properly. As well as put a few more pounds on you if you’re not careful. Try drinking lots of water to stay hydrated throughout the day, but also before resting.
How do we prevent sexual dreams? In all reality, I don’t think we can. But I do think we can limit them. If you’re walking in recovery right now and putting in practice the things you need to be doing (the heart work, being in a support group, spending time with a counselor, etc.) you’re on the right track! The tips above are simply additional things to help you rest well and hopefully avoid sexual fantasy in the dream state.
If you do continue to have sexual dreams, you can choose how to respond to them! We don’t have to allow those fantasies to plague us the rest of the day or carry shame in our hearts. We can choose to surrender every thought to God and even every dream we have too.
I love what 2 Corinthians 10:5 says in the Passion translation: “We can demolish every deceptive fantasy that opposes God and break through every arrogant attitude that is raised up in defiance of the true knowledge of God. We capture, like prisoners of war, every thought and insist that it bow in obedience to the Anointed One.”
Capture your thoughts. Capture your dreams. Don’t allow them to capture you and hold you hostage. Remember you are in process. Your heart, your mind, and your life. Be kind to yourself and be patient through the journey. If you haven’t realized it by now, hopefully you will realize it has the potential to be the most beautiful journey you will ever walk through.
Frank is passionate about helping individuals live with sexual integrity. He also works alongside his wife Tracey in helping spouses who have been devastated by their partner’s addiction. Frank & Tracey live in beautiful southern Delaware with their two children: Nathan and Addison.