What do you do when you are having sex dreams—and not about your spouse—but can’t seem to do anything to stop them? One man wrote in to John Piper on the Ask Pastor John podcast expressing the shame and guilt he feels about the sexual dreams he has been having:
“Why do I have lucid sexual dreams with people other than my wife, even people I have never met before? These dreams bother me intensely even after I wake up because I can’t help but feel that I have sinned, and even worse, I feel as if I had no control over it as with most of my dreams. I have a pretty unhealthy sleep pattern partly because I would rather not dream at all.”
The man said he has had recent success with his temptation to look at pornography, a victory that has been possible through the help of his wife, pastor, prayer, the Bible, and internet accountability. But despite all that, he continues to have vivid sexual dreams. “I am quite troubled by it,” he said, “and any help would be appreciated.”
How Should Christians Understand Sex Dreams?
Piper began by noting that his ability to authoritatively answer this question is limited and that he did not know why this man or anyone else has sex dreams. Piper also pointed out that while the source of the dreams might be spiritual, it also might be physiological or psychological. He thought, however, that it was good for the man to be concerned about his dreams, although not to the point of succumbing to shame or despair about them: “I think it’s good to be bothered by it like he is and like others are, but not good to be undone by it.”
With that being said, Piper offered several scriptures and practical steps in the hope that this man and those like him would be helped and encouraged.
The first scripture passage Piper mentioned was Zechariah 10:2, which says, “The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.” In this situation, he said, people were having dreams that were showing them lies. We can conclude, then, that some dreams people have are false.
Piper advised the man not to take his sex dreams to mean that he is or wants to be unfaithful to his wife, but instead to speak the following truth: “That was a false dream. It does not mean I am unfaithful. I mean to be faithful to my wife…Those dreams are a lie.”
Secondly, Piper pointed to Deuteronomy 13:1-3 to show that God uses dreams to test our faithfulness to him. What’s interesting is that the dreams described in this passage are accompanied by miraculous signs that are supposed to encourage people to go after false gods. “Wow,” said Piper. “God uses false prophets and lying dreams, even accompanied by supernatural signs and wonders, to test his people.” So the man should not take on a misguided responsibility for his dreams. Instead, he can see them as a test from God, a test that God will enable him to pass.
The third text, Isaiah 29:7-8, describes an experience many of us are familiar with, that is, dreaming about something we desire in real life. The passage describes hungry and thirsty people who are dreaming about eating and drinking. The same can happen, said Piper, with our desire for sex. So while this point does not account for the man dreaming about people other than his wife, it does illustrate that it’s a common experience to dream about real-life cravings. The most important thing when it comes to sexual desire is, “What will you do with it in the waking life?”
The final passage Piper mentioned was Job 33:14-18, which says that one way God speaks to us is by sending frightening dreams to warn us away from certain behavior we might commit when we are awake. This is similar to the earlier point about dreams being a way God tests us. “Will the dream have its God-appointed effect of humbling us, frightening us about our own bent to sinning?” asked Piper. “And will we lay hold on him for purity in waking life?”
Practical Steps for Avoiding Sex Dreams
For the most part, Piper’s practical suggestions had one common denominator: a focus on Jesus. Piper suggested that the man who wrote in should ask some of his male friends to join him in earnest prayer that his dreams would end. He also encouraged the man to make dwelling on Scripture a high priority in his life. It is good that he was successfully battling his porn temptation, but Piper recommended the man eliminate all sexualized media, including TV shows and movies that portray sexuality in a worldly way. “Now that’s just about all TV shows and all movies,” Piper acknowledged. “Sorry about that. You don’t need it. Christians for two thousand years did not feed their minds on movies every night.”
Instead of filling his mind with TV shows, Piper advised the man to read the Bible right before going to bed, particularly texts that focus on who God is and what he has done. Piper specifically recommended reading Colossians 1:15-18, Philippians 3:8, and Hebrews 1:1-3.
Noting there might be a physical reason for the man’s difficulty sleeping, Piper also suggested he might see if a sleep study could shed some light on his problem.
Finally, the man should not be discouraged or afraid about his sexual dreams, but instead turn his focus toward God and echo Psalm 25:15 in saying, “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare.”