Sexual dreams -- akin to nocturnal emission?


I was thinking: what is the status of sexual dreams being considered sinful/immoral? In one way, we can control how we think prior to our sleep; but in another, the brain essentially controls what happens in the dream, at least subconsciously. One can have a lucid dream, but that’s rare I believe.

Anyway, St. Augustine, when he discusses the supposed sinfulness of nocturnal emission, says:

“Nor, in that the Law orders a man to be purified even after intercourse with a wife, doth it show it to be sin: unless it be that which is allowed by way of pardon, which also, being in excess, hinders prayers. But, as the Law sets many things in sacraments and shadows of things to come; a certain as it were material formless state of the seed, which having received form will hereafter produce the body of man, is set to signify a life formless, and untaught: from which formless state, forasmuch as it behoves that man be cleansed by form and teaching of learning; as a sign of this, that purification was ordered after the emission of seed. For neither in sleep also doth it take place through sin. And yet there also a purification was commanded. Or, if any think this also to be sin, thinking that it comes not to pass save from some lust of this kind, which without doubt is false; what? are the ordinary menses also of women sins? And yet from these the same old Law commanded that they should be cleansed by expiation; for no other cause, save the material formless state itself, in that which, when conception hath taken place, is added as it were to build up the body, and for this reason, when it flows without form, the Law would have signified by it a soul without form of discipline, flowing and loose in an unseemly manner. And that this ought to receive form, it signifies, when it commands such flow of the body to be purified. Lastly, what? to die, is that also a sin? or, to bury a dead person, is it not also a good work of humanity? and yet a purification was commanded even on occasion of this also; because also a dead body, life abandoning it, is not sin, but signifies the sin of a soul abandoned by righteousness.”

From here.

So Augustine says that, since nocturnal emissions are involuntary and we cannot will such acts to happen, it is not a sin.

Likewise, would dreams of sexual nature be considered a sin?

Correct. We typically have no control over what happens in our dreams. So having a dream of that kind is not, in and of itself, sinful.

It is important, though, to recognize such dreams as possible sources of temptation, since they can lead us to fantasize or dwell on them, and that we can control.

We have no control over our dreams, for example, who wishes to have unpleasant dreams or nightmares but they occur anyway?

There were special cleansing rituals and rules regarding nocturnal emissions in the Old Testament, as well as for touching a dead person or animal - as St Augustine mentions as part of his argument. These are no longer required of us.

Honestly, in my opinion one of the worst parts of the church is they’ve felt the need to define sin down to this level. For far too many people it makes faith about avoiding subconsciously crossing the line instead of simply living for and in relationship with Christ.

Sexual dreams, even lucid dreams, are not done while fully conscious. Just because you’re controlling the dream doesn’t mean you fully control your actions. It’s not like Inception, you are still in a state of subconscious, and any decisions you make in your subconscious are not sins, no matter what. Now, should we hope for sexual dreams? No. But if they occur, they occur. It’s also very difficult to lucidly dream without preparing for it prior to sleep. You usually are supposed to focus on what you want to do in your dream before you start snoring, so often, that’s where any sin of lust would arise.

Same thing applies to sleepwalking. If a person kills a person while they are sleepwalking, while that defense may not hold up in court, God will know the truth of the matter. You cannot sin while you are legitimately sleepwalking, you aren’t capable of reason during that time.


Legitimate question, and the Church is helping answer it.

Don’t use apparent extremes and what might be to you obvious limits to call into question a helpful, responsive Church or a legitimate question.

The middle ground here is vast…and were the Church not be there to answer questions…the middle ground becomes contested and confused, as is so apparent with Protestant religions.

I think the answer above about later 'dwelling" on a dream of this sort is a perfect answer and reason why the Church might weigh in on the matter in the first place.

We give God our whole heart, mind, soul, strength…and this includes our memory (here’s where resentment comes in), our imagination (fantasies, re-living explicit dreams), and intellect come in.

Fair question and legitimate ground for Church guidance, in my opinion.

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