Dreams Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other staff.


I am interested in learning about women and dreaming. Specifically, what differences exist between the way men dream and the way women dream.


Collections of dreams of men and women seem to show there is a difference. As to whether this is nature or nurture, hormones or the way we raise children of different sexes differently is still and open question.

Some studies indicate that gender differences begin to show up pretty early, between 3 and 5 years old (Van de Castle, 1994). When dreams are collected by having children stay at a sleep research lab, these differences seem to disappear in the children (Foulkes,1982).

Girl's dreams have more people they know in them and more concern with personal appearance. The interactions are more friendly have more references to food and have more female characters in them. Girls are more likely to report longer dreams and recount them with more feeling, using colors to express feelings.

The adult studies seem to follow a similar pattern, with emphasis on indoor settings, family and home. Women more often dream of enclosed bodies of water, such as pools, lakes, ponds.

Men tend to have more men in their dreams and be in conflict or competition with them. Outdoor and unfamiliar settings are prevalent. Weapons, tools, cars and roads are common. Men report more sexual dreams, usually with unknown and attractive partners.

Up to about 12 years old, aggression in dreams is about equal. Afterwards, aggression decreases for females and continues on with males. One study (Hall, 1963) calculates about one out of four characters the dreaming male encounters involves aggression. This drops off a bit after men are in their thirties, but woman, by comparison have only one in twenty five encounters that have aggressiveness. Also, the aggressive encounters men have involve physical threats, and with women, they are more likely to be verbal assaults.

Calvin Hall and Bill Domhoff investigated if these differences were cross-cultural or just specific to the United States. They compared dreams from such diverse cultures as Nigeria and Scotland, from Australian aborigines and Native American Hopi, and many other groups. It seems that it is the same story around the world.

However, many factors can alter these statistics. For example, a woman who is raised in a family where there is a dominant older brother will have many more dreams of men than a woman without this influence. Woman who work outside the home report more vocational dreams and less family oriented dreams, and interestingly enough, less threatening dreams. Van De Castle speculates that women in dual-roles have high degrees of self confidence.

Studies that look at sexual identification rather than real gender find that the gender differences begin to break down. Those who live and value traditional masculine qualities will have dreams that match male dream content whether they are male or female. For example, studies of transsexuals (Krippner, 1974) who have crossed from male to female sexual identification tend to have dream content similar to women.

As you might expect, there are gender related factors that influence dreams. Women's dreams during the menstrual cycle are more violent and filled with images of blood and wounds (Van De Castle 1968). Women during pregnancy have dream that reflect the anxieties surrounding child bearing, from concern about the baby, to issues of self image (Stukane, 1985).

Men and women dream differently, but age, vocation, family structure, sex role orientation and other factors seem as important as anatomy in many cases. A simple explanation is to say that we simply dream about those things we have concerns about in waking life. To the degree that these concerns are gender specific, then so will our dreams be gender specific. But this isn't quite so. We don't often dream about work, for example, compared to the number of hours we actually spend on these tasks. There seems to be room for a great deal more study before any conclusions can be made.


Richard Wilkerson is general editor for The Internet Dream E-zine, Electric Dreams, and director of DreamGate, the Internet Communications and Dream Education Center. He writes the Cyberphile column for the Association for the Study of Dreams Newsletter.


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