Nocturnal emission

A nocturnal emission is an ejaculation of semen experienced by a male during sleep. It is also called a "wet dream", a spontaneous orgasm, or simply an orgasm during sleep.

Nocturnal emissions are most common during teenage and early adult years. However, nocturnal emissions may happen any time after puberty. They may be accompanied by erotic dreams, and the emission may happen without erection. Dreams, if recalled at all, may not be erotic, or they may be confusing to the dreamer, especially if he is an adolescent, immediately after his first wet dream. The sensations, if any, which accompany a wet dream may range anywhere from simply a tingling sensation to a sense of urinating or having to urinate, instead of the typical orgasm (which is why many teens might awaken in embarrassment believing they have just wet the bed). It is possible to wake up during, or to simply sleep through, the ejaculation in what is sometimes called a "sex dream". Women can also experience orgasms in their sleep.

Nocturnal emissions occur as a physical response to erotic dreams and as a mechanism to expel an abundance of sperm cells, which are constantly in production within the male individual.


In the 18th and 19th century, if a patient had spontaneous orgasms frequently or released more semen than is typical, then he was diagnosed with a disease called spermatorrhoea or seminal weakness. A variety of drugs and other treatments, including circumcision and castration, were advised to treat this "disease". Some modern doctors, especially herb healers, continue to diagnose and advise treatments for cases of spermatorrhoea, but these treatments have not been validated by thorough experimentation.

Religious views

Judeo-Christian views

Saint Augustine held that nocturnal emissions, unlike masturbation, did not pollute the conscience of a man, because they were not voluntary carnal acts, and were therefore not to be considered a sin. Augustine did, however, pray that he may be released from the "glue of lust" and thus recommended the beseechment of God's assistance in clearing one's soul of all such carnal affections.

Two passages in the Bible teach that under the law of Moses a man who had a nocturnal emission incurred ritual defilement.

"If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water and be unclean [Hebrew tameh] until the evening. And every garment and every skin on which the semen comes shall be washed with water and be unclean until the evening."
Leviticus 15:16-17 English Standard Version

"When you are encamped against your enemies, then you shall keep yourself from every evil thing. If any man among you becomes unclean [Hebrew lo yihyeh tahor, literally "is not clean"] because of a nocturnal emission [literally: "by reason of what happens to him by night"], then he shall go outside the camp. He shall not come inside the camp, but when evening comes, he shall bathe himself in water, and as the sun sets, he may come inside the camp."
Deuteronomy 23:9-11 English Standard Version

The regulations required the defiled person (mtumma) to bathe in a mikveh. A man who had normal intercourse with his wife was also considered ceremonially unclean, and he too was required to bathe in a mikveh and he became pure after the sun had set (Leviticus 15:18). Leviticus makes similar statements about menstruation (15:19-24) and childbirth (Leviticus 12). Psalms are still recited on Yom Kippur at night as a supposed aid against nocturnal emissions. This is particularly an issue on Yom Kippur, since bathing is forbidden that day.

It is also possible that some of the above is referring to not a discharge of semen but of blood or other substance indicating disease. In fact the Bible lists two different types of emission, one requiring a wait only until the nightfall (nocturnal emission, or intercourse), but the other lasting a week (both requiring bathing in a mikveh). The second type of discharge is a non-normal one (for example pus), indicative of disease. Even the phrase "nocturnal emission" may be a mistranslation of a more dangerous type of emission.

Saint Augustine interprets the references to the uncleanliness of discharge of seed (and menstruation) in Leviticus as symbolising disorder and unruliness as opposed to the seed forming a human being through conception which symbolises the form and structure of a just life.

Medieval folklore

In medieval Western occultism, nocturnal emissions were believed to be caused by succubus' coupling with the individual at night, an event associated with night terrors, even though night terrors occur during non-REM sleep and are difficult to recall and wet dreams occur during REM sleep and are easier to recall.


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