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April 4, 2024

Are Nocturnal Emissions Sinful?

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Nocturnal emissions, or wet dreams, are not something we frequently talk about, but they’re common experiences that leave people feeling ashamed and confused. Did they sin in their sleep and need to repent? Should they confess unconscious arousal or a nocturnal emission to a close friend or their spouse? How should Christians think about all of this? These are the kinds of questions men and women frequently ask us about at Harvest USA.

What Does Science Say?

Nocturnal emissions are when someone has an involuntary orgasm in their sleep. We typically think of this experience happening with teenage boys as they go through puberty, but it can happen to both men and women of any age.

Scientists haven’t determined one main cause of nocturnal emissions. Here are some potential contributing factors.

  • Sleeping in certain positions may cause physical stimulation.
  • Having an erotic dream may trigger a bodily response.
  • Hormonal changes affect the body.
  • Arousal during the day may carry over into your dreams.
  • Having a full bladder may put pressure on sexual organs.
  • It may be a man’s body’s natural way of expelling old sperm so new healthy sperm can be produced.
  • Men naturally experience nocturnal erections while they sleep, which may keep the penile muscles that control blood flow from atrophying.
  • Stress and tiredness seem to play a role.

What Does the Bible Say?

The Bible actually speaks about nocturnal emissions. In Deuteronomy, Moses instructs the men of Israel about ritual uncleanness. He says, “If any man among you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, 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” (Deut. 23:10–11).

In the Old Testament, the ceremonial law set Israel apart from other nations. It included many observances related to food, clothing, and hygiene. Israel had to obey these laws because God dwelled in their midst, and they had to be ritually clean to remain in his presence. 

God distinguished between things that were sinful for Israel, and things that rendered them ritually unclean. Not all ritual uncleanness was sinful. Good things like giving birth, menstrual cycles, and even sexual intercourse in marriage all rendered people ritually unclean, but not sinful.

But through the person and work of Jesus, the ceremonial law has been fulfilled and rendered obsolete in the New Covenant. God’s people are no longer required to follow it because now we come into God’s presence through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. We’re cleansed by his blood, once and for all (e.g., Heb. 10:10).

Thus, we can deduce that the Old Testament did not view the physical experience of nocturnal emissions as sinful, only unclean. We also know that through Christ, they now don’t render us unclean before God.

Does that mean we never have to be concerned about our hearts before the Lord after a wet dream? Not necessarily . . . 

Sin Is a Matter of the Heart

We must humbly acknowledge that we’re wading through mystery with this topic. Is the dream producing the emission, or is the emission (and the physiological lead-up to it) producing the dream? Why do some people rarely if ever have wet dreams, while others experience them frequently? 

God fearfully and wonderfully created our reproductive systems, but we also know that everything, including our bodies, has been corrupted by the fall. Therefore, we need to exercise biblical wisdom as we consider the state of our hearts during a wet dream.

First, some nocturnal emissions occur without any recollection of an accompanying erotic dream. If this is the case, I believe no good will come from ruminating on it. Move on with your day guilt-free. Pray a simple prayer like, “Father, I don’t know what all of this means, but I know you are a good Creator. Please help me to move on and acknowledge you in all my ways today. Please keep me from the enemy’s condemning voice who would seek to turn my eyes away from Jesus.”

Should You Repent?

But if a nocturnal emission was accompanied by an erotic dream, there are some things to consider.

If you have a history of masturbating and you’re now trying to stop, you may start having wet dreams. This could be happening because you’ve habituated your body to experience this release frequently. It’s been observed that people who try to quit smoking may start dreaming about smoking. Dreaming about an addiction is usually a sign of progress—but it’s not where you want to stay.

Many married men will say they only experience wet dreams when they go for an extended period without having sex with their wife. Whether there’s a biological good of expelling old sperm or just the habituation of having regular release, what matters most in this context is the heart. If an accompanying dream was with a person other than your spouse, this is clearly something to pray against.

The more aware you are of your desires and ability to choose within a dream, the greater culpability for those choices.

But some people will say their dream was about their spouse. In that case, it’s wise to examine the degree to which your dream is revealing a selfish impatience in this matter. While it may not be sinful to dream about your spouse, and may even reveal legitimate longings, I think it’s best to pray that God will grant you peace and rest without these dreams until you can come together again.

We all know the difference between dreams where we feel like an observer versus dreams where we’re active participants. You might even know the experience of feeling sexually tempted within a dream and resisting it. Other times, you’re participating in something, but it feels foreign to you, like you’re observing yourself in the third person.

A simple rule of thumb can be this: the more aware you are of your desires and ability to choose within a dream, the greater culpability for those choices. Of course, dreaming about something is still worlds apart from doing it in real life; resist over-analyzing your dreams. But it’s still good to ask God to forgive you and to change your heart if your dreams are revealing sinful desires that may be given greater reign in subconscious states.

Four Steps to Address Wet Dreams

Sleeping leaves us vulnerable—both to real life and subconscious dangers. As a result, we should be proactive while we’re awake.

  1. Pray before going to sleep. Pray to the God who never sleeps and protects his sleeping children (Ps. 121:3–4). Pray before going to bed for the Lord to protect you in your dreams from your indwelling sin and from the enemy’s external attacks.
  2. Fill your mind with praise-worthy things. Be proactive while you’re awake to fill your mind with thoughts in line with Philippians 4:8. Think upon good, noble, praiseworthy things. If your mind is filled with sexually arousing material while you’re awake, it’s not surprising that those thoughts might show up in your dreams. Pray that your waking hours will be used by the Holy Spirit to foster good desires, contentment in Christ, and a pure mind.
  3. Talk with someone you trust. If wet dreams are a frequent occurrence, it’s humbling but good to share this with a trustworthy Christian friend, spouse, or mentor. Ask them to pray for and encourage you. Perhaps you both can pray through Psalm 139, which acknowledges the wondrous mystery of how God designed our bodies (vv.13–16) while also asking him to search our hearts and lead us in the way everlasting (vv. 23–24).
  4. Don’t dwell on your dreams. Be intentional after waking up from a wet dream. Resist the temptation to dwell on its erotic content, while also resisting the tendency to heap shame and guilt upon yourself. Usually, the less time you think about it, the better.

Pray that your waking hours will be used by the Holy Spirit to foster good desires, contentment in Christ, and a pure mind.

Pray for forgiveness for any sin that may have accompanied your dream and pray for peace knowing that God’s grace covers you. Ask for protection to not dwell on your dream. Ask God to continue to fashion your desires more and more after Christ while increasing your contentment in him. Our faithful God will sanctify you and keep you blameless, in Christ, for the day of our Savior’s return (I Thess. 5:23–24).

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Mark Sanders


Mark has been President of Harvest USA since October 2022. Mark holds an M.A. in Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA, and a B.A. in Communications & Integrated Media from Geneva College,

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