THURSDAY, June 14 (HealthDay News) -- If your dreams are hot enough to burn the sheets, you've got company.
A new Canadian survey, apparently the first of its kind in four decades, reports that 8 percent of dreams swirl around sexual situations.
Men are much more likely to have fantasies about sex with imaginary people, while women prefer current or past sexual partners and celebrities.
Women, meanwhile, report about as many sex dreams as men, a sharp contrast with previous research from the 1960s. "Men used to report many more sex dreams, twice as many as women, and we don't find that difference anymore," said study author Antonio Zadra, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Montreal. "Either women are having them more, or they're more likely to report them. Either way, it's interesting."
According to Zadra, researchers have devoted very little attention to the study of sex dreams, even though they are extremely common.
In his study, Zadra looked at surveys of 109 women and 64 men who compiled diaries of their dreams for as long as a month. The total number of dreams topped 3,500.
The Canadian participants, aged 20-89, responded to advertisements about the survey. Researchers didn't gather data about their sexual orientations.
Zadra was to report his findings Thursday at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies annual meeting, in Minneapolis.
Sex dreams were occasionally productive: Four percent of sex dreams among both men and women resulted in orgasms. Both genders were most likely to dream about sexual intercourse, followed by sexual propositions -- such as flirting -- and kissing, fantasies and masturbation.
In women, a whopping 18 percent of sex dreams involved unwanted sex; the number was 5 percent among the men.
Fantasies about celebrities made up 9 percent of sex dreams among women and 5 percent among men.
Men were much more likely to dream about having sex with more than one person. However, none of the men reported dreams about intercourse in which their partner had an orgasm; 4 percent of women's dreams featured a partner having an orgasm.
"There's a stereotype that many men only think about themselves. At least in the dream scenarios, that appears to be the case," Zadra said.
Still, there might be another explanation. "It could be it's more difficult in REM sleep to attribute these kinds of affects and emotions to another character," Zadra said. "Maybe it's easier for women."
Indeed, it's difficult for people to take part in some activities -- like reading -- during dreams, and powers of judgment often don't exist, Zadra said. He suspects this may be because part of the brain slumbers during dreaming.
People, meanwhile, weren't the only subjects of sexual fantasies. One woman reported being aroused by a giant plant which she found to be "extremely erotic," Zadra said.
Despite Freudian analysis and countless books about dream analysis, dreams remain a big mystery. Still, specialists figure that if you dream about a topic, it's something that occupies your waking thoughts too, Zadra said.
"If the sex dreams tend to involved unknown or fantasy characters, it is probably a reflection of your waking state, that your desires and fantasies are with strangers," Zadra said.
From a purely physical perspective, dreams reflect an "activated brain state" in which the brain gobbles up oxygen, blood and glucose, said Dr. Carlos Schenck, a sleep researcher and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
In terms of subject matter, he agrees with Zadra. "Dreams often reflect our daily life activities, concerns and fantasies," said Schenck, author of Sleep: The Mysteries, the Problems and the Solutions. "So, sex dreams are part of that picture."
Learn more about dreams from howstuffworks.com.
SOURCES: Antonio Zadra, Ph.D., associate professor, psychology, University of Montreal; Carlos Schenck, M.D., associate professor, psychiatry, University of Minnesota Medical School; June 14, 2007, presentation, Associated Professional Sleep Societies annual meeting, Minneapolis