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Do I Need to Talk with My Son About Wet Dreams?



You may be thinking, “Do I need to talk with my son about wet dreams? That is a pretty awkward conversation…are you sure it is necessary? After all, no one can be held responsible for what they dream about, even if it is a sexual dream. There are so many other issues surrounding sexuality that seem more important. I wouldn’t know what to say anyway.”


Similar thoughts likely run through many parents’ heads. It is easy to dismiss this topic as an optional discussion with children. For Christian parents, however, this is a subject we have actually been commanded to teach our boys about.


The Command to Teach


Deuteronomy 31:10-13 says,


And Moses commanded them, “…when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God…”


The same command is repeated in Joshua 8:34-35 when Moses died and Joshua took his place as leader.


What is this law Moses is talking about—what does it teach—that we are supposed to educate our children about? Among many other things, the law referred to in these Scriptures includes instructions for males regarding nocturnal emissions. Nocturnal emissions, or wet dreams, are even mentioned twice in this law.


“Now if a man has a seminal emission, he shall bathe all his body in water and be unclean until evening. As for any garment or any leather on which there is a seminal emission, it shall be washed with water and be unclean until evening.”— Leviticus 15:16-17


“If there is among you any man who is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he must go outside the camp; he may not reenter the camp, but when evening comes, he shall bathe himself in water, and as the sun sets, he may come inside the camp.”— Deuteronomy 23:10-11


Why does the Bible say this? What is the purpose behind this instruction? How would we apply this today?


Interestingly, the Bible is silent on the topic of masturbation, which is a topic more parents seem to be worried about. For more information on how to address masturbation with your kids, see the blog: Talking with Your Kids About Masturbation. For now, I will return to the topic mentioned in these Scriptures.


Is This Still Relevant?


I can see how these Scriptures might seem to not apply today. In one case it asks men to “leave the camp” for a day, but that scripture was talking to men who were camping near the enemy during a time of battle. I think it is safe to assume that none of you reading this are currently living in a camp setting.


Both references, however, also give instructions to bathe. One Scripture adds the instruction to wash any clothing affected. What is the purpose of this? Why is God asking males to do this? I will give you my impression of what these Scriptures might mean today and how it applies to us today.


The Translation


Nocturnal emissions—wet dreams—happen when a male is having a sexual dream. When a man—or adolescent boy—reaches sexual climax during such a dream he normally wakes up. He is then awake as the sexual dream concludes, which leaves a very vivid image in his mind. The contents of his dream are not his fault, and he had no control over them, but the images can easily stick in his mind.


Bathing, as Moses instructed, has a greater purpose than getting physically clean. Bathing serves as an outer ritual of cleaning away any memories of the dream that might linger. Cleaning the outside of the body, as well as any clothing or bedding affected, symbolizes cleaning what is inside the mind. In my view, when these Scriptures mention being “unclean” is not talking about what is outside but what is inside.


I would suggest these Scriptures hint at taking a step further by asking God to help clean away the memories that might still be floating around in the mind. This would be done while bathing.

Think of it this way. If an adolescent boy is shown a pornographic video against his will, it will contaminate his mind. A nocturnal emission is the same as it is accompanied by a sexual mental video that the boy did not ask to see. Either way, his mind has been contaminated.


It makes sense that God would recommend doing some kind of ritual to cleanse the mind. I am not a theologian, and I cannot say for sure this was the intent of these Scriptures, but this translation makes sense to me and seems to be in line with what the rest of Scripture says about how God relates to us.


The Application


Imagine if a parent never mentioned wet dreams to a son entering adolescence and the boy then experiences one. What is the boy going to think? Most likely something like, “What is wrong with me? Why did I dream that? I can’t believe those thoughts came from me! Am I evil? Is God mad at me now?”


It is very unlikely that a boy in this situation would tell anyone what happened, especially his parents, due to inner shame. He is more likely to suffer in silence and come to believe he is flawed in some way.

Instead, there is a great opportunity for a parent to build a relationship with the son as he enters adolescence. A parent could explain that nocturnal emissions are common to most adolescent boys before marriage. This may be frequent or very infrequent, but it is a common experience for developing males. He should understand that if he has a dream like this he does not need to feel ashamed and it is not his fault.


He should also know that God gave men a way to respond to a wet dream. God told men to bathe to clean away the effects of the dream. The man can then ask God to help cleanse his mind during bathing. In addition, any clothing and sheets that came in contact with the semen can be washed to remove any reminder of the dream. These actions are symbolic but they are empowering as they give a young man a positive way to respond to what may otherwise feel shameful.


An Example


A family shared with me another idea they shared with their son as he entered puberty. The dad told the son that if he had a wet dream to come get him and say “I need help in my room.” This was the signal that he had experienced a wet dream.


The dad then came to his room and together they removed the sheets and put them in the washer. The dad told me that he was careful to keep the mood light and affectionate to lessen any embarrassment his son might feel. The result was his son felt less ashamed and more supported.


I’m not necessarily suggesting you do the same, but this father said it was a very positive interaction with his son when it happened. It was a way to tell his son, “I’m with you on this.”


The Verdict


Yes, parents do need to talk with their sons about the reality of wet dreams as they enter adolescence. However, parents should also let their son know that God knew this would happen and has provided a helpful response when it does happen. Showing a boy that by bathing he can ritually wash away memories gives him a sense of power over the effects of his dream.


Whether a parent would suggest the son tell them when a wet dream happened really depends on the personality of the boy. Some might rather keep this private, but all boys should know it is okay to discuss it if they want to.


God wants to be a part of even the most personal parts of your life and your children’s lives.

God does not want to be intrusive, but supportive and caring. Your children deserve to know this.


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