When my friend Christina told me she was training herself to lucid dream so she could have sex with Kurt Cobain, I thought she was crazy. Christina has always been crazy in her own charming way, but this was next level. I'm as skeptical of transcendental meditation as I am hypnotherapy, so the ability to control your dreams while you sleep, let alone control what iconic dead rock stars you would meet and have sex with in them, seemed impossible.
But Christina got really into it. She was going through a period of pseudo-insomnia, and training herself to lucid dream worked itself into her schedule. She read books. She watched videos. She delved into the world of lucid dreamers who believed in the liminal space between consciousness and dreams. And it worked.
"I really had to work on the dream with Kurt [Cobain]," Christina told me, "which means it was recurring, and every time it got more and more detailed. I got closer each time. I was getting more aware of I was dreaming and able to control things.
"[The dream] starts off and I'm at a show, just some dirty little club," she continued. "I get dragged there by friends that I don't recognize in my real life. I'm young, maybe 20 years old. I meet Kurt in the line for a beer. Nirvana is not known at this point, so I don't know the bands playing or who he is. He tells me he is playing and that I should stay to watch. I do, and they play songs from Bleach. After, he asks if I want to drink whiskey in the [band] van while the [band] packs their gear. He offers to drive me home, but we end up getting drunk and going to his place. We stay up all night drinking and hooking up, and then it's morning and I walk straight to work."
Author, speaker, and lucid dreamer Robbert Waggoner is the president-elect of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) and has been lucid dreaming since junior high school. In 1975, he got deep into Carlos Castaneda's memoir Journey to Ixtlan, and he became fixated on a particular part: The narrator's teacher suggests he find his hands while dreaming in order to become aware of being in a dream state. Waggoner was stunned; he wanted to know what it was like to be aware of his dreams. So he tried to emulate his version of the technique in the book. Before bed every night, he stared at his hands, thinking, Tonight I will see my hands in my dream and know I am dreaming.
After a few nights, it worked. He was hooked.
Although a Dutch psychiatrist coined the term in 1913, lucid dreaming didn't became a point of debate in the psychological community until the late 60s and 70s, when the British psychologist and writer Celia Green connected them to the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. While many researchers doubted lucid dreams were anything more than "brief arousals," studies in the late 70s and 80s began examining the specific characteristics of lucid dreams using EEG (electroencephalogram) devices, which measure brain activity through non-invasive electrodes placed on the scalp. Sexual activity was reportedly common. In one 1983 study, when a subject became lucidly aware, she would signal to researchers by making specific eye movements when she realized she was dreaming, when she began erotic activity in the dream, and when she had an orgasm.
"The wonderful thing that these studies did, while also showing what the brain looks like in the lucid dream state, was confirm what lucid dreamers have been talking about all along: They are aware of being in the dream state, they can decide their actions, and they have a sense of bringing their goals or intents forward to explore the lucid dream state," Waggoner says.
According to data from 1988, most people will have a lucid dream at least once, but only about 20 percent will achieve the "hybrid state of consciousness" once a month or more. A 2014 study published in the journal Dreaming suggested that lucid dreamers are better able to make connections and have a stronger capacity for insight than non–lucid dreamers.
"I would say three out of four people can [lucid dream]," says Waggoner reflecting on his experiences (which may be skewed, since he works with people who are open to the practice). "But to be a good and frequent lucid dreamer, you have to be dedicated."
As in many endeavors, this dedication often comes from horniness. On the World of Lucid Dreaming website, there is an entire section devoted to learning how to bone in lucid dreams. "Lucid dream control means being able to fulfill your ultimate fantasies, often just as tangibly and vividly as waking life," writes the site's creator and author, Rebecca Turner. "Between sex and flying, we've covered the two most desirable features of dream control."
In other words, it's a no-brainer that people would want to be blown by Emma Stone or fuck Kurt Cobain in their dreams. But how to achieve this is another matter. Many theories about lucid dream sex all boil down to the same concept: Lucid dream is not about fucking, but about emotional connection with the dream figure. The "carrot on the string" theory explains why that beautiful woman in your dream suddenly turns into your perverted uncle when you get too close: You're self-limiting. The fantasy is in the relationship, the connection, no matter how short-lived.
"If you have that [sexual] interest, you can go that way and have a profound experience," Waggoner says. "Because in a lucid dream state, many physical senses are similar to those of real life and physical reality. Your sense of touch is similar if not higher; your visual sense is acute. So when you have those two senses empowered, the sexual experience can be amazing. However, when people come to the climax, because they are so emotionally invested, they will pop out of the dream. They hit a circuit breaker."
"I don't remember a lot of our conversation," said Christina of the Cobain dreams she worked so hard to achieve. "I still can remember when he talked to me in line for the beer because he was so close to my face. I would feel him breathing. It touched my neck and gave me shivers. That was the realest feeling, even though I knew I was dreaming. When I think about it now, it's haunting."