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In Erica Jong’s 1973 feminist novel Fear of Flying, her protagonist Isadora fantasizes about a no-strings-attached sexual encounter with a stranger on a train. “The zipless fuck was more than a fuck. It was a platonic ideal,” she muses. “Zipless because when you came together zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff.”
Like most young, slightly angry but lusty young women who have read Jong’s book, a “zipless fuck” has become a personal fantasy. But having a boyfriend limits such zipless opportunities. I decided to dream about it instead.
My quest to have a zipless fuck begins with lucid dreaming. First coined as a term in 1913, lucid dreaming occurs when the mind is conscious that it is dreaming during sleep and can take control of what happens. Conveniently, sex and sleep are already related, and not just because we do both of them in bed. People often show signs of physical arousal—known as nocturnal clitoral tumescence and nocturnal penile tumescence—during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, when dreams occur.
“When I first got into lucid dreaming when I was 17, the first two years were spent purely having lucid dream sex,” says lucid dreaming teacher Charlie Morley. Now aged 35, Morley teaches lucid dreaming around the world and gave the first ever TEDx Talk on the subject in 2011. He says that through the “virtual reality simulation” of lucid dreaming, sexuality can be explored, fantasies can be fulfilled, and orgasms are more intense.
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"When we have a non-lucid dream we might have an orgasm then wake up,” he says, “but we weren’t present when the orgasm was happening.” Around 80 percent of us have sexual experiences in dreams, according to 2007 research by Dr. Antonio Zadra of the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine at the University of Montreal.
“When you have an orgasm in a lucid dream, you are present, your brain is switched on, and what you are experiencing is not a body orgasm but a mind orgasm,” Morley claims. “Many people find orgasms in lucid dreams are incredibly powerful, because it’s a mindgasm. It’s incredibly deep.”
Though I’ve attempted it on and off over the years, I’ve never fully nailed a lucid sex dream. So my renewed quest to have a lucid zipless fuck begins with Morley’s plan: the “three Ds.” The first ‘D’—”dream recall”—sets out an intention to remember dreams. Keeping a “dream diary” helps “solidify the memory of the unconscious dreaming process to help us remember more of them.” The final ‘D’—”dream science”—helps spot recurring patterns in dreams so you can tell when you’re in one. Planting triggers, like looking at your hands or a clock and spotting that it doesn’t quite look realistic, can also work.
For four weeks, I intensify my efforts to recall my dreams, keep a dream diary, and look out for clocks. I make note of my already abundant sex dreams in my phone’s notepad app, with the most sensual being an abstract encounter with a Lana Del Rey lookalike (we have sex in a sea of red jelly while tropical birds fly around us). But taking control of them proves a lot harder.
Like any practice or craft, lucid dreaming can take years and a lot of patience to master. “You can’t learn to lucid dream in a week,” says Daniel Love, a lucid dreaming coach, author, and the founder of the Lucid Guide YouTube channel. “You need to be ready to dedicate a large section of your life to the pursuit.”
He says that it pays off. “Normally most people try to veer into psychological masturbation, but there’s a lot more to it than that,” says Love. He believes that lucid dreaming can help people explore their sexualities in a safe space, heal sexual traumas, build up confidence, and overcome body image issues.
Morley agrees: “Once you realize the potential of lucid dreaming and the psychosexual benefits, mental masturbation pales in significance.”
In my experience, it can even improve disordered sleep. Thanks to my insomniac tendencies, I often find it hard to fall asleep, and, almost miraculously, I’ve been sleeping better. “Insomniacs find lucid dreaming really helpful,” Morley claims. “[It] asks you to fall asleep doing something, and insomnia is the act of trying to fall asleep.”
While I had multiple sex dreams over the month, I couldn’t quite get the hang of controlling them. As soon as I spot a fucked up clock and become conscious, I wake up. So while I haven’t had my zipless fuck, I guess a dreamy encounter with Lana’s doppelgänger and fewer sleepless nights have made my adventure a near-success. I won’t be giving up yet, either.
To really master lucid sex dreaming, it’s vital not to obsess about becoming lucid, says Love. “In much the same way that good sex is about not rushing towards anything, good dreaming practice is not to rush toward lucidity,” he says. “It’s to enjoy the whole experience.”
This article originally appeared on VICE US.