The adolescent sitting across the table from me is a young 15-year-old boy. He is here with his mother and she explains that she has come for advice regarding his nocturnal emissions. I ask her if she’d like to wait outside while I talk to her son. She insists on being present all through the discussion. She seems to be an overbearing mother, straight out of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.
Adolescents experiencing their first nocturnal emission are confused. This new found sexual happening is not unheard of, but they are perplexed about how to cope with it. The usual response to it is guilt. With a little reasoning here, we can begin to understand how one can feel guilty about a normal body function. Perhaps it stems from the fact that nocturnal emissions often result from sensuous dreams. In fact, a wet dream is a spontaneous orgasm during sleep that results in ejaculation for a male and vaginal wetness for a woman. Perhaps a feeling of guilt is associated with what various religions tell us. Followers of Islam who experience a nocturnal emission are required to have a bath, giving one the impression that it is considered dirty. A similar sentiment is echoed by Judaism.
A large research study done by Alfred Kinsey in the early 1950’s tell us that 40 percent of the female population in his sample group in the US, who said they had wet dreams may have had them several times a year. On the other hand, 83 percent of men have experienced nocturnal emission. The frequency of these vary from once every three weeks, to once every fiveand-a-half weeks. Kinsey also sheds light on the possibility of an inverse relationship between masturbation and nocturnal emissions – as the frequency of masturbation increases, nocturnal emissions decrease drastically.
A 1998 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology also tells us that adolescent boys on drugs containing the male hormone testosterone have increased rates of nocturnal emission, particularly if they increase their dose.
I have seen guilt not only in teenagers but in the 70-year-old as well. I once happened to treat a hakim – an alternative medicine physician – who was also an Islamic preacher. He could tell if the heart was enlarged by feeling a pulse and I was amazed by how he could do this. He had diagnosed himself to have a large heart and sought a consultation for breathlessness, a symptom of his heart failure.
He did extremely well on the standard drugs, but phoned me one day to say he wanted to discuss something in private. When he came to see me he told me that he was experiencing sensuous dreams of six young naked ladies giving him a bath every night and this would result in a nocturnal emission. I explained to him that his health was much better and that he should disregard this dream… that many men would give their right arm to have dreams like these. He however seemed full of guilt and wept and told me that god would never forgive him. Despite my arguments and coaxing, he would not change his view.
In that day and age when miracle drugs were not available, physicians relied heavily on the use of digoxin, which is extracted from a plant species called Foxgloves. One of the side effects of this drug is to have dreams. It took me a little while to reason this out. In my later discussion with the hakimI explained this to him, cautioning him not to stop digoxin. He passed away four weeks later and I happened to meet his son on the street three months afterward. He told me that his father had stopped digoxin – his dreams had disappeared but his breathlessness recurred and he passed away one night with it. Such can be the effect of religion on a human.
I explain all this to the young man sitting in front of me, that this is normal and requires no treatment. His overbearing mother insists on medication and not advice. I am unable to do that and write him a prescription for vitamins, which she feels will take care of his strength issues. Another common misconception is the cock and bull story which mothers tell their children—that one drop of semen equals 80 drops of blood, or that seminal loss leads to week eyes and nervous system disease. I have seen such suggestions made in old text books of medicine written in the early 1900’s.
We are now in an enlightened age and no one should feel any guilt about their sexuality, which is normal.