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What do our sex dreams mean?

2023-03-18 11:37:40

What do our sex dreams mean?

Have you ever found yourself squirming in the middle of the night (in a good way) after dreaming of being railed by your next-door neighbour, or perhaps a platonic best friend? Same. We're not alone. With three-quarters of the population(Opens in a new tab) experiencing sex dreams left, right, and centre — you're in excellent company. 

Some of the most common dream events include same-sex shags, dirty talk, and oral sex, to name but a few. However, is it possible for our spiciest dream to lead to a sexual awakening whilst snoozing? Have people been able to unlock kinks as they catch Zs?

"I’ve been with my girlfriend for five years, and I constantly have sexual dreams about different females," says John*. He explains that, while he doesn't dream of kinks, he has consistent dreams (up to three to four times a week) of cheating on his girlfriend with her friends and colleagues, or experiencing threesomes. "It's not made me want to do it in real life," he says, "but only because of the guilt. Plus, I don't think she'd go for it." 

SEE ALSO: How to have an emotionally supportive threesome

For some people, sex dreams lead to new levels of intimacy and ways to have sex. Laurie* has also been somewhat influenced by her dreams. "Sex dreams have mostly given my partner and I ideas for new positions to try, and also a couple of locations too (car, shower, etc.)," she tells Mashable. "There have been some dreams we've had over our relationship that have been way too extreme, but others that have given us some ideas for intimacy."

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For others, like Robin*, dreams have little impact on the way they have sex in real life. "As far as stuff in my dreams being explored in reality, I'd say it's pretty much not happened," they explain. 

Diana Moffat, a psychotherapist specialising in Jungian Analysis tells Mashable that dreams do not always represent our needs like-for-like, instead, they are more abstract and usually more indicative of how we feel about the relationships we have, rather than the sex acts themselves. 

Moffat encourages us to explore our kinks and sexual fantasies through waking dreams, or daydreams, but not to take things too literally. "I would say it's almost dangerous to take dream life as a kind of indicator, because dream life is all about symbolism," Moffat says. "Our dreams could maybe enlighten us as to why we have the kinks we have," she continues,  "a dream is about the dreamer." 

"It can be something your unconscious is inviting you to consider. In these instances, it's good to explore what could be missing in your life." 

This view is shared by Maxim Ilyashenko(Opens in a new tab), a UKCP-registered Jungian psychotherapist and analyst. "I think it's important to look at dreams as symbolic material first — not say, 'Okay, I dreamt about that. I have to do that,'" he explains. "But, it can be something your unconscious is inviting you to consider. In these instances, it's good to explore what could be missing in your life." 

He explains that if dreams do manifest that challenge your sex status quo, then communication will be a vital tool you and your sexual and/or romantic partners need to employ. "I think one rule for healthy sexuality is it should be consensual with yourself and with your partner. Next is to know how you feel about the dream, because sometimes they can be formulated in quite a symbolic language."

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This is something that Robin has experienced. "So, picture a clone of me. (clone 1) gets down, and sucks off the original's cock, yet I'm feeling both the act of giving and receiving a blowjob," they explain. "It's very weird as I have never even seen another man's penis in real life, besides online. I've never touched one besides my own, and I've never sucked off a guy. So I don't even know what it's like — yet in the dream, I do." 

Robin explains that on a romantic level, they aren't attracted to men but are fascinated by penises on a sexual level, which has opened them up to exploring their bi-curiousness "I'll admit I've fantasized about exchanging handjobs and giving a blowjob if the situation was completely ideal," they continue, "I don't know if that's inspired by the dream, or the dream is inspired by that. Or maybe it's a combo of both, they both feed into and off of each other." 

While it's important to note that sexual identity isn't a kink, it's interesting to see how new frontiers could be opening up for people like Robin through their dreaming. 

"I once had a [sex] dream with one of my favourite female actresses, but I wouldn't want to have sex with her in real life."

For others, like Rory* who is asexual but not sex-repulsed(Opens in a new tab), their sex dreams have helped them to feel more confident in their sexual identity. "I thought I was somewhere between bisexual or lesbian, [and] I just never happened to have a relationship or sex; these things always seem far away from me," they explain. "I think it is through the reflection on my dreams that made me more sure about my asexuality. I once had a [sex] dream with one of my favourite female actresses, but I wouldn't want to have sex with her in real life, even if she offered it to me," they laugh.

But, what if we did want to explore our sex dreams in the real world? How and when should we do it? Silva Neves(Opens in a new tab), author of Sexology: The Basics(Opens in a new tab) and psychotherapist specialising in sexology and intimate relationships, tells Mashable that taking sex dreams into the real world takes a large amount of self-reflection. 

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"Baby steps are important. We need to ask at each graduation of event, how does that make us feel? And then, think about how you might like to move forward with it," he explains. "Imagine first and bring the dream into waking fantasy, try slowly second, and then interrogate your emotions. Did you feel horny? Neutral? Disgusted?"

Silva explains that by checking in with ourselves in this way, we can avoid pressuring ourselves into situations that are uncomfortable or non-consensual. After all, not all dreams are good dreams; some sex dreams can scare us or be about things we'd never want to try in real life.

"Often, there can be moments when our dreams of sex can include rape fantasies or scenes where we sleep with siblings, even parents," he says. "These can be distressing and arousing. But they are not always indicative of what we want to recreate in our sex lives with our partners." 

"You do not need to act upon fantasies."

Neves explains that dreams that take this form can be something that plays out solely in the fantastical world of our erotic mind. It can also be part of processing what love means to us in the form of a platonic relationship. The way the brain processes is by finding snapshots of images and creating a story from them. This can be explained as an abstract image formed of simple ideas. 

What do our sex dreams mean?(图1)

"You do not need to act upon fantasies," he says, "and dreams are not a prerequisite to being a degenerate. They don't always mean something. They can be random and unsettling. It's all how you feel when you go back and reprocess and interrogate why you might feel that way that counts for more."

So, should we pay attention to our sex dreams, if they are so abstract and can mean so many different things? Neves believes so. "They can be indicative of something larger happening in your life. If you are conforming to a relationship where your safety hangs in the balance, or you are in denial about your sexuality and identity, then it can be that you explore these needs through your dreams," he explains.

He points out that some people can have the same recurring, persistent sex dream. In those circumstances, it might be a good idea to question what they might mean. He suggests that it could be that there is something they're not allowing themselves to experience because of shame (in the case of a kink or fetish, or same-sex sexual activities), or it could be if someone hasn't had any forms of sexual contact for several months. 

SEE ALSO: The best sexting apps for those NSFW exchanges

Moffat also agrees that recurring dreams play a role in our conscious mind that is worthy of further interrogation and exploration, especially if they are distressing and indicative of trauma. "It's like food that hasn't been digested," she says. "It just keeps repeating and playing again and again and again. And that's where the therapeutic process works in thinking with you; it kind of helps make those things more digestible." 

Ilyshenko tells Mashable that dreams can be a way for couples to explore sexual fantasies without shame. "It can be a good tool to talk to your partner about desire, because it is removed from the real world. It can feel impossible sometimes to talk about sex openly. I think it's a quite playful and safe way to explore something else," he says.

"All humans are weird."

"All humans are weird," says Neves. "We all have our little bits of strange. So fantasising or dreaming about jelly, feet, rape, or any other kind of fetish and kink is entirely normal." 

He explains we all need to get more comfortable with our oddities, that we can reduce shame by reminding ourselves that most of us have some quirks in our erotic mind, and to think of our eroticism in a lighter way, rather than being afraid of something dark is lurking in our subconscious. 

"We need more discourse and information on the different ways we can experience pleasure from sex and sexual activity," he says. "If you're into balloons and you're not harming anyone, then what's the big deal? Enjoy your balloons."

* Some names have been changed to protect sources' privacy.

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    Burns, esteemed winner of the hound group, is truly a magnificent, fringed champion. Just watch him run. Look at him! Are you not entertained?

    Folks flocked to Twitter after the results were announced, with torches, pitchforks, and keyboard voices raised for Burns.

    King also beat out very good group winners Bono the Havanese, Baby Lars the bouvier des Flandres, Bean the Sussex spaniel (who people thought got well robbed last year), and Wilma the boxer, but none of these award-winning pooches spurred as much online furore as Burns' loss.

    But don't worry, our little sausage doggo champ managed to get a little photobomb in.


    It's not the first time a Westminster Dog Show winner of Best in Show has been met with outrage. Remember the fluffed-up bichon frise named Flynn from last year?

  • Up your summer style game with 30% off select Originals styles at

    Up your summer style game with 30% off select Originals styles at

    The following content is brought to you by Mashable partners. If you buy a product featured here, we may earn an affiliate commission or other compensation.


    For some of us, getting dressed means throwing on clothes and running out the door. Others thrive on meticulously planned ensembles of self-expression. Wherever you fall in the two camps, there's something we can all agree on: Adidas Originals provides effortlessly cool staples rocked by the most stylish people around.

    Just in time for a middle-of-summer wardrobe edit, is serving up 30 percent off select Originals when you use the code CREATORS(Opens in a new tab). Here are some of our favorite picks:

    Punch up any outfit with these classic kicks(Opens in a new tab)

    The "Superstar": that's your new nickname, too. Credit: ADIDAS

    There are several riffs on the iconic Superstar Shoe(Opens in a new tab), including this version with a zoomed-in, 3-D Trefoil graphic in blue or red. You can easily wear these versatile low-tops with anything from shorts and jeans to a suit or dress.

    Shop for the perfectly sized backpack(Opens in a new tab) for a busy lifestyle

    Pack it up, pack it in. Credit: ADIDAS

    Step out and get noticed in supportive street shoes(Opens in a new tab)

    Walking on a cloud over here. Credit: ADIDAS

    Lace up and make strides in the statement-making colors of the NMD_R1 V2 Shoes(Opens in a new tab) designed with a foot-hugging textile upper to stay cool and a Boost midsole to amplify every step with energy return technology.

    These slim-fitting pants(Opens in a new tab) are streetwear done right

    Three stripes, a million possible looks. Credit: ADIDAS

    Nodding to the Adicolor concept launched back in 1983, which provided buyers with a DIY paint set to customize their Adidas sneakers, today’s 3-Stripes Pants(Opens in a new tab) are designed to inspire your personal style—whether you’re WFH or heading to brunch.

    Finesse your fit with this cropped track top(Opens in a new tab)

    Just the right touch of vintage-inspired style. Credit: ADIDAS

    With an on-point drawstring cord at the waist, bold pastel shades, and a modern oversize treatment of the retro logo, the Adicolor Large Logo Track Top(Opens in a new tab) is everything you need for cool summer nights or a transition piece to fall.

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    Credit: PEXELS
    Get 30 percent off select Adidas Originals when you use the code CREATORS (opens in a new tab) (Opens in a new tab) (opens in a new tab) (Opens in a new tab)

  • Happy holidays from this human Christmas tree walkin around New York

    Happy holidays from this human Christmas tree walkin around New York


    Huge news: One man in New York City just WON Christmas.

    Don't believe us? Check out this video a paparazzi by the name of Joe Jonas took while standing outside of a Bank of America.

    The 13 seconds of footage shows a Christmas tree straight up crossing a street! What a sight, right? And once the tree gets closer you'll notice there's actually A MAN inside there who's so committed to his holiday wardrobe that he even wore some pants that resemble the bark of a tree trunk.

    Jonas, who has three brothers and sings in the band DNCE when he isn't recording festive runway walks, tweeted the video on Wednesday morning with the caption, "How you win Christmas 🎄 ... very proud of catching this on camera."


    He even added the holiday anthem, Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You," to make the video as perfect as possible.

    We are also very proud, Joe. Thank you for this early gift.

  • A British grocery chain is taunting the Beyhive about Ivy Parks new line

    A British grocery chain is taunting the Beyhive about Ivy Parks new line

    Beyoncé's anticipated new line of Ivy Park X Adidas athletic wear has already sold out, but that didn't stop British grocery chain Sainsbury's from having some fun with the Beyhive when the first promotional images emerged online.


    Ivy Park's new color scheme is burgundy and orange, which happens to be the same color as the uniforms worn by Sainsbury's employees. The official Sainbury's twitter account tweeted out an image marked with the hashtag #SainsBey, and from there all bets were off.

    Compare to Ivy Park below:

    View this post on Instagram
    (opens in a new tab) (Opens in a new tab)

    Sainsbury's employees also noticed the similarities between Beyoncé's line, which contains $40 bike shorts and $255 sneakers, and their store-mandated fits.

    People who don't work at the store also noticed. It's hard not to notice, to be honest.

    Emboldened by their sartorial proximity to Queen Bey, the Sainsbury's twitter account started clapping back at members of the Beyhive who weren't on board with #SainsBey.

    Considering this was a Beyoncé-themed clapback, the store may have had a sharper comeback using "Becky" over "Karen," but we'll let it slide this time.

    Congratulations to all Sainsbury's employees for their prescient fashion sense. Tesco is shaking.

  • Lottie London is accepting blood donations as payment for its Vampire Diaries collection

    Lottie London is accepting blood donations as payment for its Vampire Diaries collection

    Calling all Vampire Diaries stans, makeup lovers, and do-gooders.


    The UK-based and very online beauty brand Lottie London is launching an online campaign(Opens in a new tab) for their latest makeup collection in an unorthodox fashion. The "Love Sucks" collection, which features seven pieces of makeup based on the teen drama The Vampire Diaries, comes at an already affordable price point. But if you want to get your hands on it for free, all you have to do is donate some blood and post about it on social media. 

    Credit: Lottie London

    Lottie London prides itself on creativity, inclusivity, and affordability, and the company markets to Gen Z beauty lovers by quickly hopping on social media trends and plugging into what matters most to young people. In creating this campaign, dubbed Blood for Beauty, it honed in on two dominant online conversations: nostalgia and social justice. 

    "Nostalgia is really one of the driving efforts, driving trends within beauty collaboration overall for the Gen Z audience," Lottie London's Global Marketing Director, Nora Zukauskaite, told Mashable. "So we were thinking, if we were to do something for Halloween, what would be the truly iconic show we could work with? Which [show] would resonate with the theme, would be a bit nostalgic and absolutely loved by our community? And surprise, surprise, Vampire Diaries came up."

    SEE ALSO: Why Gen Z is plugging in wired headphones and tuning out AirPods

    Though TVD started in 2009 and last aired in 2017, its fanbase is currently stronger than ever. As Gen Z looks back to the early 2000s in search of the comfort of a pre-pandemic world(Opens in a new tab), the hit teen vampire show fits right in. On TikTok, audio clips(Opens in a new tab) from characters like Caroline and Stefan constantly go viral. On DePop(Opens in a new tab), sellers will market long sleeve t-shirts as "Elena GIlbert-core." The combination of campy teen vampire drama and steamy romance hits just the right nerve, giving the show such impressive staying power that fans were devastated when Netflix announced(Opens in a new tab) it would be leaving its lineup earlier this month. 

    On the other side of the campaign, Lottie London is hoping to tap into young people's passion for social issues. In a press release, the brand cites research(Opens in a new tab) that 85 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds do not currently donate blood, and in accepting blood donations as a form of payment, it's hoping to galvanize its young fanbase into helping to fight the U.S.'s current blood shortage(Opens in a new tab)

    "I really strongly believe that Gen Z is really a godsend," said Zukauskaite. "They're the people who really put the social costs at the center of everything they do. And the response so far that we've received is really, truly overwhelming on our social channels. The engagement of the posts was unbelievable. Our post engagement increased by 500 percent [while] our reach increased by 80 percent. And that's a fantastic stat, which completely shows that putting the social costs at the center of a campaign for a Gen Z audience really resonates." 

    The Blood for Beauty campaign will run throughout the month of October. To participate, fans can take a selfie outside a blood donation site, preferably with donation proof like a sticker, and post to Instagram or TikTok, tagging both Lottie London and #BloodForBeauty. The "Love Sucks" collection is now available online and in-store at Walmart. 

  • 14 ways to greet someone that dont involve shaking hands

    14 ways to greet someone that dont involve shaking hands

    Hey, have you heard? Germs are everywhere!


    More than 90,000 cases(Opens in a new tab) of the highly contagious new coronavirus, which results in the disease known as COVID-19(Opens in a new tab), have been confirmed, and panicked people are stocking up on(Opens in a new tab) supplies like hand sanitizer and face masks.

    By now, hopefully you know the importance of properly and frequently washing your hands, and have likely been told ad nauseam not to touch your face. But before you get too worried, it's worth noting that there are a bunch of myths(Opens in a new tab) associated with the virus as well. If you're still especially concerned about the spread of germs, there is another simple preventative measure you can take: Stop making unnecessary physical contact with others.

    Next time you go in to shake an acquaintance's hand, kiss a pal on the cheek, or greet someone with a friendly hug, don't! Instead, try using one of these 14 greetings that don't require any touching. And remember, epidemic or no epidemic, some people simply don't like to be touched, so feel free to say no to a handshake or physical greeting at any point time.

    1. Literally just say hello

    Greetings don't have to involve physical contact. There's nothing wrong with verbally saying hello to someone and not taking things any further. Say hi and quickly present a follow up question, like "how have you been?" to keep the conversation going. No time for hugs here.

    2. Touch feet

    The hip new greeting to emerge out of coronavirus paranoia is a foot tap dubbed the "Wuhan Shake(Opens in a new tab)." Videos of the unique greeting taken in China and Iran have gone viral, and it honestly looks kind of cool. If you want to make things even more fun you can channel Beyoncé at 4:34 of the "Get Me Bodied" video(Opens in a new tab) and do a little foot dance.

    3. Wave at the person

    What happened to waving? Who decided waving is only OK when there's significant distance in between people? I say waving at a friend who's right in front of you is totally acceptable. Bring back the wave.

    4. Do the live long and prosper sign

    Andrew Yang, the former Democratic presidential candidate turned CNN political commentator(Opens in a new tab) isn't much of a germaphobe, but he recently suggested that perhaps we should come up with a personal greeting that doesn't involve physical contact. His thought? The Vulcan salute from Star Trek, a perfect way to say "live long and prosper."

    5. Make a peace sign

    If all else fails, throw a peace sign in the air. It's not very exciting, but it'll get your message across in a pinch. (Note: Peace signs are better for goodbyes in my opinion.) ✌️

    6. Tip your hat

    This one requires wearing a hat at all times so that if you ever run into anyone you can tip it. It's not the most convenient option, but it's nice to switch it up every once in a while.

    Via Giphy(opens in a new tab)(Opens in a new tab)

    7. Give a nod

    A nice head nod in someone's general direction can be a cool way to greet. Maybe practice in the mirror a few times to really perfect your execution. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez loves a nod, too. She recently tweeted that her favorite handshake alternative(Opens in a new tab) is "to put my hand over my heart and smile/nod at whomever I am greeting." Aww.

    8. Do the Jim and Pam high five

    One of the best television high fives of all time didn't involve touching, and that's the level of high five you should all aspire to. Remember when Jim and Pam air-fived from across the room on The Office? Absolute germ-free perfection.

    Via Giphy(opens in a new tab)(Opens in a new tab)

    9. Mime a fist bump

    Fist bumps are a classic and easy greeting, so if you're a fan, keep doing them... just don't follow through all the way. Go in for the bump, but pull away before you actually touch skin. Maybe "blow it up" to make things less awkward. Or more. Who knows.

    10. Do a salute of some sort

    Get creative with it! Make it your own! Though this Zach Woods GIF makes the opposite case, salutes don't have to be awkward.

    Via Giphy(opens in a new tab)(Opens in a new tab)

    11. Do some air kisses

    Real cheek kisses might be too risky at a time like this, but those fancy, pretentious air kisses? Now's the time to break those babies out with friends close enough for such a gesture.

    12. Say "raincheck"

    Once the coronavirus scare is over we can hopefully resume casual physical contact, so just take a raincheck on that handshake or overly personal greeting. Everyone will understand!

    Via Giphy(opens in a new tab)(Opens in a new tab)

    13. Send a GIF while standing in front of someone

    If you really want to high five or shake a hand but don't want to touch, send them a GIF of the action instead. To be clear, this is a bit strange and has big "texting I'm here instead of ringing the doorbell" energy, but you do you.

    14. Share a welcoming squirt of hand sanitizer

    What better way to bond with someone than by offering them a friendly squirt of hand sanitizer? In 2020 hand sanitizer is the new gum. By that I mean everyone wants some, not that people eat it. Do not eat it.

    Via Giphy(opens in a new tab)(Opens in a new tab)

    Be safe out there, everyone. Good luck not touching.

    UPDATE: March 3, 2020, 4:25 p.m. EST Updated to include another handshake alternative suggestion from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

  • Portuguese national interrupts TV interview, gives moving speech about Brexits impact

    Portuguese national interrupts TV interview, gives moving speech about Brexits impact


    Another spanner has been thrown into the works in the countdown to Brexit.

    UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked(Opens in a new tab) the Queen to suspend parliament which will scupper MPs chances to block a no-deal Brexit. On Wednesday, the Queen approved Johnson's request, prompting a national outcry and protests across the country(Opens in a new tab).

    During a Central London protest against prorogation (the official term for the suspension of parliament), a Portuguese woman, who has lived and worked in the UK for 20 years, interrupted an interview and delivered an impassioned and extremely moving speech about Brexit's impact on her life.

    "I've built things for you, I've looked after your children, I looked after the elderly in this country."

    "I'm Portuguese and I worked here for 20 years and I have no voice and the Settlement Scheme is not working," the woman — whose name is unknown — told Sky News.

    The woman is referring to the EU Settlement Scheme(Opens in a new tab), which allows EU citizens to apply to continue living in the UK once it's no longer part of the European Union. She had been attending the protest, stating her reason for attending as "because I need a voice."


    "I gave this country my youth, I'm very grateful for what you taught me but you must make me part of all this process," she said. "I can't just be kicked out, I've built things for you, I've looked after your children, I looked after the elderly in this country, now you kick me out with what?"

    Per(Opens in a new tab) BBC News, a no-deal Brexit would result in the UK immediately exiting the EU with no agreement on Oct. 31. "Overnight, the UK would leave the single market and customs union — arrangements designed to help trade between EU members by eliminating checks and tariffs (taxes on imports)," the BBC explains(Opens in a new tab).

    The woman said she is "very, very hurt" by what's happening to the country.

    As she was about to walk away from the interview, the Sky News journalist urged her not to go away, and asked what was happening with her Settlement Status application.

    She explained that she'd been told her National Insurance number (the UK version of Social Security) didn't "correspond to the right thing" and she's been told she has to restart the whole process.


    "Oct. 31 is fast approaching, what am I going to do? What am I going to do? How am I going to stay? What are my rights?" she said.

  • Brazen L.A. hawk refuses to leave the hood of a moving car

    Brazen L.A. hawk refuses to leave the hood of a moving car


    On an otherwise normal, sunny day, a bird of prey rode around on the hood of a moving car near downtown Los Angeles.

    The hawk, likely a red-tailed hawk common to the city, landed on the car and wouldn't budge for 15 minutes, reports The Eastsider(Opens in a new tab). The bird didn't move even as the car drove through the city's palm-lined streets.

    "He's staring at us like he's staring into our souls," one of the passengers says in a YouTube video documenting the incident(Opens in a new tab).


    It may have been a younger, immature bird, exploring its urban world. Or perhaps the predator had another, elusive agenda.

    Eventually the hawk flew off. But not before thrilling Angeleno dwellers, both in the car and on the street.

  • Its time to retire the cheese pull

    Its time to retire the cheese pull


    Mashable bites into a creamy, nutty, gooey, and sometimes stinky world during our first-ever Cheese Week.

    Cheese, in all its melty, salty, indigestion-inducing goodness, will probably always be a mainstay online. Lactose intolerance memes alone will make sure of that. But the kind of cheese that rules the internet is changing. And the cheese pull's gotta go.

    Even if you don't know the term, you've definitely seen a cheese pull at some point. It's that mouthwatering string of mozzarella that stretches from a slice of pizza when you pull it from the pie, or the gooey strands between two separating halves of a grilled cheese sandwich. It's the star of every single Domino's commercial, thousands of Instagram posts, and quite a few of BuzzFeed's Tasty videos(Opens in a new tab). But here's the trouble with cheese pulls: They're not grounded in reality.

    While it's long been an effective advertising tool(Opens in a new tab), the cheese pull rose to internet ubiquity in the mid 2010s -- a particularly cheesy era for viral food. At the time, mainstream food content was focused firmly on the larger-than-life: the bigger, gooier, and more colorful, the better. (Think rainbow grilled cheese, pizza cake(Opens in a new tab), bacon-cheddar-ranch everything.) This genre is connected to what The Hairpin termed snackwave(Opens in a new tab): the internet phenomenon through which liking junk food became, particularly for women, a common online personality.

    Gaining steam on Tumblr and spurred by (conventionally attractive) junk food lovers like Rory Gilmore and Liz Lemon, the internet's snack obsession was eventually co-opted by brands and viral media companies, who then filled our feeds with increasingly over-the-top, often shoehorned-in "food trends." That's how we got unicorn food. Rainbow food. That grotesque cheese-filled bun(Opens in a new tab) that seems designed to blister the roof of your mouth. And, from the seemingly never-ending stream of Tasty videos(Opens in a new tab) to the #cheesepull(Opens in a new tab) hashtag on Instagram, the cheese pull became part of the internet's daily diet.

    But like a wheel of Double Gloucester rolling down Cooper's Hill(Opens in a new tab), the cheese pull got away from us. As more cheese pull videos appeared, the landscape became increasingly saturated, with publishers competing to publish the gooiest, greasiest cheese pulls out there. Today, a previously appetizing genre has morphed into a disturbingly exaggerated version of itself, one that doesn't reflect food that's even appealing to eat.

    Is it nice to eat a salty, cheesy slice of pizza? Yes. Would it be nice to eat a damp, soft slice of pizza groaning under the weight of its own enormous, slick, and rapidly congealing slab of three-cheese blend? No. Would you even be able to pick up that slice of pizza? No. Would you be forced to eat the pizza with a knife and fork, thereby breaking the only important pizza rule? Yes. What a mess this would be! And yet it's this very type of cheese excess that defines the current cheese pull landscape. It's not about how delicious cheese can be -- it's all about aesthetics.

    Journalist Bettina Makalintal spoke to this problem(Opens in a new tab) in a story for Vice earlier this year. "Cheese pulls are active acts of manipulation trying to sucker your neurons into wanting something that probably won’t taste as good as it looks," she wrote. "And now we’ve taken that concept so far past the point of diminishing returns that even the visuals are, frankly, kind of gross."

    It's true. Taken to the extreme, cheese pulls can be really gross. And -- for some people, at least -- they're divorced from the idea of edible cheese almost entirely. When I look at a cheese pull on Instagram, I don't really think of cheese. I think of creaminess, thickness, heat: ideas that are associated with cheese, but not necessarily vital to the cheese experience.

    SEE ALSO: YouTube cooking channel involves two guys making surprise lunch for strangers

    I spoke with several cheese aficionados who expressed similar sentiments. Writer Hayley Schueneman, who is a self-proclaimed cheese lover, described extreme cheese pull videos as "weird" and "twisted."

    "It's a reminder that maybe we shouldn't be eating something that stretches like that," she said.

    Journalist Maya Kosoff has a similar opinion of the cheese pull genre. She explained via Twitter DM that while she "unequivocally love[s] cheese" and is not lactose intolerant, she finds cheese pulls nearly impossible to look at.

    "Maybe we shouldn't be eating something that stretches like that."

    "Honestly before Viral Food Video was a thing, cheese pulls didn't even initially bother me! HOWEVER, in 2017 I saw a video that changed my life forever," she said.

    This video featured a classic of the grotesque cheese pull genre: New Jersey restaurant Tony Boloney's rainbow mozzarella sticks. The appetizers, which were originally called "unicorn blood" mozzarella sticks (remember the bizarre unicorn trend of 2017?), are filled with cheese dyed with "dehydrated fruits like beets, carrots, strawberries, spinach, and blueberries," according to an INSIDER video(Opens in a new tab). The results are tubes of bright red, blue, green, and yellow mozzarella that, while ostensibly unaltered in flavor, do not look like cheese at all.

    "Something about the way the colored cheese looked oozing out of a deep-fried crust, all of these unnatural colors, made my stomach turn, and it totally colored how I think about cheese pulls now," Kosoff said.

    Of course, keeping a restaurant afloat is no easy feat, and it's understandable that businesses capitalize on viral trends in order to strengthen their online footprint. But cheese pulls aren't marketing a food; they're marketing the idea that being visually overwhelmed is inherently positive. As Makalintal pointed out, "the problem with Big Cheese Pull is that it's just bait to make you buy things."



    View this post on Instagram
    (opens in a new tab) (Opens in a new tab)

    But if not the cheese pull, what does the next wave of online cheese look like? For one thing, it'll probably be more cooking-focused. Many millennials, in particular, aren't just looking for outright decadence in their food content. Burned out and searching for meaning and stability in life(Opens in a new tab), it makes sense they'd be interested in making things.

    And Gen Z is showing more than a passing interest in cooking their own food, or at least an interest in wholesome, balanced eating. According to one study(Opens in a new tab) from the NPD Group, a market research company, Gen Z's top source for recipes is social media.

    There's plenty to find. Homemade cheese plates, for instance, are becoming increasingly common on Instagram, with influencers like Marissa Mullen providing guidance for the masses. In an interview with Vox's The Goods(Opens in a new tab), Mullen said she considers making cheese plates a form of self care: "[It's] therapeutic; you have to be in a calm space, put on music, have some natural light in your apartment. It’s like painting: You’re building a cheese plate, and it comes together, and it’s so bright and beautiful," she said.

    SEE ALSO: Airlines, ranked by free snacks

    Artistry? Process? The thrill of sharing one's creation? A cheese pull could never.

    Christina Orlando, a publicity coordinator and writer who makes cheese plates as a hobby, appreciates the activity as both a creative outlet and an opportunity to learn.

    "I’m very attracted to the art of the cheese board -- fruit, nut, and wine pairings, how the cheese selections balance each other, and of course the aesthetic aspect of it," they explained via Twitter DM. "I’ve always loved cheese. I’m always trying new varieties, but I also love the way a cheese board acts as part of the meal or event. It’s a great way of bringing people around a table."

    "I'm always saving photos from Instagram for new ideas," they added.

    View this post on Instagram
    (opens in a new tab) (Opens in a new tab)

    Also on the rise: viral recipes, which inspire hundreds of users to make a dish and share what they've made on Instagram. Recipes like Alison Roman's chickpea stew(Opens in a new tab) ("The Stew") or her chocolate chunk shortbread cookies(Opens in a new tab) ("The Cookies") permeate Instagram Stories for days, even weeks, after they go viral. Roman herself will often repost people's creations to her own account, and it's always a nice moment of community online: Disparate people gleefully sharing their own variations on a recipe.

    It's rare for cheesy recipes to go viral in this way (though I did see a whole lot of people post Bon Appétit's(Opens in a new tab) adult mac and cheese(Opens in a new tab)). If and when we do see more of them, I suspect we won't see a grid full of exaggerated cheese pulls. After all, people are actually going to eat these dishes themselves -- probably in normal-sized servings and for multiple meals. They spent time, energy, and brainpower making them. They don't just need them to look good; they need them to taste good, and to be nourishing. Maybe they'll even be a dish to gather around with friends.

    You know, all the things that are wonderful about food.