'Sexsomnia' Is Like Sleepwalking Sex & It Affects Thousands of People


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We've all heard of sleepwalking, or the behavior disorder in which folks start walking around or perform other complex actions as if they were awake -- only, they're actually in a very deep sleep. And later, they typically have no recollection of their actions. One condition you've probably yet to hear of is sexsomnia, and it's the same idea as sleepwalking, except that instead of walking around, it's engaging in sexual activities. 

  • Like sleepwalking, sexsomnia is considered a kind of "parasomnia," which is an abnormal behavior or activity that occurs when someone is in a deep sleep.

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    During a sexsomnia episode, someone who is asleep may start touching themselves, or try engaging in sexual activity with the other person in their bed at a random time in the middle of the night. They're also reported as being more sexually aggressive and uninhibited than usual. Like sleepwalking, the person is doing this almost automatically, Gerald Kennedy, an associate professor at Victoria University told Vice.

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    In one BBC article, a woman recalled two incidents with a man who unknowingly had sexsomnia (and thus didn't remember doing either). One night, he "began thrusting at her groin in a crude, unsensual kind of way." During a later episode, he tried having penetrative sex through her underwear. 

    Sexsomnia is different than just having a sex dream, since those typically only result in arousal or ejaculation, and not physical actions. 

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  • There hasn't been a lot of research on the topic, and it's considered a relatively new condition.

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    2003 Toronto Western Hospital study found that 11 percent of its male sleep-center patients experienced sexsomnia, while 4 percent of women patients did. But some doctors think many more people experience it, according to Glamour. It's just hard to know for sure because it happens so randomly.

    In the case of that BBC article, the dude eventually went to a sleep doctor for a sleep test. His brainwaves showed that he seemed awake while being deeply asleep at the same time.  

    While the cause of sexsomnia is still unknown, and the episodes are considered random, researchers think that people are triggered into them when there's a disruption in the brain as it moves between deep sleep cycles. Other factors that could increase someone's likelihood of experiencing sexsomnia are sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption, or sleeping pills like Ambien. 

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    Sometimes, sexsomnia might manifest itself from an underlying psychological issue. A woman who went by the pseudonym Elizabeth told Glamour that she would wake up in the middle of the night and find herself having sex with her partner. The two were still living together and sleeping in the same bed, but their relationship was fizzling out and they weren't even having conscious sex with each other anymore. "We still wanted it, just not necessarily with each other," she said. 

  • This kind of discovery could be a bit jarring, and some sexsomnia episodes can leave the other person in the bed feeling violated.

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    Since everyone is usually asleep during the incident and can't totally give consent, sexsomnia episodes are sometimes considered as sexual assault or molestation. "That's the worst part of it," W. Christopher Winter, a sleep specialist, told Glamour. "This violation of trust and consent."

    In some court cases, people's rape charges have been overturned, or the defendant was found not guilty because of their sexsomnia (and if they can prove they have it, since some people may claim to in hopes of getting out of their case.) 

  • Unfortunately, there's no miracle cure for sexsomnia, but there are ways for people to manage and treat it.

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    While part of treatment could be speaking to a doctor for medication to improve your sleep, some of it can be making lifestyle treatments. This means seeking out counseling for underlying psychological issues, or discovering and then avoiding what triggers the episodes, like drinking alcohol or sleeping in a new environment. For one man, it was falling asleep while touching his partner. 

    But most of all, it's communicating about the condition to partners. "Partners with healthy communication know how to navigate the sexsomnia so it doesn't become something nonconsensual or something that deprives them of sleep," sexual wellness coach Lauren Brim told Glamour

    After all, everyone deserves both healthy, consensual relationships and good sleep.


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