Understanding Sexsomnia: The Sleeping Disorder that Causes Sexual Behaviour While Asleep

Understanding Sexsomnia: The Sleeping Disorder that Causes Sexual Behaviour While Asleep

What is Sexsomnia?

Sexsomnia, otherwise known as “sleep sex,” is a relatively rare but intriguing sleep disorder classified under parasomnias, a group of sleep disorders that involve unwanted events or experiences occurring while falling asleep, sleeping, or waking up.

Its fundamental characteristic is engaging in sexual behaviours while asleep. These episodes typically occur between deep, dreamless sleep and wakefulness, and the activities can range from moaning, pelvic thrusting, fondling of private parts, masturbation, and even initiating foreplay or sexual intercourse with another person.

Sexsomnia presents a variety of symptoms, each varying in frequency, intensity, and type. Besides the sexual behaviors carried out during sleep, common symptoms can also include sleep-talking, sleep-walking, night terrors, or sleep-related eating disorders.

It’s important to note that although one may appear awake during these episodes, they remain in a state of unawareness, often displaying a dazed and vacant expression. Additionally, individuals with sexsomnia have no memory of their behaviour upon waking up.

What Causes Sexsomnia?

Sexsomnia disorder appears to stem from a disruption in the brain’s natural division of sleep states, particularly between the REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep stages.

While most parasomnias occur during REM sleep, sexsomnia occurs during non-REM sleep and isn’t related to dreaming.

To understand why sexsomnia occurs, it is important to consider the underlying factors.

Carlos Schenck, a psychiatrist specializing in parasomnias, suggests that during sleep, basic instincts and primitive behaviours, including eating, sex, walking, and fear, can inappropriately manifest.

However, it is important to note that there is no direct correlation between unsatisfied sexual drive and sexsomnia. The exact triggers for sexsomnia episodes remain complex and may vary from person to person. Stress, sleep deprivation, poor sleep hygiene, substance abuse, and certain mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety are believed to contribute to the onset of sexsomnia.

Additionally, sexsomnia often co-occurs with other sleep disorders, including sleep-walking, sleep-talking, night terrors, and sleep apnea. Research also suggests a genetic component to sexsomnia.

Treatments that improve the quality of sleep may help to reduce the incidence of events.

Sexsomnia in women is less common. Research suggests that men are three times more likely than women to experience sexsomnia disorder. However, it is important to consider that this difference in prevalence may be influenced by societal stigma and biases in self-reporting symptoms.

Sexsomnia Symptoms

  1. Sexual Behaviors During Sleep: Engaging in various sexual activities, such as masturbation, fondling, or intercourse, without awareness or memory of the actions.
  2. No Memory of the Event: Individuals typically do not recall the behaviours upon waking up.
  3. Unusual Sexual Behaviors: Performing sexual acts that the person would not normally engage in while awake.
  4. Resistance to Waking: Difficulty being awakened during an episode, even when the behaviour is quite active.
  5. Partner Observations: Reports from a bed partner about the person’s sexual behaviours during sleep, which the individual is unaware of.
  6. Confusion Upon Waking: Feelings of confusion or disorientation if awakened during an episode.
  7. Daytime Fatigue: Excessive daytime sleepiness or fatigue due to disrupted sleep patterns.
  8. Stress and Anxiety: Psychological distress, embarrassment, or anxiety about the behaviours and their impact on relationships.

The Distinction from Wet Dreams

It’s crucial to differentiate sexsomnia from wet dreams.

While sexsomnia involves actual physical engagement and behaviours during sleep, a wet dream typically induces arousal and may result in orgasm during sleep.

However, wet dreams do not prompt any sexual behaviour. Thus, experiencing a wet dream is not indicative of sexsomnia. 

Sexosomina Legal Cases: The Controversy and Legal Implications

Sexsomnia, unlike other forms of parasomnia, is highly controversial due to its potential legal implications and the trauma it may cause to unwilling participants or witnesses.

There have been multiple sexsomnia legal cases documented that provide an insight into just how complicated this matter is.

In cases where sleep sex involves an unwilling participant, it can be considered sexual assault. Consequently, sexsomnia has been used as a defence in sexual crime cases, posing challenges for forensic examiners tasked with determining the accused individual’s level of consciousness and intent during the episode.

Personal and Relational Consequences

Sexsomnia can lead to personal distress and shame for individuals experiencing the disorder. Depending on the circumstances, it can also make them vulnerable to exploitation.

Instances of sexsomnia have resulted in strained relationships, as highlighted by a documented case in 2021.

The case described a woman who engaged in sexual activity with her husband while sleeping. However, upon waking up, she felt abused and violated, leading to arguments, mistrust, and emotional distance between the couple.

In some situations, children may also become unfortunate witnesses to their parents’ sleep-sex behaviours, further complicating the dynamics within the family.

While sexsomnia often causes distress, there have been rare instances where open communication and awareness of the disorder have allowed it to become a unique aspect of long-term couples’ sex lives.

Some couples have developed a lighthearted approach toward sexsomnia, finding humour in the situation. They maintain that as long as both partners are in the mood and conscious of each other’s boundaries, sleep sex can be an accepted part of their intimate experiences.

Diagnosis and lack of awareness surrounding Sexsomnia

Diagnosing Sexsomnia can be complex due to the inherent lack of conscious awareness in the affected individual. Often, the diagnosis comes from partner observations or self-reporting of unusual nighttime behaviours.

Sexsomnia has only been officially recognized as a disorder since 1986, and less than 100 cases were documented worldwide until 2016. The lack of memory during sleep sex makes it difficult for individuals to acknowledge their symptoms, contributing to the stigma and low awareness of sexsomnia.

Treatment Options

Seeking help can be challenging due to the shame and embarrassment associated with the disorder. However, it is crucial for individuals experiencing sexsomnia to overcome these barriers and consult medical professionals.

Treatment approaches for sexsomnia may include medication, lifestyle modifications, and addressing any underlying conditions contributing to sleep sex episodes. However, it is essential to remember that seeking help and following appropriate treatment plans is vital for overall well-being.

Sexsomnia and Legal Implications: An Ethical Dilemma

Sexsomnia can create serious legal and ethical issues, particularly when it involves non-consensual sexual activity with a partner.

Several cases have been reported where individuals have been acquitted of sexual assault charges due to sexsomnia.

However, there’s an ongoing debate on the necessity for individuals with this condition to disclose their condition to potential partners, for the safety and consent of all involved.

Final Thoughts

Sexsomnia is an intriguing and complex sleep disorder that underscores the intricate workings of the human brain during sleep. By fostering a better understanding of this condition, we can demystify its stigmas, facilitate early diagnosis, and contribute to developing more effective treatment strategies.