People sleepwalk, sleep talk and even sleep eat. Some people also engage in sexual activity while asleep. Sometimes referred to as “sleep sex,” the medical term for this condition is sexsomnia.
What Is Sexsomnia?
Sexsomnia, or sleep sex, is a non-rapid eye movement (N-REM) parasomnia. Parasomnias are disorders characterized by partial arousal during sleep or during transitions between waking and sleeping.
People who experience sexsomnia engage in sexual activity while sleeping, though they usually have no memory of their actions once they wake up. The intensity of sleep sex varies, with some sexsomnia victims merely moaning and groping, and others engaging in sexual activity with bed partners or masturbating. At the extreme end of the scale are those who become violent and dangerous during sleep sex.
The specific causes of sexsomnia are unknown, though there may be a genetic component. Gender affects an individual’s risk of engaging in sleep sex. According to an online survey by the University Health Network in Toronto (2006), males account for two-thirds of reported sexsomnia cases. The survey found that sexsomnia causes include alcohol consumption, drug use, fatigue, and stress. However, this survey was an initial examination of sexsomnia causes and risks. Further study is needed to isolate sexsomnia causes.
Effects of Sexsomnia
Seeking medical help for sleep sex is important, as a person with sexsomnia may experience many negative emotions, including:
These negative emotions often lead to tremendous stress.
Clearly, relationships are put to the test when couples have to deal with this awkward and sometimes dangerous problem. Also, some sexsomnia sufferers worry about legal issues (such as being charged with sexual assault or rape), as sexual advances occurring during sleep sex can be unwanted or violent.
Sexsomnia treatment may combine medication, therapy and lifestyle changes. Possible sleep sex triggers, such as stress and alcohol, should be avoided. Lifestyle changes to reduce stress and anxiety may also be incorporated into sexsomnia treatment. Doctors may prescribe sedatives or antidepressants, which have been effective for some individuals suffering from sleep sex. Taking certain precautions, such as sleeping in a separate bedroom with a locked door, may also be recommended.
Sexsomnia treatment may require the diagnosis and treatment of underlying sleep disorders. Untreated sleep disorders can cause a variety of parasomnias, including sleep sex.
Sleep sex is a chronic condition, and sexsomnia treatment is essential to provide symptom relief. Seeking help can increase awareness and understanding of the problem and help both individuals and couples deal with sexsomnia in a constructive manner.
Cline, J. (2009). Sexsomnia. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleepless-in-america/200902/sexsomnia.
Fields, S. (2005). Sleep sex. Retrieved August 10, 2010, from http://www.4-men.org/sleep/sex.html.
Smith, M. (2006). Sex while sleeping is real, and may be no joke. Retrieved August 10, 2010, from http://www.medpagetoday.com/Neurology/APSS/tb/3568.
MSNBC. (2006). “Sexsomniacs” puzzle medical researchers. Retrieved August 10, 2010, from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15427247/.
Myers. W. (2010). What is sexsomnia? Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://www.everydayhealth.com/sleep/what-is-sexsomnia.aspx.