Sexsomnia - If He Was Asleep, Is It Rape?

Written by Caitlin Eggleston

Have you had an experience involving sexsomnia? You can share your story and lend your insights to others at the end of this article.

In 2007, a 26-year-old mechanic in the Royal Air Force climbed on top of a sleeping 15-year-old girl at a party and proceeded to have sex with her. She awoke and screamed. He stopped, rolled off her, and walked away. When later confronted, he claimed to have no memory of the incident. When tried in court for rape he pleaded not guilty, claiming to have been asleep. [6]

In 2002, a 38-year-old man revealed that he had been sexually assaulting his wife in his sleep for twelve years. He would undress her, touch her, and try to have sex with her, often acting very violent but when she tried to wake him, he was unresponsive. He claimed to have never had any memory of these events. [2]

Are these claims really true? Can a person have sex in their sleep and not remember it the next morning?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

Sleep sex, sexsomnia or sexual behavior in sleep (SBS) is when an individual will moan from arousal, masturbate, or try to have sex while completely asleep. It is similar to sleepwalking or sleep eating - the individual does something out of the ordinary in their sleep, appears to be conscious while doing it, but is later found to have no memory of what happened.

Due to the relative novelty of the medical field's knowledge of the condition, very few formal studies of sexsomnia or sleep sex have been done. It has not been given a separate clinical diagnosis but is understood to be a variant of a "confused arousal," which is a recognized sleep disorder.

As of 2011, there is no known cause of sleep sex. Researchers have found that there are certain triggers that can increase the likelihood of sleep sex, including stress, alcohol, controlled substances, and fatigue. Also, those found to have had an episode of sleep sex often suffer from other sleep disorders including NREM parasomnias and REM behavior disorder. Sexsomniacs can have single or repeated episodes of sleep sex throughout the night, and they mainly take place during NREM sleep.

Studying sleep sex has been difficult. People suffering from sexsomnia often do not realize that they have the condition. Many times their only indication is soreness and bruising of the genitals and surrounding region. Many remain unaware until confronted by a bed partner and even then are often reluctant to seek help for fear of embarrassment, shame, or humiliation. Thus, finding participants for a study on sleep sex is difficult.

So...I know they have sex, but what are the symptoms exactly?

Individuals who engage in sleep sex do things of a sexual nature in their sleep and later have no memory of their actions. Sexsomniacs are often grouped into three different categories based on their actions during their sleep

- Vocalization: those who moan while asleep and pose no real direct threat to their bed partner.

- Masturbation: those who masturbate while asleep and can cause themselves and their bed partners injury if they are too aggressive or try to involve their partner in the act.

- Intercourse: those who attempt to have sex during sleep with their sleeping bed partner or someone else - often resulting in injury to themselves or their unwilling partner.

While all sexsomniacs can bring disruption into the bedroom, it is the third group who pose the greatest threat. They attempt to have sleep sex with someone else without conscious awareness or the consent of the other person. This can lead to rape charges, like those brought against the 26-year-old RAF mechanic after he had sex with a sleeping 15-year-old girl.

Interesting Stuff!

Other than those involving sleep sex, cases involving sleep-related automatisms (sets of unconscious movement) include cases of murder where the defendant pleads not guilty and attributes his or her action to sleepwalking or REM behavior disorder.

You can learn more about these cases of violence during sleep here.

Are there any treatment options?

Even though this condition is rare and relatively new to the field of sleep study, some studies have shown that there is hope for sexsomniacs. Psychotherapy, nasal continuous positive airway pressure (also used to treat obstructive sleep apnea) and Clonazepam (a drug used to treat epilepsy and panic disorders) have all been used to manage the symptoms of sleep sex.

What you should know:

- Sleep sex or sexsomnia is a sleep disorder that is similar to sleepwalking (somnambulism).

- The person almost always has no control over their actions and no memory upon waking.

- While there is no known cause, there are possible triggers including stress, fatigue, and controlled substances.

- Some treatments that have been shown to be effective including psychotherapy, CPAP, and Clonazepam.

- It is a condition that is most often unreported because of the shame and embarrassment felt by both the individual and his or her bed partner about the condition.

- The key way to get help is to talk to your doctor.

Wait...what ever happened to the 26-year-old man who had sex with that minor in his sleep?

He successfully proved to the jury that he had sexsomnia and had engaged in sleep sex that night. They found him to be innocent and no charges were brought against him.

Interesting Stuff!

As you can probably imagine, cases like these require the weighing in of highly-experienced sleep disorder specialists. One such expert is our own Board Advisor and Sleep and Dreams lecturer Dr. Mark Mahowald, who helped found the Sleep Forensics Association to help better understand these wild automatisms. You can check out the Sleep Forensics website to learn more about them and other case studies involving sex and violence during sleep.


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Have You Ever Experienced Sexsomnia?

Whether you have sexsomnia yourself or are affected by nature of being the partner of someone who does, you can share your experiences here to lend insight to others who can relate to what you have experienced.

If you'd like your writing to remain anonymous, just omit your name in the submission form below.

Read Other Sexsomnia Stories

Click on the links below to read stories of others that have experienced sexsomnia. They were all written by other visitors to this page, just like you.

My boyfriend raped me... while he was asleep. 
I've been in a relationship with the love of my life for 2 years now. I sleep over almost every night, and we have a very healthy active sex life. However, …

Sexsomniac Awareness 
Sexsomnia aka Sleep Sex is a parasomnia (sleep disorder) which causes the sufferer to engage in sexual acts while sleeping with no memory of the event. …

What To Do To Stop Sexsomnia? 
My boyfriend and I have been together for seven months. Even before we dated I had heard he had mildly humorous sleep disturbances. He would moan, sit …

Raped By A Stranger With Sexsomnia Not rated yet
This happened about three years ago. I was asleep in bed when apparently my father had gone outside to a neighbour's house for a reason that I don't remember …

Sexsomnia Led To Rape and Now I'm Clueless On What To Do Not rated yet
I think I suffer from sexsomnia . For most of the last three or four months, I have suffered sleep deprivation and severe stress. I had the occasional …

Help With Girlfriend Sleep Talking And Wanting Physical Pleasure While Asleep Not rated yet
My girlfriend of one month, who I love and trust, and she loves and trusts me back, sleep talks. She gave me a heads up that it occurs, so when it happened …

Questions About Sexsomnia - Any Brainwave Differences Between Sexsomnia and Sleep Talking? Not rated yet
I recently slept over at a male friend of mine's in the same bed for roughly 3 weeks. I usually talk in my sleep, and was told the next morning by him …

Possible Sexsomnia - My Partner Sometimes Initiates Sex In Middle Of Night But Doesn't Remember Not rated yet
My partner repeatedly wakes me up during the middle of the night to initiate making out or intercourse. Sometimes we continue, sometimes he just stops …

Click here to write your own.


Sources

(1) Clonazepam. (2009, June 11). Retrieved from http://www.drugs.com/clonazepam.html

(2) Guilleminault, C., Moscovitch, A., Yuen, K., & Poyares, D. (2002). Atypical sexual behavior during sleep. Psychosomatic Medicine, 64, 328-336.

(3) Mangan, M.A. (2004). A phenomenology of problematic sexual behavior occurring only in sleep. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33(3), 287-293.

(4) Mangan, M.A., & Reips, U.I. (2007). Sleep, sex, and the web: surveying the difficult-to-reach clinical population suffering from sexsomnia. Behavior Research Methods, 39(2), 233-236.

(5) Mangan, M.A. Sexual behavior in sleep. Retrieved from http://www.sleepsex.org/

(6) Salkeld, L. (2007, August 6). 'Sexsomniac' RAF man sobs as he is cleared of raping a girl in his sleep. Mail Online, Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-473525/Sexsomniac-RAF-man-sobs-cleared-raping-girl-sleep.html#

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