What Is Sexomnia Disorder?

by Cay L. Crow
woman in black bra and gray pants sleeping

My Boyfriend Has Sexomnia!

Dear Cay,

The other night, I woke up with my boyfriend lying on top of me, humping away! I was wearing pajamas so he was basically screwing the space between me and the mattress. I said his name several times but he did not respond. I shoved him off of me and he fell on the floor. Even then, he did not wake up. I left him and his erection there for the rest of the night. I told him about it the next day. He thought I was joking at first then he felt horrible. What the hell is going on with him?

Joy

Is It Possible To Have Sex During Deep Sleep?

Dear Joy,

It is quite possible that your boyfriend may have sexsomnia, a sleep disorder recognized by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in 2005. Some people walk in their sleep, others eat in their sleep, and sexsomniacs become sexual while asleep.

Sexsomnia is prevalent in men under 35. It is thought to be genetic but also related to factors such as stress, sleep deprivation, drugs, and alcohol.

Most sexsomniacs only have sex with their partners; some of these couples are able to laugh about it and see it as a kinky surprise. Other relationships dissolve over the issue; it can feel like a violation. Partners of sexsomnias report that their lover is aggressive, persistent, and even annoying while attempting to have sex with them. Some partners sleep separately in order to avoid negative associations with sex.

Typically, sexsomniacs also have other sleep disorders from sleep apnea to sleep terrors. Some cases of sexsomnia were triggered by working nights. Just imagine what can happen if the person sleepwalks and has sex in his sleep.

Sexomnia Examples Around The World

A British RAF mechanic was acquitted of raping a 15 year-old girl once it was revealed that he suffers from sexsomnia. An Ontario man was also acquitted of rape once a sleep expert testified to his sexsomnia. These are a few of the cases that have brought sexsomnia to the attention of the medical community.

A study in the journal Sleep (June 2007) reviewed all the published literature on sexsomnia from 1950 to the present. The study’s lead author, Dr. Carlos Schenck, is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota. He blames the American high-stress lifestyle for the increasing prevalence of all sleep disorders. Dr. Schenck states that strange behavior during sleep does not necessarily mean there is an underlying psychological problem. Typically, the sexsomnia can be treated with medication. Sleep deprivation in general can cause instability in the sleep cycle and odd behavior during sleep.

Sleep disorders are considered a medical condition. Due to embarrassment, many sexsomnias don’t report their behavior to their doctors. But there are important reasons to do so. According to a longitudinal study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, there appears to be a link between REM sleep behavior and Parkinson’s disease. REM (rapid eye movement) is the deepest stage of sleep when most dreaming occurs. Normally, muscles are paralyzed during this phase of sleep so you don’t act out your dreams. Individuals with REM sleep behavior have a glitch in the brain resulting in their acting out their dreams, sometimes violently, sometimes sexually. Researchers have found that individuals with REM sleep behavior have low dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is also deficient in those with Parkinson’s disease. According to the study, two thirds of those with REM sleep behavior went on to develop Parkinson’s or other neurodegenerative disorders.

Joy, it is vital that your boyfriend see a doctor. It may also be helpful for you and your boyfriend to see a therapist who can help you process the emotional impact of this issue on the relationship.

CAY L. CROW, LPC, AASECT-CERTIFIED SEX THERAPIST

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