Has sexsomnia ever taken you by surprise? 10% of Brits admit to having sleep sex!
Being woken up for sex by a horny partner doesn’t sound like the worst thing that could happen, but the trouble starts when the person getting dry humped is not up for it. At best it can ruin trust in a relationship, at worst assault charges can be brought with serious consequences. For genuine suffers their behaviour is a mystery and they have no recollection of their nocturnal love boating. What they do can range from caressing the person next to them, to masturbation and full sleep-sex. This is different to having a wet dream or sleep orgasm - those are part of virtually everyone’s sexual fun at some point and are much tamer.
During sexsomnia the sufferer’s brain is in limbo, caught somewhere between wakefulness and sleep - a bit like sleepwalking. If you’ve been told about your bizarre night-time wanderings by your partner or housemates, it’s kind of similar, only with sexsomnia sleepers get it on with full blown sex acts and still remain completely oblivious in the morning.
Right now scientists are still trying to work out how to treat people without creating any unwanted side effects. Don’t worry about it starting out of the blue though, because much like sleepwalking it tends to be a long term issue. Moreover, there are known risk factors and triggers. People self-report as having a history of other strange sleeping behaviours, often described as parasomnia. They might act out dreams where they’re vacuuming, unlocking doors, or shouting - but tiredness, drugs and booze can make the disorder worse.
The condition was first mentioned in 2003, in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. It’s often compared to the night terrors that younger kids can experience, where after kicking and screaming they wake up feeling completely disorientated. As adults being cuddled by a partner, or having a kinky dream can set off the part of the brain, the stem, where all our animal instincts are stored. Meanwhile, up top, the cortex, where all our more intellectual thoughts go on, is fast asleep. In most people it’s not a problem, because they lose muscle tone, meaning they’re still lying in bed while their brain is tripping out - but that doesn’t happen for parasomnia sufferers. After going for it without any inhibitions, they wake up without remembering a thing, because no memories are stored in the lower areas of the brain.
Sleeping next to a willing partner can mean sexsomnia delivers plenty more surprise quickies – and a lack of inhibitions can lead to wilder sex. That’s cool if it’s only happening occasionally, and there’s no reason to consider sexsomnia a problem. Many people love the feeling of being ravished, but some wake up their glassy eyed partner at as some point to ensure they’re fully conscious. However, if you’re woken up for a nocturnal session with a sleeping partner three or four times a night, you’re likely to be less understanding. It’s exhausting, but don’t feel helpless, as there are ways of dealing with sexsomnia and keeping your relationship intact.
It’s always good to talk about sex in a relationship and especially so when something isn’t right. The sufferer is likely to feel terrible about what they’ve been doing and their partner may be hurt by their actions, or even feel violated. To work through those emotions, get them out in the open and be honest with each other.
Finding out about sexsomnia from reputable sources can give you the ammunition you need to tackle it more effectively. If a lack of sleep, alcohol or drugs seem to set things off, then you know what to avoid.
No loving couple wants to spend their nights apart, but if it’s going to relieve some of the stress, a separation makes sense. It could just involve sleeping on the sofa, or retreating to another room altogether. The situation isn’t ideal, but if a bedtime break makes your relationship happier in the long run – it could be worth it. You can still be intimate at other times, so no one’s going to miss out.
Any decent GP will take your worries seriously and try to help alleviate some of the symptoms. Psychologists call them ‘confusional arousals’ and there are medications, like benzodiazepines, which can be prescribed to help make sleep more peaceful.
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