Sleep sex, or sexsomnia, is a condition in which a person will engage in sexual activities while still asleep. This condition falls within the broad classes of sleep disorders known as parasomnia. In extreme cases, sexsomnia has been alleged as the cause of rare instances of sexual assault, including rape.
The proposed medical diagnosis is NREM arousal parasomnia – sexual behaviour in sleep. Sexsomnia is considered a type of non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) parasomnia. Sexsomniacs do not remember the acts that they perform while they are asleep. Sexsomnia can co-occur alongside other sleep disorders such as sleepwalking, sleep apnea, night terrors and bedwetting and can be triggered by stress, previous sleep deprivation and excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs. Sleep related epilepsy may be associated with sexual arousal, pelvic thrusting and orgasms, though in these sorts of cases the acts are often not remembered. Sexsomnia episodes could be triggered by physical contact with a bed partner. Sexsomnia, which is a fairly new medically recognized behaviour, has been used in criminal defense cases of rape. There have also been several cases of sexsomnia which have appeared in the news and also in pop culture as reality shows and movies.
The first research paper that suggested that sexual behavior during sleep may be a new type of parasomnia was published in 1996 by three researchers from the University of Toronto (Colin Shapiro and Nik Trajanovic) and the University of Ottawa (Paul Fedoroff). The term "sleepsex" was used in a 1998 case report by David Saul Rosenfeld, a neurologist and sleep specialist from Los Angeles. The term 'sexsomnia' was coined by Colin Shapiro in a case report published in June 2003.
Sleep sex may accompany relationship difficulties and feelings of embarrassment. Often the actions of the person who has sexsomnia are reported by his or her partner as the sexsomniacs are unaware of the event.
Cases reported in the press
Natalie Pona, then a reporter for the Sun[clarification needed], broke the first press story of sexsomnia in the fall of 2005. On 30 November 2005, a Toronto court acquitted a man of sexual assault after he was diagnosed with sleep sex disorder, although prosecutors filed an appeal of the acquittal in February 2006. The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the acquittal on 7 February 2008.
In Britain, a man from York was cleared of three counts of rape on 19 December 2005.
In Australia, a woman was reported as leaving her house at night and having sex with strangers while sleepwalking.
On 8 August 2007, a British RAF mechanic was cleared of a rape charge after the jury found him not responsible for his actions when he had sex with a 15-year-old girl.
On 7 March 2012, a British woman gave an interview in which she described how her sexsomnia had made sustaining a relationship difficult.
Sexsomnia, although unknown to much of the population, is evidently present in much of daily pop culture. The medical drama television series House included an episode dealing with sexsomnia in its first season, "Role Model", in which a woman who claimed she was not sexually active mysteriously became pregnant and found hickeys and other marks on her body. The titular character, Doctor House, eventually diagnosed the woman as a sexsomniac, explaining her strange situation. The condition has also been featured in episodes of many other television shows such as Law and Order: Special Victims Unit season 9, episode #2 "Avatar", and Desperate Housewives Season seven, episode #2, " You Must Meet My Wife". It has also been a theme in novels and plays. In Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man, a farmer claims to have had sex with his daughter while asleep. In the play Yakish and Popcha by Hanoch Levin, Yakish only manages to have intercourse with his wife Popcha while both are asleep, by the end of the play.
- Somnambulism (Sleepwalking)
- Somniloquy (sleep-talking)
- Sleep paralysis
- Rapid eye movement behavior disorder
- Automatism (law)
- "Sexsomnia". Sleep.com.
- "Sexsomnia". Psychology Today. 2009.
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- Salkeld, Luke (7 August 2007). ""Sexomniac" RAF Man Sobs as he is Cleared of Raping a Girl in his Sleep". Daily Mail (London).
- Shapiro CM, Fedoroff JP, Trajanovic NN (1996). "Sexual behavior in sleep: a newly described parasomnia". Sleep Research 25: 367.
- Rosenfeld DS, Elhajjar AJ (June 1998). "Sleepsex: a variant of sleepwalking". Arch Sex Behav 27 (3): 269–78. doi:10.1023/A:1018651018224. PMID 9604116.
- Shapiro CM, Trajanovic NN, Fedoroff JP (June 2003). "Sexsomnia – A New Parasomnia?". Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 48 (5): 311–7. PMID 12866336.
- Sexual behavior in sleep Retrieved on 3 March 2010
- Shapiro CM, Trajanovic NN, Fedoroff JP (June 2003). "Sexsomnia—a new parasomnia?". Can J Psychiatry 48 (5): 311–7. PMID 12866336.
- A patient treated with clonazepam was featured on the television documentary Strange Sex that aired on TLC 27 January 2010
- Alphonso, Caroline (31 May 2007). "More people suffering from sexsomnia, study says". The Globe and Mail (Toronto).
- Ontario court upholds 'sexsomnia' acquittal
- "Sleepwalking man cleared of rape". BBC News. 19 December 2005. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
- "Sleepwalking woman had sex with strangers". New Scientist. 15 October 2004.
- Bothroyd, Sally (12 Feb 2010). "Man not guilty in 'sexsomnia' rape trial". ABC News.
- "'Sexsomnia' sufferer in Pembroke Dock cleared of rape". BBC News. 4 July 2011.
- Pearce, Dulice (07 March 2012). "SLEEP should be a time for rest and relaxation". The Sun.
- Mangan MA, Reips UD (May 2007). "Sleep, sex, and the Web: surveying the difficult-to-reach clinical population suffering from sexsomnia". Behav Res Methods 39 (2): 233–6. doi:10.3758/BF03193152. PMID 17695349.
- Stanford Sleep Experts Treat Medical Condition Behind Violent "Sleep Sex"
- Sleepwalkers who have "sex sleep" – BBC
- Mangan MA (June 2004). "A phenomenology of problematic sexual behavior occurring in sleep". Arch Sex Behav 33 (3): 287–93. doi:10.1023/B:ASEB.0000026628.95803.98. PMID 15129047.
- Schenck CH, Arnulf I, Mahowald MW (June 2007). "Sleep and sex: what can go wrong? A review of the literature on sleep related disorders and abnormal sexual behaviors and experiences". Sleep 30 (6): 683–702. PMC 1978350. PMID 17580590.
- "Sleepsex.org: A Resource of Information for those Affected, Directly and Indirectly by SBS"