Sleep sex, or sexsomnia, is a condition in which a person will engage in sexual activities while asleep. This condition falls within the broad class of sleep disorders known as parasomnias. In extreme cases, sexsomnia has been alleged, and accepted, as the cause 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 other drugs. Sleep related epilepsy may be associated with sexual arousal, pelvic thrusting and orgasms. Sexsomnia episodes may 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 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.
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 apnea
- Sleep paralysis
- Rapid eye movement behavior disorder
- Somnophilia (sexual attraction toward sleeping people)
- Automatism (law)
- "Sleep: Weird things people do in their sleep". BBC News. 28 November 2012.
- "'Sexsomnia' claim actor Simon Morris guilty of raping girl". BBC News. 17 December 2012.
- "Sexsomnia". Sleep.com.
- "Sexsomnia". Psychology Today. 2009.
- Trajanovic NN, Mangan M, Shapiro CM (December 2007). "Sexual behaviour in sleep: an internet survey". Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 42 (12): 1024–31. doi:10.1007/s00127-007-0258-0. PMID 17932612.
- 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
- 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" (PDF). 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.