You wake up to the sound of shouting and screaming. Your girlfriend is pushing you out of the bed, demanding that you leave, or at least sleep on the sofa. What’s going on? You were fast asleep, minding your own business. Is she tripping or something? Hearing her voice go into the high-pitched mode as she hurls accusations your way, your automatic reaction is to get defensive. Still, you try to stay calm and defend yourself. This has happened before, and you know how it ended last time. After a few moments, you take in what she’s actually saying. She’s claiming you were aggressively thrusting and trying to get fresh with her whilst she was asleep. Nonsense! You were asleep too. Maybe she was just dreaming, but she seems so convinced that you don’t dare suggest it. What’s going on?
What Is Sexsomnia?
Sexsomnia is a rare disorder that causes some unusual sleeping habits. Whereas insomniacs have trouble sleeping, sexsomnia engages in sexual acts whilst asleep. This is different from having a wet dream or an orgasmic experience during your slumber because the person engages in full-on sexual acts like masturbation or intercourse. Yet when they wake up, they have no idea what just happened. Imagine — you could lose your virginity and not even realize. Madness. It’s also possible to combine this sleep sex with sleep talking and sleepwalking — so you could have the full shebang with some freaky outdoor sex outside and dirty talk. Madness. Having sex in your sleep might sound harmless— or even pleasurable — but it can lead to some dire consequences.
But first, let’s look at the science behind this sexy phenomenon. Sexsomnia is a type of parasomnia — a term that encompasses all kinds of abnormal activities that can happen whilst we’re sleeping. Sleepwalking and sleep talking is the most common and well-known, but it turns out we can get up to all kinds of weird stuff.
Sleep-related eating disorders make people binge-eat whilst asleep, confessional arousals aren’t the weird stuff you’re into that you shouldn’t tell others about, they are also known as sleep drunkenness because they make us function at lower brain capacity and talk rubbish, and REM sleep behavior disorders sees people fighting imaginary intruders or run away from non-existent monsters.
Stage of sexsomnia
Different types of parasomnia take place at different points in the sleep cycle. When we first nod off, we go into a light sleep for a few minutes. Then we enter the second stage of sleep, which is also pretty light and ideal for brief naps. In the third and fourth stages, we finally enter deep sleep, a restorative state that helps us boost our immune system, energy, and repair our body tissue. Afterward, we go into Rapid Eye Movement, or REM sleep, for around 90 minutes. At this point, the brain becomes more active and we consolidate our memories. It’s also the part of sleep where we dream. Most cases of sexsomnia take place during on-rapid-eye-movement, or NREM, during stages three and four. Since these are the deepest stages of the sleep cycle and don’t involve dreams, the mind can go a little crazy. The parts of the brain that control vision, movement, and emotion remain awake during NREM sleep, but the parts controlling memory, decision-making, and rationality are asleep. Up, sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Types of NREM Sleep
Most types of parasomnia occur during NREM sleep, including sleepwalking and sleep talking, but there are also a few disorders that can happen during REM sleep.
A key example is sleep paralysis — waking up paralyzed whilst partially emerged in a dream state — which is why it’s so terrifying. Because sexsomnia occurs during deep sleep and we don’t remember it when we wake up, it’s difficult to diagnose yourself. Symptoms include heavy breathing, sweating, masturbating, pelvic thrusting, spontaneous orgasm, fondling, an elevated heart rate, and blank stares. To me, that just sounds like the normal state of a hormone-filled teenager, but there you go. Although we have a vague understanding of sexsomnia now, it’s still murky on the details. What causes it? How often does it happen? We’re still not sure. Naturally, it’s pretty challenging for scientists to investigate sexsomnia. You can’t just repeatedly make two people fall asleep together in a laboratory hoping that eventually they’ll have sex whilst sleeping. Then repeat it with a hundred other couples because you need a bigger sample size to reach any conclusion. We’ll probably be in the dark about this one for a long time. However, there are some theories.
Some researchers think the causes of sexsomnia could be exhaustion, alcohol, drugs, anxiety, or poor sleeping conditions. And sharing a bed with someone, although it ‘shard to ignore that one altogether. So, we can only assume that attempting to cope with extreme stress by taking drugs, partying until the early hours, and getting into bed with your friend who has an uncomfortable mattress is a terrible idea and not a healthy coping mechanism. You learn something new every day.
Even though it’s notoriously difficult to research sexsomnia, a few cases have been found. And I’ll tell you now, it doesn’t Endwell. The first case of sexsomnia was reported as recently as 1986. That could be because humans are getting progressively hornier over time, but most likely it’s just because nobody thought it worthwhile to report it before then. I mean, what person in their right mind would ring up their doctor after they masturbated in their sleep? You’d just shrug it off and go about your day, wouldn’t you?
Even now, only 194 cases have ever been reported, and there’s very little information available about most of them. But in 2017, one man in the UK was successfully diagnosed after ending up in hot water with both his current his and ex-girlfriend. We don’t know his actual name, so let’s call him Bob. First, Bob crashed at his ex-girlfriend’s house one night. It’s not a good idea at the best of times, but in fairness to him, they had a kid together. What could go wrong, right? Turns out, a lot can go wrong. Bob woke up to find his ex-screaming at him, accusing him of rape. He was confused and alarmed, believing he’d done nothing of the sort, but decided it was best to leave promptly and let her calm down. It was probably a bad call to not talk it out and investigate further because the incident ended with him being accused of rape and convicted as guilty by the jury. Still, Bob didn’t understand what had happened and believed he was innocent.
Then, a similar pattern happened with his next girlfriend. The first night they slept in the same bed, she was annoyed to find him fondling her and thrusting in the middle of the night, but brushed it off and said nothing. Then, another night, after a boozy party, she was woken up in the middle of the night by her boyfriend roughly trying to penetrate her through her underwear. She shouted at Bob angrily, angry that he would wake her up and have such little respect for her boundaries. It was so out of character, too — he was usually so gentle and thoughtful. Much to her surprise, Bob seemed taken aback, confused, and denied anything had happened. Was he an evil gaslighting genius, or was there something even stranger going on here? Bob saw a doctor, who pointed to the rare disease of sexsomnia. Suddenly, everything made sense. He wasn’t a forgetful sexual predator — he’d literally been sleeping throughout all the incidents. To verify it really was sexsomnia, the doctor referred him to a sleep clinic in London where he could be monitored. The researchers put electrodes to his scalps as he slept to monitor his brain activity and found some surprising results. During the incidents, Bob was effectively both awake and asleep at the same time.
The sleep cycle of regular people was out the window — there were both the slow brainwaves associated with deep sleep and the fast rhythms and brain waves associated with being awake. They diagnosed him with sexsomnia. Another man from Scotland was cleared of rape charges after doctors diagnosed him with sexsomnia, but it’s still a legal gray area for now. Now, check out our videos about why everything you know about sleep is wrong and what your bad dreams say about you.
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