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Sexomnia: the mysteries of sleep sex

Your partner wakes you up in the night to make passionate love. Sounds romantic? Not if he’s still fast asleep. Why do some people suffer from sexsomnia? A UK sexpert investigated.


It’s the middle of the night and you’re fast asleep. Your partner is snoring next to you. But then you hear him stir and feel his hand on your stomach. The hand moves up to your breasts.

‘Not now,’ you mumble, ‘I’m trying to sleep!’ But he climbs on top of you. And before you know it, he’s roughly trying to thrust himself inside you. You’re shouting at him to get off, but he just doesn’t respond. It’s like he’s in a dream. Finally, you manage to push him away.

The next morning you ask him what on earth he was doing… but he says he genuinely doesn’t remember a thing about it.

A sex maniac? More likely, a sexsomniac.

Sexomnia, or sleep sex, takes night-time arousal a step further than a wet dream. It’s a rare sleep disorder where people try to have sex while they’re asleep. What’s more, even though they’re fast asleep, they can often get pretty aggressive in their advances.

There’s very little research on sleep sex, and UK psychosexual therapist Desa Markovic wanted to understand it better. So she asked her colleagues to pool their knowledge.

In her study, she surveyed 50 psychosexual therapists about sexsomnia. They answered questions about clients who had the disorder and whether they were able to treat them.

Only between one and six percent of people have sexsomnia, studies have shown, so it’s no surprise that only five of the psychotherapists had ever seen a client with the disorder. Most of them hadn’t even heard of it.

Why sleep sex?

Sleep sex seems to be different for each person who experiences it, according to the five therapists who’d treated sexsomniacs. They listed sex-related problems as some of the possible causes – like sexual frustration, sex addiction or a poor sexual self-image.

Other potential triggers for sexomnia weren’t directly related to sex. They included things like depression, anxiety and high levels of stress. Poor communication with a partner was another characteristic listed by one of the psychosexual therapists.

Can sexsomnia be treated? Since health professionals are just beginning to learn about sleep sex, they’re still trying to understand the best way to treat it. Treatment that combines different elements is likely to be the best approach, according to the surveys. For example, it might be helpful to combine individual therapy to deal with things like stress or a poor sexual self-image with sex education and couple therapy, Markovic suggests.

There’s no doubt that sexsomnia can be very stressful, for both the person with the disorder and their partner. If it sounds familiar to you, there’s no shame in getting help. A good place to begin is your family doctor. They should be able to direct you towards another health professional if they can’t treat you or your partner themselves.


Based on the poster and abstract presented by Desa Markovic at WAS 2015: ‘Sexsomnia: a challenge for clients and clinicians alike’

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