It sounds like something that belongs on Ripley’s ‘Believe it or not’ but ‘sexsomnia’ is a real thing. And men who have been accused of rape are attempting to use the condition as a ‘defence’ in court.
Sleepsex – or sexsomnia – is a real and recognised condition that sees individuals engage in sex or sexual acts while completely asleep. In the morning, they will have no memory of their actions.
Sexsomnia first came to the attention of scientists in the 90s, and was classified as a ‘parasomnia’ in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry in 2003. ‘Parasomnia’ is where a person suffers from behaviours while asleep, such as talking, sleepwalking, and night terrors.
Matthew Walker, a professor of neurology at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, told The Daily Mail that sleepsex is most likely to occur during the first few hours of the night.
‘Just as children often experience night terrors and confusional arousals, so do adults,’ says Professor Walker. ‘Only adults might get sexually stimulated by a dream or turned on by the mere touch of a partner in bed.
‘At this time, the cortex — the thinking, planning, awareness part of the brain — gets switched off. But the brain stem, the part responsible for the basic urges like the drive to eat or have sex, is still working.
‘By this stage, the sexsomniac is acting completely without inhibition. And because the lower level of the brain is amnesic, he or she will have no memory of what they’ve done.’
The condition occurs most frequently when couples share a bed, and can become more common in times of stress. The condition is also more likely to affect men than women: research indicates that three-quarters of sufferers are men.
Sexsomnia can present serious problems for couples, with the partner who is regularly woken up for sex left feeling annoyed and exhausted in the mornings. The sexsomniac themselves – who are equally victims of their disorder – are left feeling ashamed and guilty.
The Daily Mail reported on one couple – Anita and Dan Sayer:
“Things tend to start with a gentle brushing of her leg then, within seconds, his hands are everywhere. It’s at this point Anita Sayer surfaces from her sleep with a groan.
‘Not again,’ she thinks, as she pushes her persistent husband forcefully to the other side of the bed. This scenario can happen up to three times a night leaving Anita feeling both annoyed and exhausted.
When she later tells her husband Dan about his fumbling in the dark, his response is always the same: a blank look. Ever since the pair moved in together, Dan has been groping her in the middle of the night.”