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Are you having sex while asleep?

 | August 29, 2012

No, we’re not talking about wet dreams but are you one of those you actually engage in the act of sexual intercourse while still sound asleep?

A relatively new, rare and somewhat disturbing (figuratively and literally) sleeping disorder, sexsomnia is classified as an abnormal sexually aggressive activity that occurs during a specific kind of sleep.

Like sleepwalking, sexsomnia occurs during a sleep state known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) which makes up 75% of our normal sleep time. During sexsomnia, a person engages in sexual acts such as masturbation, fondling, intercourse, and sometimes rape while they are asleep. And since this activity occurs while the sufferer is in a state of deep sleep, he usually does not have a clue it happened at all. According to Russell Rosenberg, PhD, vice chairman of the National Sleep Foundation in Atlanta, “Most cases involve no recall and even a denial that the event occurred.”

What little that is known about sexsomnia is scientifically explained this way – some adults can get sexually stimulated by a dream or aroused by the mere touch of their partner in bed. When this happens, the cortex, which is the thinking, planning and awareness part of the brain — gets switched off. However the brain stem, which is responsible for basic urges like the drive to eat or have sex, is still working.

Since the phenomenon of sexsomnia is poorly understood at this stage, experts cannot say for sure what exactly triggers an episode besides being sure that some people more than others are prone to it.

“Many of these types of behaviors during sleep occur secondary to other sleep disorders such as sleep deprivation or obstructive sleep apnea,” says Raman Malhotra, MD, co-director of the Saint Louis University Sleep Disorders Center. He says certain medications also have the potential to induce sexsomnia and some people could be genetically inclined to it. Drug and alcohol abuse are other risk factors.

While the partners of sexsomnia sufferers usually report that sex is more passionate and fulfilling during an episode, it can leave them tired and frustrated at being pawed at throughout the night. One Anita Sayer in the UK told the Daily Mail she felt annoyed and exhausted from putting up with her husband’s problem only to have him stare at her blank-faced and rather disturbed when she told him about it the next morning.

Sexsomnia can also have legal ramifications when the woman one is having sex with is a stranger or someone who just does not want to participate in the act of sex. In cases such as these, it goes by the label ‘rape’.

The first recorded case was in 2005, when a Toronto court had to acquit a man of sexual assault when the defendant claimed to be suffering from sexsomnia. Since the court classified his state of mind as ‘non-insane automatism’, he could not be found guilty as he had no conscious awareness of his actions.

On 10 July 2011, Kristy Merriman another victim of rape during an episode of sexsomnia, broke her silence about how her step-dad had sex with her when she was 16 against her will. He was cleared of the rape charge brought against him when the jury accepted he suffered from sexsomnia, was asleep at the time of the ‘crime’ and did not know what he was doing.

There are no known medically approved drugs to treat sexsomnia as yet aside from sedatives and antidepressants. All one could possibly do to curtail a sexsomnia sufferer’s activities would be to sleep in a separate bedroom, lock the doors or even put alarms on doors as a warning to others that a sexsomniac is on the prowl.




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