Sleep Sex

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on Sleep Sex.

Sleepsex: A newly-discovered sleep
Is sleepsex a sleep "disorder?"
What kind of sex do people engage in during sleepsex?
Can having sleepsex be problem?
What causes sleepsex?
Can sleepsex be treated?
Where can people with sleepsex experiences find information and support?"
My boyfriend raped me in his sleep!"

Sleepsex: A newly-discovered sleep

It is likely that this sort of thing has been going on for as long as people have been bedding down next to one another. Akin to any number of private sexual oddities, the likes of which nowadays ultimately become communal knowledge, sexual behavior during sleep (SBS), or to use the more convenient neologisms sleepsex; or sleep sex (the jury is still out on what exactly to call it) has remained hidden--unspoken of--until now.

Recently, sleepsex has proven to be a popular topic for magazine articles "Her Boyfriend Did a Shocking Thing in His Sleep. Could Yours?", Cosmopolitan, 1/02) and television news shows UPN 13, Los Angeles, broadcast February 14, 2002). A new Stanford-based scientific study on the treatment of violent sleepsex released to the press on March 26th has generated additional media interest and hopefully has advanced awareness of this unusual sleep problem. ( )

Is sleepsex a sleep "disorder?"

Technically speaking, No. There is no particular diagnosis for it. However, in a case study in 1996 ( ) by Dr. Colin Shapiro of the Sleep and Alertness Clinic in Toronto and his colleagues first identified sleepsex as a newly observed type of parasomnia ( )

In reference to Shapiro et al.'s work, Brazilian investigators Alvez, Alloe, and Tavares (1999) identified it as a newly proposed parasomnia ( ) Download this PDF Article Currently, sleepsex is not included in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine's (formerly known as the American Sleep Disorder Association Diagnostic and Coding Manual ( ) International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD) as a sleep disorder. The ICSD, the most widely used classification of sleep disorders, is now being revised. ( ). Whether or not sleepsex will be included as a new parasomnia in the revised ICSD is unknown at this time.

Some experts (e.g., Rosenfeld, Elhajjar, 1998) maintain that sleepsex is simply a variant of sleepwalking--a diagnosable and treatable sleep disorder. The fact is that more medical research needs to be conducted with a view to differentiating sleepsex from existing sleep disorders--such as sleepwalking disorder-- in terms of its etiology (causes and course of development) and treatment. The new Stanford study was a long-overdue step in this direction. A epidemiological study is really needed to evaluate prevalence, incidence, and to obtain demographic and other data on sufferers.

What kind of sex do people engage in during sleepsex?

Both heterosexual and homosexual sexually oriented touching and fondling of a bed partner's genitalia are common. Intercourse is another known form of sexual behavior that occurs during sleep. While only one clinical case study of sleep masturbation has been published in the book Sleepsex: Uncovered, numerous instances of sleepsex episodes involving masturbation by both men and women are reported. Oral and anal sex seems to be less common but does occur.

Can having sleepsex be problem?

Sleepsex is not necessarily always problematic--some persons happily incorporate it into their normal sex lives. On her boyfriend's sleepsex one woman comments: "I believe what causes it is sex appeal."

It is an extreme turn-on to be awakened by my boyfriend fondling me. I love the fact that we can have sex all the time. I have also had sex with him without him waking up. That is amazing as well.

Some cases, however, can be very disturbing. Violent sleepsex, the varieties of which comprise the dark side of sleepsex, is just beginning to be discovered by researchers and talked about by clinicians as a potentially serious problem many individuals may be coping with. As bizarre as it might sound, thousands, and quite possibly millions of sleepers worldwide (most are probably women) are being unceremoniously yanked into consciousness by groping, moaning, and sexually aggressive behavior of others (most are probably men) who happen to be dead asleep.

Many women experience sleepsex as rape-like and have been violently forced into intercourse by unconscious husbands, boyfriends, and male friends who are often nearly impossible to awaken. Ellen (not her real name) whose husband has sleepsex episodes writes: "During his sleepsex episodes he becomes very aggressive and violent and then claims he does not remember anything. Everybody we have talked to, neurologists, psychologists, etc., can't explain it, but see it as a huge danger to our children and me. The only medicine they have tried is Ritalin (20 mg) before bed. This does not work and our doctors don't know what to do next. I had to call 911 last night because of a violent attack."

In a situation involving masturbation, a young man had crashed-out on a hotel bed along with his girlfriend and her female friend. To his horror, he awoke to find that he had masturbated upon his girlfriend's friend. In another case, a man had nightly episodes of vigorous masturbation in his sleep. This put a strain on his relationship as his female partner was very disturbed by it and she did not believe that he was actually asleep.

During sleepsex episodes, it is common for both men's and women's sexual demeanor to be more dominant than during waking sex. Men and women on the receiving end of sleepsex often report that, in Jekyll and Hyde fashion, their typically gentle partners become aggressive and even violent. Cases like this have led at least one expert on the forensics of sleep to suggest: Individuals with undiagnosed sexual behavior in sleep (SBS) are at risk of being accused of sexual assault. (Shapiro, Fedoroff, Trajanovic, 1996).

In one documented criminal case of sleepsex, a normal, healthy, 45 year-old male awoke to the screams of a 14 year-old girl--a friend of his daughter--who was spending the night at his home. Evidently, he had gone to bed as usual. Later, while asleep, he had walked downstairs to where the two girls were sleeping. He then began fondling his daughter's young friend. She woke up and began screaming. The police were called and he was forced to explain his behavior to them. He was arrested and charges of sexual battery were leveled against him. At the time he was happily married and had no history of sexual misconduct. While both he and his spouse believed he had been sleepwalking, his attorney advised him to forget about this business of sleepwalking because a jury would never believe it (Rosenfeld ; Elhajjar, 1998).

What causes sleepsex?

Like many other sleep disorders, sleepsex episodes appear to occur predominantly among males--possibly for hormonal reasons. This means that in most cases, men appear to be perpetrators; and females and children (in cases of sleep-related molestation) appear to be the most common victims.

As mentioned above, some sleep experts view sexual behavior during sleep as another type of, or variant of, sleepwalking (Rosenfeld, Elhajjar, 1998). Sleepwalking is a classic type of sleep disorder called an arousal disorder. Arousal disorders, of which there are several, can be more generally classified as parasomnias. According to experts, ( ) parasomnias are disorders that include behaviors and experiences that intrude upon the sleep process and create sleep-disrupting events.

Like sleepwalking, sleepsex is presumed to be caused by abnormalities in the brain's arousal mechanisms (i.e., the biological processes that play a role in waking from sleep). Dr. Christian Guilleminault, the principal investigator in the new Stanford study, has also suggested that undefined emotional problems&; may be an underlying cause of sleepsex episodes.

Can sleepsex be treated?

Individuals with problematic sleepsex should not hesitate (although some appear to do so out of embarrassment) to seek professional help from a physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist who specializes in sexual and/or sleep disorders. In general, sleepsex may be managed as other parasomnias (sleepwalking in particular) are by avoiding common event-precipitating factors such as drugs, alcohol, fatigue (sleep deprivation), and stress. Shapiro et al. (1996) have indicated that clinical management of sleepsex may also include...psychotherapy, pharmacological treatment (e.g., benzodiazepines), and dealing with specific sleep problems (e.g., sleep apnea).

The newly published Stanford study on sleep-related violence adds to previous research that has suggested benzodiazepines, Valium in particular, can be used to treat violent types of sleepsex. The benzodiazepine ;Clonazepam; (trade name: Klonopin) has also been reported by Alvez, Alloe, and Tavares (1999) and in reports by visitors to as a drug effective in the treatment of problematic sleepsex.

One low-tech deterrent may be for persons with sleepsex to sleep in separate beds, or more generally, apart from others, so that their chances of coming into contact with potential victims are reduced. Sleepsex recipients who have had the wherewithal to shout stop or get off report that this method works fairly well in some cases.

Can sleepsex lead to legal problems?

The short answer is Yes. Given the legal implications of sleepsex, it may make sense to document the behavior in a ( ) sleep diary as well as any action taken to treat it. If possible, this would be done in a way that might make the documentation credible in a court of law. Some people with sleepsex have landed in serious trouble and have disrupted other people's lives as a result of their behavior. It is possible that if persons have documented their sexual behavior during sleep, and have records of any treatment they have sought for it, then such information may be a tool to use as part of a defense strategy. This is, of course, a question that ought to be posed to an attorney.

Where can people with sleepsex experiences find information and support?

Until only recently, information about sleepsex had been very difficult to find. Now a query of most any popular Web search engine yields more links to information than ever before. The Web site ( ) was established in April 2000 to provide information about, and a forum for the discussion of, sleepsex. A newsletter that provides monthly updates on research and issues surrounding sexual behavior during sleep was recently added to this site. Forums accessible on the popular sleep site ( ) also have a substantial number of threads concerning sleepsex. Lastly, persons troubled by sleepsex should seek information from healthcare providers with knowledge of the problem, and support can (hopefully) always be found by confiding in trusted and caring family members and friends.


Alves, R., Aloe, F. Tavares, S. (1999). Sexual behavior in sleep, sleepwalking, and possible REM behavior disorder: A case report. Sleep Research Online 2(3). 71-72. Available:

Rosenfeld, D. S., Elhajjar, A. J. (1998). Sleepsex: A variant of sleepwalking. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 27(3), 269-278.

Shapiro, C.M., Fedoroff, J.P., Trajanovic, N.N. (1996). Sexual behavior in sleep: A newly described parasomnia. Sleep Research, 25, 367.

Source: Michael Mangan, Ph.D,  

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