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Sexsomnia is when an individual gropes their partner and/or tries to have sex with them in a state of sleep. Although it’s not unheard of, sexsomnia is a relatively rare occurrence. According to sleepeducation.org, research shows that eight percent of 832 people who filled out a sleep questionnaire reported symptoms of sexsomina—which includes fondling or rubbing, masturbating, pelvic thrusting, moaning, and sexual intercourse.
While sexsomnia may sound like something to joke about, it can cause embarrassment for the person who suffers from it and fear and resentment from their partner, according to Tom Murray, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., L.P.C.S., of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, and Counselors Certified Sex Therapist, from Greensboro, NC.
During a sexsomnia episode, men are more likely to engage in fondling their partners or trying to have intercourse with them. On the other hand, women usually engage in masturbation or vocalize sex while sleeping. While some of that might sound like intriguing activity in your bedroom, in reality, “the sexsomniac is likely to experience shame and guilt, along with anxiety about it happening again,” says Murray. The partner might be afraid to go to sleep, not knowing if and when this is going to occur. “One of my sexsomnia patients hated that his wife was afraid of him; he longed for sleeping [next to] her but understood his wife’s pain.”
Wondering what the heck is causing this to happen? You might need to take a good hard look at your daily life, stress level, sleep habits, and any medications you’re taking. “No singular cause of ‘sexsomnia’ has been identified,” says Murray. “One of my patients found that it occurred during periods of significant stress. Some people have linked the prevalence of it as a side effect of a psychiatric medication, like Ambien.”
To get to the bottom of it, Murray suggests making an appointment with a sex therapist in conjunction with a sleep specialist. You should ask the therapist if they have experience dealing with sexsomnias to ensure you’ll have someone who can offer advice, treatment and knowledge accumulated from helping other patients.
The first time it happens, you may be incredulous that you tried to get it on with your girlfriend if you don’t recall it. “If a woman describes unwanted touch during the night, the man should always believe her,” says Murray. He should take the steps needed to eliminate the behavior with healthy stress management techniques, improving sleep hygiene by going to bed and waking up around the same time each evening and morning, getting quality sleep, and consider taking medication under the care of a medical professional, Murray suggests.
Talk to your girlfriend about this, ask about her comfort level and if she feels safe. Tell her to gently wake you up if you start in on this behavior again. You might be able to transition back to sleep after that. If she tries to abruptly wake you, it may startle you or cause your still sleeping self to become agitated.
“Depending on the degree of nuisance or violation, she might consider sleeping in another room until the partner has sought treatment,” Murray adds.
Many people have found Clonazepam (brand name Klonopin) to be helpful for parasomnias [the term for folks with sleep disorders that involved unwanted experiences], in general, says Murray. Taking medication may help resolve your sexsomnia quickly. “However, keep in mind that these medications are highly addicting and can pose their own problems if taken for an extended period of time. If the problems are related to stress or poor sleep hygiene, these symptoms should be addressed with a sex therapist,” say Murray.
If your sexsomnia has impacted your romantic relationship, you may need to seek out a couples counselor as well. Most people experience the benefits of counseling within six to eights sessions, he says. Find expert help and see if your psychiatrist recommends medication for your sexsomnia issues. Hopefully, you and your partner will notice improvements quickly.