In 2004, sleep medicine experts have successfully treated a rare case of a woman having sex with strangers while sleepwalking.
At night while asleep, the middle-aged sleepwalker from Australia left her house and had sexual intercourse with strangers. The behavior continued for several months and the woman had no memory of her nocturnal activities. Circumstantial evidence, such as condoms found scattered around the house, alerted the couple to the problem. On one occasion, her partner awoke to find her missing, went searching for her and found her engaged in the sex act.
"Incredulity is the leading player in cases like this," says Peter Buchanan, the sleep physician at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, who handled the case. But a combination of factors convinced him that the case was a real sleepwalking phenomenon, including the distress of the couple, and an in-depth clinical evaluation. She stopped her night-time excursions after psychiatric counseling. Drugs such as benzodiazepines, which are sometimes used to treat sleep walkers, were not necessary.
This case of sexsomnia was reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.
Sleep sex or sexsomnia is a form of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) parasomnia (similar to sleepwalking) that causes people to commit sexual acts while they are asleep. The proposed medical diagnosis is NREM Arousal Parasomnia - Sexual Behavior in Sleep, and is considered to be a distinct variant of sleepwalking/confusional arousals (ICSD 2).
In some cases, sufferers are aware of their behavior for a long time before they seek help, often because they lack information that it is a medical disorder or for fear that others will judge it as willful behavior rather than a medical condition. However, the reality of sexsomnia has been confirmed by sleep disorder researchers who have made polygraphic and video recordings of patients with the condition while they are asleep and observed unusual brain wave activity during the episodes similar to that experienced in other NREM arousal parasomnias. It is a mind/body disconnect that occurs during sleep. The treatment has commonalities with other NREM parasomnias, and also involves specific interventions. By avoiding precipitating factors and ensuring a safe environment, the condition could be brought to a high level of control with minimal effort.
Sexsomnia is not always problematic or extreme for those who experience it or for their partners. There is a great variety in both the frequency and levels to which people are affected by this disorder. Actually, there are at least 11 different sex-related sleep disorders that are classified as “sexsomnia,” “sleep sex,” or “atypical sexual behavior during sleep.”
What makes sleep sex disorders even more perplexing and difficult to sort through is that they do not indicate psychological problems. The people who suffer from these disorders are otherwise psychologically healthy. However, if left untreated, these conditions increase an individual’s risk of developing a psychological problem, like depression.
Sexsomnia itself can also take quite a toll on the sufferer, his or her partner and relationship(s). Partners may experience lesions and lacerations from more aggressive or forced sex. The sexsomniac may awaken with a bruised penis or fractured fingers. Both parties report feelings of bewilderment, embarrassment, shame, guilt, despair, shock, denial, annoyance, confusion, worry and fear.
Other problems include feelings of:
— A lack of emotional intimacy;
— A sense of repulsion and sexual abandonment;
— Self-incrimination in sexually expressing one’s self.
Some partners of sexsomniacs do, however, report having more satisfying sex during these nightly romps, whether this involves a lover being:
— More aggressive and dominant;
— More amorous;
— More into satisfying his or her partner.
Regardless, it is important for people with sexsomnia and their lovers to recognize sleep sex triggers. These tend to be physical contact with another person in bed, sleep deprivation, stress, and alcohol. As researchers learn more about these disorders, they are also finding that they can be treated with medication or psychotherapy.
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