Sexsomnia Is a Bedtime Boner-Kill

The sexiest sleep disorder isn't much fun.

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maj 8 2013, 10:00am


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Sexomniacs fuck or dry-hump people in their sleep and have no memory of it when they wake up. Think that sounds cool? Well, perverts, it’s not. Sufferers of sexomnia can find themselves on the pointy end of fun charges like rape and sexual assault. And for their loved ones, the simple act of catching some hard earned Zs can result in a rampant, uninvited pounding at the hands of their zombified partners. Talk about a bedtime boner-kill.


When I first heard about the condition, I asked some mates if they thought it was for real. Every single one replied: “Sexsomnia? I think my boyfriend/girlfriend/ex has that,” before adding: “Call me if you need some help with your research.”  Luckily not everyone thinks it’s as hilarious. Associate professor Gerald Kennedy at Victoria University has been researching and treating sexsomnia for years. And, judging by his experience, this sexy sleep disorder isn’t as fun as it sounds.


VICE: So Gerald, this is 100 percent a real thing, right?
Gerald Kennedy: It is. It’s similar to sleepwalking and night terrors in that those behaviours occur during deep sleep so you don’t have much memory of them. The same is true for sexsomnia. The person isn’t actually having sexual dreams, they’re just acting automatically.


Are some people more likely to have it than others?

People who suffer from sexsomnia are those who have an extended history of sleepwalking or other unusual sleep behaviours.


Is it more common in men? I feel like it might be... From my experience.

From what I’ve seen so far, and I haven’t seen a lot of it because despite what you might think it’s not very common, it is more common in men.

 

Are you more likely to suffer from it if you’re a particularly sexual person in waking life?

It doesn’t really factor into it because it’s an automatic behaviour. We get people doing non-sexual behaviours like eating or washing their hands when they’re asleep. It’s just another type of behaviour that occurs during the deep sleep cycle.

 

Sexsomnia has been in the press lately because several people accused of rape have blamed it for their actions. How can you prove that someone has it?

I actually recently went to the Port Phillip jail to interview a guy who claimed he had killed a woman in his sleep, which is similar legally. She was a hairdresser from Reservoir, which is where I live actually. Her body parts were found drifting off Phillip Island. Anyway, I asked: does this man have a medical history or anyone who can corroborate that he’s previously done things in his sleep? The answer was he didn’t, so I knew he was making that up on the spot to have a defence. It’s the same with sexsomnia. If someone wants to use it as a defence they should have a documented history of doing unusual things in their sleep. It doesn’t just occur out of the blue.

 

Have you personally ever seen anyone use sexsomnia as a defence?

Yes, I acted on behalf of a client who had a documented history from his doctor, mother and ex-girlfriend of sexsomnia behaviour. He was accused of a sexual assault that he didn’t remember so the thought that he might have done sexsomnia was brought up. It preoccupied the whole trial. I was on the stand for a whole day being cross-examined about it.


What kinds of questions were they asking you?

About sexsomnia and what we’ve talked about here. I explained it’s a real condition where someone can have sex without realising or wanting it and not remember anything. As well as my diagnosis of his problem, confirming that he had a documented history of it.

 

And what was the resolution of that case?

Well the interesting thing about that case was there was no evidence of sexual assault. So even if he hadn’t brought up his sexsomnia, the case would have been dismissed. But because he brought it up it had to be fully examined in court.

 

Anyway, he ended up being found not guilty. I actually felt sorry for the complainant because she actually believed she'd be sexually assaulted. They were both very drunk at the time so she honestly believed she’d been sexually assaulted even though it turns out she probably hadn’t been. It was just a confusing case of two people being unsure what happened and someone being concerned that they’d had a sexsomnia episode.


Sounds like a frustrating episode of SVU. If you can prove that someone was asleep when they acted, can they still be charged?

Well it’s like, if I get drunk and I kill someone, I’m probably still going to be found guilty. But it’s going to affect the sentencing side of it. If I knew I had sexsomnia, and I sexually assaulted someone in my sleep, the judge would probably say: you knew you had this and you didn’t warn the people around you. Therefore you would probably still be found guilty, but be punished more lightly.


How about if a person has a proven record of sleepwalking, but they rape someone when they’re awake. Isn’t there a risk that they could use their history of sleepwalking as an excuse for their crime?

Sleepwalking and sexsomnia are similar but separate. It’s likely that people who have sexsomnia have other movement disorders when they’re asleep. But if you’re just known to be a sleepwalker, and then you sexually assault someone, it’s totally unconnected. You’d need a proven record of specifically having sexsomnia.

 

If you know you have sexsomnia, and you know that you could possibly be a threat to people, are there things you do to make sure you don’t hurt anyone?

It’s not likely that the person will wander out of their bed to have sex. It’s more likely that when they’re lying in bed with somebody they’ll have a sexsomnia episode and have sex in their sleep. It’s about proximity. If you do have it and you share a bed with someone, and they wake up to you sexually assaulting them, then they’ll probably have some complaints. So you have a duty of care towards them. It’s like if someone had AIDS, they have to tell people they have it if they’re going to have sex with them so they can take the appropriate precautions. There is no specific law about sexsomnia like there is with AIDS, but you still have a responsibility.

 

Is it only trying to have sex with someone or can it also be sex acts or masturbating?

Often it’s not full intercourse, it’s just rubbing up and down against a person. With the females I’ve seen, it has been more rubbing and touching themselves in the genital area.


That must be pretty disruptive to your personal life.

Well it can be because it can be pretty annoying to a partner. Automatic sexual behaviour is very rough and robotic. It’s not a very pleasant experience, especially when they can’t wake them up until after a bit of mauling.

 

When you treat sexomniacs, do you also work with their partners?

Recently a couple rang me up because the male in the relationship claims his partner, who has had more sexual experience than him, masturbates in her sleep. To be honest, I’m not even sure if she actually even does it as she doesn’t remember. But if she does it’s creating stress in him because he somehow feels inadequate.

 

Oh he thinks it’s a reflection on his manhood.

Yeah, he thinks he can’t satisfy her because she keeps doing stuff in her sleep. And he also won’t believe me when I tell him that it’s an unconscious decision. There is the possibility that he’s actually just making it up and using it as a way to control her and make her feel bad about herself.

 

Imagine that.

Yeah. So in those cases, they might also need couple counselling as well as medical treatment.  

 

And what would treatment consist of?

There are a couple of treatments. They’re similar to insomnia where we try and get them to have very regulated sleep and wake cycles, avoid taking substances, or watching TV before bed. That’s the conservative treatment, it’s called sleep hygiene. If that doesn’t work there are medicines, they’re like sleeping pills but they also stop movement.


Is there a stigma that accompanies sexsomnia?

Not really, probably because it’s so rare. Most of the people I’ve seen with it you wouldn’t class as overly sexual types. They’re not Don Juans, or really that interesting other than the whole sexsomnia thing.

 

You’ve mentioned a couple of times it’s so rare, getting back to the legal side of it for a moment, I came across a lot of legal cases where it had been called up. Do you think it’s being abused in that sense?

It will occasionally be abused in a case when someone has assaulted someone. It is very rare, but it could be more common that we think because people don’t report it and talk about it.

 

Are people are embarrassed about seeking help?

Yeah people are 100 percent embarrassed. And people don’t think it’s a big deal when they have a long-term partner who is used to it. But as soon as you begin having several different partners it’s going to become an issue.

 

Does that make it hard to research?

Yes, in 20 years of doing sleep clinics I’ve only seen four or possibly five genuine cases.

 

I guess the obvious question is why don’t people wake up when they’re doing it? You’d assume if a sleeping person started having sex with you, you’d make a fuss.

They will wake up eventually. One of my clients, even if I asked him to schedule sexual activity with his partner, after he went to sleep sometimes he would jump on top and proceed to have sex with her. She would hit him, bite him, scratch him and he wouldn’t wake up. But it depends on the person.

 

His now ex-girlfriend told me that she would think he was just amorous then realise he was asleep. Usually he’d wake up and they’d just continue having sex because they were a couple and she understood it and didn’t think he was assaulting her.

 

That’s a pretty understanding girlfriend.

She was pretty good. The guy was the one who was in the sexual assault case, she spoke on his behalf in the trial, even though she wasn’t in a relationship with him.


It’s great she was able to see past all the sleep-humping.

 

 

Follow Wendy on Twitter: @Wendywends

 

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