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How to tell if your mate has a sleep sex disorder

Sleep sex is an abnormal sleeping behaviour ( not to mention an abnormal sexual behaviour, but let’s stick to the one category of dysfunction, for the sake of clarity. he International Classification of Sleep Disorders describes it as “confusional arousals.”


I was in the communal gym showers with a good mate and couldn’t help noticing an interesting lady garden pattern in her nether regions. Some long bits, some bits just not there. “Do stop me if I’m getting too personal, but please tell me who did your Brazilian so I never go to her,” I said. She reddened and said it was not a pro job [duh!] but a result of a peculiar sleep disorder of her husband, who, in his sleep, suddenly grabs her pubic hair and starts tugging rather ferociously. He has no recall of it the next day and either denies it or partially accepts it and feels mortified. Fascinated,  I decided to research the condition.

What is it?

One study from the Sleep Medicine Clinic Laboratory from the Kaiser Pemanente Medical Centre in Los Angeles says that sexual acts performed by a sleeping subject have “rarely been reported.” You can sort of see why. Sleepy sex, that kind of semi- awake, semi drunk “let’s do it “sex is a different animal. Sleep sex is where one person is very up for it and just goes for it, whether or not the partner wants to cooperate.

The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry calls it “a distinct parasomnia involving sexual behaviour, and called it sexomnia. This can come in the form of “persistent sexual arousal syndrome or sleep related painful erections. It is more common in men, though some female partners ( those who are not subject to involuntary pube extractions) are not averse to it. According to a Meta analysis on Pubmed, sleep sex acts include masturbation, fondling, moaning, and intercourse.

Disordered sleep

Now, not all bedfellows of sleepsexers are happy bunnies. There have been reports of sexual assault, violent masturbation and very loud vocalisation. Here’s not so much of a surprise. Sleepsexers and their partners often tolerate the behaviour for a long period of time without seeking help. We imagine embarrassment is a feature, though it’s a tiny bit possible that some women just don’t mind, as long as they don’t wake up. Researchers have found that in the small number of cases who have presented with this problem, a combination of psychotherapy and medication [Clonazepam] worked well.

Dr. Chris Idzikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, feels it is a sleep disorder and not a sexual one. “I would not call it a sex disorder as that implies conscious, volitional thought.”

What to do?

But can you fix it yourself, or does it require professional help?

“It’s worth thinking about if the person comes to harm either to themselves or others. But good sleep hygiene may help. This includes regular bedtimes, no stimulants, no depressants, and generally good, sensible sleep advice.”

But if it becomes a problem, should the person who initiates proceedings, so to speak, come for counselling, or should the couple come together, again, so to speak. Dr. Idzikowski says ideally, “The couple should come together so the partner can describe what is going on. It’s also helpful, potentially, in relationship terms , because a professional can assure the partner that what is happening is not deliberate.”

Where to go

So, if you are at the receiving end of a sleep sex partner, do you just keep calm and carry on, or consult an expert? We advise the latter, if it doesn’t make you happy and if freaks the sexomniac out. We suggest contacting the UK Sleep Council on 01576 791 089. Or the Edinburgh Sleep Centre on 0131 524 9730 or the London Sleep Centre, at

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