Sexsomnia is a relatively new sleeping disorder, first described in the mid-1990s, in which a person exhibits sexual behavior while sleeping. This can include anything from masturbation to sexual intercourse. These actions usually occur during the same sleep cycle as other types of parasomnia. Sufferers of this disorder may be at risk for several problems, including criminal charges and sexually transmitted diseases.
A parasomnia is a type of sleep disorder in which an individual moves, speaks, or performs other actions while asleep. Sleep walking, talking, and eating are all considered parasomnias. Sexsomnia is a parasomnia in which the sufferer performs sexual acts while sleeping.
Although it has most likely been around for decades, or even centuries, most people did not know about this sleeping disorder until the late 20th century. Three researchers from Canada were the first to describe this disorder. In 1996, they published a paper documenting their findings.
The sexual acts that can occur may vary. Some individuals suffering from mild sexsomnia, for instance, may only make sexual sounds or masturbate while sleeping. These actions are typically more common among women. If a sufferer is sleeping next to a partner, however, this person may try to fondle the partner or even try to initiate sexual intercourse.
Most sexsomnia episodes occur when a person is coming out of a deep sleep. This is sometimes referred to as non-REM sleep. At this particular time in the sleep cycle, some low level brain functions are active; these are responsible for things like walking and sexual arousal. Higher level brain functions, which are responsible for things like judgment and memory, are still inactive.
Since these brain functions are not active at the time, people going through a sexsomnia episode will not remember upon waking. Some individuals may never even suspect that they suffer from a parasomnia until it is pointed out to them. Sexsomnia is usually more common in people who have a history of other types of parasomnias, like sleep walking or sleep eating.
The risk of criminal charges is always a possibility for someone suffering from this sleep disorder. If a man tries to have sex with a stranger while sleeping, for example, he could be charged with sexual assault. Some people may even have unprotected sexual intercourse while sleeping, resulting in a dangerous sexually transmitted disease.
Sexsomnia treatment is possible, and it is usually very effective. Benzodiazepines, or tranquilizers, are usually given to sufferers of this disorder. Counseling and behavior therapy may also be necessary.