This rare sleep sex disorder isn’t as fun or pleasurable as it sounds. Here’s the reality of what it’s like to live with sexsomnia.
Waking up masturbating, initiating sex, or having an orgasm sounds like a dream.
But for those who live with sexsomnia, it may seem more like a nightmare. Take it from me — someone who lives with this rare sleep disorder.
I’ve experienced sexsomnia symptoms since I was a teenager. While some folks may initiate sex with a partner in their sleep, my condition mostly manifests as sleep masturbation.
Sexsomnia is a type of parasomnia that causes people to experience abnormal sexual behaviors while asleep, particularly during the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep cycle.
What is a parasomnia?
A parasomnia is an umbrella term for various sleep disorders that may involve unusual movements during sleep or strange and sometimes disturbing dreams. Parasomnias typically occur during the transition between REM and non-REM sleep and are more likely to be diagnosed in children than adults.
People living with sexsomnia are often completely unaware that these abnormal events are happening at the moment, but the effects can still impact them and their partners in many ways.
I haven’t been formally diagnosed with sexsomnia, as the diagnostic process requires intense evaluation.
Before I got a grip on the condition, it had a negative impact on my life and relationships. It’s caused issues when sharing a bedroom with friends and partners alike. The list of awkward and embarrassing stories I can share is endless, but I digress.
In an effort to educate others and reduce the stigma associated with this rare but real mental health condition, here’s a list of what I wish people knew about living with sexsomnia.
Sexsomnia isn’t just a wet dream that you can wake up from nor is it feeling horny in the morning. It’s much more complex than that.
This disorder is very real, and so is its impact on those who live with it and their partners.
Sexsomnia is categorized as an NREM sleep arousal disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).
As a 2016 study notes, sexsomnia is an extremely rare sleep disorder, affecting an unknown percentage of the population, predominantly among younger men who live with other NREM parasomnias.
According to Rebecca Alvarez Story, a sexologist and CEO of Bloomi in Oakland, California, root causes and contributing factors include:
- lack of sleep
- substances or sleeping pills (like melatonin)
- other sleep disorders or conditions
When I disclose this information to potential partners or people I plan to sleep in the same room with, I get mixed reactions.
Most responses are along the lines of this being “hot,” “fun,” or a “problem that I’m lucky to have.” I will argue that sexsomnia is none of these things. In fact, it can be frustrating, confusing, and disruptive in many areas of life.
“Sexsomnia isn’t always pleasurable for the person experiencing it nor for the people who live with them,” Alvarez Story confirms. She notes that this condition can negatively impact a person’s sleep schedule, stress levels, and romantic relationships.
Research is limited on the mental health effects of living with sexsomnia.
But since it’s categorized as a parasomnia, which has been more thoroughly researched, related studies offer potential insight on how sexsomnia may impact someone mentally and emotionally.
- physical, mental, and emotional health
- overall quality of life
The same research suggests that untreated sleep disorders can lead to serious complications, like:
- mood disorders
- anxiety disorders
- sleep deprivation
- false memories
- impaired cognitive functioning
“Sexsomnia is a type of sleep disorder that causes one to engage in involuntary behaviors in their sleep,” Alvarez Story explains.
“This usually occurs when part of the brain is awake and the other part is asleep, allowing an individual to still act out activities without being fully conscious of their actions.”
Because of this, Alvarez Story notes that people with sexsomnia may behave in ways they’d never choose to while awake.
“For example, it may cause someone to be sexually aggressive with their partner or initiate sex with someone they would otherwise not engage sexually with,” she says.
It can be tough to navigate boundaries and consent while having a sexsomnia episode next to someone else. Oftentimes, partners of people with sexsomnia can experience the burden of this sleep condition more than the person who lives with it.
In fact, there are plenty of repercussions to this.
Sexsomnia episodes can lead to consent and boundary violations, sexual assault, or sexual abuse. According to a 2018 study, sexsomnia has been used as a defense by people accused of sex crimes for years.
“As mentioned before, the person experiencing the episode isn’t usually aware of their behavior, so it’s important to talk about how this is affecting your relationship when you’re both fully awake and conscious to check-in with each other,” Alvarez Story says.
Open communication can help you navigate and build healthy relationships with those you sleep next to.
“Sexsomnia can be a challenge for some couples to work through, but it’s possible to navigate when all parties involved are supportive and compassionate,” Alvarez Story says.
“Be sure to make space for future conversations so that both you and your partner(s) feel safe enough to share concerns, curiosities, or feelings around their condition at any time.”
Alvarez Story recommends coming up with a game plan together so that you both feel comfortable whenever a partner is going through an episode. You and your partner might consider:
- scheduling time to list potential triggers and what to do when they come up
- agreeing to sleep in separate bedrooms
- locking the door out of respect for boundaries and mutual consent
Alvarez Story adds that taking necessary health and safety precautions can help to reduce the likelihood of an episode and show a willingness to maintain a healthy relationship.
Sexsomnia presents a fair share of challenges for individuals and couples, but it’s a treatable condition.
You can manage sexsomnia through plenty of holistic or clinical remedies. Sexsomnia treatment options may include:
- anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications
- lifestyle adjustments
- improving your sleep quality
- sleeping in separate bedrooms
- seeing a therapist
If you need help improving your sleep routine, Alvarez Story recommends choosing an herbal alternative to sleeping pills or melatonin, such as:
I used to experience sexsomnia episodes every night for most of my life, but I haven’t had one in about a year now. I’ve finally been able to manage my sexsomnia through the following strategies:
- limiting my alcohol use
- having sex more often while awake
- eating a balanced diet
- reducing my stress load
- improving my sleep routine
- going to therapy
Sexsomnia is a rare but real sleep sex disorder that can negatively impact those living with it and their partners in various ways.
But it’s entirely possible to manage the condition and have healthy relationships with whoever you’re sleeping next to at night.
I share a bed with my partner every night without disrupting our sleep. My experience has shown me that sexsomnia is treatable and that you can still sleep well and have healthy relationships with this condition.
If you need help coping with sexsomnia, consider seeing a therapist, medical professional, or sleep specialist. They can help you come up with a treatment plan to help you and your partner sleep better and manage this condition.
Morgan Mandriota is a New York-based writer who is passionate about exploring the intersection of pleasure, healing, and holistic well-being. She works as a staff writer with Psych Central where she specializes in creating content about sex, relationships, mental health, and alternative approaches to wellness. Her work has been published in notable publications, including Betches, Bumble, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, Health, mindbodygreen, Shape, Tinder, Verywell Mind, and Well+Good. In her free time, she enjoys chasing sunsets, playing video games, spending time in nature, swimming in a sea of CBD salve, trying different therapy practices, and working on her passion project, Highly Untamed. Connect with Morgan on Twitter and Instagram or visit her website here to learn more.