Sexsomnia sounds like a good opening for a bad gag or movie title (“Parasomnial Activity”, anyone?), but it’s no joke to Natasha Mann or for those who suffer it and their victims.
Sexsomnia took its place in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders in 2005. It’s a term that comes under the broad wing of sleep conditions known as “parasomnias”.
A group of Canadian psychiatrists were the ones to try and nut out some literature on sexsomnia as there was very little to go on, leading them to coin the term.
It’s a sensitive, potentially embarrassing topic, and if it’s happening to you, then you often have no idea of your own hands wandering until your partner alerts you to the fact.
According to one study, 100% of parasomnias occur from stage 3 or 4 sleep. That means you are really asleep: the slow-wave, delta, walking dead sleep. Your pre-frontal cortex shuts down, but you are still doing stuff.
With sexsomnia, you are doing sex stuff.
There’s a gender difference: it usually manifests as masturbation in women, while men often hit on the person lying next to them. The condition is more common in men and it’s usually present in those with a past history of sleep disorders.
The whole thing sounds like the trigger for a joke to those who have no experience of it.
For others, it can range from dealing with a bit of odd partner activity… to straining or wrecking relationships… to charges of rape.
Lawyers are aware of the complexity of making a diagnosis post-accusation:
I, too, have an issue with this last point. If a rape case went to trial and there was evidence of heavy drinking by the perpetrator, but “sexsomnia” was used as defence, then I do not think it’s justifiable. Long ago in my youthful party days, I witnessed many ridiculous feats performed by friends after passing out from alcohol, with them popping up sporadically to do something gross like pee on their grandmother’s armchair thinking it was the toilet.
They would not remember any of it in the morning.
That’s called “being off your face with alcohol still running through your system”. It does not necessarily have a medical term.
In 2008, the first Australian sexsomnia case was successfully used as a defence in court.
The guy had a history of parasomnias. He had also been drinking heavily. Interestingly, the doctor used in the case said that sexsomnia is less likely to occur after heavy drinking…so as not to attribute one to the other. This went against the Canadians, who initially proposed that alcohol was a sleepwalking trigger. Nevertheless, the case won.
A year prior, the NIH claimed that “there is no direct experimental evidence that alcohol predisposes or triggers sleepwalking or related disorders.” Apparently there have been studies on sleep waves in sleepwalkers and studies on sleep waves in drinkers, but not the two combined. It’s pretty sobering to read how many of these successfully dismissed “sexsomnia” rape cases involve guys who have been heavily drinking.
I totally believe in the validity of parasomnia as a defence. I’ve lived with stone-cold sober sleepwalkers who have needed to have the doors deadlocked and keys hidden after they “escaped” in a casually-unconscious way. It was more frightening for them getting told about something of which they had no knowledge than it was for us sound sleepers. Self-control and physical autonomy is too often unappreciated until it is gone.
As to the law and the use of sexsomnia as a defence?
This has lawyers shooting pdfs at one another reiterating that it’s one of those things where you are hoping your client is not a liar. That the truth of no recollection due to sleep, and only sleep, will only be known by one person: the person being accused. In the future, protocol for that person will have to be put in place to make sure that nothing dangerous happens again. If the person is not a liar, then addressing how to keep others and themselves safe could only come as relief.
To celebrate being a year old, we want you, the readers, to help us decide the articles you loved best during our first year and to encourage you to participate, we are giving away three prizes!
All you have to do is look through our archives of content and email us your favourite article and also if you want, the one you weren’t so up with. From the submissions, we will assess the most-loved content from our first year and republish it at the end of our birthday month.
Both writers and readers are encouraged to enter (No, Paris, you cannot nominate your own articles…#justsaying), so please email us at [email protected] by 30th November to enter! Please include your name, address and mobile number.
And the prizes are…(did we mention there are prizes…?)
First prize: A brilliant acting course based in Sydney and hosted by Darlo Drama worth $550!
Second prize: A gift pack from our friends at Booktopia
Third prize: Four movie passes
(Plus watch out for a couple of of other competitions during our birthday month !)