Men More Likely to Have Sexsomnia, Sex While Asleep


Having sex while asleep, or sexsomnia, is a type of sleep disorder that affects about 8 percent of adults overall but is nearly three times more common in men. That’s the word from research study results that are being presented at the 24th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC in San Antonio, Texas.

Sexsomnia, or sexual behavior in sleep (SBS), was reported possibly as early as 1996 by Shapiro, Fedoroff and Trajanovic, who identified it as a medical condition that could place individuals at risk of being charged with sexual assault. The same researchers reported in 2003 that sexsomnia appeared to be more common than previously thought, although a figure was not given.

Sexual behavior in sleep is listed in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD-2), which is the diagnostic manual sleep medicine professionals use to make diagnoses. It is recognized as a sub-type of parasomnia, a term that means any sleep disorder characterized by abnormal or unusual events during sleep, such as sleepwalking, sleep eating, and sex while asleep.

In the new study, which was conducted by investigators at the University Health Network in Toronto, Canada, the records of 832 consecutive patients who had sought help at a sleep disorders clinic were reviewed. The sample included 428 men and 404 women. All the participants had completed a questionnaire about symptoms of sleep disorders, behaviors during sleep, fatigue, mood, and sleepiness.

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The researchers found that 63 of the patients, or 7.6 percent, said they had initiated or participated in sexual activity with their bed partner while asleep. Sexsomnia was reported in 11 percent of men and 4 percent of women.

Symptoms of insomnia, fatigue, and depressed mood were similar between people who reported sex while asleep and those who had not. Although subjects in both groups had similar rates of smoking and caffeine use, those who reported sexsomnia were twice as likely to admit using illicit drugs (15.9 percent vs 7.7 percent).

Sharon A. Chung, PhD, Sleep Research Laboratory staff scientist in the department of psychiatry at the University, noted that “it seems that patients generally don’t discuss this [having sex while asleep] with their doctors.” She pointed out that only four of the 832 patients complained about sexsomnia during a consultation with a sleep specialist.

Such reluctance is not unusual. People who learn that they have sexsomnia, often after being told by their bed partner, may not believe it. Even if they do believe it, the behavior is often a source of conflict between couples.

Sexsomnia is a real phenomenon. Chung noted that “While our finding of eight percent of people reporting sexsomnia seems really a high number, it should be stressed that we only studied patients referred to a sleep clinic.” Therefore, the actual number of people in the general population who experience this form of parasomnia may be much lower.

Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC/SLEEP
Shapiro CM et al. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 2003 Jun; 48(5): 311-17