Adults with a history of sleepwalking or sleep-talking might also have a ‘sleep sex’ disorder – which doctors claim is a genuine medical condition.

A condition known as sexsomnia – which causes individuals to initiate or carry out sexual activity in their sleep – is widely contested, but experts say it is a real phenomenon affecting many sexually active people.

Doctors say most people suffer in silence because they are too embarrassed to talk about it or seek help.

A single working mother, Paula (not her real name), says she has spells where she can masturbate or attempt to have sex with her partner in her sleep almost every night.

“I can go to bed fully clothed and wake-up naked masturbating to a point where my own moaning wakes me up,” she said.

She wished to remain anonymous because, like many, she finds it difficult to talk about her sleep disorder which has ruined her chances of love.

https://vimeo.com/214475755

Video: Paula talks about her sexsomnia episodes.

“I saw something on the internet saying ‘sexsomniac’ and wondered what it meant.”
Paula, sexsomnia sufferer

Paula, who is in her 40s, only realised her behaviour was down to a medical condition after reading about it online.

“I saw something on the internet saying ‘sexsomniac’ and wondered what it meant. When I read it, I was like ‘oh, there’s a word for it’,” she said.

She describes the condition as having an insatiable craving that won’t go away, which not only prevents her from having a normal relationship, but disrupts her life. She often finds it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.

“I’m physically moving, my body is not relaxing. I wake up knowing I did not get a full sleep because I feel drained,” she said.

Paula cannot control, or even remember, any of her actions. This makes it hard for her to talk about it to anyone.

“I finally got the courage to say something to a nurse but it was dismissed that it was on my subconscious. So I just left it,” she said.


Experts say sexsomnia covers all sexual activities: intercourse, masturbation, fondling, anal sex and oral sex. It affects people of all sexualities and genders and:
– Both genders can carry out sex talk;
– Men usually instigate intercourse;
– Females usually masturbate.
 

Sleep physician Rexford Muza, from the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said many doctors are not aware of this disorder.

“It is not taught about in most medical schools so we’ve got a long way to go.

“If we can get physicians and GPs becoming more knowledgeable about sexsomnia it would be very helpful,” he said.

He explained that the more common parasomnias include sleepwalking, sleep-talking, sleep terrors and sleep eating.

But, he said, “sexsomnia is definitely a real medical condition.”

“It is in the same group of those disorders where you do things in your sleep, while half awake and half asleep,” he said.

A study by Lawrence et al (2016) found patients with a long-standing history of sleepwalking or sleep-talking might also have sleep eating and sleep sex – and people need to be made aware so they can come forward for treatment.

For sexsomniacs who do not want to live with this condition, Peter Venn, clinical director of the Sleep Disorder Centre at Queen Victoria Hospital, explains this sleep disorder can be treated successfully.

Audio: Dr Venn explains sexsomnia treatments

But after being let down by the healthcare system, Paula turned to a community group on Facebook which was founded by Heather Shroeder as a safe platform for sexsomniacs.

https://vimeo.com/214475807

Video: Shroeder talks about the impact sexsomnia has had on her members

“I’m afraid of being picked apart and treated like a lab rat.”
Heather shroeder, FOUNDER OF SEXSOMNIAc FACEBOOK PAGE

She said sexsomniacs are not nymphomaniacs but victims of their subconscious.

“We’re not freaks. None of us want this. If we could hit an off switch, and it be gone forever, I don’t know one of us who wouldn’t hit it.

“But I don’t know where to turn for help because I’m afraid of being picked apart and treated like a lab rat,” she said.

Sexsomnia not only affects people’s health, but it can also cause relationship breakdowns and unwanted pregnancies – and a Nottingham barrister says it can lead to legal cases.

Michael Auty QC, president of the Nottinghamshire Law Society, said sexsomnia can be used as a defence in court when defendants face charges such as rape.

But he said suffers should take precautions, adding: “If you know that you suffer with sexsomnia you should always sleep apart from everybody else, unless you’re sleeping with your partner who knows you’ve got this condition.”