My partner is trying to have sex while he sleeps
I’m Zachary Zane, a sex writer and ethical man (a fancy way of saying I sleep with a lot of people, and I’m very, very open about it). Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of sexual experiences, dating and sleeping with hundreds of people of all genders and orientations. In doing so, I learned a thing or two about navigation issues in the bedroom (and a bunch of other places, TBH). I’m here to answer your most pressing sexual questions with in-depth, practical advice that goes beyond just “communicating with your partner” because you already know that. Ask me anything – literally, anything – and I’ll gladly do it.
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Dear Sexplain It,
My partner and I have been together for almost eight years and have lived together for three. For a year now they have been waking me up in the middle of the night with strong sexual advances. At first it was a little hot, and I got involved with that, but the next morning they didn’t remember we had sex.
This has happened many times, so I started a conversation about it because it made me really uncomfortable. They laughed it off and we decided to use a code word to let me know if they were really awake, but since I’m still half asleep, that didn’t help.full. So I would push them away. More recently, their advances have been more forceful, and last week I had to leave the room.
Since then, I either sleep in another room or create a pillow barrier between us at night, as I now feel anxious about sharing a bed with them. However, they don’t seem to take my concerns seriously. Their solution is to have more conscious sex to avoid unconscious sex attempts, and they push me to share a bed and get back to normal because they lack intimacy.
I miss the intimacy too. I completely love them and want it to work. I am open to more sex. I just need more sleep. No advice?
— Sexy sleeper
Dear Sex Sleeper,
I can’t diagnose your partner, but it appears he has sexsomnia, a disorder that causes a sleeping person to “engage in sexual behaviors such as masturbation, sexual movements, sexual assault or initiation of sexual relations with another person”, according to the National Sleep Foundation. “Although their eyes may be open and they may make sexual noises, they sleep during these activities and are unaware of their behavior once awake.”
The good news is that sexsomnia can be treated with medication, a CPAP machine, and/or lifestyle changes, according to the National Sleep Foundation, so my first piece of advice is to take your partner to a sleep specialist or a doctor who can refer them to one.
I realize that might be easier said than done. Between laughing at you and trying to come up with their own half-baked solutions – FYI: I haven’t seen anything at the National Sleep Foundation about how having more awake sex treats sexsomnia – your partner seems to have downplayed your concerns about his behavior in the past. They need to understand how the situation is hurting you and your relationship: you don’t feel safe in your own bed and you miss being intimate with them. Also, things get murky around consent and boundaries when one partner is half asleep and the other is fully asleep.
I showed your question to Gigi Engle, ACS, sex expert at 3Fun and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love and Life. “Your partner’s reluctance may stem from a fundamental misunderstanding due to a memory lapse,” she says. “It seems to me that it does not find the “real” events or [your] important concerns because it’s so outside of their understanding of themselves as a sexual being.
Your partner might brush off your concerns because it’s easier than having to confront their own scary behavior. “Dismissing a partner’s concerns can often be a coping mechanism when we’re really, fundamentally worried about not having control over ourselves,” says Engle.
Talk to your partner and make it clear that it’s not something funny or weird. It’s a huge problem, and if they want to sleep in the same bed again, they have to deal with their sexsomnia.
I was telling them very clearly, “Honey, I was just reading an article about sexsomnia, and it’s incredibly similar to what you’re going through. I’d like you to see a sleep specialist so we can figure out if you have I know you you’re not aware of what you’re doing, but we have to take this seriously or I’ll never be able to sleep in the same bed with you again.” Don’t feel guilty about trying to change your sleeping arrangement while your partner controls his state. I can tell you have a little guilt and maybe your partner is contributing to it, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to sleep safe!
“You have to find a way to stop the behavior or, at the very least, control it to the point where you both feel safe,” says Engle.
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