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The Sleep Sex Disorder People Don’t Realise They Have

Sexsomnia is a disorder causing people to engage in sexual behaviours in their sleep, such as dirty talk, masturbating and even intercourse.

The disorder occurs in the deepest stages of sleep, and therefore raises questions about consent and legal defences in cases of sexual assault.

The Briefing asked a sleep physician how common sexsomnia is:

Sleep physician Dr David Cunnington said there are a group of disorders called non-REM parasomnia, that cause automatic behaviours that can occur during sleep.

“Sleep talking, sleep eating, sleep walking and sex. Omnia sleep sex is another version of those non-REM, parasomnia,” Cunnington said.

Around two in one hundred adults have some form of non-REM parasomnia, and many don’t realise they have it.

Dr Cunnington said the behaviours during sleep have no link to our waking personality.

“What’s called the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that’s got our values, our sort of what we stand for our personality in these behaviours, that part of the brain is offline,” he said.

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A sex-pert discusses consent and sexsomnia on The Briefing:

Relationship and intimacy specialist Aleks Trkulja from the Pleasure Centre said sexomnia complicates recent discourse around consent and safe sex.

Trkulja said blanket consent within long-term romantic relationships isn’t the answer.

“Blanket consent around things like kissing a long-term romantic partner. People go, yeah, sure, I’m happy for them to come give me a kiss. I don’t need to give Consent every time. But with sexsomnia, we don’t know necessarily what kind of sexual behaviour could occur.”

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