Sleeping duty: A beginner’s guide to somnophilia

Somnophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which sexual arousal is derived from intruding on, caressing, and/or fondling someone (typically a stranger) while they are asleep without force or violence. However, some definitions of somnophilia – while all connected with sleep – sometimes slightly differ. For instance, some definitions of somnophilia say that it refers to actually having sexual intercourse with a sleeping partner (rather than just touching someone sexually while they are asleep). Another definition I came across says that somnophilia also includes having sex with someone while they are unconscious. This latter variation may have come about by the increased use of drugs such as rohypnol (“roofies”) that have been implicated in sexual offences such as ‘date rape’. There is no technical term for the reciprocal condition of being the recipient of sexual advances while asleep. This is thought to occur more often in fantasy than in reality.

Some signs or symptoms that may point to somnophilia include recurring thoughts regarding unconscious or sleeping individuals and feeling sexual urges when in contact with or in the proximity of those people. While there is speculation about treatment (e.g., hypnosis, behavioural therapy and 12-step programs), it is not needed unless the behavior becomes destructive, problematic, and/or involves sexually criminal activity and becomes a legal issue.

Empirically, very little is known about somnophilia and as far as I am aware there are no data concerning its prevalence, etiology, or treatment (not even a single case study). Various sexologists and authors have made reference to it (such as John Money, Nancy Butcher and Rudy Flora). The historian Richard Burg (Arizona State University) published a 1982 article in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, and suggested the possibility of a continuum of erotic focus from somnophilia fantasy through to acts involving necrophilia. In fact, sometimes somnophilia has been described as ‘pseudo-necrophilia’ in that both paraphilias involve having sex with a human that is not aware and/or conscious, and have not given consent.

In a 1972 issue of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, the psychologists Dr. Victor Calef and Dr. Edward Weinshel decribed somnophila as ‘Sleeping Beauty Syndrome’ and asserted that somnophilia was the neurotic equivalent of necrophilia. As they asserted:

“The theme of the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ who is brought back to life, as it were, by the love of a Prince Charming is one which has fascinated both story-tellers and listeners for hundreds of years. It is our impression that not infrequently we hear, from our analytic patients —primarily via various denials — this same theme and its disguised wishes. We are referring to those patients who complain that their spouses go to sleep before them and before sexual activity can be initiated. It is our experience that, at least in many of these individuals, this complaint is an attempt to hide the fascination and attraction for the sleeping sexual object and the wish to make love to that object”.

However, they ultimately concluded that although somnophilia appears to have some characteristics in common with necrophilia, the two syndromes do not necessarily reflect the same underlying pathology. Using Freudian theory, Calef and Weinshel speculated that underlying somnophilia was the desire to return to the maternal womb, and that somnophiliacs had unresolved Oedipal complex issues, fixations on pre-genital stages of psychosexual development, and castration anxiety. However, as with almost all psychoanalytic theory, it is hard to design any research to either confirm or deny such speculations.

In researching the topic of somnaphilia, I did come across a 2006 paper by Mark Knowles (New School for Social Research, New York) that examined the sexual content of the letters written by Irish novelist James Joyce (1882-1941). The primary purpose of Knowles’ paper was to examine the ways in which the paraphilic sexual fantasies of Joyce were expressed in his relationship with his wife (Nora Barnacle) via letters written at the end of 1909. Most of the paraphilic writings concerned coprophilia (sexual interest in faeces), but in one letter (dated December 8), Knowles noted there was also an instance of somnophilic fantasy. Here, Joyce writes of how he will perform cunnilingus on his wife in an effort to “surprise [her] asleep.” This will cause her to “groan and grunt and sigh and fart with lust in [her] sleep”.

Knowles claimed that investigators have suggested that the etiology of somnophilia is similar to that of fetishism and coprophilia (although these “investigators” were not referenced – although he did cite the paper by Calef and Weinshel). Knowles noted:

“The degree to which Joyce’s own aberrant libidinal impulses were influenced by factors such as these is uncertain; however, the fact that castration anxiety has been posited as a causal mechanism with regard to somnophilia as well as fetishism and coprophilia, the latter two of which played salient roles in his sexual fantasies, lends credence to the notion that the threat of castration did indeed constitute Joyce’s ‘nuclear complex’”.

Christina Eugene (Bowling Green State University, USA) also made some interesting observations in her 2006 thesis Potent Sleep: The Cultural Politics of Sleep’. She asserted:

“Sleep is the essential objectifier of all life. The passivity of sleep transforms subjects into inanimate objects, and in doing so removes the subject’s privilege of being able to act on the world of objects… This rendering of people into inanimate objects allows them to be fundamentally treated as objects – consumed, fetishized, and controlled. In accordance with the totality of capitalism and phallocentrism, an erotic fetish for sleeping beauties has surfaced”. 

Eugene also makes heavy reference to Carolyn Fay’s 2002 (University of Virginia, USA) thesis ’Stories of the Sleeping Body: Literary, Scientific and Philosophical Narratives of Sleep in Nineteenth Century France’. Although not actually using the word ‘somnophilia’, Fay says that:

“Contemporary sleep fetish culture is driven by the idea that the sleeping person is an absent person…To the fetishist, sleep is that perfect moment when consciousness is evacuated, leaving a living, breathing fragment, worthy of love”. [Men who seek to actualize their desire to have intercourse with a sleeping woman may use drugs to maintain the unconscious state] “for if the person wakes up, the fantasy and the fetish object become lost”

In response to this, Eugene thus claims that somnophilia emphasizes:

“The conflating of absence and passivity because rather than her being passive, the fetish is maintained by her absence. What are the dynamics that created these perplexities? What can account for both the sleeping beauty fetish and the somnaphobia of a culture where people are disposed to self-inflicting the torture of sleep deprivation? Despite the sheer obscurity of this fetish culture, both are, nevertheless, an exemplification of particular cultural messages that are written onto the sleeping body”.

http://forums.webmd.com/3/sex-and-relationships-exchange/forum/1904/22

Given that I prefer empirical data, I’m not sure whether these debates in the Arts and Humanities literature add to what we know scientifically know about somnophilia, but at the very least they make an interesting read about the human condition. In the absence of anything in the empirical literature, I did spend ages trying to find some kind of case study and this was the best I could come up with:

“I have a fetish that I have found out is called somnophilia. I have told this to my girlfriend and she has no problem with it, or with allowing me to fulfill my fantasy with her, since she is very submissive. The only problem is, she’s an extremely light sleeper. As in, she wakes up at the drop of a hat. For this reason, there’s really no way for me to do it naturally. I have tried artificial methods such as [over-the-counter] sleeping pills. However, these just make her drowsy, but don’t affect her depth of sleep (i.e., she still wakes up right away). I am looking for either a method or a drug that will put her into a very deep sleep, or even leave her unconscious, such as you would be under the influence of a general anesthetic during surgery. I guess I would need a very powerful sedative/hypnotic. I have heard of drugs such as Rohypnol, but I know that these are illegal in the US, and I’m not trying to get into any trouble here. I considered asking a pharmacist, but I’m worried they’d think I’m looking for a ‘date rape drug’ for illegal purposes and call the cops on me. I’m looking for something that’ll knock her out and will withstand a vigorous activity like sex”.

Although there is little detail here, and there is no way of checking the veracity, this plea does at least suggest that somnophilia is more than a theoretical paraphilia.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Burg, B.R. (1982). The sick and the dead: The development of psychological theory on necrophilia from Krafft-Ebing to the present. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 18, 242-254.

Butcher, N. (2003). The Strange Case of the Walking Corpse: A Chronicle of Medical Mysteries, Curious Remedies, and Bizarre but True Healing Folklore. New York: Avery.

Calef, V., & Weinshel, E. M. (1972). On certain neurotic equivalents of necrophilia. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 53, 67-75.

Eugene, N.C. (2006). Potent Sleep: The Cultural Politics of Sleep. Master’s Thesis, Bowling Green State University, American Culture Studies/English.

Fay, C.M. (2002). Stories of the Sleeping Body: Literary, Scientific and Philosophical Narratives of Sleep in Nineteenth Century France. Diss. U Virginia, 2002. Ann Arbor: UMI.

Flora, R. (2001). How to Work with Sex Offenders: A Handbook for Criminal Justice, Human Service, and Mental Health Professionals. New York: Haworth Clinical Practice Press.

Joyce, J. (1975). Selected letters of James Joyce. R. Ellmann (Ed.), New York: Viking Press.

Knowles, J.M. (2006). Nora’s Filthy Words: Scatology in the Letters of James Joyce. The New School Psychology Bulletin, 4, 91-101.

Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books

Money, J. (1986). Lovemaps: Clinical concepts of sexual/erotic health and pathology, paraphilia, and gender transposition in childhood, adolescence, and maturity. New York: Irvington.

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About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Gambling Studies at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 430 research papers, three books, over 120 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on April 16, 2012, in Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Popular Culture, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. very good well put.

  2. My husband of 13 years struggles with anxiety around all sexual behaviors, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation and he tends to avoid sex, while I have a really high sex drive. Since I started pushing him on addressing his sexual dysfunction a few years back, there have been 7 incidences where I’ve woken up to him engaging in foreplay with me. It feels frightening for me that this seems to be the only type of sex we’re having. He always insists that he thought I was awake and gets angry with me when i even imply that this mite be somewhat abnormal – i’m wondering if he mite have somnophilia? After 7 times and in the absence of other sexual activity it’s become violating for me – don’t get me wrong, I think for some people it’s a great turn on to be woken up to sex. In fact, I previously dated a man who had sex with me while he was sleeping and he wasn’t even aware of it – it’s a true medical condition, and we laughed it off when he realized what was going on. What bothers me about me spouse is that I’ve been clear that I dont want sex while im sleeping, but it keeps happening – and meanwhile when im awake, i get nothing from him. I don’t quite know how to deal with it, especially when he won’t admit knowing I was asleep – kinda hard to believe – if he admitted to some kinky interest I mite work something out with him. I’ve enjoyed waking up to being sexed up by other partners in the past, but this feels weird, creepy, etc. For those men out there with the fetish, please talk to your partners!

    • Sharon Cronenburg

      This sounds like me. I find it creepy and a violation. When I tried to find out information , most people are saying “I don’t mind”, “I like to please him” etc. You are the first person I can relate to.

    • I’ve woken up many times to my husband engaging in sex with me while I was asleep, and I don’t like it. I don’t know how to talk to him about it.

    • Sorry, that’s a violation, and many people would call it sexual assault. You have made yourself clear and he is not respecting your boundaries. It IS a big deal. He knows you’re asleep. If you want, you should tell him he has to ask you if you’re awake. However, if he can’t be honest with himself and you about what’s going on for him, and work with you in finding a solution that you both agree to, I personally would move on.

  3. My husband does this to me….but I think I’m the one with the problem. I find it exciting because he can be himself and do what he normally wouldn’t do when I’m awake. I pretend I’m sleeping when he preforms sexual acts on me…and I don’t have to do a thing. :)

  4. I like being on both ends of this fetish, the one sleeping and the one pleasuring the sleeper. For me it isn’t just the excitement that they’re asleep and not consenting, but also excitement from trying to see what all you can do without waking the other person, and their reaction if and when they do wake up.I find it interesting how people react differently to sexual arousal/acts etc while asleep. Also, while asleep, they seem more confident, I guess you could say… They are less concerned about performance, sounds, etc because they don’t realize exactly what they’re doing thus they are unable to be embarrassed and are able to let their body do as it wishes without their mind putting up mental barriers thus affecting their physical/mental actions/enjoyment. On that note, men with ED that stems from performance anxiety probably benefit from somnophilia due to the lack of awareness of their partner.

    Part of why I enjoy this is also due to the fact that my sex drive peaks around 2am, and rarely would the other person be willing to participate if awake/woken at this time of night.

    Furthermore, I don’t think there’s anything really abnormal about it, since I’ve woken up to find me pleasuring myself as well. There’s my perspective as a female somnophiliac, I hope you found it useful.

    • I am a female i believe my husband is aroused when im asleep as well now dont get me wrong we have great sex when im awake to but some mornings i wake with my panties off and semen comes out of me when i stand up and i began to ask him did we have sex bc i dnt remember he wud tell me yes i asked him was i asleep he wud tell me yes he told me wen he gets home from work i look really sexy sleeping and he gets horny he gives me oral sex and penetrate my vagina and i stay asleep the entire time he tells me that it really turns him on but i dont mind it i enjoy pleasing my husband so if thats what he want he can receive it anytime as long as he pleasures me wen im awake sincerely a wife of a somnophiliac

      • Elle,

        You’re a good wife. Letting him come home and take you in your sleep, as he obviously enjoys, has him hurrying home to you instead of being tempted to visit his affections elsewhere.

        Does it excite you enough to consider recording what he does to you so you can watch?

        Michael

  5. I am an asexual (meaning I have no desire to have sex) female and from what I have read I might fall under this paraphilia. I get aroused when I am around women who are asleep sometimes. I want to touch and not wake them up. I have no desire to have sex with them, just touch or maybe kiss. I have never done anything of a sexual nature when in this situation. I am not sure why it started. I wonder if it was something that I learned by being a recipient or whatever. When the urge started around the age of 12 (at least that is when I remember having it – I don’t have the best memory,) I would carefully move a sleeping persons arms or something…nothing more than that. I haven’t acted on this urge since about that time and I am now in my 30′s. To be honest, I have always been scared of this urge. Reading quotes from your sources reinforces my feelings of being dirty or mentally ill.

    • Except I’m male and I like the opposite gender

    • I have same problem as you, you are the only one i ever heard of it, i remember playing with sleeping feet when i was a little boy, if you can contact me so we can share experiences would be great,
      Cheers

  6. I’m female, and I have urges like this. Not to have actual sex, but just to touch and manipulate their bodies. I’m mainly attracted to females, but, for sleeping persons, I’m attracted to both genders. I love the limpness of their bodies, how vulnerable and different they are when they’re asleep. The earliest memory I have of being interested in a sleeping person was when I was five, in kindergarten during nap time. As I matured, my interest changed into a sexual nature. I’m now in my late 20s, and I’ve found the only way I can achieve orgasm is after I’ve “played” with a sleeping person. I do not touch them sexually–I just move various body parts around, basking in their limpness, until I’m sufficiently aroused to pleasure myself. The only person I’ve ever told is an ex-partner who would occasionally indulge me by taking OTC sleeping meds since she was a light sleeper.

    • wow, LyaJoy…this sounds just like me! I’ve been lucky enough that both my current boyfriend and my ex were heavy sleepers. My current bf is totally cool with my fetish. He would let me watch him sleep while I pleasured myself. There is something empowering about controlling a sleeping person. I particularly get turned on by an open mouth or involuntary twitches. I remember this interest started in kindergarden nap times when I would purposely stay awake to watch other kids sleep and play with their hands. Also like you mentioned, it evolved into a more sexual thing as I got older. I personally think there is nothing wrong with this kind of behaviour so long as no one is getting hurt and no one is violated. I’m glad there is a community out there.

    • Same here

  7. I have had this fetish since I was in grade school. I have always been fascinated with sleeping and unconscious women. There’s something amazing about a limp, unresponsive woman. Hard to explain. I’m not into having sex with an unconscious woman, I just being able to manipulate her arms, and occassionaly, her body.

  8. I am female 21 years olds, I’ve never been raped or anything like that… I think I have this… Not like that but, I think I want to be the object. I get so turned on by imagining my boyfriend touching me when I’m asleep. I want to be his plaything. We have a normal sexual relationship and I enjoy sex with him… But nothing turns me on more then the thought of him using me when I’m asleep.

    • Well?

      Have you ASKED him to?

      Make your feelings and needs known, dear. If he doesn’t or can’t meet your sexual needs and desires, a life with him will be one of compromise in a way that won’t get better; only worse.

      Lube yourself up, knock yourself out any way you feel comfortable with, and hand him the remote for the video recorder. Let him record himself doing whatever he pleases to you so you can watch later and enjoy what you missed.

      If he if just a boyfriend and not committed to you any further, keep total control of all recordings of you in a sexually compromised position.

      There are a million women out there who have been betrayed by the men they totally believed would NEVER share such intimate times.

      Good luck!

  9. Hello, I am a 32 year old male and have been married for 8 years. My wife is typically very inhibited about sex, almost approaching asexual levels. The times we have the best sex are when she has watched mildly seductive or suggestive romances on TV, nothing pornographic just regular TV. She is not immediately interested in sex afterward, but invariably in the middle of the night around 2-3AM she will get so aroused that she will forcibly pull my pj’s off while I am asleep to go at it. It is interesting to me that she is so repressed about sex during the day that she barely wants to kiss or flirt, but when I am sleeping (and I assume she was sleeping also) she becomes a wild animal. The mind is a crazy thing.

    • So…..

      Let the movie play.

      Go to bed naked and let the fun happen! Tell her to at least be considerate enough to start with oral sex for you!

  10. I am in the same situation as Girlsleeper! I am lucky enough that my husband is a somnaphiliac, because I get turned on knowing that he has sex with me while I am asleep. I have not found any information on what term this would be in my case. We have a healthy sexual relationship while we are both awake, so “sleep sex” would be seen to us like another sexual position.

    • Your husband is a lucky guy! I’ve pondered your half of the “fit” many times in the past. I’ve never found any reference or name for someone who wants to have sex while sleeping, be used for sex while sleeping, or subjected to any sexual behavior while sleeping. Women like you, I feel, are rare and extraordinary!

      My wife doesn’t mind a bit if I take her in her sleep. The only trouble is that she only sleeps that deeply if she’s had a LOT to drink. I don’t like her to drink that much because of the hangover the next day.

      She’s very submissive and loves to be controlled. The thought of me controlling her so completely, having that kind of control over her body, is quite a turn on for her, also.

      We haven’t had any hypnosis trance time in years. There have been too many babies in our life! Seems to be the best way to NOT have sex! ;) We’re looking forward to revisiting the hypnosis routine real soon. Many conversations have come and gone. We’ll be using hypnotic trance and suggestions to really, strongly enhance her submissiveness. Seems she has some difficulty “giving over” to her submissive side and this way we can mutually build my control over her and her feelings of submissive obedience. Rendering her totally relaxed and vulnerable will be much easier this way.

  11. You people are lucky, this thing this sickness has been a part of ending one bad marriage for me and now it’s causing irreparable damage to what I consider an awesome marriage (8 years) just having my hand close to her vagina gives my wife nightmares, and yes she had a bad experience when she was young. It’s been only a couple of times over the years that I’ve tried to have sex with her but I can tell you were she a heavy sleeper things would be bad.
    Our sex life is good she’s a pretty remarkable wife; although I’m in my mid 40’s my libido is still rather high and she copes with my never ending advances.
    I think my 4 year old son has this lack of impulse control problem too, no matter where we are if he is close to her his hand is on her breast. If she’s wearing clothes you can see his hand creeping.
    I don’t want to lose her so I’ve started taking sleeping pills and after tonight instead of taking a half dose I’ll be taking the full dose from now on; I’ve got to find counseling.

  12. I’ve been a somnophiliac all my life. I just didn’t know what it was called until I was over forty. Fifty-five now. There’s no other fantasy that gets my attention like jumping and humping my wife while she is asleep. The trouble is getting there without waking her. She’s been really passed out drunk a few times. She’s very understanding about my desires. I’m always welcome to do her as I please when this happens, but she feels terrible the next day.

    Hypnosis works well. A simple trigger phrase, “turn off”, and she’s incapacitated. She cannot moved nor speak. Her eyes are shut and her body is totally relaxed. This really works well. I can manipulate her as I please and use her any way I like. I know she’s not faking it, for those of you who might suggest it. I can give her oral sex and watch her muscles twitch and spasm with insane proportion and her upper body doesn’t move.

    It’s great fun, but I do wish I had a way to do her without her knowledge or awareness. She knows this and sympathizes. If we could get rohypnol, she would keep it in the medicine cabinet and pop one or two anytime I asked her to.

    I had a girlfriend back in the nineties who would faint when she had her orgasm. The first time it happened I noticed how hard she was straining before she dropped out. I was afraid I had killed her! Really, dude? You fucked your girlfriend to death? :)

    When she woke up, she said she came so hard everything just went black. I lamented my plight in that I had not finished and she just smiled and said, “That’s okay. Next time it happens you do whatever you want, dear!”

    I felt really good about pleasing my woman so well that she didn’t care what I did to her once I pushed her beyond her limits.

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