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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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While You Were Sleeping

Q. My boyfriend likes to have sex with me when I'm asleep. Is this normal? Is there a name for it and where can we find more info?

A. I'm not sure how frequent this kind of sexual preference is, and there seems to be very little on it in the research literature. I'm also not aware of a name for this behavior. But I'm inclined to say that the desire to have sex with someone only while that person is asleep may indicate an emotional disturbance of some kind.

I'm not commenting specifically on your boyfriend, and I'm not saying that such sexual behavior is wrong, if both parties consent-but how do you determine consent when someone is asleep? What worries me about this preference is the passivity it requires on the part of the sleeping partner. In my view, healthy sexuality between two people is an act of mutual emotional involvement, not exclusion. If one partner needs the other to be asleep, it makes me wonder if he also needs the other person to be passive or powerless in other ways-and that might suggest an abnormal need to be in control, or a fear of facing the other person's emotional expectations and reactions.

If you and your boyfriend are both perfectly happy with your sexual relationship, that's one thing. But the fact that you are writing in, seeking more info, makes me wonder if one or both of you suspects that something is wrong. If so, and you intend to remain together, I would recommend that you seek some professional counseling. This might begin as couples counseling. If it turned out that one or the other of you were appropriate for individual therapy, this could be added. I would probably find a clinician with special expertise in sexually-related problems. It is helpful if that person is also certified by the American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). You can ask about this when you call.

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April 2001
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