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Bed sores 

When sleep and sex don't mix

My husband and I are both quite happy with not only our sex lives but our lives together in general. There is one issue that concerns me. Roughly twice a month, he will "attack" me sexually in his sleep. I use the term "attack" lightly because the moment lasts for about 30 seconds, and generally I am able to ignore it and go back to sleep. However, there are times when I become frightened by these incidents and can't seem to "get over it" by morning. Generally, the attacks amount to my husband groping my breast painfully and aggressively, violently digitally penetrating me, attempting to penetrate me with his penis (vaginally or orally), and/or shoving me. He is completely unaware of what he is doing when he does it, and I have been able to wake him up (when I have been lucid enough) as it is happening (if it lasts that long). He does masturbate in his sleep every so often (never to ejaculation), and so I'm figuring this is connected somehow.

Even though I try to laugh off these incidents to hide my fear, he feels terrible about what he's done. I have stopped telling him when they happen because I don't want him to feel so bad about something he can't control. Is this a common problem? Am I being too sensitive?

Scared Of Stiffy

"SOS's husband has semiregular sexsomnia, a subtype of sleepwalking," says Jesse Bering, a psychological scientist and a regular contributor to Scientific American and Slate, "and SOS is not being too sensitive."

Bering devotes a chapter of his terrific new book — Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? And Other Reflections on Being Human — to the phenomenon of sexsomnia.

"Involuntary sexual 'automatisms' occur within two hours of sleep onset, during non-REM sleep," says Bering. "In most cases, these are harmless enough — gyrating against a pillow, vacuous masturbation. But there are also more violent and worrisome automatisms, such as those making SOS so understandably uncomfortable. In fact, there have been several high-profile rape and child-abuse cases involving sexsomnia.

"The good news is that sexsomnia responds well to pharmaceuticals, so SOS's husband should find a doctor willing to prescribe a low dose of one of the benzodiazepines (such as clonazepam) to take before bedtime."

But your husband is unlikely to get the help he needs if you continue to minimize the problem for fear of making him feel bad. Stop laughing these violent episodes off and start telling him about every one. Explain to your husband that all this violent sleepfucking has left you feeling traumatized and that he has to see a doctor as soon as possible.

I accidentally raped my boyfriend. What happened was I awoke to find my boyfriend rubbing up against me. After a little while, he pulled my hand, motioning for me to get on top of him to have sex, as he has done many times before. I obliged, and all was well, until he apparently woke up and pushed me off of him. I did not have any indication that he was asleep, since he was an active participant the entire time. In the morning, he expressed his displeasure about being woken up with sex. He said that he felt really violated. I apologized and explained my understanding of the situation. Now he says he feels really weird about what happened and he can't stomach me touching him. What should I do?

Reeling After Problematic Intimate Sex Transgression

You didn't rape your boyfriend. He may or may not be a sexsomniac — this is just one incident — but he initiated sexual activity in his sleep, and you reciprocated. Once he woke up and you both realized what was going on, you immediately stopped. Mistakes were made, but no one was raped.

As for what you should do, well, I think you should dump the guilt-tripping, blame-shifting motherfucker. But if you want to keep seeing this guy, you need a simple way to determine whether he's fully awake when he seems to be initiating sex in the middle of the night. Two or three hard slaps across the face might do the trick.

Bering has a kinder, gentler suggestion.

"In light of this experience, RAPIST may find herself feeling a bit gun-shy about any middle-of-the-night sex initiated by her boyfriend or any future boyfriends. She should have an agreement with her boyfriend that, from now on, he will 'flick' his penis a few times for her by clenching his PC (pubococcygeus) muscle on initiating nocturnal sex."

And how will that help?

"Penile flicking is an intentional action," explains Bering, and one that cannot be performed by a sleepfucking sexsomniac at his partner's request. "It's a subtle, conscious signal to assure you that you're not dealing with a lascivious zombie."

For more of Jesse Bering, check out his website at www.jessebering.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JesseBering.

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