You can hardly find a single person who has not heard a thing or two about sleepwalkers. Numerous stories about things people do while asleep make sleepwalking a highly popular subject in many cultures. Besides, the phenomenon has an air of mystery due to a lack of complete information on the causes of sleepwalking.
The story about a Sumerian princess is probably the first documented case of sleepwalking. On several occasions the princess was seen walking in her sleep around the rooftop of a palace at night. The princess’ servants saw her standing on the very edge of the roof.
A rather amusing case of sleepwalking took place in ancient Rome. According to the official account of the events, one night a young noble lady sleepwalked straight into the bedroom of her inamorato. Needless to say, the incident could not have happened if the lady had been awake. An unintentional display of the lady’s initiative was fully appreciated by the parents of the young man: the lovers got married within a matter of days.
There is nothing new under the moon
In medical terms, sleepwalking is called somnambulism. Specialists believe the disorder usually occurs in sufferers with increased levels of nervous tension. A psychological trauma is believed to cause episodes of the so-called neurotic somnambulism. At times somnambulism is a sign of more serious disorders. For instance, paroxysmal somnambulism indicates epilepsy.
A number of recently published studies suggest that some persons may be genetically predisposed to somnambulism. Some researchers claim there is a link between the incidence rate of somnambulism and phases of the moon.
Children and young adult are witnessed to have many more episodes of somnambulism than the older individuals. In a typical case of sleepwalking, the person will rise from his bed to engage in a number of purposeful activities with his eyes open while being technically asleep. However, some cases of sleepwalking involved people were reported to navigate their surroundings with their eyes closed.
As a rule, sleepwalkers will engage in activities they normally perform when awake. The activities include walking about the house, eating, dressing, bathing, taking strolls along the street, or even driving cars. An American student was reported as frequently getting up from his bed at night and going to a nearby lake to swim while asleep. He would return to his home and get back to bed after swimming in the lake. In the morning the student would have no memories whatsoever of his nocturnal outings.
Sex with strangers while sleepwalking
Even the most incredible stories about sleepwalkers pale in comparison with recent reports on a sexsomnia, a new variety of somnambulism. Sexsomnia or sleep sex causes people to commit sexual acts while they are asleep. Willful behaviors which sufferers exhibit during sleep are sex-oriented. Most cases are limited to having erotic dreams or moaning softly and lasciviously in one’s sleep. However, some of those affected by the disorder really have sex without having any conscious knowledge of the activity.
Persons who are romantically involved with those prone to sexsomnia are often aware of their partners’ strange behavior. However, it does not concern them very much since some sufferers get to display a greater amount of love and affection toward their sexual partners.
The subject would be not worth talking about if sufferers engaged in sexual activities only with their regular partners. As a rule, the majority of those affected with sexsomnia have sex with their spouses or live-in partners. But there is always an exception to the rule.
In 2004, a case of sexsomnia was reported by The Sydney Morning Herald. A respectable lady in the forties had a normal relationship with her regular partner. However, she was also reported as leaving her house at night and having sex with strangers while sleepwalking. Not unlike any other typical sleepwalker, she would not remember having sex upon waking up in the morning. One night the woman’s partner caught her in the act of having sex with a stranger. The woman sought medical help following the incident. She was diagnosed with a form of sleep disorder. The doctors confirmed that she had sex while asleep.
A more dramatic case was reported by Canadian newspapers in 2005. One Jan Luedecke was acquitted of sexual assault after a judge ruled the defendant was asleep during the attack. Predictably enough, the decision outraged women’s organizations whose representatives stressed the point that other rapists could get away with it by claiming sexsomnia. In fact, it would be rather difficult to prove that a rape suspect was fully conscious of his actions if he claims that he committed a criminal act while asleep. As it turned out, a similar case took place in a different country the year before.
In December 2004, a court in Norway found a rape suspect not guilty after he admitted that he might have been asleep when he had sex with a woman. The 34-year-old defendant tried to rape the woman who felt asleep at a couch after a party. The defendant managed to undress his alleged victim. However, he claimed he had been totally unaware of his actions until the woman’s screaming and yelling for help woke him up.
Official medicine has called into question the reality of sexsomnia until recently. The American Academy of Medicine deemed the condition to be a medical disorder only in 2005. According to sleep disorder specialists, sexsomnia is currently listed among other sleep disorders in accordance with international classification.
The total number of sexsomnia cases registered worldwide to date ranges from several dozen to several hundred. Some researchers claim they have information on a much higher number of persons affected by the disorder. No cases of sexsomnia have been officially reported in Russia so far, according to specialists with the Moscow Center for the Study of Sleep Disorders. Perhaps the situation has to do with some peculiarities of a typical Russian outlook on sex. Most Russians are not used to talking about sex as candidly as Americans and Europeans do.
By all appearances, similar factors can trigger both somnambulism and sexsomnia. The symptoms of sleep sex can be brought on by a lack of sleep, abuse of alcohol, stress and psychological traumas. Recent studies suggest that some cases of sexsomnia can be effectively treated with antiepileptic drugs and tranquilizers. Researchers will probably succeed in gathering enough evidence to prove that some individuals are genetically predisposed to sexsomnia.
Although sexsomnia can affect persons of either sex, males are seen to be more likely to develop sexsomnia than females.
Incidentally, sexologists argue that the above statistics are inaccurate with regard to a factual prevalence rate of the disorder. A number of social factors can bring about discrepancy in the numbers of reported cases. According to specialists, the number of females prone to the disorder is slightly smaller than that of men.
Translated by Guerman Grachev
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