What is sexsomnia?
Sleep sex or sexsomnia is a form of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) parasomnia (similar to sleepwalking) that causes sufferers to engage in sexual acts such as masturbation, fondling, sexual intercourse and sexual assault or rape while they are asleep.
People who experience sexsomnia engage in sex while sleeping, though they have no memory of their actions once they wake up. The intensity of this sleep sex varies, with some sexsomnia victims merely moaning and groping, and others engaging in sexual activity either with themselves or with another person in the bed. On the extreme end of the scale are those who become violent and dangerous while performing sexual acts.
A study of sexsomnia revealed that 7.6 percent of people suffer from it. The rates are higher in men than women, but researchers admit the numbers may be in fact that people are reluctant to admit having this problem.
Instances of sexsomnia are purportedly more common if the individual is under stress, the influence of alcohol or sleeping medication. The most common medication given to patients of sexsomnia is generally anti-anxiety drugs.
Those with sexsomnia are often tried in court for sexual molestation or rape, but are often acquitted because they really have no idea what is happening. And that is exactly what happened to 33-year-old Darren Greenwood of Bethnal Green, East London last week.
Greenwood, a window fitter, walked free from Chelmsford Crown Court, Essex, after the jury accepted his defence that he had the rare medical condition sexsomnia, confirmed by medical experts. It meant he had no control over his actions or knowledge of groping the scared girl as they both slept.
He says: “I used to be frightened of going to sleep in case something happened. But I have learned to deal with it. I know what symptoms to look out for and do everything I can to take factors out of my life to stop me doing anything like that again.”
Dad-of-one Darren’s heart goes out to his 21-year-old victim. He said: “I apologise to her. I understand what she must have been through. I feel really bad for her.”
Experts told the court during the four-day trial that Greenwood was “a good example of sexsomnia” because he had “no knowledge or voluntary control of his actions”.
He had pleaded not guilty to assault by penetration and sexual assault on a 21-year-old woman who had agreed to him getting into bed with her.
The incident took place at a house in Loughton, Essex, where Greenwood was living. The woman was one of a group who arrived there after a night out.
Prosecutor Richard Potts said that at the time of the alleged incident she was asleep and could not have consented. He told jurors that Greenwood had allowed her to sleep in his bed and she had said it was okay for him to get into bed with her.
The woman slept in his bed, but he knew nothing of the alleged assault until the following morning, Chelmsford crown court was told. Medical expert Professor Matthew Walker told the jury: “I would say it was a good example of sexsomnia – no knowledge or voluntary control of his actions.” And the prosecution’s expert also agreed with the diagnosis of sexsomnia.
Greenwood said that he have never before or since had an incident of sexsomnia. But he admitted drinking and using cocaine on the night of the incident.
It took the jury less than two hours to clear him.
Greenwood said he felt “shock and worry” about his actions and told the court he had since changed his lifestyle.
But Darren, who has a history of sleep problems, warned real sex attackers not to claim sexsomnia. He said: “You will get found out. You cannot just make this up.”