This article was scientifically fact-checked by Human Sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz.
I recently came across a kink known as somnophillia, or sleep kink. I’ve written extensively about all kinds of kinks in the past, there isn’t a lot left out there that shocks me. Or makes me feel uncomfortable. But this kink seemed different.
Somnophillia is a kink for a sleeping partner, or for somebody having sex with you whilst you are asleep. Unlike some other kinks, ones that involve roleplay and fantasy, this kink has an element of reality to it that seemed to cut it apart from the rest.
Are sleep kinks different from sleepy sex?
To be clear, somnophilia is different to sleepy sex*. Sleepy sex is the kind you might have on a Sunday morning, when you do a lazy sexy spoon, or the half-asleep blowjob you might give somebody before work. Sleepy sex is that comfy sort of sex that people who live together have on the sofa while watching Blue Planet.
The thing that’s great about sleepy sex is it implies a level of comfort around your partner. Nobody is really trying to perform or impress anybody else. There might be a misconception that sleepy sex is somehow lazy, or not very passionate, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. What’s more passionate than two people who can’t keep their hands off each other, even before their first coffee? Or after a tiring day at work?
People who are really into sleep kinks aren’t just sleepy, they are asleep. Unconscious. This kink raises lots of interesting questions about relationship dynamics, consent, communication, and legality.
What does this kink involve?
People who are into somnophillia like to have sex (or do sexual things) while their partner is asleep. Other enthusiasts of the kink like to be on the receiving end, and allow their partner to do things to them while they’re unconscious, either with the aim of waking up to discover what’s happening, or to simply be told about it later.
So, is it legal?
Technically speaking, somnophillia is illegal. This is because, in legal terms, consent cannot be given by a sleeping person (no big surprises there) but also because falling asleep effectively withdraws any prior consent that a person has given. The legal definition goes like this: “Lack of consent may be demonstrated by evidence that by reason of drink, drugs, sleep, age or mental disability the complainant was unaware of what was occurring and/ or incapable of giving valid consent.”
However, for a person to be prosecuted for an illegal act, somebody needs to accuse them. In the case of sleep kinks, if a person wakes up and feels delighted that their partner was having sex with them while they slept, clearly they won’t be going to the police about it.
The vital aspect of this kink is that the people involved have discussed it beforehand. It would never be acceptable to just assume your partner was into sleep sex (seriously, do not do that). Like many kinks and fetishes, communication is key.
How can sleep sex be consensual?
The more I delved into sleep kink, the more I started hearing two terms. These were ‘consensually non-consensual’ and ‘blanket consent’.
Blanket consent is basically the idea that you can say to your partner: ‘’I give you permission to do x and trust you to know when this will be ok without actually asking me”. It’s a way of giving permission to your partner to do things, without them needing to check in with you every time. In some ways, this is a familiar concept. In a relationship, whether it’s casual or long term and serious, we get to know what our partners like and don’t like, and what their boundaries are. For example, we probably don’t feel the need to say things like “Is it ok for me to kiss your neck?” if we already know that our partner loves neck kissing.
The second term that came up a lot was ‘consensually non consensual’. This one is a bit trickier. And definitely requires a high level of communication with your partner. On the surface it seems like an oxymoron, and it sort of is.
With consensually non consensual sex, you have told your partner to continue a sexual act even in the absence of consent. You have consented to not consenting. Confused? Don’t worry, I was too.
A good example of a consensually non consensual act might be being tied up. You agree to being tied up and part of the fun comes from the idea that you are then ‘helpless’ or unable to get away.
Of course, the vital thing to keep in mind is that this can easily go wrong, and result in someone feeling upset, regretful, or worse. It’s absolutely essential to communicate openly beforehand, to explain exactly what is and isn’t ok. Having a deep level of trust with your partner is essential. This probably isn’t the kind of thing you’d want to try during a one-night stand.
Are there exceptions to blanket consent?
Absolutely. When I spoke to sleep sex enthusiasts about blanket consent, the exceptions came up time and time again. For example, if you’ve had a big fight that night. Or if a situation has arisen in which you usually wouldn’t have sex (for example, perhaps your partner doesn’t want to have sex when they’re on their period, or maybe they have a cold that’s making them feel unsexy). The usual boundaries that apply to your sex life also apply to blanket consent. It’s all about knowing your partner, knowing the dynamics of your relationship, and most important of all, communicating.
How to introduce somnophilia into your relationship
Think you might be interested in this kink? Ok, the first thing to do is to talk openly with your partner.
Try to think specifically about what it is about the kink that turns you on. Perhaps it’s the ability to take control, perhaps it’s the feeling that you’re extremely desired. You might find that your partner is as enthusiastic as you are about introducing this new kink into your sex life, but if they’re not, it’s important to be able to explain why you are interested.
If you decide to go ahead and give it a try, make sure to lay out all your ground rules carefully at the outset. Think about what is and isn’t ok. For example, is oral alright, but not full sex? Should your partner wear a condom? Is sleep sex off limits on a work night? Be specific and try to think of different scenarios and judge how these would make you feel.
If you find that your partner doesn’t share your enthusiasm for sleep sex, don’t freak out. You’ve hopefully already thought carefully about what elements of this kink do it for you. So, can you think of another way to incorporate these desires into your sex life? By talking openly and honestly, you should be able to find a middle ground that you both enjoy.
When sleepy sex turns into sleep sex
Do you remember that episode of Friends where Monica falls asleep during sex and Chandler freaks out? Personally, I thought it was a bad form of him to shake her awake. Unless you’ve discussed sleep sex in depth, your partner falling asleep during sex is probably a sign that they’re not in the mood.
If you’re a big fan of sleepy sex, but haven’t talked about sleep sex (or maybe you have discussed it and have decided against it) the rules of usual consent definitely apply: if your partner falls asleep during sex, stop. And probably don’t wake them up just because you still want to get off.
So, what’s the bottom line?
As with all sex, mutual respect is vital and it’s important to remember that your desires never supersede the desires or boundaries of your partner. This rule applies whether you’re having good old-fashioned missionary with the lights off (underrated in my opinion) or exploring a new kink for the first time. Listen to your partner, talk to your partner, and keep the conversation going.
*In this article, for ease of reader understanding, we are using the words sex and intercourse as synonymous, as is done in popular culture in general. Similarly, we use the word “foreplay” the way it is used in popular culture (i.e., the sexual acts such as oral sex that come before intercourse). However, as aptly pointed out by our sex expert Laurie Mintz, we would also like to acknowledge that such language exalts men’s most reliable rout to orgasm and linguistically erases women’s most reliable route to orgasm—clitoral stimulation, either alone or coupled with penetration. Indeed, only between 4% and 18% of women reliably orgasm from penetration alone. We look forward to the day when such language is not commonly used in culture.
Facts checked by:
Dr. Laurie Mintz
Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Florida, teaching Human Sexuality to hundreds of students a year. She has published over 50 research articles and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Mintz also has maintained a private practice for over 30 years, working with individuals and couples on general and sexual issues. She is also an author and speaker, spreading scientifically-accurate, sex-positive information to enhance sexual pleasure.