NSFW: Help me stop touching my bf in my sleep.
November 9, 2017 3:07 PM   Subscribe

The last two times my boyfriend has slept over, I have touched him sexually in my sleep. I have no memory of this. He isn’t bothered, but I am. Help me figure out how to stop doing this?

My questions:

1) Any ideas why this might be happening?

2) What can I do to curb this, short of just not sleeping?

3) I’m thinking of asking my boyfriend to stop me whenever I make any move on him at night, and having him ask me if I’m awake. Is that reasonable? I don’t want to put too much of the burden on him, but I’m sort of at a loss for what else to do.

Possibly useful information:

* We’ve been together for 7ish months. He sleeps over 3-4 nights per week now. The relationship is happy and healthy. We are both 27yo.

* We both have very high sex drives, and it’s not unusual for us to wake up 1-2 times per night to have sex. We are both always fully awake and consenting for this; what typically happens is that one of us wakes up horny and gently wakes the other one up to see if they’re up for it.

* The way I’ve been touching him in my sleep is a part of our normal sexual repertoire; it’s something we both enjoy.

* I am (or thought I was?) an extremely light sleeper. I wake up when the dog changes positions on the couch, when my bf tiptoes to the kitchen for a glass of water, etc.

* This happened on Monday night (11/6) and last night (11/8). On Sunday night (11/5) and Tuesday night (11/7), my bf did not sleep over but I did have bad nightmares (very rare for me). I am not sure if it’s related.

* I have anxiety, which is under control at the moment with therapy and meds.

Please don’t lecture me about how I’m basically assaulting my boyfriend. I know it’s super, super not okay, and I want to stop. Also I have read this Ask, but it’s pretty old and my case feels a little different, so.
posted by schroedingersgirl to Human Relations (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The two of you may just need to try sleeping in separate places. A lot of people do for various good reasons and that's perfectly okay. Some people like to cuddle /be close for a while and then rearrange themselves when they actually get sleepy. This must be really hard - I hope you can figure something out.
posted by Verba Volant at 3:14 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


You only have so much control over what you do in your sleep. It *is* unusual to be able to move that much while you're asleep, which might be indicative of a sleepwalking-type sleep disorder in which your brain isn't firing off enough paralytic neurochemicals. Home sleep studies are becoming more common - you go in and get wired up to the contacts and take a portable unit home to sleep in.

You might also try putting a body pillow or similar between you to see if, presented with a simple barrier, you are too asleep to work any harder at doing it. You may have to consider different sleeping arrangements, or come to an agreement with your partner about how to handle future occurrences.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:17 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


I’m thinking of asking my boyfriend to stop me whenever I make any move on him at night, and having him ask me if I’m awake. Is that reasonable?

I think this is your best solution -- test it out and see how it feels for him and whether it works for you. If he is not feeling upset, and is willing to see if this system works, I think your best bet is to try not too feel too guilty about it and try to work toward a solution (while making sure he remains okay with the situation).

I have always been a very mobile sleeper, and though it hasn't extended to groping I do often end up poking or touching my partner in my sleep (and have kicked people a few times, and on one occasion punched someone, which I still feel terrible about). I am by no means a heavy sleeper, and awaken readily for exterior stimuli, but will sleep right through touching someone. Other friends of mine have held entire conversations while asleep (having gone to bed sober and with no recollection upon awakening).

You should also ask your prescribing anxiety doctor about this, if you're upset -- some meds, even ones not expressly for sleep like Ambien, can cause weird side effects like these.
posted by halation at 3:19 PM on November 9 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I think you're being WAY too hard on yourself for this. You clearly feel pretty bad about it.

I think asking him to wake you up is a good solution if it works for him. And I'd see if you can get a sleep study done.
posted by guster4lovers at 3:20 PM on November 9 [16 favorites]


I was surprised by your last paragraph. You aren't doing this on purpose and your boyfriend isn't bothered by it - it never crossed my mind that anyone might consider that to be assault. Be kind to yourself.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:22 PM on November 9 [101 favorites]


You're not assaulting him. What you're doing is involuntary, and in any case he isn't bothered by it. Nothing you've described falls into the "super super not ok" category. It's an apparently harmless reflex you have in your sleep. Where's all this self-immolation coming from?

Anyway, if he's supportive of you stopping, then by all means tell him to wake you up when you do it. Or even a gentle "babe it's sleeptime, no hankypanky" may get through enough without waking you all the way up - or if you are awake you'll say so. (I do something like that when my husband snores; it stops him but he doesn't wake all the way up or remember.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:29 PM on November 9 [12 favorites]


I don't understand the problem. You are in an intimate relationship with him, the pattern of behaviour is acceptable (welcome?) to both of you. Seems like he doesn't care whether you are or are not asleep when you touch him, just as you don't care whether he is asleep when you touch him when you are awake. What precisely bothers you about touching him when you are asleep?

FFS, this is NOT assault. No guilt trip required. Enjoy the warm sensual relationship you two have, and don't let it poisoned by unnecessary and unrealistic guilt.
posted by GeeEmm at 3:30 PM on November 9 [14 favorites]


Can't help with 1 or 2, but as for 3, I think you have every right to ask him to wake you or otherwise prevent you from touching him sexually in your sleep. Think about it this way - if you were close to blackout drunk and attempted to initiate sex with him, hopefully he'd say no, right? Because even if you initiate you're still not capable of consenting. This is no different - neither of you are capable of consenting when you're asleep, so the onus is on the person who wakes up to wake the other up, put up a barrier like a body pillow, or just get up and move to the sofa. It's good that he doesn't mind, but let him know *you* mind - how uncomfortable you are having sexual contact that you aren't even aware of.

(I am a sleep talker but having conversations I don't remember doesn't bother me the way having sex I don't remember would.)
posted by prewar lemonade at 3:32 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


If he's not bothered and you don't wake up, is it a problem? Or is it that you don't want to wind up having sleep sex? Or you're waking him up and its disturbing his sleep? Or you just feel like it's creeptastic to sleep grope?

If it's the last one maybe balance it against whether he actually feels groped. If his attitude is 'yay', it might not be a problem. If you are skeeved out by *you* actually participating in sex when you're asleep, I think asking him to wake you or at least not to go ahead and Do It is fine.

But I agree with others who have said on its face there's nothing 'bad' here.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:42 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


I agree. It depends so much on his attitude. If you're open about it and he's definitely not bothered by it, please don't beat yourself up about it. In sleeping next to you from now on he knows this might happen and is ok with it, and so has given his explicit consent. I'm a guy and this wouldn't bother me one bit, as long as we could talk and joke about it when awake.
posted by tillsbury at 3:45 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


You're doing something in your sleep that you can't control and don't want to be doing. So it's a disorder, in some sense. Just because he's okay with it doesn't mean it's good for you.

Go see a Sleep Medicine Specialist.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:51 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


Certain medications can affect your body's ability to achieve REM atonia, that "paralytic" state that Lyn Never references. Definitely talk with the prescribing doc about it. If you're embarrassed about the details, you can just say that you've been acting out in your sleep.
posted by basalganglia at 3:52 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


Thanks everyone. Lots of good advice to chew on here. Just want to address one question, and then no more threadsitting from me!

What precisely bothers you about touching him when you are asleep?

If he's not bothered and you don't wake up, is it a problem? Or is it that you don't want to wind up having sleep sex? Or you're waking him up and its disturbing his sleep? Or you just feel like it's creeptastic to sleep grope?


I think that I’m mostly freaked out that I’m doing something that I can’t remember at all. The way I’m touching him isn’t something I’d really ever do to initiate sex, it’s something that generally only comes into play 30+ mins after sex starts. I guess it just feels kind of... rapey...to be escalating so quickly, particularly since I’m not awake and don’t know/think that Sleeping!schroedingersgirl is getting appropriate consent before touching.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:06 PM on November 9


I think if he's chill about it, you do have consent.

Re the memory loss--I have had a ton of that from taking Ambien (I stopped a few weeks ago --not for this reason, I was just feeling over-medicated). Mr. Llama used to have these lonnnnng conversations with me in that state and it took several months before he realized that these great conversations and insights were occurring only on one side of the equation -- I had no memory of any of them. Like, we would *decide* things. The only thing that changed afterwards is our awareness that it was taking place and for him not to take it too seriously. I think I did zombie cheerfully through sex once or twice.

I assume everyone's tolerance for that brand of hijinks is different.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:15 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


"When I am asleep, I might touch you sexually again. I am doing this while asleep and not consciously. If I do this can you please check to see if I am awake and if not, wake me. Can I get your consent for this?"

Boom! You have consent and you have an agreed upon course of action. This is the same level of consent that I would use in a BDSM scene. "I am going to gag you and tie you up. Should you want me to stop all you have to do is wiggle your toes. Do you consent to that?"
posted by munchingzombie at 4:17 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


You say you have no memory of this - I assume that means your boyfriend told you about it? If so, are you both sure that it's actually happening, and he's not just dreaming it?
posted by Perodicticus potto at 4:23 PM on November 9


I just want to add that it's valid and legitimate/important for you to consent for what you do. I don't know if that's in play for you here, but in case it is I just wanted to say so. I don't think you're responsible for doing anything wrong and I think it's ok for you to not want this situation to happen. If that's the case. That's all.
posted by Verba Volant at 4:46 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


You might try looking into sexsomnia.
posted by meemzi at 5:30 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


I have done this before. I did it once and then never again. If this is a pattern of behavior I would consider taking measures to prevent it, but two nights is not a pattern. For the moment I think you should just expect that it will pass. If in two or three weeks it's still a frequent issue, then worry about it.
posted by vathek at 5:39 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


I agree that you aren’t assaulting your boyfriend, but I wonder how much of your panic and self-blame over this is that YOU aren’t really giving full consent to this behavior. You are engaging in blackout sexual activity that you didnt decide to start, and that lack of control can be really disturbing. I think asking your boyfriend to stop you or wake you sounds like the best idea for now— I dont think he is assaulting you, either, but it sounds like you dont want to be having unconscious sex, and that’s something he can help you with.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:42 PM on November 9 [13 favorites]


Your actions are not in any way illegal or immoral, or even unusual, but you nevertheless find it distressing. I would really, really recommend seeing a therapist to understand your feelings around this, and to figure out how to accept or change your behaviour.
posted by mikek at 6:04 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


Just because he is okay with it doesn't mean you have to be ok with it. I was with someone who requested surprise sex while they were sleeping and that weirded me out and she didn't get any.
posted by TheAdamist at 6:31 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


I know someone in a similar situation who was eventually diagnosed with REM behavior disorder. It was similar to what you describe at first (and they were also distressed), but eventually they did punch their partner while sleeping. I definitely think the requests you're thinking of making of your boyfriend are both reasonable and thoughtful; however, I also think you should also speak with a doctor.
posted by wintersweet at 6:51 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


Just chiming in that this is not unheard of at all. It's called sexsomnia.
posted by radioamy at 7:09 PM on November 9


It is totally 100% reasonable for the OP to be concerned about this- I mean they may eventually have other sexual partners who wouldn't be ok with it, so it's worth investigating & controlling, even if this partner is ok with it right now (and anyway, his feelings could change in a single night, so it's still good to work on it, even if things are ok at the moment).

OP, I do think you can go gentle on yourself emotionally right now, because luckily your relationship sounds really great & this partner sounds likely to give you consent for the sleep-touching while you work things out.

But personally I think it reflects VERY well on you that you view this as a problem to solve.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:30 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


I think I get it now, and chiming back in to say you'll have a clearer path here if you phrase it to your boyfriend as "I don't actually want to have sex in my sleep, so please wake me up when you feel me starting to do that, and I'll either wake up for sex if we're both feeling that, or go back to normal sleep." Shouldn't be a problem.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:53 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


I've been your boyfriend in this situation. This has happened about a dozen over the years between my husband and I. I've woken up in the midst of mutual sexual activity that he later had no recollection of.

It tends not to bother us the way it does you (your reasons being completely valid), but I mention my own experience as one other thing to consider: the fact that he may not be fully awake at times that this is happening, either. He may not have the presence of mind or even notice that it's going on to be able to stop you in the way you would like.
I think it's more than reasonable to ask that he stop you if he recognizes it's happening, but that may not always be possible.
posted by wats at 8:13 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


This is a thing that my SO and I want more often than we don't. When one of us wants the other to do the thing, one of us forms the intention of doing it before going to sleep. Usually the other reports it happening the next day. If you don't want the thing to happen, you might try carefully forming an intention to not do the thing. The mind is surprisingly programmable.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:14 PM on November 9


The surprise touching is something that I have experienced as a newlywed sharing a bed for the first time. Yes, I touched his junk in my sleep. I don't do it anymore.

On the programming your sub conscious: I wore my engagement ring 24/7 until it slipped off one night in bed (freaked me out) so now I put them on the table. If my husband doesn't ask "where are the rings?" "On the table" "which table?" "My table" I will probably have a night mare and need to wake up and find the rings.
If he comments how I haven't been cuddly (or very cuddly) I'll often do the opposite.

Sleeping with someone else is awesome but obviously does weird stuff to the subconscious.
posted by freethefeet at 3:43 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]


As the man in your situation, similarly untroubled by the contact, once I learned that it disturbed her I was very happy to help interrupt the behavior. I need to be able to look at her face or talk to her and I can quickly determine if she is awake or not. I usually try to soothe her back to sleep with cuddles and calm words, although about 25% of the time I wake her up anyhow. I think asking your partner for help would be well received and that he would find it not too difficult to recognize the difference between sleepy approaches and conscious ones. Once I understood that she felt badly about these encounters, it felt gross and rapey to allow them to continue just like it would with anyone else unable to control their behavior due to drugs or booze or whatever. I think it is absolutely reasonable to ask your partner for help here.
posted by Lame_username at 7:33 AM on November 10 [7 favorites]


I am a woman, and I have had the damnedest time getting it across to partners that I love waking up to intimate touches and sometimes intercourse that started when I was asleep. This presumes consent in advance, feeling physically up for it (i.e. not on a day when I went to bed early with a stomachache and fever) and so on - but one of the issues of consent is being able to say, "I like this thing that I will never be able to consent to directly at the time when it could happen."

Giving that consent means maybe sometimes I'll be wrong, and I have to clear that in advance: maybe sometimes I will decide I would not have wanted this, in which case, honey, not your fault - you were working from the info you had. "Turns out that's not what I wanted" is not the same as "I didn't consent to this."

If boyfriend is happy with it, you don't need to change. If it bothers you for reasons other than "maybe he's not okay with it", try some of the methods mentioned here - I expect a body pillow would be one of the better ones; sleepy activity doesn't tend to be athletic activity.

Consent is not a one-time all-is-go thing, and it also shouldn't be a check-every-thirty-seconds thing, not in an established relationship. Consent is a matter of establishing trust, of respecting boundaries; it is something the two of you do together, not a coin one of you pays to the other.

Some talks to sort out what the two of you agree to is a good idea; that agreement does not have to be "all intimacy must involve full consciousness." Sorting out less-than-conscious consent is touchy, and it's right to be concerned about it; that concern doesn't need to result in "this must stop." That part's up to the two of you.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:04 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]


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