How to cope with sleep-sex fantasy gone wrong?
November 6, 2012 12:00 PM   Subscribe

A few months ago during pillow talk, I gave my husband permission to have sex with me while I was asleep. Last night he did it, and I felt far more violated than I expected. How should I deal with these feelings of resentment and regret, given that I gave him prior consent? (Possible TW.)

My husband & I have a rich sex life, and I've always felt comfortable sharing fantasies and exploring new experiences with him. We are very sexually available to each other, and often one of us will wake the other up in the morning with some form of prelude to lovemaking. At the time, the idea of him taking me while I was fully asleep seemed sexy, though I will admit that I assumed I would wake up before it really got going. Last night proved me wrong, and I wasn't prepared for how horrible and violating it ended up feeling.

We went to sleep as usual, and at some point I started to have a weird dreamlike feeling that something was poking around my vagina. It was of course totally dry, so it was an itchy, uncomfortable feeling. I shifted position and drifted back into sleep.

The next thing I remember is being on my back under him, though I don't remember feeling him penetrating me or any of the usual sensations of sex. I was uncomfortable (I'm pregnant so missionary sex can be awkward) and tried to shift around again so I could go back to sleep. It hurt and I started to get upset that I couldn't do anything about it; it felt like a bad dream I couldn't wake myself up from. At some point he must've gotten off me because I ended up curled up on my side.

I think this is when he started to have some regrets of his own, or concerns that I hadn't wanted it; he hugged me and roused me more fully. I got up to pee (again, pregnant, so sleepwalk peeing is something I'm quite good at), and when I came back I got back into bed ready to sleep. I had no memory of the sex at this point. As far as I was concerned, he had just snuggled me a bit and woken me up.

He hugged me again and I asked him what was wrong. He said that we'd had sex. I was sleepy, but waking up more, enough to be mystified. "We did?" I only remembered dreamlike flashes of the experience, none pleasant. I think I had assumed it *was* a dream. I told him I didn't remember, but it was okay, that we'd talk about it in the morning.

I had a hard time getting back to sleep because the more I thought about the experience the worse I felt. It was the most powerless I've ever felt; I didn't want what was happening to me but lacked any capacity to express that. When we talked about it in the morning, he admitted that he'd felt bad about it too. I asked why he continued, and he said he had really wanted to have sex, and since I wasn't fighting back he didn't feel like he had forced me. I tried to express to him that I couldn't have fought back; I literally had no capacity to do so. I think he understood how I felt, and he agreed to never do it again unless I am awake and aware enough to consent.

In many ways, it was just a sexual experiment gone wrong, and we were able to communicate openly about it both before and after the fact. And given that he had prior permission, I don't feel that he acted out of the boundaries of our relationship in any way. But I still can't shake the feelings I'm having now, ranging from resentment at his lack of sensitivity to intense feelings of physical violation. I really don't want to say the r-word, since there was prior consent, but the feelings of helplessless, confusion, and shame are all there.

What can/should I do to deal with these feelings without blaming him or accusing him of acting improperly? I want to find a healthy way to cope that acknowledges the bad experience I had, and allows me to move on physically and emotionally, so this doesn't fester into something that could really damage our relationship.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Since you say that you and he have a good relationship on a lot of levels, I would process, process, process. I do not think that he has any culpability in this, but at the same time, as your partner, he needs to be there for you to work this through.

I hope that you can get to an OK place with this, and that he can be there to help with this.
posted by Danf at 12:04 PM on November 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

Tell him to give you foreplay pre-sex even if you're asleep so that dream-you and real-you can better align.
posted by human ecologist at 12:05 PM on November 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

You should tell him it wasn't what you expected and how it made you feel. I guess not many people discuss this, but I can't think of any kind of sex that is enjoyable when a woman is dry. Wet is optimal, turned on is ideal. I've had lots and lots of "sleep sex" and I have always enjoyed it. When done right, it's more like sleep foreplay though, he (or I) arouse the other in the their sleep and then once BOTH of us are ready (turned on erect/wet), we have some drowsy fun sex. No one is really asleep and it is a good and consensual (and sensual) experience.
posted by ponytime at 12:08 PM on November 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

First off, I'm so sorry that you're feeling these painful emotions. And that now there is something between you two, to work out. This is a new experience, one that did not turn out at all like you expected. Keep talking to him about it. As much as you need to. The feelings will work themselves out, but you may find that you have to sit and process them, and their many complex layers. And that may take longer than you expect or wish. That's one of those layers.

Are there any trust issues right now...I mean about you falling asleep together tonight, and these next several nights? Talk about your fears. Perhaps make a plan for tonight to either cuddle (or not touch at all, or something in between)...whatever you think you need. And be ok with not knowing whether or not what you decide will be the right decision for you several hours later. If you need to wake up and have him sleep afar, let him know in advance that you might need that for a night or so. And that it's not personal about him, but probably about re-establishing comfort and trust for when you're unconscious together.

If you do make a plan to not touch, and you think that either of you in your unconsciousness might accidentally go against that, then one of you needs to sleep in a separate bed. Again, this needs to be talked out so that it's understood that it's not a rejection or punishment or distancing, but a physical precaution so as not to retrigger the emotions so closely related to what you just experienced.

Treat this like an open wound. The salve is the connections you make while you are both awake (through words and touching and all the other ways you feel comfortable establishing closeness). The sleep is literally the rest. Take what you need from that. Good luck.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:15 PM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry that this went so badly for you.

It's sounds like you guys have a good relationship, communication-wise, so I would do that -- communicate.

First, I'd make sure that he knows for a fact that this is not OK to do again. He had your consent, now you've revoked it. It sounds like he won't have a problem respecting that because he is a good dude.

Second, I think it's important (but less mandatory) that you share with him exactly what you wrote here. It doesn't seem like this was anyone's "fault", but you're not handling it well, and who is better to work that out with than him?

One question that might steer how the conversation goes is: who's idea was this? did he suggest it and did you agree because you are GGG and didn't see a problem at the time? Or was this your idea?
posted by sparklemotion at 12:21 PM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

This happened last night? You need time to digest what has happened. In the mean time, I don't think you should be doing much of anything. Sounds like you intellectually respect what has transpired but emotionally have some concerns. Give it a little time - a few days, even - and hopefully that dissonance will begin to dissolve.
posted by blue t-shirt at 12:21 PM on November 6, 2012

I think that it's going to be really important for you to bring this back up with your husband and let him know that you have residual bad feelings and that it's making you feel really sad and ashamed. I would pose it from a "whoah, this turned out way differently than I expected and I didn't think I'd feel so uncomfortable" perspective, but as someone whose boyfriend once took a rape fantasy way, way too far, you are absolutely not in any way wrong for feeling violated or distressed. It's really, really hard to gauge how a sexual fantasy is going to work out, especially one where consent can't be revoked mid-execution. Do make sure that he really, really gets that this can never happen again.

I'd give yourself a lot of time, and then seek out opportunities to be extra loving towards one another to repair the bond you already have between you. Sending hugs -- this is a sucky situation but I think you have the best possible thing on your side: a loving, strong relationship with a husband that loves and respects you.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:26 PM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Honestly, I wouldn't overthink it. You seem to have a wonderfully open sexual relationship - you both talked about how it made you feel and you came to a conclusion that it won't happen again. You both have done everything you could in talking about it, confronting what it was and how it made you both feel and you resolved it. Now, if none of that open communication had happened after the fact, then I'd have different advice, but really you've done all you can - what more are you hoping to happen? It sounds like he feels as bad about it as you do. No need to revisit and dissect it to pieces, let it heal.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:26 PM on November 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

How should I deal with these feelings of resentment and regret, given that I gave him prior consent?

You're allowed to regret it even though you gave consent.

Hell, you're allowed to feel angry and violated even though you gave consent.

In general, feelings like this aren't under your conscious control. Consent can't possibly mean "I promise to like it" or "I promise not to regret it," because nobody can ever promise that. At best, consent means "I expect to like it; let's find out."

Your feelings are also totally consistent with your husband being a really great respectful guy. "I'm upset" doesn't mean "fuck you, Husband, I hate you now." It just means "I'm upset." If you're worried about those feelings being somehow unfair to your husband, then try to cut yourself some slack there. It's not unfair any more than having a headache is unfair.

It sounds like you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself to have all your feelings be, like, rational and convenient and mutually-agreed-upon. And that's really just not how it works. You know? So step one is to cut yourself some slack and just have the crappy inconvenient feelings already.

Step two, I think, is probably to be clear with your husband about this: "Look, Husband, I'm upset about this, but I also know rationally that it wasn't your fault, and I'm gonna do my best not to take it out on you. But I need to have a little space to deal with this, and not feel obligated to just cheer up right away. Can you be okay with that?"
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:30 PM on November 6, 2012 [31 favorites]

If it felt like rape, it felt like rape, and it sounds like you're not allowing yourself to experience the emotion because you feel like something you said several months ago means you're not entitled to it. Emotions aren't about what you're entitled to feel, and anyway, I kind of want to break from the pack here and suggest that telling someone they had permission to do something once several months ago means that they are totally off the hook for doing something a little iffy even as they sensed that it was unwanted (have you discussed how he came to sense that the sex was unwanted? did he see you shifting around? have you talked about what the experience was like for him?).

Maybe I'm just mega-cautious, but if my partner said to me that I could have sex with them in their sleep, several months elapsed, and then I decided I wanted to have sex with them in their sleep, I would hold off, get the OK from them to act on it the following night, and have a discussion with them about logistics. How extensive was the original conversation? Was the idea ever mentioned again?

Sorry if I'm getting some of the details wrong, and maybe over the course of the original conversation you granted him blanket permission to spring sleep sex on you out of the blue months later (any sexual act, regardless of your state of arousal, with no further discussion or heads-up, etc.), I'm just a little surprised by all the repetitions of the idea that the guy here is totally blameless.
posted by 4bulafia at 1:36 PM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

people in close relationships accidentally hurt each other sometimes, that is unavoidable. You both had the best intentions, but they didn't work out. It's ok to feel bad and angry about that - neither of you expected things to turn out that way. It will be hard to really accept that emotionally, and right now it's imoprtant that you don't turn away from your husband - even though you feel angry at him, and at the situation, it will really help to get hugs and cuddling from him. Turn to him for comfort - non-sexual touching from him wll help you feel better, and bring you closer together, rather than letting this mistake drive you apart.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:52 PM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

It might be helpful to think about it the same way you would when you have a bad dream about a loved one. Maybe this doesn't happen to everyone, but when it happens to me, I find it VERY difficult to face the person the next day (or even week). My rational self knows what the reality is, but my emotions haven't caught up quite yet.

What is important is to talk about it with someone, because talking helps sort out these emotional disparities.

You aren't wrong to feel the way you do. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

(Or did it? Maybe that's part of it too- maybe you didn't really like the idea, so maybe you glossed over that feeling in favor of trying something new. Now that it happened, your original reservations are coming back to the surface and confounding your feelings about it.)
posted by gjc at 2:12 PM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Because of the state you were in (asleep), your husband was responsible for doing the right thing (knowing when it was appropriate to do this, knowing when it was appropriate to stop). Before this happened, you thought it would be fine and you really had no way of knowing that it wouldn't be. So, you're allowed to be upset and hurt and feel uncomfortable about the whole thing.

Consenting but not really being fully there in the moment is a very weird and awkward state to be in, particularly if something goes wrong or if it's not quite what we expected it would be.

Breaking the situation down, including the before and after, and all of your feelings, and your husband's response will bring you clarity. You can attribute positive emotions to what you thought would be a positive experience and put that in one box. You can attribute negative emotions to how it actually felt and put that in another box.

You can put your husband's decision to spring this on you months after the initial conversation while you are pregnant into another box (I personally feel his behaviour was irresponsible - you both needed another conversation before he did that and I imagine some of your feelings stem from a lizard brain desire to protect your unborn baby - if you were in pain, you would've on some level been concerned about your baby's wellbeing as well as your own).

You can put your husband's reaction to your hurt, which seems to be a comforting, positive response in another box. You can put your current feelings of helplessness, confusion, and shame in another box.

The point is to break it all down into all of its individual elements so that you can truly see the situation clearly and not feel that confusion.

You're allowed to feel that it was a mistake, you had no way of knowing that it would be anything but a positive experience, and you can see now how you might not ever want to be in that situation again. It is a process that will take time but it will get you to a point where you feel a greater sense of understanding about how you really feel.
posted by heyjude at 4:15 PM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

At the time, the idea of him taking me while I was fully asleep seemed sexy, though I will admit that I assumed I would wake up before it really got going.

Sounds to me like he needs to gently awaken you with foreplay before this goes on.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:18 PM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't matter that you consented to this months ago. It doesn't matter that it was your husband. You didn't experience it as a consensual act. And it's okay to feel violated. This may be something you need to work through in therapy. You may be experiencing trauma, which might even be more tricky given you're pregnant. None of this is your fault. You feel how you feel and you have a right to work through this and heal and feel safe again. I encourage you to seek out therapy, if you're comfortable, because a violation like this may play into your labour/childbirth/postpartum process.

I think that your husband springing this on you so long after the initial conversation and when you're pregnant is very irresponsible.

As you heal, his reaction to your hurt and how you feel about his reaction is important too.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:38 PM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would be concerned that in the moment he kept going through your negative reactions (moving away, rolling away, not being actually aroused) than anything else.

For whatever reason I went through this brief period of liking to have sex while half asleep. So my partner got used to coming to be late, feeling me up and us having sex. Mostly it worked fine, a couple of times I was all "eehhhh" and pushed him away and when that happened he stopped. It's less likely to happen at the moment because I was asleep and dreaming one night when he tried and it got all dreamweird and uncomfortable and upsetting - he stopped, even though I wasn't actively pushing him away (I just didn't seem into it), but it was unsettling enough that I don't really want to do it again.

So I guess part of the processing needs to include the fact that there was such a long break inbetween the conversation and the act, and the fact that he kept going "because he really wanted to have sex" rather than "you totally seemed into it".
posted by geek anachronism at 5:20 PM on November 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

Call me contrarian and insensitive, but look, you said it was okay, and he did it, and now you're saying it's not okay. If I were him in this situation, I would be confused. He could not have predicted your reaction. It is not obvious from your description whether you actually made clear, during the act, that you didn't want it to continue. (You rolled/changed position, which may or may not have been a clear signal to an observer—can't tell from your description alone.) It does not sound to me like he should be blamed for how it went wrong.
posted by StrawberryPie at 12:27 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I thought that would be okay but it turns out it isn't" is a reasonable place to start a conversation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:36 AM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is a bit like when your partner swings their arm around and accidentally hits you in the face. Not their fault, but you are allowed to shout out and cry and have them hold you and say they are sorry. You don't have to keep your feelings to yourself just because he didn't think he was going to hurt you.
posted by Acheman at 3:09 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I encountered something similar with my husband almost a year ago. We engaged in something he wanted to do and I agreed to try it (granted, I was hesitant, but I trusted him). The act did not go so great for me. The next morning I felt like I was sexually assaulted, even though he had done nothing to maliciously hurt me.

You need to talk to him about it, let him know how you feel and together you can move on. You need assurance that he wasn't trying to hurt you and I know it sounds weird, but you'll have to rebuild some trust again sexually.
posted by Danithegirl at 5:51 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a big deal. It could destroy your relationship. Please talk to a professional about it, on your own, before you further involve your husband.
posted by massysett at 6:33 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Something that may be a factor (based on your saying that you "couldn't do anything about it") is that you were experiencing sleep paralysis, which can also be accompanied with strong feelings of terror.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:38 PM on November 8, 2012

I don't know what country you're in, but, in Canada, advance consent is not valid. And consent to something in your sleep is not valid, because you're not in a position to revoke the consent. This is under Canadian law. I'm not telling you this because it has anything to do with what's legal. It's because the highest courts in my country have examined this recently and determined that things like advance consent and consent to activities in one's sleep are just not a safe environment, because the affected party could end up traumatized or injured or, at the very least, feeling violated. This does not make you to blame - I don't mean that either. I am sharing this because I hope it will validate how you feel and make it easier to process the fact that you do feel violated.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:54 PM on November 9, 2012

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